Monday, July 21, 2014

One Widow's Plight

Sarah “Lizzie” Flynn's husband (my gg-grandfather) died at the end of May 1900. About a week later, the census taker came around and captured that awful moment in her life. Six of her 9 children were living with her, though the eldest two (boys) were ready to (and soon did) leave home. Her remaining children, all girls, were 18, 15, 13 and 10. Sarah was 54 years old. The family lived on a small fruit farm, but as the profits were meager she applied to the government for continuation of her husband's Civil War Pension.

In her statement to the pension board Sarah described her situation and why she felt she needed the pension money to be continued.

The only property either real or personal she owns or has any interest in is a dower interest in 20 acres of land situated in Oshtemo township Kalamazoo co. Mich, which place is worth not to exceed $1500. The land is very sandy and very little but fruit is raised on it. Her husband left no will and therefore she has only a dower interest in it. There is a mortgage against the property of $600 given to a Building and Loan Association of Kalamazoo, which is being paid at the rate of nearly $10 per month, and will not be paid up for two years yet. Last year there was raised produce as follows. Strawberries $70, other fruits about $50 or $60. There was nothing else raised that was sold – no wheat, not corn enough, nor potatoes, and etc. for the farm use. Out of this was paid taxes, about $5.00 and on mortgage, $120.
The farm would not rent for hardly over $2 per acre cash rent. She is going to work the farm herself and hire what help is needed.
Aside from the above, she has no property either real or personal and no income from any source aside from her own labor in working the farm, selling fruit, and etc. and is entirely dependent upon her own labor for her support. Her husband left her no life insurance.

The Flynn farm must have grown a lot of strawberries to yield about $70. In 1900, grocers were purchasing strawberries for about $1/crate and selling them for 8-9 cents/box. [1,2] Unfortunately, I don't know how much the crates or boxes held.

Sarah would have needed the help of her children to bring in the harvest. And in case you haven't done much strawberry picking, after an hour or more of almost continual leaning over your back is less than happy. I can't imagine picking strawberries several hours per day, every day for a couple of weeks. At the age of 54, Sarah would have certainly been ready to lie down at the close of the day. Also, keep in mind that strawberries then weren't engineered to keep for any length of time. Speaking from personal experience with our comparatively tiny strawberry crop over the past few years, they are good for about one day if not refrigerated. To get the best price, strawberries were probably picked and taken directly to market and Sarah couldn't afford not to get the best price.

The brief statement from Sarah's widow's pension application may not seem like much, but it does provide a glimpse into life in the Flynn household. As is usually true of genealogical records, I wish it included more information, like what other fruits were grown. I could find out a little more by tracking down who owned the farm at the time of the 1880 agricultural census. I know it wouldn't tell me much, but I could determine if apples, peaches or grapes might have been grown.

Although this find is only a small thing, it is one reason why I'm happy to dig through pension files to find the wheat among the chaff. After all, with enough little tidbits of information it is possible to start assembling a better picture of someone's life.

If you want to see what else you might find, read Why Everyone Should Military Pension Application Files.

  1. “The Markets,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 19 June 1900, page 5, column4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 21 July 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “The Markets,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 30 June 1900, page 7, column4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 21 July 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

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