Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Turner Sisters

Just prior to the Massacre two young girls, Ada and Josie Turner of Flat Rock, Tennessee, joined the Mormon Church and left for Utah. The left their aged father (Wert Turner) and mother (unnamed) and were never seen again. That is at least the story according to W. L. Pinkerton, a local Tennessee historian and lawyer. Pinkerton was writing in 1909.

Of course, the implication was that this was an example of a legitimate complaint against the Mormon missionaries. They were breaking up families! But in cases like this, the fear was not only that they had cruelly abandoned the parents who loved and cared for them, but also that these young girls were being married off into some polygamous harem. So I thought I would try to find out what really happened.

I started in the Census. There was nothing of any value in the Census for 1880 or 1900. Wert most certainly was a nickname. This would probably explain why I didn’t find him recorded in the Census. I tried looking up Flat Rock, Tennessee. The only one I have found is just north of Chattanooga; not really in the area.

So my next stop was Ancestral File, a good spot if they actually joined the Church. Ancestral File does have an Ada Gamese Turner who was born on 9 August 1868 in Lewis County, Tennessee. She is the daughter of Winfred Lockhart Turner (who was also born in Lewis County) and Robina Ellen Shaw. Ancestral file has a sister for Ada named Josephine (born on 12 Oct 1865, also in Lewis, Tennessee). I can even understand why their father would go by “Wert” instead of Winfred.

So I go back to the census looking for Winfred Turner. Still I find nothing. In the 1910 Census I see a W. L. Turner and a R. E. Turner who were born in Tennessee at the right time. By then they are retired and living in Washita, Oklahoma, with no children. But I don’t get why they are not in any earlier census. Or if they are even the ones I am looking for.

Then I start looking in Utah newspapers. Jackpot!! In the Deseret News 9-15-1902 is an obituary for Ada Turner’s aunt Lavina Shaw. She died Sep 14, 1902 at age 62 (so she was born in 1840). Shaw was Ada’s mother’s maiden name. Apparently Lavina never married. Josie is also named as living in Chicago. Now it starts to go better.

Then I checked in (sorry, to those in areas who don’t have this yet) to see if it has more detail. Lavina Shaw is listed as also Nancy Lovinia Shaw. But there is nothing linking her to Ada’s mother.

So I go back to the census again. I find Nancy. Her parents were James L Shaw and Nancy (Kounce) Shaw. And living next door in Turnbon Mills, Lewis County, I see Wince Turner (1880), and Wint Turmon (1870). The girls I match up by their age. Ada appears as Jinsey A Turmon (1870) or Jinsy A. Turner (1880). Even Josie shows up as Nancy J. Turner.

Now that I know I have the right person, I can get some baptism dates. has Lavina was baptized on 5 November 1882. Josie was baptized 27 May 1884, and on Ada 5 November 1892. Frustratingly, does not tell you where living baptisms took place. The citation for the date is a cryptic “LDS Church Membership Records.”

In some missionary journals I find additional references. On Aug 31st 1883, Elder Gibbs “Called on Mrs. Turner saw Sister Shaw” while in Hohenwald. So we know Lavina was a member but her sister Mrs. Turner (Ada and Josie’s mom) was not. We also know that by Aug 1883, they had not yet left Tennessee. Later I found in Hyrum Belnap’s Autobiography, a note written between 29 July 1885 and 6 August 1885. “On our way passed through Logan. Here I met Levona Shaw. She and the two Turner girls were living together. Did not see them, but she reported them well.”

Based on what I have found, I believe Josie and Ada left for Logan Utah in the company of their aunt Lavina Shaw. I can only guess these girls (16 and 19) left with their parents’ permission. Perhaps the lure of a better education in Utah made their decision easier. With the missionaries as examples of the quality of the education they would get, plus Elder Gibbs having been a teacher in Cache County, I can see their thought process. The three lived in Logan while Josie and Ada attended school.

In the newspaper I read that on May 1890, Josie gives the “valedictory address in behalf of the young ladies” at Brigham Young College. By 1892 she is elected Vice President of the BYC Alumni association.

Newspapers in Utah also show Ada as a student at Brigham Young College. She joins a debate club and a literary society. Later she is a teacher in Logan and then in 1895 she moves to Rexburg and opens a kindergarten.

In 1896 Josie is teaching school at Webster (probably a grade school) in Logan, Utah.

On 11 August 1897 Ada marries Samuel H Ricks, one of the sons of Thomas E. Ricks, founder of Rexburg, Idaho. She is his only wife, and by then the Manifesto is in place. Two years later, in the 1900 census she shows up married to Samuel living in Rexburg, Idaho. Oddly, however, in 1911 Samuel Ricks marries again to Letha Prater. But Ada wasn’t dead. Could there have been a divorce?

I also can’t seem to locate Josephine in the 1900 census. If her aunt’s obituary is correct she may be in Chicago chasing a dream of some sort. Is it an education? A career? The record is silent.

I find the idea of an education the most logical. In Tennessee Elder Belnap writes of meeting the W. L. Turner family on Jan 31 1880 at Rock House Creek about 16 miles south of Cane Creek. There was a small school house on Mr. Turner’s land. In addition, according to Belnap, Mr. Turner kept a separate house in Hohenwald so his children could stay there while they attended school.

In the 1910 census I find Ada G Ricks and Josephine Turner living together in Ward 1 in Rexburg, Idaho. A 5 year old son named Vivian K(enneth) Ricks is living with them. Vivian is an odd name for a son, but the handwriting on the record is quite clear. Plus Vivian is the name used in Ancestral File; and one of the submitters is Vivian K Ricks. The Census also notes that Ada is divorced. What surprised me was that neither of the sisters has an occupation listed. Both were educated and had been teachers before. At least one should have been able to find work teaching.

In the 1920 census I find Ada G. Rex and Josephine S. Turner living together in the Salt Lake City first Ward. Living with them is Ada’s 14 year old son Rodger K. Rex. Ada is listed as the head of the household. I’m guessing Ada’s son had his name changed. In this census and the next Ada and her son go by “Rex” instead of “Ricks.” Ada is listed as a dress maker. They rented their home.

They are also in the 1930 census, again in Salt Lake City. This time it is Roger, at age 25, who is listed as the head of household. Roger manages a bicycle shop and owns his home. Ancestral File shows that in 1934 he would marry Louise Jones.

I have three death dates for Ada. The first is 13 July 1940 in Salt Lake City, Utah, that came from Ancestral File. The second comes from Utah Cemetery Inventory and is 8 April 1940 (W-6-7-1 E-SOOF). The third is 4 August 1940 and comes from Salt Lake City, Utah Cemetery Records, 1848-1992 (66195 W-6-7-E-IN-WALK). I suppose the date on her death certificate would be the most reliable. But for my purposes, this is close enough.

“Utah Cemetery Inventory” shows Josie died on 13 May 1956, and that she was buried on 4 June 1956 in the Salt Lake City Cemetery located in W-6-7-1-E. Josephine appears to never have married.

So the Turner girls certainly did not end up in some polygamous harem. What about their parents? The Turners had befriended the missionaries for over four years; providing them with food, shelter, and a place to hold their meetings. Ultimately when the Mormons and their friends were forced to move, it is probable that Turners felt the need to leave Tennessee too. It is unlikely they did not know where their daughters were. For whatever reason, when they moved they chose Oklahoma.


Ardis E. Parshall said...

What a fascinating story of step-by-step sleuthing! A case study like this is so valuable for showing not only what works, but the reasonable searches that mysteriously fail to provide answers.

Regarding Ada's death date: I don't know which is correct, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that the alternate dates of 8 April and 4 August came about because somebody in the sexton's office wrote the date down as "4-8-40." The typist for one database interpreted that as 4 August, and the typist for the other database interpreted it as April 8. The next time you teach a family history class, you have a perfect example to show why you never never never never never write dates entirely as figures.

Really, Bruce, this is a terrific how-to for showing how to follow someone's trail.

BruceAllen said...

Thanks for the heads up on the death date. It just never would have occured to me (that's my story and I sticking to it).

I am kind of pleased with how much I was able to find. Secretly (I guess it isn't much of a secret now) I was hoping Roger Ricks' descendents would stumble across this and help me fill in the gaps. For now, I'll have to set it aside untilI stumble upon another clue.

Kevin said...

Bruce, you give me hope about finding out more about a couple of my ancestors who were involved in the "failed" 1873 Arizona Mission. Great example to me of how to stick to it, and put the pieces together.


BruceAllen said...

Sometimes they fall together and sometimes they don't. I don't write about the ones that don't. Well, not often anyway.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Turner sisters were related to the family of the famous actress, Lana Turner. Her parents were Virgil and Mildred Frances Turner. They moved from Kimmins, Tennessee to Oklahoma and then on to California. Virgil was later murdered in California. Kimmins is located about two miles from the site of the Mormon Massacre.

BruceAllen said...

Wow, I had no idea about Lana Turner. That peaks my curiousity. Thanks.

BruceAllen said...

Lana (Julia Jean) Turner's paternal grandfather [Robert Joseph Turner] moved to Lewis County at about the time Josie Turner's parents were moving away to Oklahoma. Not likely the same Turner family.

But in 1891, Robert Turner married Mary Annette Nettie Quillen, the ganddaughter of William Quillen and Jane Hinson, through their son Lafayette Quillen. One of William and Jane's daughter, Sarah Jane married Andrew Carroll, who was the brother of Malinda Carroll. Sarah and her son Tom Carroll later joined the LDS Church. That would make Lana Turner third cousins (once, twice, and thrice removed) with a handful of the LDS converts at Cane Creek. Fun.

Jim Jones said...

The Minister that stirred up the residence with the Red Hot Address was the Baptist Minister Rev. Vandeveer. The most likely candidate is J. W. Vandeveer, born abt 1826 and in 1880 living at Turnbon Mills, Lewis County Tennessee. He is listed as a Physician, but the census taker may have been mistaken and he was actually a DD not an MD.