While members of my immediate family have served in the military, only distant members of my family–none of whom I ever met–have died in service to their country. For that, I am extremely fortunate. Knowing that, I endeavor every Memorial Day to highlight an individual in my family tree who did make this ultimate sacrifice. I spend time researching the individual in a more detailed way than time usually allows. I like to think that the time I spend learning more about these individuals’ sacrifice and sharing that information with others serves as an homage.
Today, I did some research and discovered a wealth of information about the harrowing Vietnam War experience of a distant cousin (5th cousin 2X removed): Billy Ray Laney.
A particular special operation in which Billy Ray was involved later became the subject of numerous military investigations that went on for over thirty years. I have read several reports that have included the testimony of one of Billy Ray’s surviving comrades in which his comrade describes Billy Ray’s fatal mission. While Billy Ray’s status remained “MIA” for over ten years, further investigations involving DNA did eventually produce more answers for the Army as well as for his family.
Clifford Harding was born October 17, 1942, in Iola, Kansas, and resides in Lawrence, Kansas.
Aubrey Laney was born October 17, 1991, in Plano, Texas, and resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Clifford is my uncle. Aubrey is my niece.
My Uncle Clifford and my mother, his older sister, Sandra Joyce Harding (b. 1938), grew up in a very small town in southeast Kansas: Iola, in Allen County.
He and his family moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in the late 1950s.
He took up farming with his father, and he eventually took over the Harding family farm and manages it to this day.
He has been married and divorced three times and has an adult daughter, Kathy Lee “Katy” Harding (b. 1987), from his third marriage.
Clifford continues to work the land, spend time with his beloved dogs, and follow KU Basketball.
Aubrey Laney is proud of her birthplace, especially because her husband has ties to Texas as well. However, she and the rest of my brother’s family did not remain in that state for long. They returned to Oklahoma where my brother and his wife began their married life together. Aubrey graduated from Owasso High School and earned a Bachelors degree from Oklahoma State University.
She was married in Waimanalo, Hawaii, on May 29, 2018, to Kevin Hammett. They are expecting their first child—a boy—in December.
Jean Linton was born October 15, 1921, in Denison, Kansas. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Jean Linton is my 1st Cousin 1X removed.
Jean Linton and her younger sister FrancesLinton (born in 1924 and also still living) were the children of William Roy Linton (1881-1964) and Vida Cathcart (1890-1994)—my great aunt.
Jean left the farm of her childhood to attend Geneva College in Pennsylvania. It was there that she met the man she would marry: Willard Edgar Hemphill (1915-2003.) Like so many of my ancestors, it was a shared membership with the Reformed Presbyterian Church—with which the college has an affiliation—that figures into the story of how they met.
On May 18, 1943, the couple made Geneva College history as the first married couple to graduate together.
The couple raised three sons, all of whom attended Geneva College. One of their sons became a pastor and served Reformed Presbyterian congregations in Shawnee, Kansas; Selma, Alabama; Westminster, Colorado; and Laramie and Casper, Wyoming, before recently retiring.
Unfortunately, my personal contact with Jean has been minimal, largely due to distance. However, following the completion of my Masters degree in 1987, my first professional job was a one-year post as interim oboist with the Con Spirito Woodwind Quintet, which was at that time an ensemble-in-residence at Duquesne University. During my year in the Pittsburgh area, my mother and maternal grandmother, Ina Cathcart Harding (1911-2002)—Jean’s aunt—came from the Midwest to visit me. The three of us visited Jean at the Reformed Presbyterian Home where she resides today.
Because of the Internet in general and social media in particular, I have been able to get vicarious glimpses of Jean in recent years through the social media posts of one of her granddaughters. And in the process of researching this post, I happened upon a gold mine of information about Jean’s life in this beautiful tribute to Jean’s late husband, written by another of her grandchildren.
(It would appear that the Hemphill DNA is associated with high academic scholarship and a talent for writing!)
By all accounts, she is in good health and good spirits as she celebrates her ninety-eighth birthday!
John W. Laney and Cordelia Paris were married on October 15, 1877, in Greene County, Missouri.
John and Cordelia Paris Laney were my great great-grandparents.
John Wesley Laney’s father, John Laney (1817-1894)–my 3X great-grandfather–and his brother, George Marion Laney (1829-1893), had relocated to Greene County, Missouri, from Greene County, Tennessee in 1848. Cordelia’s father, John James Paris (1837-1884) was born in Kentucky, but sometime before marrying Cordelia’s mother–Rebecca Angelina Hampton (1836-1874)–he had moved to Greene County, Missouri. Rebecca was born in Tennessee, but had come to Greene County, Missouri, as a teenager.
The two were married and raised a family in Greene County, Missouri.
The couple had five children, the youngest of whom was my great-grandfather, Ernest Arthur Laney.
Interestingly, it appears that following John Wesley’s death, Cordelia married his older brother, Rev. Samuel F. Laney, who had become a widower four years earlier.
John Wesley and Cordelia Paris Laney are buried together in Maple Park Cemetery in Aurora, Lawrence County, Missouri.
Rev. Samuel Laney and his first wife Sarah are buried together in Concord Cemetery in Ridgely, Barry County, Missouri.
Rachel Agnes Curry was born July 9, 1875, in Bloomington, Indiana; she died October 14, 1957, in Oskaloosa, Kansas.
Rachel Agnes Curry was my great-grandmother.
Agnes Curry and her family moved from her birthplace in Indiana to Jefferson County, Kansas, when she was five years old. She was one of six children of James Faris Curry (1842-1921) and Matilda Russell (1846-1913) who lived to adulthood.
At the age of thirty-one, she married Thomas Mathews Cathcart (1863-1947)—my great-grandfather. Tom Cathcart’s first wife—Lizzie Wilson (1859-1902)—had died as a result of illness, leaving him the sole parent of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old.
I do not know how he dealt with this loss and the extra burden that came with it, but I have to believe that marrying Agnes improved both his and his young children’s spirits and enabled my great-grandfather to more easily focus on farming.
In 1911, Agnes and Tom added another child to their family: Ina Vera Cathcart (1911-2002)–my grandmother.
The last ten years of her life were spent without Tom, and the last three years of her life were spent at a home near Oskaloosa.
She wasn’t far from her daughter, Ina, though, as well as other family members. Three months before her death, she was fêted for her eighty-first birthday.
Agnes Curry Cathcart is buried, alongside Tom, in the cemetery alongside the Reformed Presbyterian Church In Winchester, Kansas.
Robert Beattie Cathcart was born on October 2, 1820, in Rocky Creek, South Carolina.
He was my great great grandfather.
Robert Beattie Cathcart was one of nine children born to John Cathcart (1789-1864) and Mary Harper (1789-1873), who were each born and raised in County Antrim, Ireland. The couple and their two small children immigrated to Chester County, South Carolina, in 1816. Robert was one of the couple’s seven children born in America.
Upon coming to America, the Cathcart family was welcomed into a growing community of Covenanter immigrants who had settled in South Carolina. These Scots-Irish believers and their ancestors had escaped religious persecution in the United Kingdom. They found religious freedom in the New World, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, the young country was becoming more and more polarized with regard to the practice of slavery. Many Covenanters found it increasingly difficult to reconcile their church’s and their own personal opposition to slavery with residing in communities where many others did not share nor appreciate their abolitionist beliefs and for whom the practice of slavery was considered essential to their existing way of life.
I have written previously about other members of my family who were Covenanters who elected to relocate to Bloomington, Indiana, another Covenanter enclave.
Suffice to say, my numerous Covenanter ancestors faced difficult choices as the country moved ever closer to civil war.
The very first generation of my Cathcart family to have emigrated from Ireland had been Robert’s grandfather, James Cathcart, Sr. (1763-1861) and his wife Nancy Jane Beattie Cathcart (1765-1845)–my 4X great grandparents. They left County Antrim, Ireland in 1816, accompanied by their eight children, the oldest of whom was John Cathcart–Robert’s father. John and Mary Harper had been married several years and had two small children at the time that they immigrated. Robert and his other siblings were born after the family’s arrival in America.
It is possible that James Cathcart, Sr.’s brother, John Cathcart, Jr., immigrated to South Carolina as well; we know that his children did so. James’ brother Samuel Cathcart, Sr. (1778-1861) remained in County Antrim, but several of Samuel’s sons–James’ nephews– immigrated and remained in South Carolina.
Sons of Samuel Cathcart, Sr.--nephews of James Cathcart, Sr.-- who stayed in South Carolina as did their descendants. The brothers were born in Bushmills, County Antrim and died in Columbia, South Carolina.
Pictured, left to right: Robert Cathcart: 1811-1865; George Hume Cathcart, Sr.: 1813-1859; John Huey Cathcart, Sr. (in Citadel uniform): 1826-1908
James Cathcart, Sr., and Nancy Beattie Cathcart and seven of their children chose to remain in South Carolina. The eldest–Robert’s father John–did not.
In 1847, several years after his mother’s death, John, along with his wife Mary Harper Cathcart (my 3X great grandparents) and their nine children (including Robert) moved to Randolph County, Illinois, joining a burgeoning Covenanter community there.
Robert was a young man by now, and it was here that he met a young Irish immigrant: Jannet White Mathews. Both the Cathcart and Mathews families descended from Scottish Covenanters, and both families were members of the Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Eden, Illinois. Robert and Jannet were married in 1851.
As I detailed in a previous post, the Cathcarts’ life in Illinois was marked by tragedy with the couple having to bury five of their children there. Partly in the interests of removing his despondent wife from a place associated with such loss and grief, Robert and Jannet and their five surviving children relocated to eastern Kansas, settling on a farm near Winchester.
The family’s faith and the church community had been the center of their lives in Illinois, and Robert wasted no time becoming an integral part of efforts to organize and expand the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in their new home. Shortly after the family’s arrival, Robert was chosen for the office of ruling elder. He served the congregation in that capacity for more than thirty-two years.
Robert Beattie Cathcart, along with many other members of my family, is buried in the cemetery alongside the church he helped to organize. I have numerous living cousins who worship in this very church to this day.
Omar Laney was born October 1, 1911, in Joplin, Missouri.
He was my paternal grandfather.
Omar Laney was the only child of Ernest Arthur Laney and Norma Ethel Lewis, both natives of Missouri.
He attended Joplin High School, where he was a member of the ROTC.
He was married for a few years to Juanita Calhoun with whom he had a son, Billy Gene Laney. The marriage ended in divorce.
On September 6, 1936, Omar married Elizabeth Ann Williamson, my grandmother, in Joplin.
My father was born in June of the following year.
The time the young family would have together was relatively short. When the U.S. entered World War II, Omar joined the Merchant Marines, spending long periods of time away at sea. He travelled all over the world, as you can see from the various ship manifests below.
I’ve always loved this photo of my Dad and his mother and her mother-in-law. This photo was taken on the streets of New York sometime during the war. I’m guessing that the three family members pictured here had travelled from Joplin, Missouri, and met my grandfather’s ship upon its arrival and were sight-seeing during his short leave. A camera buff, Omar probably took this photo.
I love how the photo captures the determined look on my grandmother’s face as she clutches my father tightly to her body. I read her expression as (1) a protective mother, perhaps fearful of dangers that might befall her child in bustling New York City, and perhaps (2) an anxious mother and spouse, knowing that her time with my grandfather was going to go by far too quickly and that all too soon he would be shipping out again. It’s also interesting for me to note how very young she appears in this photo.
Jayhawk Ordnance Works, built during World War II, was a large ordnance plant producing ammonium nitrate. From the story at left originally printed in an employee publication, it appears that Omar worked at Jayhawk prior to his military service and that he returned to visit while on furlough.
After the war, the former military chemical plant was privatized, and at one point it was the world’s largest producer of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the world.
After the war, my grandfather returned to Joplin where he lived all of his life except for a period of ten years when he and my grandmother resided in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was employed as an engineer for Cooperative Chemical Association.
My grandfather passed away in 1985 at the age of seventh-three, just before I graduated with my undergraduate degree
He lived to see the first member of his family—his son—graduate from college. And he lived to see my brother and me grow to adulthood.
I never thought about it before writing this post, but maybe my granddad’s vehicles—of which he was very proud—had something to do with my favorite color being red…??
I will always remember those times that I made him laugh and just how how subtle that hard-earned chuckle was—just like my Dad’s laugh. And, like my Dad, he had a little twinkle in his eye when he smiled or when he was thinking of playing a prank. He had many interests and had many dreams and aspirations that were sadly just out of reach for him, mostly for health reasons.
I will treasure always my memories of my grandfather, particularly at those holiday gatherings that I know he loved so much. I will also treasure the memory of the special effort that he and my grandmother made to attend the recital I gave as a senior in high school.
And just maybe I will think of him the next time I’m in need of a new vehicle and debating about a color choice!
David Williamson and Anna Young were married on September 26, 1872, in Perthshire, Scotland
David and Anna Young Williamson were my great great grandparents.
David Williamson was born June 27, 1846, in Crawford, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was one of seven children. He and at least one of his brothers were coal miners. His brother William Williamson, who attended University of Edinburgh, reportedly managed a coal mine for Queen Victoria!
Anna M. Young was born April 11, 1851, in Cargill, Perthshire, Scotland. She was one of eleven children. She married David Williamson in Perthshire.
The couple and their five children immigrated to Crawford County, Kansas, in 1887. Their sixth child, my great grandfather, was born shortly after the family’s arrival. David’s brother William immigrated at about the same time. The two brothers worked in the mines of Southeast Kansas.
Family lore has it that David had some issues with alcohol (and perhaps owned a saloon at one time?) Local newspaper accounts of the time paint a picture of an immigrant who had money troubles and who ran afoul of the law, serving time in Girard, Kansas, as well as in Leavenworth. It appears he abandoned his home and family on several occasions.
His oldest son appears to have been involved with his father in a scheme of cashing out their business, skipping town, and leaving their creditors in the lurch.
At some point, David ended up living with this son and his family in Witt, Montgomery County, Illinois.
Besides David’s own misfortunes, the brother that had journeyed with him from Scotland to America—William—was tragically killed in a mining accident in Scammon, Cherokee County, Kansas, seven years after the brothers’ arrival in America.
David Williamson died in Illinois in 1908 at the age of sixty-two.
Anna Young Williamson passed away in 1934 at the age of eighth-three.
Whatever unhappiness Anna experienced in her married life, she seems to have been blessed with loving and devoted children who, along with their own children and grandchildren, spent many happy moments with Anna.
David and Anna Young Williamson are buried in Olivet Cemetery in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Matilda Small Russell was born September 13, 1846, in Bloomington, Indiana.
She was my great great grandmother.
Matilda Russell, like many members of the maternal line of my family, was a descendant of Scottish Covenanters.
For several centuries, this sect of Scottish Presbyterians fought for the right to uphold their own church government and practices rather than those imposed upon them by the Commonwealth of England and the Anglican Church. Many Covenanters were persecuted and even martyred for continuing to practice their faith. For that reason, many Covenanters chose to immigrate to America in the 18th century. Communities were born around such congregations, and one of those enclaves was in Bloomington, Indiana. Matilda and her family were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.
The Covenanters, a group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from South Carolina, had settled just outside Bloomington by 1821. Believing that slavery was a moral evil, the Covenanters acted on their principles and during the Civil War provided a way station for escaped slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad.
From the website VisitBloomington.com
Each of Matilda’s parents had emigrated from Ireland directly to Bloomington. Her father, John Alexander Russell, married Margaret Fullerton in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1843. Matilda was one of five children that lived to adulthood.
Because of the church’s abolitionist views, many of the early Covenanter immigrants who had originally settled in South Carolina began to question the wisdom of staying in the south. Most of the South Carolina Covenanters in my family chose to relocate to other areas, primarily Indiana and Illinois.
James Faris Curry (1842-1921), who would marry Matilda Russell, came from just such a family.
His great grandparents on his father’s side—Samuel Curry (1752-1811) and Margaret Erwin (1750-1831)—had emigrated from County Antrim in part of the first generation of Covenanter immigrants, settling in Chester County, South Carolina. His great grandparents on his mother’s side—John Smith (1730-1784) and Agnes Faris (1743-1838)—had followed the same path. These four ancestors are my 5th great grandfathers and grandmothers.
Some of the Curry children remained in South Carolina, others went North. The same was true of the Smith family.
One of those Curry children, William Curry (1772-1847) married Margaret Harbison (1773-1845) in Chester County, South Carolina and moved to Bloomington. And one of those Smith children, David M. Smith (1771-1841) married Sarah Neil (1780-1861) in Chester County, South Carolina, and moved to Bloomington. These four ancestors were my 4th great grandparents.
And, finally, we get to James Faris Curry’s parents. They were Samuel T. Curry (1810-1882)—a son of William Curry and Margaret Harbison Curry—and Sarah “Sally” Smith (1811-1888)—a daughter of David M. Smith and Sarah Neil Smith.
James served the Union Army with Company L of the 4th Indiana Cavalry and Company E of the 145th Indiana Infantry. At the end of the war, James Curry returned to Bloomington, and in March of 1867, he and Matilda Russell were married in Bloomington.
The couple and their two young children left Indiana for Jefferson County, Kansas, about 1871. Matilda left behind both of her parents and her three surviving siblings. James’s parents and his six siblings accompanied them to Kansas. James’s brother John Haxton Curry returned to Indiana, staying only one year in Kansas.
The young couple’s shared faith and the connection of “sister” Covenanter communities in America were surely responsible for giving them the courage to pick up and move West to Kansas. They would have known that a supportive pastor and congregation would be there to welcome them to Winchester—another Covenanter community.
James and Matilda Curry had seven more children after arriving in Kansas, four of them reaching adulthood. Their second oldest daughter, Rachel Agnes Curry, was my great grandmother.
Their other children were Ollie Henry (1870-1958); Vera Addie (1879-1966); James “Cam” Cameron (1881-1950); and John Thomas (1884-1976).
Matilda Russell Curry is buried with her husband and most of her children in the Reformed Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Winchester.
Born September 10, 1854, in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Jack Taylor was my great great grandfather.
Jack Taylor was born on this day in 1854 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His parents, John McKeney Taylor, Sr. and Jane White Taylor, had married in their twenties and emigrated from Ireland in 1835. Both John Taylor, Jr., and his brother Samuel were born in Massachusetts in 1854 and 1853, respectively.
I hope to someday determine how it came to pass that this family then came to Geary County, Kansas. From documents I have found, it would appear that the family remained in Massachusetts about fifteen years.
In 1869, both sons and their parents moved to Kansas Falls, located several miles outside of Junction City.
On December 1, 1878, Jack Taylor married Meta Christina Asmussen, aged twenty. She had arrived in Junction City at about the same time as Jack. She and her family had emigrated from Germany.
The Junction City Tribune – 19 Dec 1878
The couple had ten children, eight of those children surviving to adulthood. One of their children was my great grandmother Jennie Taylor Harding.
Jack was a farmer, corn being at least one of his crops. He also had livestock and made his son a co-owner of the farm.
Apparently Jack—and, later, two of his sons—enjoyed local celebrity status for the spoils of their fishing expeditions.
Junction City Daily Union – 27 May 1918
Jack and Meta Taylor lived out their lives in Junction City and are buried there in Highland Cemetery.