In continuing to clean out a cardboard box of pictures, albums, and papers that mostly came from my great-aunt Susan, I started thinking about her. She was a big influence in my father’s life and I am curious about her life, so I put this post together, in a first take of how she lived. (That box is now emptied out and off my office floor.)

Susan Ruhama Salt (known as Ruie by the family) was born 28 Mar 1893 in Saltair, Ohio to John Clifford Salt and Kate Coffin Salt. She was the youngest of three, two of who survived to adulthood. Her brother, Henry, was my grandfather. Aunt Susan, as we always knew her, was our stand-in grandmother. How that came to be is part of a family story replete with secrets and various characters that my mother spent years trying to piece together and understand.

Ruie and Henry (both of whom were born after the death of their older sister Anna Catherine before she was 2 years old) were raised by their mother Kate alone from just months after Susan was born. The story about their father, Cliff, was that he had sustained a head injury while cutting ice one winter, which later resulted in his being probated to the state mental hospital. His wife Kate was named his guardian, and he lived the rest of his life there as far as is known. Kate and the children continued to live at the family’s farm until Henry was old enough to be out on his own. Then Kate and Ruie moved into Bethel, a town not very far from their farm so that Ruie could go to the high school in town. Ruie was very studious and made very good grades according to her second cousin. She also played in the all girls’ band (I don’t know what she played). She had a sweetheart while she was in high school but his family moved away from the area so “nothing came of that”. Kate did not approved of Susan’s having boyfriends, for some reason, and she seems not to have had any serious ones after high school.

After Ruie graduated from high school, Kate wanted to move back across the Ohio River to Newport, Kentucky, closer to her father and sister. It was decided by the family that Ruie should study nursing. Although in the beginning she didn’t really want to, she was sent to nursing school at the Speers Memorial Hospital. This hospital was chosen by the family because it was nearby, and because the head was a relative of one of the family’s long-time servants, Sophie Kahrwald. I assume that the reason for sending her to learn nursing was that her mother Kate and she were pretty poor and dependent on Kate’s family. Ruie, by having a profession and ability to work, could help out.

So Ruie, who started going by Susan about this time, went to nursing school. In the beginning it was hard going for her, but she was encouraged to persist and eventually she enjoyed it. The year before she graduated, the Ohio River flooded many of the towns in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. Here is what the setting looked like.

Speers Memorial Hospital, flooded

In fact, this was part of the huge natural catastrophe of Easter weekend 1913, which included flooding across all or parts of 15 states plus tornadoes. (Here is a site that describes this major disaster.)

Graduating nurses, 1914 (Susan Salt on far right standing)

Susan graduated from nursing school in 1914.

As a young teen I would have loved it if she had been a Frontier Nurse, riding horseback to visit patients in the backwoods, but that isn’t what she did. She worked at the Hospital for several years, and was in the Army Reserves and called to active duty in the Army Nurse’s Corps when World War I created the need for additional nurses. She didn’t serve overseas, but served at the base hospital at Camp Jackson in South Carolina from 1918-1919. She then came back to northern Kentucky and continued to do hospital work. In 1931 she did the course in anesthesia at The Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland and then worked in operating rooms.

Scrubbing up in the OR

Eventually she took on managerial roles and she may have ended up as the superintendent of nurses at the hospital. I am not clear whether she always worked at Speers or whether she moved on to a hospital in Cincinnati. My mother always said she was at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, but so far I have found no evidence of this.

I know that when my father was a college student (in the late 1930s), she was living and working in the Cincinnati/Newport area. She had lived with her mother, Kate, until her death in 1928 and then on her own. She was quite independent for the times, working and living on her own, having a car and traveling. She took my father on several extensive trips of the U.S., both when he was a youngster and when a college student. She stood in for his mother both before and after Grandma Carrie was institutionalized.

In 1939, Susan bought a house in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her Coffin relatives had a house there, which she had been able to spend about 6 weeks each winter in. I think it was in Florida that she first met Bill Liverett, who was the chauffeur and handyman for the Coffin family. The family objected to Susan having any relationship with him. Bill left their employ and joined the Navy, serving from 1942-1945, and after he returned he and Susan married in 1946. By this time the older family members who had objected, and had often ruled Susan’s life, were all dead. My father had married and they had started a family. She was finally freer than ever before to make a choice for herself.

I have often wondered about the Coffin family’s migration from Nantucket to Cincinnati. I am still piecing together the history and the possibilities but this is how it seems to me to have happened.

Nantucket before 1835

Until very recently, I have never found specific information about my Coffin family leaving Nantucket, except that I knew they did at some point. Based on the births and deaths of children of Cyrus and Abigail Coffin, my great-great grandparents, that family migrated between April 1813 when a son Zebulon was born in Nantucket and August 1814 when that son died in Cincinnati. I recently came across a brief background of his live and travels, a typed manuscript, written by C. Louis Coffin in about 1966. In this he described his great-great-grandmother’s having “escaped from Nantucket in 1813 and came to Cincinnati with her 31 year old son Cyrus”. This was Sarah Folger Coffin, widow of Isaiah Coffin, my great-great-great grandparents. So for the present I am assuming that the Coffins left Nantucket after April 1813 and before the end of that year. The family grouping most likely included Sally and her two youngest children, Cyrus, his wife Abigail, and their 5 youngsters. It appears that at least 3 of Cyrus’s other brothers also came to Cincinnati but it is not clear whether they all came at the same time. Other Nantucket family names also appear in early Cincinnati records and there may have been a number of groups that migrated west.

Isaiah Coffin, husband of Sarah or Sally as she was known, died in April 1813 in Nantucket. So far I have not found any record or note of why he died, at the relatively young age of 55. He did reportedly leave a will, which I have not found yet. Sally was left with 2 young children still at home: a daughter, Eliza, was not quite 12 and a son, Christopher was just 7 years old. There were also 2 married sons and 3 grown sons who were not yet married. My great-great-grandfather, Cyrus was their oldest son. He was married and had 5 young children of his own, the youngest of whom (Zebulon) was born 2 days after the death of Isaiah. I do not know whether the family had already made plans to migrate or whether Isaiah’s death was an important factor.

From a historical perspective, the War of 1812 was causing significant problems for Nantucket and its inhabitants. As noted by Obed Macy in 1835: by 1811 many of the inhabitants of Nantucket began to think of removing themselves to “the country” as it seemed more likely that war would take place. There were growing concerns about the value of real estate. “The thoughts of those who proposed to remove were, in general, turned towards Ohio, attracted by the flattering accounts received from that state of the salubrity of its climate and the luxuriance of its soil.” Nantucket’s soil by that point did not support growing enough crops to support the population of the island. So this may partially explain why the Coffins headed to Ohio and Cincinnati.

Cincinnati 1838

Nantucket is an island about 30 miles south of Massachusetts, which was an even more significant distance to cross in the early 1800s than it is today. By the time war was declared by the United States against England, Nantucket was already feeling the effects of the conflict. It was increasingly difficult to import the food and other necessary items to the island. English ships prevented most incoming and outgoing contact with the continent. The whaling ships, Nantucket’s primary source of income and where most of the inhabitants’ money was invested, were mostly at sea when the war was declared and many were captured by the English. Many American sailors were impressed into the service of the English. As R.A. Douglas-Lithgow wrote: “The miseries and deprivations of the Revolution were repeated; the same struggle for existence was maintained against the same terrible odds.”

“It is not the purpose of the writer, nor is it feasible, to chronicle in detail either the privations and sufferings of the islanders during this terrible war, or the spirited efforts they made to mitigate its evils by fervent appeals to both the American and the British authorities. Their ships at sea, which represented their most valuable possessions, were in imminent danger, all business was at a standstill, many of the families were reduced almost to beggary and starvation, and the condition of the involuntarily unemployed was, indeed, desperate.”

So it appears that there was a very difficult life facing the Coffins on Nantucket when they left. There were few jobs and there was little money among the inhabitants to purchase goods or services even when they were available. Moving to “the country” and going west might have seemed like a pretty good idea, and likely to provide a life with more potential than they were leaving.

  1. Douglas-Lithgow, R.A. Nantucket A History. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1914. [Read online at Google Books.]
  2. Macy, Obed. A history of Nantucket. Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1835. [Book from the author's private library. The image of the Nantucket map was scanned by the author for this posting.]
  3. Cincinnati 1838 image from the Library of Congress, American Memory, Digital ID g4084c ct001308 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4084c.ct001308

Catherine about 1863-1865

I’ve been thinking about my great great grandmother, Catherine Justice Coffin, again. I recently finished reading a book, American Grit edited by Emily Foster. This is a collection of letters from a woman in western Ohio to her family back home in Maryland after she and her husband moved to the wilds of the West to farm. The time period is about the same as for my g-g-grandmother so I thought it would be interesting and might show me something about what life in Ohio was like in those days. Although I think there was a difference between living on a developing farm and living in the state’s biggest city, I felt like I had more of a sense of just how much work day to day life took in that time period. Thanks to Judy for taking it out of her library for me.

Last year, I had started a timeline of Catherine’s life, back around when the COG assignment was to write from a timeline (the 91st COG, just about a year ago). What I quickly discovered was that I didn’t have much beyond dates and places for major life events to bring her to life.

And so, as is typical for me, my FRADD (Family Research Attention Deficit Disorder) kicked in. I never did get the story of my great great grandmother, Catherine, written. An archivist friend, when asked about Yellow Springs Ohio and the old spas, recommended a couple of books. I ended up requesting and reading a book about Mary Gove Nichols life. (Thanks to the library consortium system, I can often get books that my local library doesn’t have.) The connection was that Mary Gove Nichols was born and lived in the same time period as Catherine, and more importantly was the co-owner of the Yellow Springs Spa at about the time that Catherine was there. The title of the book is Shameless and it is a very good description of women’s status in the early to mid 1800s in this country. The Water Cure was popular as a treatment for a number of ills, particularly consumption (which Catherine had). The Water Cure included baths in cold water, drinking lots of water, and healthy meals (lots of vegetables I think) among other prescriptions. The Yellow Springs, in Greene county about 60 miles north of Cincinnati, was already known in the 1830s to have some benefit for those with chronic diseases.

CEC cemetery record

Although I don’t have any direct evidence that ties Catherine to the Water Cure, I do have evidence that she died of “pulmonary consumption” in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Catherine Elizabeth Justice was born the 30th of December 1821, in Clermont county, Ohio. This is southwestern Ohio just east of Cincinnati and bordered by the Ohio River on the south. Her father was Jesse Justice Jr., from New Jersey and her mother was Susan Wilcox from Nantucket originally. They met in Clermont county and married in 1818. Their first child, a son, had been born in February 1820 and died as an infant in the fall of 1821 before his sister, Catherine, was born. The family stayed in Clermont county until sometime after the next brother, Theodore, was born in January 1824. Between then and December 1828 the family moved into Cincinnati. The family is enumerated in the federal census of 1830 in Cincinnati. In the mid to late 1820s Cincinnati was growing quickly, and became the first major inland city in the young United States. Incorporated in 1819, Cincinnati had river transport by the Ohio River which was the main route to New Orleans. The population of Cincinnati, or the greater Cincinnati area including Newport and Covington, Kentucky, in 1835 was about 35,000. Jesse Justice opened a grocery shop and became active in the city. By 1834 he was City Marshall.

Between January 1833 and April 1834 3 children of Jesse and Susan died. An infant son died at 3 months old. A 4 year old daughter died of cholera. And a second infant daughter died within a day of being born. Catherine and her brother Theodore were the only living children. Catherine and Theodore were close in age but there is little information in the family vault about him. The last child born to Jesse and Susan, William Harrison Justice, was born in April 1840.

Catherine was 18 years old, married for 6 months, and pregnant with her first child when this last brother was born. She married Zebulon B. Coffin, who also had a grocery shop in Cincinnati, and was involved in the community. Her daughter, Jessie Malvina, was born in November 1840 so was just 7 months younger than her uncle Harrison. At the time of the 1840 federal census, I believe that Catherine and Zebulon must have been living with her parents in Cincinnati. At least, they fit the right age groups for the Jesse Justice family enumerated in Cincinnati; in addition I have not found them enumerated anywhere else separately.

At some point, before the federal census in 1850 but not documented beyond stories, the family adopted (probably not legally) a young boy said to have been found by Harrison in Cincinnati on the street with nowhere to go. The story is that Harrison found Anthony Burton, about age 9, living on the street and told his mother who took him in. In 1850 Anthony was enumerated with the Zebulon Coffin family in Newport, Kentucky (which is directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati). Jesse and Susan Justice and their family lived next door. At the time of the 1860 federal census, Anthony lived in Newport in Susan Justice’s home along with Harrison. Between the two households there were three young people within a year or two of the same age: Jessie Malvina Coffin, Harrison Justice, and Anthony Burton.

There is little passed down in the family lore about Catherine (or Kate as some of her cousins called her) as a person. She and Zebulon had 2 more children, each about 6 years apart. It is likely that she was “delicate”. Much of the picture of Catherine that exists is from a few letters I have, both to and from her. She, along with others in the family, wrote to Anthony while he served in the Civil War. By that time, she was also probably experiencing the effects of her consumption. We know she was only 44 when she died August 31, 1866 in Yellow Springs, Greene, Ohio.

I think the next step in learning about g-g-granmother Catherine’s life will involve looking more closely at these few other documents I have. All of these need to be transcribed. As I remember, I got as far as putting them in sheet protectors, but need to take that next step. I wonder where I put them? I guess finding them and starting to transcribe them could get put on my March Genealogy To-Do List. Maybe.

Since I have written about my great-grandmother Boothby, I decided I would also write about my great-grandmother in the Salt family. This is about Katie Justice Coffin Salt. Some other time I will write about her parents, and more about the Salt family. I started out to write about her mother, Catherine Elizabeth Justice, earlier and got so distracted by a number of other things that I wrote about that instead. One of my biggest brickwalls is the ancestor in the Salt family who migrated to this country, and I intend to write about him in the future.

Katie Justice Coffin was born in Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, on November 26, 1852 to Catherine Justice Coffin and Zebulon B. Coffin. Her older sister was 12 and her brother was 6. I don’t know much about her growing up years. The Federal population census of 1860, when Katie was 8, shows that the household then consisted of her father and mother, her brother Henry, 2 females listed as “domestic” both born in Ireland and 1 male domestic who was born in Germany. Katie’s older sister Jessie, already married, was living with her husband in the next house. Her grandmother Susan Justice, uncle Harrison Justice, and Anthony Burton (adopted into the family group) lived on the other side of Jessie. Anthony was adopted as a boy (probably not formally) first by Susan Justice, and he lived the rest of his life with various family members. He never married. He worked for Zebulon in his grocery business and served in the Civil War.

In the 1870 Federal census, Katie is not enumerated with her family and I have not yet found her anywhere else. She would have been 17, and her mother had died 4 years previously.  Her recently widowed father, Zebulon was living with his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and Anthony Burton with his older daughter’s family listed as a separate family group (possibly living upstairs), and three domestic servants. Interestingly, one of these servants, a young woman named Sophie Karewald, spent the rest of her life working for various family members. My current guess is that Katie was off visiting a friend or relatives when the 1870 census was taken, and either not listed or more likely was mis-indexed. By 1880, the households had again reconfigured. Katie and her widowed father lived with Jessie’s family.

Katie Coffin, circa 1880

Next door lived Katie’s grandmother Justice and uncle with 2 servants. Anthony Burton was not living with either family at the time of the census.

In May 1883 Katie married John Clifford Salt and went to live with him on his family farm in Saltair, Clermont County, Ohio.

John Clifford Salt, circa 1880

His mother also lived with them on the farm. This was across the Ohio River and about 30 miles east from Cincinnati. Cliff and Katie were second cousins on the Justice family side. His mother Ann was first cousin to her mother Catherine. I don’t know how they met originally. Not only were they cousins, but they probably knew each other from a young age because there was a certain amount of visiting by the young people to the “country” (from the Cincinnati area to the more rural area where the Salt family farm was). Living out in the country was a big change for Katie.

At the time they married, Katie was 30 which seems relatively old to be marrying for the first time, in that era. I never heard any family stories about why she didn’t marry at a younger age, Perhaps she felt responsible to run the household for her widowed father.

Katie and Cliff had 3 children: Anna (who died before she was 2), Henry (my grandfather), and Susan. When the children were very young Cliff developed mental problems and was committed to a state hospital in Dayton, Ohio. In 1893, just 3 months after the birth of her daughter Susan, Katie was made his guardian and he lived the rest of his life institutionalized. A cousin was told and repeated the story that he was cutting ice to put in the icehouse and slipped and fell, injuring his head. He developed mental problems after that and it was thought that the accident had contributed to his problems. I have never heard any good description of what his mental problems were. Cousin Ruhama’s mother, who was a first cousin of Cliff’s, would go visit him when she could, traveling via the electric trolley to a train. Ruhama also said that she had been told that in the hospital he had charge of the bakery, and generally was fine, but that sometimes “the pressure would build up and he would ask to be confined.“ One time he was not confined quickly enough and he threw dough all over the kitchen even onto the ceiling.

Katie and the 2 children continued to live on the farm,

Katie, Henry, Ruie Salt

with her mother-in-law, until Henry was old enough to be out on his own. This picture shows the three of them, either at the farm or perhaps visiting in Newport. It is one of my favorites because one of my brothers looked so much like Henry at a similar age. Once Henry was out of the house, sometime before 1910, Katie and Susan (who was known in the family as Ruie) moved into Bethel for Susan to attend the high school there. By 1920 the two of them were across the river in Newport, Kentucky and Susan had finished nursing school.

Katie had few financial resources and needed support from her children and her brother. She lived the rest of her life in Newport, and died November 1, 1928. Susan lived with her until her death, and only then did she leave Kentucky and later marry. While there are no mysteries about Katie as there are about some of my other female ancestors, with the exception of where she was in 1870 for the census, there is also little that describes her as a person. I am left wondering what she was like, how she spent her time, what she enjoyed or disliked. She must have been a very strong woman to have managed to raise her two children alone.

I’ve been sorting through yet another pile of mixed pictures, snapshots, ephemera, a letter or two (recent), etc.  Somehow this pile landed on my desk.  It may be an orphan-pile, left over from the boxes I was going through earlier in the year.  I am really not sure at this point.  What I do know is who the pile came from.  One of the pack-rats in my family, my Cousin Jessie, managed to pass lots of family stuff along to me; some of it came directly from her to me.  Some of it came via one or another of my siblings or from my parents.  Some of came from her long-time companion, Sister C.  Cousin Jessie never married and had no closer relatives than my parents and our family.   She also lived a long and full life.  She also came from a long line of women who saved things and left those things to others.  And finally, she was also interested in family history (particularly the Coffin family) and she was the last in several family lines, so she had lots of stuff.

Unfortunately, or maybe it wasn’t completely unfortunate if you ask my husband, much of Cousin Jessie’s collected treasures got lost to the family (read: me) when she died and left everything to her companion.  My sister and I had been in contact with Sister C., and visited a couple of times but never were informed when she was sick for the last time and when she died.  So the entire household was cleared out and property sold before we knew it had happened.  Perfectly reasonable given that it all belonged to her.  But there were a few treasures from our family that I would have loved the chance to buy from the estate.  And a few historical objects that I would like to know had been preserved but fear went into a dumpster.

Regardless of lost possibilities, I still possess a lot of things from Cousin Jessie and her family.  Just to place the people in this post:  Cousin Jessie’s grandmother (Jessie Malvina) was the older sister of my great-grandmother (Katie Justice) who married a Salt, both of whom were the daughters of Zebulon B. Coffin of Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky.   So the keepsakes are from these combined Coffin lines.  The majority of what has come to me is paper: pictures both formal and snapshots; cards from a variety of occasions; newspaper clippings that include marriages and obituaries (often of people who are not related) but also include stories of the day; postcards and other mementos of trips; baptism cards, at least one high school commencement exercises program, many invitations to weddings or “at home” evenings; etc., etc.  And being the good family historian and genealogist as well as archivist, I try to sort through and figure out how to preserve what is important.

And that is part of the problem I have.  What is important?  What do I need to keep and what can/should I get rid of?  Here’s an example:  Do I really need to keep 6 identical cards of “Godly Resolutions” (that I think were purchased for use in a Sunday School class)?  They’re pretty little cards  but do I need to keep all six?  And if I don’t keep all of them, am I being stupid to just throw out the other 5?  Maybe they’re worth something to someone else and I should try to sell them on eBay.  I don’t want the next generation to be faced with a similar dilemma, at least not about the same stuff just because I couldn’t make up my mind.  I also have a tendency to get to a point going through piles that I start to throw out everything.  And I don’t want to find that I have trashed something that I want later (which happens to me all the time with books and sometimes with clothing), or that someone else wanted.  Not that anyone in my family does want any of this stuff.  That’s why I have it in the first place.

Current piles

Current piles

This picture shows the current set of stuff I am trying to deal with.  You can see that I have divided things into several piles.  I am trying to achieve the state of being able to throw some of it away and to know how and where to store the rest of it.  You can also  see a stack of inboxes all of which contain other family stuff I am trying to sort.  This stuff has already gone through the process of being in piles on the desktop.  Some of it has made it into sheet protectors and there are a couple of folders there.  But it is all still sitting on my desk.  I wish once I sorted through the stuff and decided what stays and what goes, that the keepers would encase themselves in the appropriate archival container and leap into files or binders or boxes!  I don’t know why, but it takes me several passes to get this kind of mess looked through and considered and then actually *put* someplace besides my desk top.  I know that the organizer people, you know the ones who are experts at time management or organizing other people’s stuff, say that you should only touch something once.  Not move it from pile to pile the way I currently do.   This may be the beginning of a resolution or goal for next year.  May be.

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