Grandma Carrie Before She Was Crazy

This week I am beginning the story of my father’s mother, Carrie Boothby Salt Groppenbacher. As I began writing this, I was again struck with how little I know about her life, except for bits and pieces, mostly told me by my mother. My father didn’t talk much about his parents. In fact, Grandma Carrie was a big secret for a long time. As I wrote in an early post, my sibs and I thought Carrie was dead long before she actually was (see the first post I wrote about this here) because my father didn’t want to tell us about her. She was mentally ill and had been institutionalized. Because I have so little information about her, the post today is pulled together from a few documents and federal censuses. I have spent a fair amount of time this week looking through boxes to find a picture I can see in my mind’s eye but haven’t scanned and also still can’t find. I was rewarded, however, by finding a box that had both a photo album my father made and a photo album that my grandmother made. I also was reminded that I have a scrapbook she made about my father. More about that in another post.

My paternal grandmother, Carrie D. Boothby, or Delia C. Boothby as her birth was registered, was born July 10, 1894 to Alexander A. Boothby and Mary Earhart in Lewis Township, Brown County, Ohio. She apparently told my father that she was born in 1898, making herself 4 years younger than she actually was; maybe she used that date on other information he had available. I figured this out when I got the marriage information for her and my grandfather and I realized that if she were born in 1898 she would have only been 13 when she and my grandfather married. This seemed pretty unlikely and there was no sign that she had been underage at the time of the marriage. She was the last child of seven children born to Alex and Mary, the third daughter. As a girl she was known as Dillie or Dellie. She was 4 years younger than her next older brother and 9 years younger than her next older sister. Her oldest brother was 19 when she was born. I know nothing about her childhood. Her father was a farmer, but did not own his own place, so I don’t know whether she grew up on a farm or in one of the small towns.

Carrie D. Boothby and Henry C. Salt were married in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 22, 1912. I don’t know how they met, but in 1910 they were both living in Cincinnati (by the Federal census). Carrie wasn’t employed and Henry was listed as a machinist in a machine shop. As young marrieds, they lived in Dayton, Kentucky and then Augusta, Kentucky and Henry worked for the railroad car maintenance shop (perhaps the inter-urban train). Augusta is a river town, sited on the Ohio across from Brown County, Ohio. Henry’s great-grandfather John Salt had owned property and lived in Augusta for some period of time in his early adulthood. I don’t know whether the family connection had anything to do with Henry and Carrie living there.

In March 1917 their first child was delivered, a stillborn son. The death certificate says that the cord was wrapped around his neck. The fact of this child was long a family secret or mystery: I don’t even know if my father knew he had an older brother. He never talked about it. The older generation in the family had hints but no one seemed to know the whole story. I’m not sure just why it was such a secret. It must have been a shock and a source of grief but I don’t understand why it would have been kept so quiet.

Henry, dog, and Carrie Salt

This picture was labeled late summer 1917, so it was taken within 6 months of the death of their first child. It may have been on the farm, or it may have been on the river bank in Augusta. Sometime before the end of 1918, Carrie and Henry had moved to the Salt family farm in Clermont County, Ohio. Henry’s mother and younger sister had moved from the farm to Newport, Kentucky and there was a tenant farming and living in part of the house when Henry and Carrie moved back. In the 1920 Federal census Carrie’s parents, Alex and Mary Boothby were enumerated as living there too. The young Salt family included an 18-month old son. Both Henry and his father-in-law were listed as farmers on a general farm. Carrie’s sister, Ollie West and her family were enumerated a couple of houses away, also farming.

House at Saltair, Ohio


Then, two years later, the world turned upside down for Carrie. Her young husband died in March 1922; 3 months later, in June, her father died and 2 weeks later her sister Ollie suffered terrible burns from a kerosene stove and died. Carrie was the informant for Ollie’s death certificate. So Carrie was left with only the life skills of running a household and being a farm wife, with a three year old son to support and raise. Her mother and 2 brothers (both significantly older) were left, her other sister having died in 1910. Apparently she wasn’t close to her brothers and their families. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were also alive, but lived across the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky. It isn’t clear how close Carrie was with her in-laws, once Henry died. I do have a strong impression that her sister-in-law, my great aunt, worried about her and was concerned her taking care of my father.

In March of 1925 Carrie married again, to Phillip Groppenbacher. My father was just 6 years old. They lived first on the Salt farm and then in Bethel; Phillip was also a farmer. He was about 11 years older than Carrie and only lived 3 years after their marriage. From the death certificate it appears that he had cancer, and surgery hadn’t saved him. Once again, Carrie was alone, with no one to help her and a young son to support. This story will continue as I gain more information.

5 comments on “Grandma Carrie Before She Was Crazy
  1. Susan says:

    It’s hard to imagine surviving such losses intact – especially with so few safety nets available. Remarriage was almost the only way to survive. I can’t imagine her feelings when her second husband died, as well.

  2. Pat says:

    As a psychologist, I have wondered – and also wonder exactly what her problems were that got her institutionalized. My mother held the theory that all these losses were what broke her. Thanks for reading.

  3. Greta Koehl says:

    What a sad story. I have seen among my own ancestors that those who suffered the greatest personal losses were sometimes stricken by mental illness. We can only wonder if these poor souls might have benefited from antidepressants or other treatments.

  4. Pat says:

    I know. I think that is a striking part of her history, and certainly must have put horrendous stresses on her.

  5. Anna says:

    I cannot get over how quick Carrie lost everyone! I cannot imagine being so young and losing my husband, father, and sister within 3 months all while being alone with a 3 year old and having to take care of a farm. Wow.

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