Trying to piece together the young life of my great grandmother, Minnie Florian Wise

The woman to the right is my great grandmother. Her name was Minnie Florence Wise, and she was born on December 9, 1892, in Montgomery County, Kentucky, which is about 30 miles east of Lexington, where, if I’m not mistaken, her grandfather, John Anderson Wise (1823-1893), fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War as a Private in the 14th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. As of right now, I’d say I’m about 90% sure of that, but it looks as though it’s going to take a trip to the National Archives in D.C. to know for sure, as I suppose there could have been another John A. Wise in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky at the time. [Mt. Sterling is in Montgomery County, where Minnie was born.] But I’ll leave that for another time. For now, I want to focus on my great grandmother, who I was fortunate enough to know fairly well, in spite of the fact that my parents moved our family east from Kentucky when I was young. In fact, I was with her when she passed, on December 29, 1981, in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house, in Liberty, Kentucky. I haven’t heard it in over 40 years, but I used to have a tape that I’d made of her singing songs she knew from her childhood in the mountains of Kentucky. She was cleaning green beans at my grandmother’s house, where she’d moved after my great-grandfather passed away, and I sat down beside her to help, with my tape recorder in hand, asking her questions as we made our way through the paper bag full of beans. [I guess I was interested in recording history even as a child.] I wish I still had the tape, but I’m afraid it’s lost forever. I don’t remember either my questions, or her answers, but I can still recall that, when I asked about her favorite songs as a girl, she started singing Goin’ Up Cripple Creek… Anyway, these last few nights, I’ve been trying to piece together her life, based on what I can find in publicly available archives, and trying to answer a few questions that I’ve had about how she came to marry my great grandfather.

I don’t know where I got this idea, but, for some reason, I’ve had it in my head from a young age that her mother passed when she was a child, and that, over the following years, her father had mistreated her in some way, causing her to run away at a relatively young age with a boy who would become my great grandfather, Curt Florian, the grandson of Polish immigrant Joseph Phillip Florian. [That’s Curt below and to the right.] I don’t recall anyone having told me that, and I don’t think I ever asked anyone to confirm it, but it’s just what I always thought. So I decided to set out and see if I could either confirm any elements of that story, or debunk it altogether, starting with a call to my father, who told me that was pretty sure that her father wasn’t even in the picture. He said that he thought her father abandoned the family relatively early on. But, he said, he thought I was right about her marrying my great grandfather at a really young age. Well, after a few days of poking around, and having followed a few bad leads way too far, I think I’ve got a few answers… or at least partial answers.

I’m almost certain that my great grandmother’s father was “Jeff” Jefferson Davis Wise, and her mother was Louvina J. Tipton. [I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that my great, great, great grandfather would name his son Jefferson Davis Wise in 1861, ostensibly in honor of Jefferson Davis, and then join the Union cavalry a year or two later, but I imagine things were pretty fluid in those years, especially in border states, as we moved toward war. As I understand it, Davis, for instance, was against secession before being elected President of the Confederate States.] The information about Louvina has been a little harder to come by, but I’ve found a few census record which would seem to indicate that Jeff, the son of John Anderson Wise and Matilda Gill Wise, was 9 years old in 1870, and living in Monterey, Kentucky with his folks and a number of siblings ranging in age from 2 to 24 in age. And, just now, I was able to find the marriage certificate showing that Jefferson D. Wise married Louvina J. Tipton on July 6, 1889, in Scott County, Kentucky, where, by the way, I always knew this part of my family to be from. [Scott County includes, Georgetown, White Sulpher, Minorsville and Stamping Ground, which are all places that Minnie and Curt talked of when I was young.]

[A higher-res version of this form can be found here.]

As for what might have happened between Minnie’s parents, I think I found the answer in a record of the December 27, 1926 marriage between Jefferson Davis Wise and a widow named Rebecca Clark. In that license, my great, great grandfather notes that he had been married previously, but that the marriage had been “dissolved (due to) death.” And, next to that entry, he gives two dates – 1896 and 1900 – leaving me to think that perhaps he’d been married twice before Clark, only to have both “dissolve” due to death. And, as I’ve found a record for a Louvina Wise dying on January 9, 1897, I suspect he could have been referring to her death when he wrote “1896”… So, if I’m right, it looks like Minnie Wise’s parents were married in July 6, 1889, that she was born on December 9, 1892, and that her mother died about four years later, on January 9, 1897.

I suppose it’s possible that Jefferson Davis Wise, as my father suggested, abandoned his family, either prior to Louvina’s death, or afterward. Given, however, that my great, great grandfather says that his marriage was dissolved due to death, and that he remained in roughly the same area for the rest of his life, near to these children he would have abandoned, I’m hoping that’s not the case. What could have happened, I’m thinking, is that, when his wife passed, leaving him with a family of young children that he couldn’t care for, he reached out to his family for help, asking them to take some of them. And my guess is that’s why, in the 1900 census, I’m seeing that Minnie Wise, age 7, identified as a “niece,” was living with the large family of her father’s older brother, John Calhoun Wise, in Minorsville. [There’s lots of evidence that John Calhoun Wise and Jefferson Davis Wise were brothers – both sons of John Anderson Wise and Matilda Gill, who were married May 13, 1844 – but, if you’re the kind of person who needs evidence, here’s a link to a scrap of old paper showing the names of their 11 children, which lists both John C. and Jeff.] Here’s that section of the 1900 census I mentioned.

[A higher-res version of this form can be found here.]

As for the family story of Minnie running off when she was barely a teenager in order to marry Curt, I’m not finding any evidence of it. According to the 1910 census, she was single and living with her older brother, Grover Cleveland Wise, his wife Carrie S. Wise, and their children, ages 1, 3 and 5, in Switzer, Kentucky, at the time. And it wouldn’t be until two years later, on February 28, 1912, that she would marry my great grandfather, Curtis Florian, at the age of 19. So, it would seem that she and Curt did not run off and marry at an ungodly early age. [I haven’t seen solid documentation yet of their marriage date, but I’ve seen the 1912 date mentioned a few times in my online research. More importantly, though, the 1930 census for Franklin County shows that they were both 19 years old when they married. Franklin County, by the way, is just a little west of Minorsville, White Sulpher and Stamping Ground.]

I still have a few unanswered questions… like why my great, great grandfather, Jefferson Davis Wise, lists his birthdate as July 27, 1871 on his 1926 marriage license, when his death certificate, and all of the other available information, says he was born on July 27, 1861. As the dates are in agreement other than with regard to the year, I’m going to assume that it was either a mistake, or that he shaved ten years off his age when marrying the younger Rebecca Clark. Either way, he died October 6, 1937. Everyone seems to agree on that.

I’m going to get back to digging now, but, here’s a little something before I go – part of a letter that I recently received by my father about his grandmother, the above mentioned Minnie Wise Florian, whom he called “Ma.”

…In 1946, my mother and I moved home to her family’s farm near Woodlake, Kentucky, and from then on my grandmother, Minnie Wise Florian, and grandfather, Curtis Florian, whom I called Ma and Pa, were the major influences in my life. Neither Ma nor Pa made it past the third grade, and they were married when they were barely teenagers. My Grandmother told me that when they were married they had a cedar chest and a mule, and, shortly after they were married, the mule died. But they persevered.

Ma was a short, heavy woman, and her feet would swell, so she went barefoot most of the time. If I close my eyes, I can still see her bending over the hot wood stove near the sink that we had to carry water from outside to use. She made her own dresses from flour sacks, and collected depression glass in the Mayfair Open Rose pattern. Much of her collection is still in our possession, and I hope it stays in the family. (Most people are unaware of how fragile depression glass is. Due to its poor quality, it breaks very easily, especially the stemware.)

Farm life was hard in 1950, and my grandparents worked almost one thousand acres of the rich Kentucky bluegrass near a community called Stamping Ground. My Grandmother’s people, I believe, were of English descent, and moved to this area (West Virginia and Kentucky) because of the coal mines. I remember that the Wise family had family reunions in, of all places, Minersville, Kentucky. I remember a very large extended Wise family that were, for the most part, very big people, which was strange because Ma was not.

On the farm everything got used over and over. Nothing was wasted. For example, a nail was pulled from a board and straightened to be used again. The farm house had a “root-cellar” because we had no electricity, and no way to preserve food other than in the damp fifty-degree “cave like” underground cellar.

…I’m thinking back to summers on the farm, when she would give me crackers and Kool-aid while we sat atop the root-cellar, and watched my dog Blackie chase the chickens.

Here’s my dad, Charles Maynard, playing by the door to that same root cellar, with his dog, Blackie, in about 1950. To me, he looks a lot like a much paler version my son, Arlo.

update: My aunt Betsy, who just read this post, wrote to tell me that she thinks the second wife of Jefferson Davis Wise was named Mollie Onan. And, curiously, I find mention of a Mollie Onan in Franklin, Kentucky at the time. This Mollie Onan, however, did’t die in 1900. [As you’ll recall, it looked as though, based on the 1926 marriage license of Jefferson Davis Wise, that his second wife died in 1900. If this was the same Mollie Onan, though, she died in 1929, which would mean that Jefferson Davis Wise likely lied on his marriage license, which is certainly possible.] According to my aunt, our Ma Florian didn’t like either of her stepmothers, either Mollie Onan, or Rebecca Clark. She said, however, that, as she remembers it being told to her, one was much worse. [Curiously, my dad named his daughter Rebeccah, and Betsy named her daughter Mollie. Neither one, however, did so consciously as a reference back to the evil stepmothers of their grandmother.] So now I’m thinking that maybe Jefferson Davis Wise might have been married to my great grandmother up until her death, married his second wife soon afterward, and then abandoned her in 1900. I don’t think we’ll ever know, but it sounds plausible.
Also, my father says he remembers Ma Florian calling Rebecca Clark Wise a “mean” woman. He also seems to think that somewhere there’s a photo of her in a black dress. Furthermore, he doesn’t dispute my claim that Ma and Pa Florian were married at the age of 19. He says he should have known that, as he remembers their 50th wedding anniversary being on his 18th birthday, in 1962. My aunt, by the way, says she remembers there being a big party, with great food. She would have been 5 at the time. 

update: OK, I’m not seeing a wedding license anywhere in the archives, but I’m seeing that a few people doing genealogy work have noted a 1901 wedding between Jefferson Davis Wise and Mollie Onan, who, a year later, had a son named Seth Reese Wise, which makes sense, as I’d heard that Ma had a brother (I guess half-brother) named Seth. Again, though, I’m left wondering why Jefferson Davis Wise, on his 1926 wedding license, would indicate that he’d lost both of his previous wives to death, in 1896 and 1900, when it looks as though he didn’t even marry Mollie Onan until 1901, and she didn’t pass until 1929. My guess is that either someone filled out the form for him incorrectly, or that he lied, possibly because he didn’t want to say that he’d abandoned Mollie Onan and their family. And, my guess, since my dad already mentioned that Jefferson Davis Wise had abandoned his family, is that’s exactly what happened. And, to bolster that argument, I’ve found that, according to the 1910 census, an 8 year old Seth R. Wise was a boarder in the home of William S. Carter and his wife in West Eminence, Kentucky.

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  1. iRobert
    Posted January 7, 2020 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I like that you’re researching your family’s history. It seems to be a thing that’s good for the soul. We might all benefit from having a little more understanding of where we came from and what our ancestors were all about.

  2. Karl
    Posted January 8, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Your ancestors are going to have the exact opposite problem. Thanks to this site, they are going to have way too much information to wade through.

  3. Kim
    Posted January 8, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I hope on of my kids has OCD. We could use someone like you to make sense of our family history.

  4. Wobblie
    Posted January 8, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    A cousin of mine (don’t know how many times removed) did a family history nearly 50 years ago. I believe she had married into the LDS’s and the history was part of getting all the dead’s ones baptized. I might be making that up though. Because she reached back to her grand parents it included everyone who was a scion to those four families. It is 7 generations and includes hundreds of families and thousands of individuals. My paternal grandmother would have been connected to the authors family two generations earlier. Only included life births through about 1970.
    Point is contact the LDS and you might find complete genealogies already exist for some of your family. Having knowledge of my families history has provided entertainment and edification to me over the years—provides a much needed perspective.

  5. iRobert
    Posted January 8, 2020 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Wobblie, are you saying dead people can be baptized?

    I’m asking for a friend.

  6. iRobert
    Posted January 8, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    …a dead friend.

  7. iRobert
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    I’m sure I just read that wrong, but I really liked the idea that dead people could be baptized.

  8. Wobblie
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    IRobert I believe dead baptisms happen only in the Church of Latter Day Saints. But then again it is not in my families tradition and we frequently make things up about folks who are different. My mom being a good catholic Pole required that all our Doctors when I was growing up be Jewish. “They make the best Drs.”

  9. Anonymous
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 8:21 am | Permalink

  10. Posted June 24, 2023 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Jeff Davis Wise and Rebecca Florence Bramble Clark Wise were my grandparents. I knew Charles Curtis and Betsy as well as aunt Minnie and uncle Curt. Wise Family Reunion this July 16, 2023 Stamping Ground Park noon bring a dish. I have pictures of Charles Curtis and Betsy, Florence as well as Seth , Aunt Minnie and uncle Curt.also John Anderson, Matilda Gill and others. Mom is Sylvia Bea Wise Farris. I’ll be buried in Midway along with Jeff, Becky, & Sylvia Bea Wise Farris at her dad’s feet. Kiss Betsy and Charles Curtis. Frannie Farris I’ve searched for them with love. 6/24/2023. I love you

5 Trackbacks

  1. […] few days ago, I posted a little something here about the young lives of my great grandparents Curtis Florian (1892-1977) and Minnie Wise Florian (1892-1981), who were married at the age of 19 in Woodlake, Kentucky, on February 28, 1912. Well, I guess that […]

  2. […] going to trace the familial line back to Clark Wise. As you’ll recall, when we left off, I’d traced my ancestry back to Jefferson Davis Wise (1861–1937), the father of my great gran…. So, let’s pick things up […]

  3. […] how, earlier this year, I was telling you about my great great grandmother, Minnie Wise Florian, the fact that her mother passed away when she was just four years old, and the stories I’d […]

  4. By Mark’s Covid diary…. May 17 on May 17, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    […] all volunteered and come up. [It’s not a phrase I’ve heard much since childhood, but my great grandmother in Kentucky would talk of plants volunteering to come up in the spring, and I like that idea of them all […]

  5. By Talking about death with my son on December 3, 2020 at 10:48 pm

    […] was 13 years old on December 29, 1981 — the day that my great grandmother Minnie Florian died in Liberty, Kentucky. I was with her when she passed, a few weeks after her 89th birthday. It […]

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