The Elusive Frank Jennings

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One of the frustrations of genealogy is finding where an ancestor originated from, particularly without records regarding parents or limited information on a place of origin. Connecting the dots, on the other hand, can be very rewarding. Though not a direct ancestor, the story of my great-great-grandmother Caroline Taylor’s first husband, Frank Jennings, is inseparable from the others.

The story from a family scrapbook goes like this:

After the death of her mother, Caroline kept house for her widower father south of St. Joseph, Missouri. Here she met Frank Jennings who she married in 1868 at age sixteen. Frank, of Irish ancestry, was a veteran of the Civil War. He served two enlistments in the Union Army, reaching the rank of sergeant. Frank and Caroline lived in Buchanan County for some years after they married. She tells how she used to row across the Missouri River to visit her sister on the Kansas side. After some years near St. Joseph, Frank and Caroline moved to the Hannibal, Missouri area and rented a farm in the Mississippi “bottoms”. They did well on this farm until one fateful day when the Mississippi River rose to uncontrollable heights, broke through the levees and wiped them out. After the flood, Frank got a job running the farming enterprise of a Hannibal businessman named Stillwell. One cold Saturday in February, 1881, Frank Jennings went to Hannibal in a lumber wagon. While in town, he had his beard shaved off. On the way home he began to feel bad. On the following Monday Frank died. The doctor called it “quick pneumonia”. Frank is buried in Turner Cemetery, a primitive Baptist cemetery about four miles out of Hannibal. Caroline sold Frank’s watch and bought a tombstone for the grave. Frank was born in 1843 so he was thirty-eight years old at the time of his death. Caroline was pregnant with their son Albert when Frank died.

The children of Frank and Caroline were Frank Jr., Edward, Blanche, and Albert. She remarried, this time to a man another Civil War veteran named Hugh White, and settled back in the St. Joseph area. They had three children, Ellen Margaret, Thomas Dillon, and Thomas Glenn. Blanche Jennings married Richard Antone Pollard. When she died in childbirth, her son, Richard Jr. (“Dickie”), went to live with Caroline.

Working backwards through Frank’s life, I started with his place of burial. The Old Turner Cemetery in Marion County, Missouri, turned out not to be a Primitive Baptist cemetery. However, nearby was the Bear Creek cemetery, though transcriptions of both these cemeteries is incomplete. By luck, someone had made a walking survey of the Bear Creek Cemetery and I found a photograph of the gravestone of F. Jennings with dates that match the family story.

From there, I turned to census records where, based on the dates, he was likely to appear in the Federal Census returns from 1850 to 1880. Fortunately, fuzzy matching in the search provided by when I searched for Frank Jennings, instead turned up Francis Ginnings. All the other particulars matched up and show him and his children living in Pike County, Illinois, across the river from Hannibal.
1880 Census Illinois - Frank (Francis) and Caroline Jennings (Ginnings) cropped

Unfortunately, prior census records don’t seem to match up on birth dates or have fathers with the correct place of birth. One intriguing possibility is John Drake Jennings of Chicago for whom there’s a gap in the children listed that matches the birth date of Frank. But his birthplace is Vermont and the other specifics don’t seem to match up.

Military records usually reveal additional information, so I turned to the Civil War service of Frank Jennings. The only obvious listing is a military service pension application by Hugh White as guardian for his children. In that application, his service was indicated as the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company G.
Frank Jennings pension application

Without knowing whether the pension was denied, it’s impossible to say if Frank’s children received a pension for his service. Other listings including the roster for the 49th PVI, Company G and the digitized version of the 1898 history of the 49th by Robert Westbrook turns up no mention.

So those are the puzzle pieces I have so far with the hopes that further digging or the discovery of another record source will yield additional clues. A marriage certificate or some other clue as to his parents or siblings has always proved helpful with other researches, so perhaps I’ll get lucky here. Otherwise, that pension application or the discovery of military service may avail. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Jennings may not have been his name, though the name Francis certainly points to Irish origins and would seem to be likely as his given name since I would think it less common to pass on an assumed name to a son. Stay tuned for further investigations!

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