Curiouser & Curiouser

Today I feel like Alice in Wonderland, like the part in chapter two when Alice exclaims, “Curiouser and curiouser!” and subsequently grows to be nine feet tall. You know, like one does. I haven’t eaten a sponge cake to reach a skeleton key that opens the door to Wonderland, but I am confused; I’ve been searching for more information on my 5th great-grandfather, Silas Ephraim Nelson, this week, and I’ve stumbled on a potential desertion-of-sorts via a notice in the local newspaper. That’s honestly the best way I can describe this one; without further ado–


Silas Ephraim Nelson was born on June 15, 1791 in Hebron, New York to John and Mollie (Hare) Nelson, and when the War of 1812 broke out, he enlisted as a Private in McCleary’s Regiment of the New York Militia (later joining Rush’s Detachment in the Pennsylvania Militia). He married Cynthia Felt, my 5th great-grandmother, on April 17, 1813 in Hebron, and he was mustered out of the war in September of the following year. Silas and Cynthia had seven children–Horace (b. 1814), George (b. 1816), Ira (b. 1819), Cephas (b. 1821), Leroy (b. 1823), Lucinda (b. 1825) and Sarah (b. 1829)–and they moved to Lymansville, Pennsylvania in 1821 to be near Silas’ older brother, Cephas.

Cynthia died on May 28, 1831 in Eulalia, Pennsylvania at the age of 35, and Silas married Mary Ann Bellows in August, just a few months later. Silas and Mary Ann had nine children of their own–Cynthia (b. 1833), Darwin (b. 1835), Caroline (b. 1837), Moranville (b. 1839), Louise (b. 1841), Philena (b. 1845), Lester (b. 1849), Mary Medora (b. 1851) and Cassimer (b. 1857)–and they maintained a farm in the area for the rest of their lives. Silas was one of the first appointments to Potter County’s Grand Jury, and other than a few incidents of being caught selling liquor without a license, the couple seems to have led a quiet life. But then I found this notice in The Potter Journal and News Item:

Nelson, Silas
Philena (Nelson) Decker, daughter of Silas & Mary Ann (Bellows) Nelson

And he didn’t just publish this notice once; he published it dozens of times from 1862 to 1863, continuously reminding the community that Mary Ann Nelson cannot be trusted. I haven’t found any court case records or divorce proceedings; Mary Ann’s name wasn’t crossed out in the family Bible; and none of their neighbors’ letters mentions any rift in Silas and Mary Ann’s marriage. What’s even more confusing is that after Silas’ death on November 14, 1869, Mary Ann applied for and collected his pension from the War of 1812. And while there may have been a reconciliation–or maybe it was all a misunderstanding–this notice just seems so final.

Mary Ann fought for the pension, too. A handwritten note at the bottom of the pension application file indicates that, at first, the government denied Mary Ann access to her deceased husband’s pension. Why? “That there is no record, public or private, of their marriage, that in the vicinity where they were married and where they have lived it has not been customary to keep public records of marriage.” She won–after years of hard work and a long court battle–but I’m still so confused. Why did Mary Ann leave? Did they separate? Did they seek a divorce? Did they ever speak again? Would he have wanted her to receive his pension? Just–what did Silas do? I might never know the answers to these questions–I might feel like Alice in Wonderland forever–but here’s what I do know: it’ll be fun to try to figure it out.

16 thoughts on “Curiouser & Curiouser

  1. Wow – what a story! Newspapers really are so rich when it comes to family history. I wonder if perhaps one of them strayed, which resulted in her leaving for a while and he published the notice because he was angry. Then they reconciled. Or even something as simple as a crisis on her part – after having nine children, on top of step-children, I can imagine some women might just need to get away. No way to know for sure…Love hearing your family stories 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! These ideas seem to fit the story, and I wouldn’t blame Mary Ann–I’d want to get away too! I really want to have the answer already, but no luck yet.


  2. Could there possibly have been 2 different families with the same names in that area? This truly is a mystery. To leave her home, and “very large’ family seems a bit out of character for sure but I know you’ll get to the bottom of this 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That was one of my thoughts too, but I haven’t found another family with those names yet. This is really strange–I’ve never come across any ads like this before, and I’ve been researching for eight years!

      Liked by 1 person

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