What do you really know about your ancestors? Any famous connections?
Alonzo T. Prentiss (1819-1903) married Ruth McConnell in 1842, in Putnam County, Ohio. They became the parents of six children, as the 1850 and 1860 federal censuses demonstrate. But by 1870, Ruth was the head of household. This suggested that Alonzo had died, perhaps a casualty of the Civil War. Our client asked if we would try to determine what happened to Alonzo Prentiss after 1860.
Civil War records show that Alonzo T. Prentiss served for the Union cause in Company I, 49th Ohio Infantry. The pension index lists Alonzo T. Prentiss who served in that same unit as applying for a pension in July 1890, in California! The pension file was requested from the National Archives in Washington, DC, and I received it a couple of weeks later.
The 1880 census did not turn up Alonzo or Thomas or A. T. Prentiss, but he was found in 1900, in Brooklyn Township, Alameda County, California. Alonzo T. Prentiss reported his birth as occurring May 1819 in Ohio, parents born in New York. This matches the profile of the ancestor of Putnam County, Ohio. He had married a black woman named Daphne V., age fifty-nine, a native of Tennessee. The census tells that they had been married for thirty-four years! This suggests that they were married about 1866. Daphne had given birth to five children, but none were still living. Alonzo did not die in the Civil War, as the descendants had believed.
Internet searches brought up some startling connections. Daphne Virginia (Jenny) Parker was born about 1832 in Virginia to a slave woman. She never knew her parents, who were sold off while she was quite young. Jenny ended up near Nashville, Tennessee, on the plantation of John Parker, and was assigned to be the servant and companion to Parker’s youngest daughter. As an adult, she became the live-in housekeeper for Ruth and Alonzo Prentiss, who had moved to the Nashville area from Ohio. Their marriage broke up, and Alonzo married Jenny. They were living in the San Francisco area by the mid-1870’s, where Alonzo worked as a successful carpenter. In early 1876, Jenny gave birth to a stillborn child. About that same time, a young woman named Flora Wellman gave birth to a son out of wedlock. Flora was weak of mind and body, so Jenny took the baby in and cared for him throughout his childhood. That baby was Jack London, future author of Call of the Wild, among other great works! The article about his childhood is an excerpt from a book remarkably titled For Love of Jack London: His Life with Jennie Prentiss, authored by Eugene Lasartemay and Mary Rudge.
This same story is told from the perspective of Flora We
llman in another Internet offering. The relationship between the famous author and Jenny Prentiss continued until Jenny’s death in 1923 or 1924.
Jack’s daughter wrote of her remembrances, stating that Jenny was more of a ‘grandma’ to her than her blood-related grandmothers. Alonzo’s name came up only incidentally in these articles, as the husband of this remarkable woman. But surely he provided a fatherly figure to young Jack, until Alonzo’s death in 1903.
You never know what you will find, once you start the amazing journey of family history research! Let us help you discover the stories of your ancestors.