In honor of Women’s History Month, I write about women in our family tree. This story is about Sarah Ellen Richards, firstborn child of Ostrander Richards and Amelia Magdelenne LaCoe, my paternal great-grandparents. My paternal grandmother, Jennie A. Richards, was the youngest child of Ostrander and Amelia (see my blog post – Mother’s Day 2017 for more information about Jennie). Recently, one of Sarah Ellen’s descendants contacted me because of a DNA match. This contact prompted me to write Sarah’s story.
Sarah Ellen Richards, born 13 December 1862 in Newton, Pennsylvania, never met her father’s parents. Nathaniel Richards died in 1852. His 2nd wife, Sarah Ostrander, died in March 1836, shortly after Ostrander’s birth. Ostrander’s stepmother, Sarah Michaels, outlived her husband by almost 40 years. Sarah, called ‘Ella’ during her childhood, did know her mother’s parents – William Anthony LaCoe (1820-1910) and Sybil Rone Ash (1825-1901).
By the time Sarah was five years old, her family moved to Lenawee County, Michigan, where her sister, Mary Amelia, was born in September 1867.  Sarah became big sister to three more siblings in Michigan: William Ostrander, born July 1870; Addie LaCoe, born November 1873; and Ora Nathaniel, born August 1876. The family moved back to Pennsylvania, specifically Newton in Lackawanna County, in spring of 1877.  Two more siblings were born in Ransom – Leslie Frank, born in August 1881, and Jennie A., born January 1884. The 1880 census taker found Ella Richards working as a servant for a family in Newton, Lackawanna county, Pennsylvania, and still living close to her parents. 
Sarah experienced the deaths of one sister and two of her brothers. Mary Amelia Richards, age 11, died October, 1878. William Ostrander Richards died in January, 1883 at age 13. Ora Nathaniel Richards died in August 1893 at 17 years of age. Ostrander and Amelia are buried next to Ora.  These deaths occurred when Sarah was a teenager and young adult. How did they affect her? My guess is that Sarah and her remaining three siblings grew closer together as their immediate family size shrank.
On to a happier note- the marriage of Sarah Ellen Richards and Charles Curtis Williams on 28 July 1882.  Charles, also born in December, 1862, was the son of Britain ‘Bart’ Williams and his 2nd wife, Catherine McMillan. Charles lived in or near Ransom, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania throughout his life.
TRIVIA TIME: Charles’ half-sister, Arminda/ Araminta L. Williams, married John Francis LaCoe, 8th child of William Anthony LaCoe and Sybil Rone Ash, who are also Sarah Ellen Richards’ grandparents. So, the blood relationship between Charles’ children and Arminda’s children is twofold: first cousins on the Williams side and first cousins, once removed on the LaCoe side.
Sarah and Charles became parents of six children:
- Pearl Edna, born 25 December 1884. (Pearl holds her daughter, Leah, and stands next to her mother, Ellen, in the FIVE GENERATION picture above).
- Willie H, born 12 July 1888. Died 29 July 1889.
- Isabelle Mae (or Myrtle) , born 22 November 1890. (Isabelle is my DNA match’s paternal grandmother).
- Walter Harry, born 9 December 1893.
- Myrtle Ellen, born 17 February 1896.
- James W., born 28 Jan 1898.
Map of Luzerne & Lackawanna Counties, ca 1894.
Source: G. Wm. Baist, Atlas of the Wyoming and Lackawanna Valleys and map of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, Penna. : from actual surveys, official records & private plans (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1894); digital images, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/item/2006627639/ : accessed 11 March 2018).
The family continued to live in West Abington, Lackawanna County, during the early decades of the twentieth century.   . Marriages occurred and grandchildren were born:
June 1904: Pearl Edna Williams married Lewis Allen Clark, also from Lackawanna County. Lewis and Pearl had 4 children.
March 1914: Isabelle M. Williams married Harry Franklin VanDeMark, also from Lackawanna County. Isabelle and Harry had 10 children.
September 1917: Walter Harry Williams married Kathryn Francis Alexander, also from Lackawanna County. Walter and Kathryn had 2 children.
May 1919: James M. Williams married Agnes Streeter, born in New York. James and Agnes lived in Detroit, Michigan in 1920 and moved back to Lackawanna County by 1930.  James and Agnes had one child. James’ occupation as ‘repairman, motor co’ (as reported on 1920 census) probably explains the move to Detroit.
April 1927: Myrtle Ellen married George Elmer Jacoby, also from Lackawanna County. Myrtle and George had one child. After George’s death in 1929, Myrtle married Maurice Jolly Black, a widower.  Myrtle and Maurice had one child.
Charles supported his family by farming, an honorable occupation. Weather often determined the success or failure of crops and, subsequently, the family’s welfare. One event, the Great Blizzard of 1888, probably affected them. The blizzard dumped several feet of snow on the northeast coast from March 11 to March 14, 1888. Entire pages of local newspapers reported the effects on everything. Read the Wilkes-Barre newspaper of March 18:
- Page 6, The Sunday News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 18 March 1888. https://www.newspapers.com/image/166897553
- Listen to this podcast for more details about “one of the deadliest and snowiest storms recorded in the United States”: http://www.paesta.psu.edu/podcast/what-was-great-blizzard-1888-and-how-did-it-impact-pennsylvania-paesta-podcast-series
Sarah attended the weddings of four children. She witnessed the births of 10 of her 18 grandchildren.
How did World War I affect the family? One son (Walter Harry) and two sons-in-law (Lewis Allen Clark and Harry F. VanDeMark) registered for the draft in 1917. Service records for these men prove more elusive. I haven’t found records to confirm whether they actually served or not. Perhaps one of their descendants has that information.
Then, tragedy struck the family. Sarah Ellen Richards Williams died on 17 December 1921 at the age of 59. Cause of death? Lobar pneumonia. 
Did you know that antibiotic treatment for pneumonia did not begin until the 1930s? For more information, read this article:
The Changing Fate of Pneumonia as a Public Health Concern in 20th Century America and Beyond. American Journal of Public Health, vol. 95, issue 12, December 2005, 2144-2154. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449499/
By 1930, widower Charles Curtis had married Bertha J _____.  Charles died on 6 August 1930 in Dalton, Lackawanna county, Pennsylvania.  Burial followed three days later at Fairlawn Cemetery in Dalton. Sarah’s death certificate does not contain the name of the cemetery. However, Sarah is probably also buried in Fairlawn Cemetery. A death certificate for Bertha Jane Williams, age 84, widow, who died 18 February 1951 is likely that of 64-year-old Bertha J. Williams listed with Charles in the 1930 census. Her maiden name was White. 
Sarah would not qualify as a ‘real woman’ on today’s reality television show. However, her life appears to be typical of many women in the early 20th century. Farmers primarily sought to provide food for their own family and, sometimes, sold the extra. Women gave birth to, cared for and buried children while keeping house. Many kept a small vegetable garden for the family. Some women also educated their children. The woman/ wife/ mother kept the family together and, as such, became the cornerstone of American family life.
Women’s rights were hotly debated during the period of Sarah’s life. How did she feel about the issue? Was Sarah a suffragette? The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified on August 18, 1920, granted American women the right to vote. Did Sarah ever vote? I don’t have an answer to these questions.
Sarah’s descendants number over 200. Although not rich or famous, Sarah had an impact on families living in and near Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.
REFLECTION: I wrote about Sarah Ellen Richards because of the DNA match. Her story affected me more than I expected. Women like her definitely provide the backbone of our society, particularly in rural areas but also in the cities. Her death at the age of 59 was due to a disease that is now readily treated and rarely fatal in someone that young. Yes, now that I am retired, 59 seems young. I am a Registered Nurse so I am familiar with pneumonia and its effects. I also realized that there is so much more to everyone’s story than what is found in census and other records. As I wrote, I searched for events that may have impacted Sarah and her family. I learned about the Great Blizzard of 1888 and discovered more online sources for maps. Distractions by BSOs (bright shiny objects) occurred only 3-4 times.
What helped? Having basic information about the family from the LaCoe family history and my own prior research. Primarily, I research my direct line ancestors and have not ventured far into the sibling lines. Improved research practices learned through Genealogy Do-Over also helped.
What didn’t help? Not starting a research log for Sarah and Charles before starting to write. I didn’t “know what I didn’t know” when I started. Entering data on personal family tree is not the same as entering the same information plus an analysis of the information on the research log. I had to stop multiple times to locate information or a particular record.
Future plans: Start or review research log before beginning to write about any person. Identify gaps and issues. Pose questions as I write. Will I write about Sarah’s other siblings – Addie LaCoe Richards and Leslie Frank Richards? Maybe.
 1870 U.S. Census, Lenawee County, Michigan, population schedule, Woodstock, p. 8 (penned), dwelling 66, family 65, Ostrander Richards age 33, farmer; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 1 July 2010); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. , microfilm publication M593_686.
 Susan A. LaCoe, Lenay LaCoe Blackwell, and Velma Sue Miller, compilers/ updaters, Commemorative Record of LaCoe Family: Containing Biographical Sketches and Genealogy. Illustrated. 1750-2010, Martha L. LaCoe, compiler of first edition, edition 2010 (Pennsylvania: Privately published, 2010), p. 12.
 1880 U.S. Census, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Newton, enumeration district (ED) 42, p. 8D(penned), p. 331 (stamped on previous page), dwelling 55, family 55, Ella Richards 17, servant; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed, downloaded 11 March 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication T9, roll 1138.
 Milwaukee Cemetery (Ransom Twp, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania), marker for Richards- Ostrander, Amelia and Ora; personally read and photographed, 13 August 2017.
 J.B. Stephens, compiler, History and Directory of Newton and Ransom Townships, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania (Montrose, Pennsylvania: J.B. Stephens, 1912), p. 216; digital images, Penn State University, Penn State University Libraries, digital collections (https://collection1.libraries.psu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/digitalbks2/id/20993/rec/2 : accessed & printed 8 June 2010).
 LaCoe, Blackwell & Miller, Commemorative Record of LaCoe Family, pp. 34-40.
 1900 U.S. Census, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, West Abington, enumeration district (ED) 123, p. 19A (penned), dwelling 2, family 2, Sarah E. Williams wife, 37; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 2 February 2015); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T623_1422.
 1910 U.S Census, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, West Abington Twp, enumeration district (ED) 148, p. 8A (penned), dwelling 122, family 124, Chas E Williams head, 47; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed & downloaded 17 January 2015); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T624.
 1920 U.S. Census, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, West Abington, enumeration district (ED) 58, p. 5A (penned), dwelling 27, families 28 & 29, Williams Chas. E., head, 57 and Williams Walter H, head, 26; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed & downloaded 17 January 2015); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T625_1577.
 1920 census for James & Agnes. 1920 U.S. Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 21, enumeration district (ED) 647, p. 7A (penned), James Williams; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 10 March 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., microfilm publication T625_819.
 1930 U.S. Census, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Dalton, enumeration district (ED) 35-123, p. 9A (penned), dwelling 223, family 229, James M. Williams; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 10 March 2018); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T626.
 LaCoe, Blackwell & Miller, Commemorative Record of LaCoe Family, p. 39.
 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1924,” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : viewed & downloaded 17 January 2015), Death certificate # 120158 for Sarah E. Williams.
 1930 U.S. Census, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Dalton, enumeration district (ED) 0123, p. 6B(penned), dwelling 155, family 160, Williams Charles C.; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, downloaded 17 May 2015); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington,D.C., microfilm publication T626, roll 2048.
 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966,” digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed & downloaded 10 March 2018), Death certificate # 77489 (1930) for Charles C. Williams.
 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966,” digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed & downloaded 10 March 2018) Death certificate # 13170 (1951) for Bertha Jane Williams.
2 thoughts on “Sarah’s Story –Sarah Ellen Richards Williams (1862- 1921)”
Sort of off-topic, but that map of Luzerne county is really great. Thanks for the link!
You’re welcome! The Library of Congress has lots of great maps not available elsewhere. I like to add maps from the era that I’m writing about. Are you related to this family? Susan