The following is a guest post by Candice Buchanan, a reference librarian in the History and Genealogy Section in the Research and Reference Services Division. Candice worked with the Toothman family through her volunteer work with the Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives, and has their permission to write about their ancestor Abigail “Muddy” Toothman.
As genealogists meticulously reconstruct the lives and families of our ancestors, we seek more than just their names and dates. We persistently pursue those elusive details – however small – that will restore personalities to their profiles.
Clues to those characters are often discovered within the thousands of newspaper pages databased in the Library of Congress *Chronicling America historic newspaper collection.
In just such a case, this handy resource unraveled an unanticipated yarn that provided a backstory to a beautiful photograph and a bit of family folklore.
The striking young woman in the smart hat is Abigail “Muddy” (Kiger) Toothman (1870-1964), wife of Harry Sterling Toothman, daughter of Lee Roy Kiger and Mary (Wells) Kiger.
To the unaware outsider, Abigail’s lovely likeness elicits admiration, but for her grandchildren it has been a source of astonished amusement. Her heirs have found it entertaining to reconcile this youthful image with the elderly woman, whom they affectionately knew as “Muddy.”
Basic family history records show that before her marriage, Abigail lived with her parents and siblings in Monongalia County, West Virginia, but her descendants knew nothing personal about her early life.
Family tradition has forgotten Muddy’s youth. Her legacy begins with the birth of her one and only child. One and only because after the labor ended, Muddy allegedly declared that she would not be doing that again. The baby boy was accordingly christened with every name that the couple may have otherwise bestowed upon several sons: Glenn Jacob Roy Thornton Toothman.
It is a tale that has run through the family along with the name. Abigail’s great-grandson, Glenn III, knew his tough ancestor during the final decade of her 93 years: “Muddy was as feisty as her hat was bold. Regardless of age, she was known to sneak out to the bar for a double-bourbon and rub of snuff. When my father (Glenn Jr.), whom she called ‘Junie,’ complained to her about this unacceptable habit, Muddy quickly put him in his place by famously saying, ‘Junie you don’t know nothing about life until you’ve lived all of it’.”
So, we had to wonder just what was the life that Abigail had lived? Enter the newspapers.
Admittedly, though we hoped to find some personal insights in the small town newspapers of days gone by, we were stunned and moved by the unexpected range of search results Chronicling America yielded.
A Childhood Full of Music!
Censuses, courthouses, and tombstones provide the essential facts about the Kigers, but give away nothing particularly warm or personal.
So, when the Morgantown, West Virginia news revealed that Abigail’s father, Lee Roy Kiger, was a popular, local musician, it was an exciting surprise!
We first find Lee Roy’s name in print when he lost his music book in 1853.
An important development necessary to Abigail’s existence was published in 1855, when her father married her mother.
By March 1859, Lee Roy and Mary were the parents of one son, Rollie, with another son, Henry, on the way. Though Census records consistently list him as a farmer and tanner, Lee Roy was clearly continuing his musical pursuits while raising his family.
Dancing Until Daylight
Twenty years later, Lee Roy and Mary had completed their family, with four known children: Rollie (1858-1933), Henry (1859-1865), Catherine (1862-1954), and Abigail (1870-1964). The three surviving Kiger kids were ages 21, 17, and 9 years old, when this all-night dance party filled their home with nimble feet.
A New Sister
Abigail’s brother, Rollie was wed in 1880, to a gal from another frequently mentioned family in the social columns, Matilda Frum.
Apples and Friends
Abigail was 13 years old when we first find her name in the social columns, along with an apple-cutting event hosted by her father.
The Event of the Season
This one speaks for itself!
Abbie on the Town
By 1885, Abigail is out and about with friends. Many such visits back and forth made the papers. Though only the highlights are seen here, anyone interested could return to the newspapers to reconstruct this teenage girl’s social scene!
Then life changed. Abigail was 15 years old when she lost her mother, Mary (Wells) Kiger, on December 12, 1885.
The death of Abigail’s sister-in-law on November 28, 1887, meant that her brother, Rollie, was left a widower with a young family. Several years later, after her marriage, the elder two of these three Kiger children came to live with Abigail, where they were enumerated at her home in the 1900 Census.
The Swan Song
Lee Roy Kiger’s active life was stilled in the spring of 1888.
Left to Mourn His Loss
Abigail was 17 years old when her father passed away on April 20, 1888.
An orphaned minor, Abigail was appointed a guardian by the Monongalia County Court. Her case is on file in the Bond Books of the County Clerk’s office at the Courthouse in Morgantown.
Life Goes On
In the final entry of her girlhood, Abbie makes a dramatic exit. Now 18-years-old, she leaves home alone to find her own way.
Coming of Age
When Abigail married Harry Sterling Toothman (1872-1951) on July 19, 1890, they both lied about their ages, saying they were 21 (bride) and 19 (groom), even though they had just turned 20 (bride) and 18 (groom). Harry’s reason is unclear because he still required his father’s signature, but Abigail avoided the required consent of her guardian by declaring herself to be of legal age. Their nuptials are recorded in Marriage Book 2, page 55 at the courthouse in Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia.
It was in this town, where Abigail transitioned from Miss to Mrs., that she proudly donned her signature hat and sat for the photographer.
She was a girl who grew up with music and dancing, family, and friends. Her world was shaken by a succession of great losses that changed her life forever before she had even reached her majority.
But in this moment, imagining her seated in front of the camera, it’s that final newspaper notice that sets the scene for how the pieces of her story have come together, as Abigail steams off to learn her trade – millinery – the craft of designing, making, trimming and selling hats. The hat can make the lady, especially if the lady can make the hat! This feels less like a wave from the past than a wink, which seems just right for Muddy.
*The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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