Madness Monday: Mary Jane (Roberts) [French] Blount and Family, 1900
Roberts Family (Click for Family Tree)
Back in the mid- to late-1960s, kids did not generally have much of an understanding about divorce. D-I-V-O-R-C-E (remember that country song?) was something whispered about, and only amongst grown-ups. So it seemed madness trying to document this family back then as a young teen. Just WHAT was Mary Jane’s last name?? It was Blount, right? Her husband had that surname, and so did her kids. But what was this about her name being French (whisper, whisper)? And didn’t her brother Jason Lee Roberts marry Julia French- was she related or was I just mixed up? It did not make sense to a young teen.
Sadly, today divorce makes too much sense to our kids, as so many have experienced it firsthand and it has become commonplace. But can you imagine the scandal in small town Iowa in the 1880s when a divorce took place?
Let’s start at the beginning, though…
Mary Jane Roberts was born 7 November 1863 in Warren County, Illinois, to John Roberts (1832-1922) and Elizabeth Ann (Murrell) Roberts (1835-1917). Another kind of madness was going on around the family- the nation was in the midst of the Civil War. In fact, President Abraham Lincoln would dedicate a cemetery just 12 days after her birth- that speech is now known as “The Gettysburg Address.” Thankfully the family was in a northern state, but times were hard for most during the war.
Mary Jane was only about 5 when she rode and walked alongside the family’s covered wagon as they migrated from Warren County, Illinois, to Jasper County, Iowa in 1868.
Mary’s life on her father’s farm would have been similar in Iowa to what it had been in Illinois. She would have helped her mother with the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and probably the “women’s work” on the farm which usually included a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, raising chickens for eggs and meat, and milking the family’s cows and producing butter, which was often sold in town.
Life changed for Mary on 4 July 1878- she married Reuben H. French (1856-1937) on that date, per family records. Yes, it would be four more months before she turned 15 years old, for you numbers people. Two years later, “Mollie J.” French was listed as the wife of Reuben French, a farmer like her father, in the 1880 US Federal Census for Mound Prairie Township in Jasper County, Iowa. Mollie’s brother William E. Roberts was living with them, and listed as a farmer, too. Reuben was 23, and Mollie 16. It was also noted that the couple was married during the census year, so the date from family records may be inaccurate, and Mary/Mollie may have been about 16 when she married. (A marriage record has not been found.)
It does turn out that Reuben actually was the brother of Julia French (1863-1917), who married Mollie’s brother Jason Lee Roberts (1859-1940) in 1881.
We don’t know details about the years in between for Mollie, but the family story includes D-I-V-O-R-C-E. The next document we have is from 18 April 1889- a marriage record for a “M. J. French” whose maiden name was M.J. Roberts, and her parents were listed so we know the record is for the right M.J. The details of the record also state that the groom’s name was “Daniel Blount”- more madness, since all the other records we have state Mollie’s second husband was Samuel Henshaw Blount (1864-1935).
Sam and Mollie were next found in the 1900 US Federal Census in Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Sam was working as a coal operator, a skill he likely learned in England since he was a “colliery clerk” in Derbyshire when he was 17. (A colliery is a coal mine, and Iowa had a number of coal mines throughout the state.) They already had four children who were listed on the census: Harry R. Blount (1890-), Samuel H. Blount (1893-1966), Harold M. Blount (1896-), and Helen I. Blount (1898- ; married Joseph L. Cannon). By the 1910 census, two more children were born: Florence M. Blount (1900-1959) and Bernice M. Blount (1903-1994). In 1920, a Warren Blount was listed as a son of Samuel E. Blount, and 15 years old; he has not been found on any other census with this family.
Sam was moving up in his profession- by 1910, when he was 47, he was listed as a partner in the coal mine. Son Harry was working as a miner that year.
The state of Iowa took a census in 1915, and recorded that Mollie had 8 years of grammar school plus 1 year of high school. Her church affiliation was Christian and the family was living at 2101 Clark St., in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1920, a Warren Blount was listed as a son of Samuel E. Blount, and 15 years old; he has not been found on any other census with this family. Daughters Helen and Bernice were also living in the household.
Mary J. and Sam continued to live in Des Moines as they got older. Sam died on 29 June 1935, and Mary Jane on 20 December 1947. They are both buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Des Moines.
Notes, Sources, and References:
- Image cropped from original large descendant photo. See “Treasure Chest Thursday: The John Roberts and Elizabeth Ann Murrell Roberts Family in 1900” at http://heritageramblings.net/2014/02/13/treasure-chest-thursday-the-john-roberts-and-elizabeth-ann-murrell-roberts-family-in-1900/
- See also “Mystery Monday: The Children of Mary Jane (Roberts) [French] Blount”
- Family interviews and records, circa 1960s-1970s.
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