Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ora and Clarence

There's a lot more I could (and probably will eventually) say about Genevieve, but since my goal with this blog is to learn more about the earliest settlers of Walworth County and write about some of the incredible primary resources I've uncovered, let's jump back a generation to get closer to these amazing pioneers.

Genevieve at about four months

Genevieve was born at home in July of 1910, home being Potter Farm - on Potter Road, east of Elkhorn. (The farm is still there, and Genevieve's brother's widow still lives on it, though she rents out the fields now.) Gen was the first child born to her parents, Clarence Potter and Ora Vaughn Potter. Her parents were both about 26 when she was born; census records indicate they were both born in 1884 (though census records are notoriously imprecise sometimes.)

Clarence and Ora's wedding photo

Both Ora and Clarence were born into families that were some of the original settlers of this area, but for clarity's sake, let's focus on Ora's family for the time being. Ora was born around 1884 on her parents' farm in Spring Prairie, Wis. Both of her parents had lived in Spring Prairie/Honey Creek almost all of their lives. (Her father was born in Spring Prairie shortly after his family settled there in the late 1830s; her mother moved to Honey Creek from Lincolnshire, England when she was about eight years old.)

Genevieve and her mother, Ora, in their best winter furs, probably circa 1915 or 1916.

Ora was the youngest of three daughters. (Her mother gave birth to four girls, but the oldest, Julia, died in infancy.) From all appearances, Ora and her sisters were very close. Edna, the middle daughter, was Corinne's mother, and since we know that Corinne and Gen stayed close all their lives, this seems to indicate that their mothers did as well. The oldest sister, Harriet (or Hattie as she was called), initially married and moved to Milwaukee, but after the untimely death of her husband, moved with her children back to the Vaughn family home in Burlington.

Ora, Edna and Hattie Vaughn in 1898 at the Loomis farm

I believe the scrapbook I inherited from Corinne that started this whole project was something her mother Edna put together in the 1930s, and there are several clippings from old newspapers that mention the Vaughn girls. Hattie and Edna get the most ink, however. Ora makes almost no appearances in these clippings until she gets married. What I can piece together from these clippings, however, is that when Ora was 4 years old, her parents moved off the farm and into the newly burgeoning town of Burlington.

The scrapbook tells me that they initially lived in "the P.H. Cunningham house on the east side of the Fox River" but that "early next spring Mr. Vaughn will build a fine residence on his lots on the corner of Washington and Dyer Streets, at the rear of the Opera House." (Washington and Dyer Streets no longer exist in Burlington, but the Historical Society tells me that the Opera House was located at the corner of what is now Milwaukee Ave. and N. Kane St. The photo below has a note on it that says it was located at 602 Lewis St., which is not terribly close to Milwaukee and Kane, though, so I am still unclear as to where the house was located.)

The note on the back says, "Otis Vaughn house in Burlington. 602 Lewis St."

Another clipping from the next year tells me that they "moved into their home on the corner of Washington and Dyer Streets and will soon be comfortably settled in their fine, cozy home." Ora's father, Otis (there will be LOTS more on him to come) gave up farming to run a wagon shop in Burlington, and the newspaper assures us, "Mr. Vaughn is a fine mechanic." (His ability to build things is something I can attest to personally. He made a lot of furniture to give to his three daughters, and since Gen's and Corinne's deaths, I have inherited quite a bit of furniture that I can say was hand-made by my great-great-grandfather.)

The lack of clippings about Ora means that I don't know much about her. I know that she married Clarence Potter sometime before 1910, when Gen was born. But beyond that, I know very little  about her, other than what the photographs reveal. Of the three girls, she looks the most like her father. Where Hattie is tall and angular and Edna is fair and dimpled, Ora has a roundness about her, with slightly awkward features and a swarthy complexion; she doesn't smile much.There is no mention of her getting a teaching degree like her older sisters, or of appearing in local plays like Edna or participating in clubs or hosting card games. Which is not to say that she didn't do all of these things; it's just that the record is silent.

She appears in the newspaper clippings only once, when Gen's brother Warren was born. The announcement reads, "A little son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Potter at their home in the town of Lafayette on Friday, Dec. 28, 1917. It is needless to say that Grandpa and Grandma Vaughn are pleased over their first grandson."

Warren Potter as a toddler
So instead of information about Ora, I mostly have questions. For example: I wonder if it was hard for her to marry a farmer and move to the farm after not having lived on one since she was five years old? Did she feel overshadowed by her older sisters when they were all young? Was she her father's favorite, looking so much like him as she did? Was she a stern woman, as the photos seem to indicate? Or did they simply fail to capture her warm spirit, the way she could hold the attention of a roomful of people with her conversation? These are all things I will probably just never know. 


  1. Welcome to Geneabloggers! You have a wonderful collection of photos!

  2. Thanks Elizabeth! Believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg, photo-wise! Stay tuned...

  3. Welcome to Geneabloggers! I will follow your blog with interest. My family is from Upper Michigan - neighbors!

  4. Inheriting such wonderful primary sources as these photographs and scrapbook do tend to provide more questions than answers. But it is fun to see the faces and places...and to wonder!

    I'm so glad to have found your blog via GeneaBloggers. I'm looking forward to reading more!

  5. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist: