Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sophia Thacker Wallen and Son: The Step Family

My paternal great, great grandmother, Serena (Sutton) Wallen died in 1886 and left 8 children for her husband, William M. Wallen, and his mother, Louisa (Tyree) Wallen, to care for. Serena's parents were both dead by this time, as was William's father.

In the diary of William's oldest son Oliver, my great grandfather, Oliver stated that in February of 1887 his father left their little community in Wabd, Rockcastle Co., Kentucky and went to work for a surveying company in Pineville, Bell Co., Kentucky and then, in 1889, he wrote his father was in Clay Co., Kentucky working for W. W. Duffield, a civil engineer. A bit of research produced several biographies on William Ward Duffield, previously a Civil War General and a Michigan State Senator (1879-1880) who had graduated from Columbia College in New York City in 1843 with a degree in civil engineering. According to Duffield's biography, he was engaged to make important surveys in Kentucky in the counties of Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Leslie, Clay and Perry during the decade from 1884 to 1894, so I think it is safe to say that William was working for W. W. Duffield in Bell Co. in 1887 as well as in Clay Co. in 1889. 

While William was away from his children he would send money home to them for clothing and school. In 1892 William married Sophia "Sofa" Thacker, daughter of William and Elizabeth (Britton) Thacker. Sofa was born in Clay Co. and was the same age as her new step-son Oliver, both having been born in 1870. Sofa already had a son that, I assume, was born out of wedlock, named Brack Thacker. Brack was born in 1885 when his mother was only 15. An article from the Mt. Vernon Signal in the early 1900s suggests Brack's first name may have been Robert.

After William's marriage to Sofa, according to Oliver: "from that time he never helped us any more so Jessee and I had to look after the children".  Unfortunately, he forgets to give Grandma Wallen credit for the huge part I'm sure she played, since all the children were living under her roof. Aunt Myra Sutton, the children's maternal spinster aunt, moved in with them in order to assist in the children's care.

It is unclear exactly when William moved back to Wabd with Sofa and Brack. He was still in Clay Co. in the fall of 1894 when Oliver says his father got the promise of a teaching position for Oliver's brother Jesse at a school "in Clay Co. near where he lived". Oliver's daughter Sula (Wallen) Splitek, my grandaunt, was the first to do research on our family and Sula thought William and Sofa's children were all born in Rockcastle Co. However, Minnie Wallen was born in 1893 so it is very likely she was born in Clay Co. and it's certainly possible her sisters Martha, born in 1895, and Fannie, born in 1897, were born there also. Oliver doesn't mention his father again until January 2, 1900 when he says "Went to Papa's and got a scalding tub...", indicating his father was again living in Wabd. Unless I missed something, even the newspapers don't mention William again until 1902.

William and Sofa had six known children, Minnie b. 1893, Martha b. 1895, Fannie b. 1897, Virginia b. 1900, Samuel b. 1903, and Louise b. 1905. Then, I discovered this year that there was a seventh child. According to the Mt. Vernon Signal, dated February 28, 1902: "The little child of Wm. Wallen died on the 23rd." This doesn't tell us the birth date or the sex of the child and I have found no other record of his/her birth, death or burial. It is my opinion that he/she was very likely born between Virginia and Samuel in 1901 or early 1902.

Oliver only mentions Sophia twice in his diary. On two consecutive days, July 16th and 17th, 1902, when he and his brother Willie were sick: "Papa and Sofa came out." and: "Papa and Sopha went home." He mentions Brack three times in context with doing certain chores together. Never once does he mention the births of his half siblings or the death of the child in 1902. I don't believe the lack of mention was deliberate or that there was any animosity towards his step family and half siblings; in fact, I don't get that impression at all. Oliver simply failed to mention many important life events in his diary.

Oliver and the rest of the family, including his grandmother, aunt, and an orphaned niece, left Wabd, Kentucky and headed for Kempner, Texas in 1905. William and Sofa and their children moved to Beeville, Texas after Sofa's son Brack antagonized a neighbor and got himself shot and killed in 1908. Details of the incident and a brief look into the temperaments of the killer and the victim will be in an upcoming post.



  1. Lisa,
    I know how much research went into this post. I enjoyed reading it. Can't wait for Part II.