Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Hard-Knock Life

Four months ago I was stuck with a brick wall in my tree, unable to identify the parents of my 2nd-great-grandmother Mary Alice Cain and her brother Harl. A major development was the addition of the US Social Security Applications and Claims Index by Ancestry in July, which revealed the name of my 3rd-great-grandmother to be Jane Flatt (later confirmed by census and marriage records to be Nancy Jane Flatt). Since July I have learned quite a lot about Nancy Jane's family, their lives in Jackson and Overton County, Tennessee and eventual move to Metcalfe County, Kentucky.
Library of Congress, "Sophy and the baby in the tenement." 1910.
In the 1870 US Census, 15-year old Nancy Jane was living in the household of John W. Rose, a neighbor of a farm where her father was working as a sharecropper. Three years later, Nancy Jane's father, Pleasant Flatt, died a pauper in the Metcalfe County poor house. She was left as an 18-year old, without parents, and responsibility to help care for four surviving sisters. It appears Nancy Jane was avoiding service of process in 1874 and 1875. I have not yet checked the Barren County order books to see if she appears in the records there. Clearly she had to grow up fast, without much of a stable childhood.

Nancy Jane Flatt reappears in the Metcalfe County Court order book in January 1878, when she was found to be a pauper, and ordered to stay in the Metcalfe County poor house. She would have been about 23 years old, and probably 8 months pregnant with my 2nd-great-grandmother Mary Alice Cain. I am assuming she was not married. It is tough reading she was "in a destitute condition without any means of support and unable to labor for same." But perhaps being ordered to the poor house saved the life of Mary Alice.
Source: Ancestry, image 527 of 656. Metcalfe County, KY Order Books.
Mary Alice was born on 3 February 1878. Other documents list her place of birth as Glasgow, Barren County. I think it is very possible she was born in the Metcalfe County Poor House.

On 15 April 1878, the Court found that Nancy Jane and Mary Sally were able to labor and were dismissed from the Poor House. I don't know who Mary Sally was, but perhaps Nancy Jane only needed a safe place to deliver her daughter, and by April maybe she had another place to go and work.
Source: Ancestry, image 542 of 656. Metcalfe County, KY Order Books.
In November 1878, the superintendent of the Poor House submitted his expenses to the court for approval. Nancy Jane Flatt was listed as having been cared for in the poor house for 13 weeks, 5 days. None of the other Flatt sisters appear in the county records at this time, so they must have either been living with their step-mother Nancy D. Flatt or found other homes to live in.
Source: Ancestry, image 570 of 656. Metcalfe County, KY Order Books.

A year later, on 16 June 1879, Nancy Jane's son Harl Cain was born. It does not appear that she returned to the poor house in Metcalfe County in 1879, so the documentation about his birth in Glasgow, Barren County might be correct. She would have been 24, with two small children to care for. I still have very little clues on the potential identity of the father. Both of her children went by the last name Cain.

In the term ending November 1879, a doctor named A. B. Marcum was provided $32 in expenses for attending to paupers at the poor house. The name Flatt is on this line. It isn't clear if this was for Nancy Jane.
Source: Ancestry, image 616 of 656. Metcalfe County, KY Order Books.
Some of Nancy Jane's sisters married their way out of their situation. Martha E. Flatt and Benjamin Jeffries appear together in the 1880 US Census in LaFayette, Metcalfe County with a nine-month old daughter Mary F. Jeffries. Youngest sister Mary F. Flatt married Henry Tobe Piper on 15 March 1883 in Metcalfe County. Cansada Flatt married Peter Floyd Tackett on 14 March 1888 in Metcalfe County.

While I still do not know the whereabouts of Nancy Jane and her children in 1879-1883, this new information on her experiences in the Metcalfe County poor house sheds additional light on what must have been a very tough childhood and early adulthood.

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