If you drink, then have a beer before or during this one.
I’m going to do my best to focus this story even though, like any story, it involves a myriad of people, places, choices, coincidences, and chance.
The first few of my genealogy tales on this blog will focus on my father’s side of the family for the simple fact that they have left a more bizarre, clouded legacy than my mother’s.
(b. 15 Jan 1822) was likely descended from German immigrants, though I don’t know the identity of his parents. Much of Stokes and Forsyth County, North Carolina was populated by German settlers, many of whom first arrived in the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before traveling south along the Great Wagon Road to Salem (now Winston-Salem) and the surrounding area.
John Kiser married Nancy Fidler in 1844 when they were both 22 years old. Their sons William (b. 1845) and Michael (b. 1847) appeared soon thereafter.
In 1860, John Kiser and his wife Nancy were living near Danbury, NC with their two sons, William (15) and Michael (13).
For people who are unfamiliar with the history, North Carolina seceded from the United States on 20 May 1861, the second to last Southern state to do so behind Tennessee, which seceded in June.
Despite myths to the contrary, the war was an incredibly divisive issue in North Carolina. The western half of the state was far less committed to the war than the eastern half and oftentimes completely opposed to it. The mountains and foothills of North Carolina became a hotbed of tension and conflict between unionists, Confederate deserters, and the often brutish home guard units that existed to root out these elements and, later, to enforce the first military draft in American history as enacted in April 1862 by the Confederate government.
Two things happened in John Kiser’s life in 1864. On 25 November 1864 he joined Company G, 21st North Carolina Infantry Regiment – whether he volunteered (at age 42) or was conscripted I can’t say but I’d bet on the latter. Future posts will also mention the 21st NC because four of my direct ancestors served in the regiment. It’s worth noting that any men who owned more than twenty slaves were exempt from Confederate conscription. John owned no slaves though economics and the lack of need for slave labor in the northern Piedmont may well be the reason for this.
The other major event in John Kiser’s life in 1864 was the birth of his son, Josiah “Joe” Sizemore. Remember, John Kiser was, in 1860, living with his wife Nancy and their two sons William and Michael. Notice that Josiah’s last name isn’t Kiser. It’s Sizemore. Josiah’s mother is not John’s wife, Nancy. Here we go.
Women were not mentioned by name in the United States census until 1850. Prior to that the head of household was listed along with the number of people of each gender and age range living in that household. Even after women and children began to be individually named the difficulties remain. In a society which holds private property to be one of its most sacred values it is often impossible to trace the nuances of human life.
As I mentioned above, John Kiser married Nancy Fidler in 1844 and had two children as a result of their marriage. They remained married until John’s death in 1886.
Elizabeth “Betsey” Sizemore
(b. 1835) is, as far as I know, the first woman outside of his wife with whom John Kiser fathered children. Most of what I know about her I know only in relation to her connection to John Kiser, which is typical of the era.
I know that in 1850 Elizabeth was 15 years old and living with her parents, Isaac Sizemore and Lavisa Childress, along with her brother James (b. 1832) and sister Nancy (b. 1842). I cannot find a record for Elizabeth from the 1860 census.
Her sister Nancy also happens to be my great-great-great grandmother.
(b. 1842) was Elizabeth’s younger sister.
(b. 1845) was born to John Adam Cromer and Martha Childress. In 1850 Susannah was living with her parents and siblings two residences from John Kiser and his family (which may have been quite a distance, since these are farms). The same is still true in 1860.
As I mentioned, John Kiser was a soldier in Company G, 21st North Carolina during the winter of 1864-65. The 21st NC spent most of the winter on picket duty at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia protecting Confederate supply lines during the never-ending Federal siege of Petersburg, Virginia.
On 5 February 1865 Federal troops:
rode out to the Boydton Plank Road via Reams Station and Dinwiddie Court House in an attempt to intercept Confederate supply trains…On February 6th, Gregg [Federal] returned to Gravelly Run on the Vaughan Road from his unsuccessful raid and was attacked by elements of Brig. Gen. John Pegram’s Confederate division. Warren [Federal] pushed forward a reconnaissance in the vicinity of Dabney’s Mill and was attacked by Pegram’s and Maj. Gen. William Mahone’s divisions. Pegram was killed in the action.
The 21st NC was a part of Pegram’s division. On the same day that the 21st NC joined the attack on Gregg, many soldiers from the regiment were captured by elements of the Federal 5th Corps under Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren. Among these soldiers was John Kiser.
On 9 February 1865 John arrived at Point Lookout, a Federal prison camp in Maryland. His records from that time describe him as being a little over six feet tall, fair complected, with dark hair and blue eyes. John remained at Point Lookout until after the war ended in April 1865. He was released after swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States in June 1865.
The Illegitimate Children of John Kiser
As I mentioned, John Kiser’s son by Betsey Sizemore, Josiah, was born in 1864.
When John returned home from the war he apparently resumed his life with his wife, Nancy. By this time both of their sons had begun lives of their own and John was nearing his mid-40s.
Beginning with the birth of Susannah D. in 1865, John would father eight children with Susannah Cromer, twenty years his junior, by 1883. All of these children would take their mother’s last name, Cromer, though all of them would list John Kiser as their father on their death certificates (if such certificate exists; NC didn’t begin issuing certificates of death until 1910).
The children of John and Susannah are as follows:
- Susannah D. (b. 1865 – ?) Susannah only appears on the 1870 census at five years old. She never appears in the record after that.
- Charles Ellington (b. 1867 – ?) died sometime prior to 1902 when his widow Sophia married his younger brother, Adam Gaston.
- David Clinkton (b. 1869 – d. 1918) married and had children. He died in his mid-40s as a result of paralysis due to pellagra (which sounds horrific).
- Adam Gaston Cromer (b. 1871 – d. 1938) Adam married Charles’ widow, Sophia, and died at age 66.
- Rosa Bell (b. 1876 – d. 1957) Rosa was my great-great-grandmother. She married Harden Wilkerson James and lived a full life, dying at the age of 80.
- Lucy Ann (b. 1878 – d. 1958) Lucy married and had nine children.
- Peter Reuben (b. 1880 – d. 1902)
- Fannie (b. 1883 – ?) Fannie was married in 1902 and last appears in a Winston-Salem city directory in 1906. Her husband apparently remarried in 1908 so it’s likely she died around age 24 (of course they may have divorced but given the time period I’m counting this as unlikely, even though such a young death is odd).
Also, I’m 98% certain that John also fathered three children with Nancy Sizemore, sister of Elizabeth “Betsey.” But 98% certain isn’t absolutely certain so I don’t include this in the family tree because if there’s no record, it might as well be a myth. Those three children, however, were:
- Nancy Emaline (b. 1859 – d. 1949)
- Isaac Henry (b. 1868 – d. 1950) Isaac H. is actually my great-great-grandfather (because of course he is). His certificate of death lists his father as “illegitimate.” I’m guessing “illegitimate” was probably John Kiser’s middle name by this point.
- Sallie L. (b. 1872 – ?)
So, John Kiser fathered eleven children by four women, one of those women being his wife.
But there’s more! My great-grandparents were Marshall James and Mae Sizemore (Isaac H. Sizemore’s daughter). Check out this chart:
This means that my great grandparents were…half first-cousins? Hey, that’s better than whole!
Now it gets weird(er).
Susannah Cromer along with her children Charles and David were living with Elizabeth “Betsey” Sizemore. Susannah was listed as a “farm laborer” and also as being illiterate. John Kiser and Nancy were living in the next residence over, which as I mentioned may not have been that close since these are farms. Still, John spent the 1870s fathering children with Susannah even while living with his wife, Nancy.
Elizabeth’s son, Josiah (b. 1864) was also living in the home. Remember, Charles and David are his half-siblings: same father, different mother.
Four households in a row on the census page:
1) Michael Kiser – “legitimate” son of John Kiser and his wife Nancy, Michael was living with his wife and children.
2) Elizabeth “Betsey” Sizemore – mother of John’s “illegitimate” son Josiah (b. 1864). Also living in the home were: Nancy E. (b. 1859), Isaac H. (b. 1868), and Sallie L. (b. 1872). Now if you’ve been paying attention you might be like, “Wait! Wait! Those are the kids that John Kiser had with Nancy Sizemore!???”
That’s true – I’m not sure why they were living away from their mother.
3) Susannah Cromer – lived as a head of household with her children Charles, David, Adam, Rosa, and Lucy – all who claimed John Kiser as their father.
4) John Kiser – lived with his wife Nancy and Nancy Sizemore, Elizabeth “Betsey” Sizemore’s younger sister. This means that Nancy, John’s wife, is sharing her home with the mother of three of John’s children. Fun!
John Kiser died in 1886 and his property passed to his wife, Nancy.
The 1890 Federal Census burned in a fire in Washington, D.C. – which is one of the most obnoxious roadblocks in all of American genealogical research.
In 1900 Nancy Fidler, John Kiser’s 78-year-old widow, was living with several boarders in her home. Guess who those boarders were? Just guess!
Susannah Cromer and her children Adam Gaston, Peter Reuben, and Fannie!
Nancy was living with the woman with whom her husband had at least eight children.
But then Nancy, who was either long-suffering, a sort of tribal matriarch, or incredibly oblivious, died on 24 June 1901.
John Kiser’s will, written the month before he died in 1886, left the following to his two legitimate sons:
1) Michael Kiser: 47 acres
2) William H. Kiser: ten dollars
As for the rest of his property:
“All the remainder of my estate that I may possess at the time of my decease both real and personal money to the following persons on the conditions following and hereafter named:
To Susan Cromer, Chas. E. Cromer, D.C. Cromer, A.G. Cromer, Rosa B. Cromer, Lucy Ann Cromer, Peter Reuben Cromer, and Fannie E. Cromer…that if the said last named eight persons shall will and truly remain on my premises and preform [sic] their duty, and be subjects to my lawful commands during my life, and the life of my wife, taking care and providing for us (self and wife) during our lifetime are to inherit, whatever I may possess…after giving to the first two [Michael and William] directed above, but should any of them fail either abandoning said land and premises or remaining thereon fail or neglect to perform the duty as required above he she or they…shall not inherit any part of my estate.”
So, as long as Susannah and her children continued to live on the Kiser property and “preform their duty” they would come into a substantial inheritance. What those duties were? From what I can gather it was farm labor.
A problem arose when Susannah and her sons Charles and Peter Reuben died without leaving a will. Charles’ children were, for some reason, without a guardian and so Susannah’s living children went to court to make sure that Charles’ children would receive inheritance upon coming of age.
It was at this point that William H. Kiser, John Kiser’s legitimate son, filed a lawsuit against Susannah’s remaining children.
William alleged that Susannah and her children had failed to meet the requirements of John Kiser’s will. Remember, William received $10 on his father’s death, while Susannah and her children inherited 90 acres of land and $450 provided they remained on the property, cared for it, and also cared for John and his wife, Nancy.
William’s lawsuit alleged that:
“The defendants unmindful of the obligations incumbent upon them…deveistated [sic] and consumed the money and personal property in riatous [sic] living, laid waste the land, and some of the defendants abandoned the premises while each and every one of them, failed, neglected, and refused to support Nancy Kiser who from the death of her husband in May 1886, till the time of her death in June 1901 lived in misery and actual want.”
“The life of Nancy Kiser was made miserable by the frequent drunken brawls and frolics of the defendants, the said Nancy was cursed and abused and at times driven from her home in the night and in the cold and snow…”
His lawsuit also claimed that Susannah and her children took any income that Nancy made from her craft work and drove her to the necessity of begging from her neighbors.
William demanded that the 90 acres be awarded to him along with $200 in rent from the defendants.
As this was going on, the court sought a statement from Nancy in January 1901, just months before she died. Nancy was illiterate so she provided a verbal statement that was copied down and signed by her with an “x” – as was common practice for people who could not read or write. Her statement was as follows:
I Nancy E Kiser widow of John Kiser hereby certify that I have been cared for and maintained by the children of Susan Ann Cromer since the death of my husband John Kiser fully as well as I was in the life time of my husband John Kiser and any reports that may have been circulated that I have not been well cared for by them is altogether fals [sic] and I also state that I have not signed any paper making such complaint. I also state that the farm is in as good condition now as in the lifetime of the said John Kiser except some land are washed off by reason of heavy rains. I also think that the buildings are in as good condition now as they were at the time of my husbands death and some of them are better.
This the 2 day of January 1901
witness D.W. Hall
The case was not settled until January 1905 in the Superior Court at Stokes County. The judge found that Susannah and her children had fulfilled the conditions of John Kiser’s will and that William, as plaintiff, was not entitled to the land.
Don’t feel too bad for William, though, because he did end up with roughly 53 acres of land from, as far as I can tell, squatting on it after the death of his father in 1886.
What Did I Just Read?
Basically, John Kiser, my gr-gr-gr grandfather, fathered at least eleven children by four different women. Two of those children were “legitimate” – that is, the result of marriage. It was obviously public knowledge.
John left substantially more property to the children he fathered with my gr-gr-gr grandmother, Susannah Cromer, than he did to his two legitimate sons. This property was inherited on the condition that Susannah and her children would take care of John and his wife, Nancy.
You’ll notice that John’s will only provided for Susannah’s children, not those of Elizabeth “Betsey” Sizemore or her sister, Nancy Sizemore. I don’t know why.
Much of this information was initially compiled by Zena James Lawson (b. 1914 – d. 2004), my 2nd great-aunt. She was Susannah Cromer’s granddaughter and I have a notebook of the work she did before she passed away. “Aunt Zene” as she was called (“aunt” pronounced “ain’t”) noted in her research that Susannah Cromer “met” John Kiser as opposed to married. I love that uniquely Southern, genteel way of indicating that the relationship wasn’t sanctioned.
They “met” all right.
Until next time, y’all. Be good and don’t get into any drunken frolics.
In addition to Aunt Zene’s research, I relied on the North Carolina State Archives for paper copes of the litigation of John Kiser’s estate, my relationship with several distant cousins including the indomitable P. Freeman, digital databases, and my own obsessive need to know things.
I hope someone reads this. This kind of work ain’t easy.