A Woman of Mystery #52Ancestors

Susannah Van Meter

Susannah Van Meter

My ancestor this week is a mysterious woman to me. Her place in my family tree has question marks all over it. She’s my great great grandmother Susannah Van Meter. Every phase of Susannah’s life seems to have a twist.

Born in Allen County Ohio, 28 August 1833, Susannah was the oldest child of James D. and Mariah Shriver Van Meter. Her parents were among the new settlers to the area and along with the extended family that moved into this part of the state, Susannah had to be one of the first children born in the area.

As her parents worked hard and prospered on their farm Susannah most certainly helped care for the eight younger siblings as they were added to the family. I will never know the contributing circumstances in Susannah’s life but at 27 years old, still unmarried and living with her parents she gives birth to a son.

I can’t begin to imagine the scandal being an unwed mother provoked during this time. James and Mariah were pioneers settlers, pillars of the community, this couldn’t have been easy for anyone involved. Yet to their credit I don’t find they kicked anyone out of their lives.

In 1864 Susannah weds a local widower who has six children. James Hayes Marshall Jr was ten years Susannah’s senior and had lost his wife only nine months earlier. I’m thinking this marriage is one of convenience for both parties. James needs someone to keep house and raise his children. Susannah needs to rip the scarlet letter from her bodice.

Susannah Van Meter Marshall and the Marshall children

Susannah Van Meter Marshall and the Marshall children

By 1870 Susannah has given birth to four children with James Hayes Marshall (my great grandfather George S. Marshall among them) bringing that household total to a whopping ten kids. Sadly I find her illegitimate son living with her mother not with her. Is it because Susannah’s husband doesn’t want a daily reminder of her past indiscretion? Thankfully that son is added back to the household as listed by the 1880 census.

Given their age difference Susannah lives twenty years longer than her husband James. In later years as a widow she’s living with my great grandfather George S. Marshall and his family. As I mentioned last week, I wonder why she’s living with her son and not a nearby daughter.

Susannah lives until 7 May 1908. She passes away at the home of that daughter. Records indicate she is buried at Rockport Cemetery, Allen County, Ohio. Another twist in Susannah’s saga is that her grave is not marked with a headstone. Her husband James is buried with his first wife and I assume Susannah is nearby but of course the church she attended is gone and so are the records for both it and the cemetery.

I’m curious as to why Susannah doesn’t have a headstone. I wonder if the older step kids preferred not to recognize her. There was room to add her name on their father’s four sided pillar type headstone. Money doesn’t seem to be the obvious problem here. The older children were prosperous farmers with lots of land. Out of eleven kids I would think someone would care enough to see that it was done.

I can’t help but wonder if there was a little animosity between the older kids and the younger ones. Susannah’s obituary has her name as Susannah Van Meter, her maiden name, not Susannah Marshall her married name. She was 74 when she died and had James Marshall’s name for 44 years. Why wouldn’t her obit have her married name?

Finally my last Susannah twist came just a year ago. My genea-buddy sister has been in contact with a descendant of one of the older Marshall children. We all have the same pic of Susannah and most of the kids. Our photo has always been identified with Susannah as front row, far left. Our “cousin” had always been told Susannah was front row middle.

I question that since the woman I call Susannah (front row, far left ) seems to be the oldest one in the group. Also the position of front row, in the middle, was “mom’s” place in a photo. Susannah is not mom to the majority of these people. I don’t know I’m just not finding love for her from all the kids.

More than likely most of Susannah Van Meter’s story will remain a mystery to me. There’s so many unanswered questions in her life. I suppose there always will be unless . . . you have some answers for me. If Susannah Van Meter Marshall is your ancestor too please leave me a comment! I’d LOVE to hear from you! Anytime! Day or night! Help shed some light on these mysteries!

In the meantime thanks for reading!


  1. Hmm. I don’t know. Looking at the group photo in your post, I’m wondering if Susannah really is in the middle of the photo. That woman may in fact look older than the other women in the picture. To really tell for sure though, I’d need to see a close-up photo of that woman. It is strange, however, that she doesn’t have a headstone, and that her maiden name was used in her obituary.

  2. This was a very intriguing post. I have a couple of mystery women on my trees, I think I may just right them up and see if anyone else is related to them.

    Even after 44 years of marriage it seems as though the children she probably raised still could not accept her.

    • I agree! I just have a feeling the older children never accepted her. I’m anxious to read about your mystery women on your blog Val! Looking forward to it! Thanks for your comment!

      • Thank you very much for this post…you might be interested to know this woman may be my great great grandmother as well as I am a direct decendant of the *illigitamate child*, Cashes Van Meter..he had a daughter Lena Sophia who had several sons of which one was my father Donald Rockhill. I hardly know a thing about Dad’s side of the family as the family tree has been hard to trace much past Lena so this article and the picture is a treasure! A little research via ancestry.com and some cemetary records have pretty much confirmed this as far as I can tell at the moment. Really enjoy your stories and discoveries *cousin*…many blessings to and more stories for you! 🙂

        • Rhonda – I am sorry I didn’t respond to your comment sooner. We were on vacation visiting my daughter. I was thrilled to read your comment that Susannah Van Meter Marshall is your ancestor too! I understand you don’t have much info on the family but I would love to share whatever info we both may have. I’d love to learn the names and dates of Cashes descendants and I have a little info on his grandparents James D. and Mariah (Maria) Shriver Van Meter. I have cemetery pics. Cashes and his grandparents are buried about 30 minutes from me. Unfortunately Susannah who is recorded as buried in Rockport Cemetery doesn’t have a headstone.
          Now this is all speculation on my part but I think Susannah and Cashes were very close. She and Cashes were a family. I think she married James H. Marshall more out of necessity than anything else. Even though Susannah lived with her younger children prior to her death I think Cashes wrote her obituary. She’s listed as Susannah Van Meter in her obit even though she’d been married to J.H. Marshall for decades. I think Cashes is the only person that would see his mother as a Van Meter. As I say this is all speculation but I’d love to learn more about Cashes. You may have a wee bit of info that would open it all up!
          If you’d like to share info write me at cindy@genealogycircle.com I’d be happy to send pics, etc.
          Thank you again for your comment! It’s been a pleasure meeting you cousin!

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