From Wales to Nebraska by B. David Williams

David and Catherine Williams were the first generation of our Williams to emigrate from Wales to the United States. They were the parents of Arthur Elias Williams (1866-1937) who was the father of William Curtis Lambert Williams (1892-1945) who was the father of Jeanette Anne Williams (1921-1968) who was the grandmother of Curt Bright. 

The following is a short 2010 book by B. David Williams of Mercer Island, Washington. David is the grandson of Reese Christmas Williams (1874-1939), who was a son of David and Catherine Williams. I found David’s book in the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln. I have included a few photos of my own that seemed appropriate as well as additional comments in bold type.

David A. Williams (1835-1882) and Catherine Butler Roberts (1835-1916)

From Wales to Nebraska

 Background Information, a Timeline, Research References, Photos and other Images, Comments and Reflections

by David Williams, Editor



            One of the more interesting and important facets of family history research is the context in which our ancestors lived. Placing the timelines of individuals next to the dates of important historical periods and events helps us to know the better! In that light their decisions to leave a place, go into transition, and then finally to settle, make more sense. At least to this interested great grandson several generations removed!

Thanks to the internet I’ve learned a great deal from census reports and the historical accounts of the American Welsh communities in which David and Catherine lived. I’ve also returned with renewed appreciation to the “Williams History” prepared by Helen Lambert Williams Spickler, with the help of my mother, Dorothy Winifred Neiswanger Williams. It’s clear now that what they did was quite remarkable, considering the fact that it was done largely through interviews and patient correspondence long before we had the benefit of the internet.

Helen, obviously one of my Dad’s favorite cousins, was known to us a “Aunt Helen.” She was the daughter of William Butler Williams, “Uncle Billy.” Born in 1900 in Shubert, Nebraska, and living near Catherine until Catherine died in 1916, Helen had a wealth of records, information and recollections. She was also interested in the family stories and became our best source for information about David and Catherine. I note, also, that Helen’s husband, Joseph Creath Spickler (whom we knew as “Uncle Spick”), was from Shubert, and was a much-appreciated relative and friend of unusual professional accomplishment and integrity, as well as cheerful humor.

Catherine’s devoted sister, Mary Ann Roberts, affectionately known as “Auntie Roberts,” was an integral part of this nuclear family, and most of the Williams family stories from that period include her. Mary Jane, the daughter of Catherine and David, and her son, Bruce, lived with this family her whole life. In the 1920 census, Bruce is shown as “head of household” (at the age of 15, as he was the only male!), with Mary Ann, his Aunt, and Mary Jane, his mother, in the same home that Catherine and David purchased in about 1877.

Aunt Helen was an able writer, and in her later years, though suffering from Parkinson’s disease, she continued her commentary verbally as her daughter, Marilyn Sorenson, typed. Her updates and “corrections” to the Williams Story are a great contribution. Marilyn and her brother Bill (Joseph William Spickler) have been generous in sharing helpful materials from the family collections in their care. I’m grateful to them.

My close link with the Spicklers explains why I have more material in this report about William Butler Williams as well as Resse Christmas Williams, my grandfather, than about the other children of David and Catherine.

Family history projects are never finished, and it’s hard to bring closure. This paper notes several points at which further research might be undertaken, and which I hope to pursue in due time. For example, what doest the “A” stand for in “David A. Williams?!” Who knows – perhaps one of our children or grandchildren may be interested to push at the edges of the story. Let’s call this the “First Edition!”

David Williams

David & Catherine Williams

Catherine Butler Roberts and David A. Williams


             Our four sets of great grandparents provide a somewhat clear picture of the ethnic and cultural ancestry of the family. David A. Williams and Catherine B. Roberts, who came to America as a young married couple in 1862, represent our Welsh roots.

David was a solicitor for the Oystalyfera (spelled “Ystalyfera” on today’s maps) Iron Works, Lake of Llandilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales. Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally handle legal maters such as contracts, correspondence and dealing with debts, as contrasted with the conducting of proceedings in trial courts. So David surely had a significant education and knew how to keep records and accounts. Leaving Wales must have been a courageous step for the couple. They made it work because of their willingness to work with their hands and do menial tasks for the sake of future goals.

Queen Victoria's coronation painting shows her gorgeously dressed and jeweled Ladies-in-Waiting. They were:  Lady Caroline Gordon-Lennox, Lady Adelaide Paget, Lady Mary Talbot, Lady Frances (Fanny) CowperLady (Catherine Lucy) Wilhelmina Stanhope, Lady Anne Wentworth-FitzWilliam, Lady Louisa Jenkinson, and Lady Mary Grimston.

Queen Victoria’s coronation painting shows her gorgeously dressed and jeweled Ladies-in-Waiting.

Interestingly, “Catherine, before her marriage, spent one year in London in Queen Victoria’s service. Her duties were related to looking after one of the ladies in waiting. She took care of her clothes, dressed her hair and did sewing or whatever was needed. After the year was up she came home and then married.” (from The Williams Story, by Spickler and Williams.)

The photo above is from an original tintype given to me by Aunt Helen. One time, while visiting her and “Uncle Spick,” she handed me the Bible of her grandfather, David, and told me that she wanted be to have it, “because your name is David Williams, and because you’re a minister! And,” she said, “there is something precious tucked in one of the pages.” That something was this tintype.

1861 Census Wales

Catherine, David, John and Thomas are shown on the 1861 Census report for Coychurch Parish, Wales.


 Wales is unique. Some background information may help us to understand David and Catherine, their experience, their values, their choices and perhaps even the family culture which we’ve inherited!

“Brooded over by mist, more often than swirled about by cloud, drizzled rather than storm-swept, on the western perimeter of Europe lies a damp, demanding and obsessively interesting country called by its own people Cymru, signifying it is thought a comradeship, and known to the rest of the world, if it is known as all, as Wales. It is a small country, in many ways the archetype of a small country, but its smallness is not petty; on the contrary, it is profound.” Jan Morris, The Matter of Wales: Epic views of a Small Country, NY, Oxford University Press, 1984

Wales is only some 160 miles long and only 60 miles wide at its narrowest. “Some four-fifths of the surface of Wales is hard upland, where the soil is so thin that stones seem always to be forcing their way restlessly through.” (ibid, p. 15)

Reflecting on this: Our dad, Bert D. Williams, had a fierce love of deep, black, loamy soil. I wonder if this was rooted in his experience of the Nebraska Sand Hills, where he was born, or possibly in the stories about the shallow rocky soils of Wales that he heard from his grandparents from Wales.

Wales, United Kingdom

Wales, United Kingdom

The rock formations, with the deep gullies, crags and caves may have been the reason why ancient stories, fables and myths abound in Wales. Many of the Williamses I have known have been good storytellers. Is this in our DNA?

“The Welsh poet has been inspired by a strong streak of animism, the conviction that God resides equally in all living things: beasts, birds and fishes figure in Welsh literature not simply as picturesque details or metaphors, but as principals, or at least accessories.” (ibid, p. 43)

Wales is one of the wettest corners of Europe. The grassy hillsides are well suited to cattle, sheep and goats, as well as horses, hence the long historical experience of the Welsh with domesticated animals. The small horses used in the mines were called “pit ponies.” Welsh dogs, vitally important in managing livestock, have an interesting and rich history (Welsh Springer Spaniel, Welsh Terrier, Corgi and its cousin the Pembrokeshire, as well as the Welsh Border Collie).

William Jennings Bryan, 1896

William Jennings Bryan, 1896

William B. Williams (Dad’s Uncle Billy) bred Collies of English breeds, used them on his farm and presented one of his finest Collie pups to William Jennings Bryan, a member of Congress from Lincoln, Nebraska, who ran for president (and lost!) three times, and then served as Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan was one of the leading Collie dog breeders of America. (Nebraska County Herald, April 21, 1905, page 1)

Apparently the Welsh have a reputation! I include selections from a remarkable and entertaining paper by John Davies, an emeritus professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, a distinguished scholar in the field of Welsh history and the author of the now standard text, Hanes Cymru, and its English translation, A History of Wales. This was presented in America in 1995 at the first conference of The North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History. I include this because surely my grandfather and his parents bore the stamp of this “reputation:”

“Where do you come from?” asked the driver. “Wales,” said Hopkins. “What do you mean?” asked the driver, “Wales – which is it? Diana’s feller, the big fish or them singing bastards?” I found this anecdote very reassuring. The “singing bastards” no doubt refers to memories of How Green Was My Valley, for surely no singer at one of your splendid Gymanfa Ganu festivals could be considered to be parentally challenged.”

            “We also know that Thomas Jefferson’s family came from Snowdonia, that a third of the signatories of your Declaration of Independence were of Welsh descent and that Hariet Beecher Stowe came from Llandewi Brefi. And, of course, your Ivy League colleges are ours – at least Yale, John Hopkins, Brown, Brynmawr and William and Mary. And I must add, as I am related to the Edwards family of Pontypridd, that we also own Manhattan Island.”

            “In the early part of this century, among the most prominent Americans who stressed their Welsh identity was the motion picture pioneer and rabid racist D.W. Griffith. His character was summed up by Anita Loos in her autobiography: “D.W. seemed almost inhuman. He was of Welsh extraction, and the Welsh are a very peculiar breed…” I remember sitting in a restaurant at Ravello, south of Naples, and hearing a booming voice across the room asking me, “What are you doing in Magna Graeca?” I turned and asked “What are you doing in Magna Graeca?” “I am being myself, being Gore Vidal.” The conversation turned to Wales. “Ah,” said Gore Vidal, “I remember summing up the Welsh in two words.” “What words?” I asked. “Bad teeth,” he answered. And there was a case in the Californian court regarding the use of the verb “to welsh,” as a term for reneging on betting debts. And above all, there is the impression left by Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins of Welshmen as men of enormous talent, but no-good boyos all the same. It is hardly a flattering picture – singing bastards, peculiar people, tricksters, amoral charmers, dentally challenged.”

Again, a reflection: As to Welsh signing, I love to hear the Welsh choirs, have sung in choirs and for a few years have regularly attended the St. David’s Day Concert in Seattle sponsored by the Puget Sound Welsh Association. This year, on September 3rd and 4th, with daughter Denise, I took in sessions of the North American Festival of Wales held in Portland, Oregon. It’s fun to wear a name tag that says “David Williams!” I also note how many hymn tunes in the United Methodist Hymnal are traditional Welsh tunes.

More quotes from John Davies:

“…bear in mind that for every person from Wales emigrating to the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, there were at least twenty-five persons from Ireland. In the 1880s, when Ireland exported 13 percent of her population to the United States in one decade, Wales only exported 0.8 percent of hers.”

            “…we should bear in mind that the publication of book in the Welsh language began in Philadelphia at much the same time as it began in Wales. In a later period… Gallia, and other counties of Ohio, were part of the process of offering a haven to the distressed and oppressed migrants from mid and west Wales. My ancestors too were part of that migration – the urge to leave rural Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire and Montgomeryshire, not perhaps to seek El Dorado, but at least adequacy and dignity for themselves and their children. My ancestors, however, did not sail away from the shore of their country. Rather did they move to the south Wales coalfield. They were colonists too, but they happened to be colonizing their own country. By the turn of the century, movement to the coalfield had reached such proportions that Wales and the United States were the only parts within the ambit of the Atlantic Economy, which were gaining rather than losing by migration. Indeed, by the first decade of this century, the ability of the south Wales coalfield to suck in population was such that it was dubbed “American Wales.” Up to a point, therefore, my ancestors and yours had much the same experience. The people of the Rhondda, commented Gwyn Thomas, “were Americans who missed the boat.” And the similarities between the experiences of the domestic and the transoceanic migrants are striking. In both cases most of them headed for extractive industries, almost as if there was a rule that if there were a hole in the ground, anywhere in the world, there had to be a Welshman at the bottom of it.”

            “In any migration there is a double image. The image of the destination of the migrants and the image the migrants then create of the place they have left. This emerges forcibly from Bill Jones’ admirable study of Welsh migration to Pennsylvania. “Scranton,” he writes, “was as much an imaginative construction in Wales as Wales was in Scranton. Mirrors were sited on both sided of the Atlantic,” – then he adds rather sourly – “and both mirrors were cracked.”

            “In the international recognition of Wales, the United States played a significant role. The American Emigration Service recognized the Welsh as a distinct category in 1875. They had already recognized the Scots and the Irish, but until 1875 the Welsh were lumped in with the English. The British Emigration Service also recognized the Scots and Irish, but it did not distinguish between the English and Welsh until 1908.”

             I would point out that David and Catherine were NOT lumped in with the English in the 1870 census that we have seen (p.6), but Wales listed as “place of birth.”

No wonder the Williams family has been proud of its Welsh roots! For me, this information opens windows into our family cultural history.


9 December 1835

Catherine was born in Coychurch Parish, Glamorgan, Wales. (from the David A. Williams Bible)

I have used the spelling “Catherine” as that’s the most common usage throughout  the records that I have seen, including the cemetery record. Interestingly, however, her grave marker says “Cathrine.”

David A. Williams and Catherine Butler Roberts (probably their wedding photo)

David A. Williams and Catherine Butler Roberts (probably their wedding photo)

13 December 1835

David was born in Llandilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales. (from David A. Williams Bible)


David is listed on the Wales census record for Carmarthenshire.

26 December 1859

David and Catherine were married in Ystalyfera, Llandilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales.

About 1860

Their son, John was born in Wales.

July 1861

Their son, Thomas Lambrock was born in Wales.

1861 Census Wales


David and Catherine emigrated from Wales to America. Most probably they sailed from Liverpool. Unfortunately, most ship’s lists were lost in England when records were burned  during WWII. I’m still trying to determine where they landed, and how they went to Ohio. The voyage of Llewellyn Roberts, father of Chatherine, in 1866 may offer a clue.

Abraham Lincoln was President. The Civil War was still inits early stages. What caused them to go to America? What was the “push?” What was the “pull?” They stayed in the North. Was there a demand for iron and steel products as a result of the war?

November 1863

Ohio Census 1870

In this 1870 Ohio census report, David is listed as a “coal digger” and Catherine is listed as “keeping house.”

According to family records, Mary Jane was born in “Pennypog” Township, Huron County, Michigan. This is now known as Pinnebog, an unincorporated community at the mouth of the Pinnebog River. David and Catherine apparently did not stay there long. Had they kept “one foot” in Youngstown during this time? When one looks at a map, and at the census and other records, Pinnebog looks like a side trip.

April 1866

Arthur Elias was born in “Coalburg” (Youngstown, Ohio) Arthur Williams (1866-1937) married Sarah Ellen Lambert (1870-1952) and they had only one child, William Curtis Lambert Williams (1892-1945).

Arthur, Sarah Ellen and Curtis Williams

Arthur, Sarah Ellen and Curtis Williams

At that time, because of its mines, Scranton, Pennsylvania was the largest Welsh community in America. Youngstown was probably second largest. In examining the census reports where David and Catherine appear, we see an overwhelming  number of people who had come from Wales. They went where there were many other Welsh, and where their experience and skills with iron and coal would have enabled them easily to obtain jobs and to earn and save money with which to buy land.

There’s a “Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor” under the Ohio Historical Society. (One University Plaza, Youngstown, OH 44555).

During this time David and Catherine would have been qualified to become citizens. Is there a naturalization application file somewhere? I’ve learned that at that time it woudlhave been a county record, and it would have ben in the name of David, with Catherine becoming a citizen as a spouse. I’ve been unsuccessful thus far in finding one. (There is a Trumbull County record giving naturalization application information from that time period. They are not on it.)

2 June 1866

Llewellyn Roberts, father of Catherine, wrote in his diary: “myself and my two daughters, Mary Ann and Jennet, embarked for Youngstown Ohio in America June 2, 1866, reached New York July 13, 1866, and came to Catherine and David’s house July 16, 1866.” (from an account by Helen Williams Spickler, who also notes that “William Butler Roberts, his son, was also in the United States”)

Perhaps we might find a ship’s list for this passage.

17 January 1869

Their son, William Butler Williams was born in Coalburg, Youngstown.

10 January 1872

Their son, David Llewellyn Williams was born in Coalburg, Youngstown.

25 December 1874

Their son (our grandfather), Reese Christmas Williams was born in Ohio. A record says: “born 25 Dec 1874 in Coolbraugh, Trumbull, Ohio.” (source film number 897618, ref. number v2 p27) The family is listed on the 1870 Census in Hubbard Twp., Trumbull Co., OH.


David and Catherine moved to Brownville, Nebraska. In about 1877, David and Catherine moved to a house NE of Stella, in Richardson County. David farmed and did blacksmithing.

This was good farmland, and they must have purchased it, as the homestead opportunities in this area had already passed. A future research goal might be a deed of sale record for their property. It’s probable, but not positive that this was the home in the Aspinwall precinct. As I have said, much of our information from this period comes from the Williams family history prepared by Helen Williams Spickler and Dorothy Neiswanger Williams. Helen, born in 1900, has shared substantial first-hand knowledge and experience.

Family stories indicate that the Williamses were hard-working, good with their hands and were early adopters of the better livestock breeds and technology (radios and telephones, and later, tractors and automobiles). They were careful record-keepers, and they were determined that their children have a good education. My own experience with Dad (Bert Williams) and others in the family makes me think that they were not impressed with pretense, bluster, verbal games or people who didn’t keep their word!

Helen adds a note about David’s sense of humor: “Nita and I remember our father telling that when they, Catherine’s boys, had other boys in from the neighborhood, Grandfather would ask them, “And who is this you have with you today? Do you think they would like to hear me sing?””

According to Helen, David and Catherine, after their short stay in Brownsville, Nebraska, “came to Richardson County Nebraska, and lived in a house about one-eighth mile west of Helen’s father’s home (northeast of Stella, Nebraska) where her parents lived all their married lives.”

The site where Aspinwall once stood.

The site where Aspinwall once stood.

The 1880 Federal Census shows “David, Catherine, Thomas, William B., David L. and Reese” in Aspinwall Township.

“This village is well located on the bank of the Missouri River, two and a half miles below Nemaha City. The town site was within the half-breed reservation, and belonged, after the extinguishment of the Indian title, to Louis Neal, of whom it was purchased by I.T. Whyte & Co., in 1856.

“Apsinwall was surveyed as a town site in 1867, by J.M. Hacker. The town site was on the south half of the northeast quarter and south of the northwest quarter, and Lots 1, 2, 3 and 4, Section 20, and Lots 1 and 2, Section 17, Town 4, Range 16. The town had been laid out and platted at a much earlier date, but no official record was made. The date of original survey was in the year 1857.

Aspinwall 1880 census

1880 census report for Aspinwall, Nemaha County, Nebraska lists David, Catherine, Thomas, William B., David L. and Reese.

“The town was incorporated in 1870, and at the time had a population of about 200.

“Aspinwall fared better than many of the early towns, at one time boasting of a population of nearly 5,000, but its continued existence was not to be, and it now lives only in memories and in history books.”

I went to the area in May 2007, and found that Aspinwall is indeed no longer populated. It lies in a bottomland area which is regularly flooded. The gently rolling hills there appear to have rich soil, and are largely occupied by corporate agriculture operations.

5 May 1882

David Williams gravestone

The grave marker of David A. Williams. The quality of these stones may indicate a certain level of “comfort,” if not affluence.

Williams graves

David, Catherine, Catherine’s father (Llewellyn), her sister Mary, and some of her children are buried in this section of Prairie Union Cemetery.

David died. (This date was taken from his grave marker in the Prairie Union Cemetery, Shubert, Richardson County.)

Learning that they were buried in this cemetery provided a major “push” for my research, as a substantial number of ancestors and collateral lines are buried there. This is a well-kept cemetery with well-marked graves and excellent records.

Prairie Union

This shows the Prairie Union Cemetery when approaching it from the east. David and Catherine and their immediate family are buried in the area marked by a red box.

More lines about Llewellyn Roberts from Helen Williams Spickler: “Auntie (Roberts) told me that her father had been a bookkeeper (in Wales). He took the weights down as the miners came in with their day’s output. He kept all the records and books for the mine owners. Nita Ray remembers in his later years that he made calling cards with beautiful penmanship, decorated with flying birds and other embellishments.”

Census records show that there were many families from Wales in this area, though there were probably more families of German descent. For a time, there was a Welsh Presbyterian Church in the northeast corner of Richardson County.

I note that there is a Welsh Society of Nebraska, and a “Great Plains Welsh Heritage Project,” located in Wymore, Nebraska.

The first school in Stella was built in July, 1884 (Lewis Edwards, in his book History of Richardson County, Nebraska, Indianapolis, Bowen & Co., 1917, page 228).

The Nebraska State Census of 1885 lists (note varied spellings): “Catharine Williams, Lewellan Roberts, Mary A. Roberts, Mary Williams, Arthur Williams, Lawellen Williams, Rees Williams.”

Reese Williams went to high school in Stella, probably from 1888 to 1892. This was just a few miles from Aspinwall.

Aunt Helen and our father, Bert Williams, wrote in the Williams History: “Reese had a great love for music and could play (by ear) nearly any stringed instrument he could lay his hands on. He was always in demand for playing when music was needed for dances, parties, etc.” Perhaps this says something about the Williams family culture!

Reese Christmas Williams

Reese Christmas Williams in about 1892. This may have been his high school graduation photo.

Helen’s comments and pages in Uncle Billy’s diary kept during the year 1892 indicate that after the boys were grown Catherine’s family often helped his family and his family often helped her.

Diary entry

Sunday: “Reese came out with Lew yesterday. Reese and Jimmey went up by Toms. I went in after noon after they came home.” Monday: “Tom came up this morning to help with the chicken coop. I went in the morning after lumber for the coop. Jimey (sic.) cut stalks in the afternoon. Lew and I worked at the coop.”


Llewelyn Williams

Llewelyn Roberts (Nov 1808-October 7, 1894), Catherine’s father

Mary Butler Roberts

Mary Butler Roberts (February 28, 1809-April 22, 1866), Catherine’s mother

Catherine’s father, Llewellyn Roberts moved from Wales to Nebraska with daughter Mary Ann Roberts (called by the family “Auntie Roberts”). His daughter, Jennet had died in 1879, and his wife, Mary Butler Roberts had died April 22, 1866.


Llewellyn Roberts died. He is buried in the Prairie Union Cemetery.

Helen notes that this left Catherine a widow with six children ages 8 to 19 years of age. Fortunately, “Auntie Roberts” remained as her companion.

The Williamses were “early adopters” of technology, and again we’re indebted to the Spickler family for records related to David and Catherine! Helen Williams Spickler, in reflecting about their first telephone (from a manuscript typed by Helen’s daughter, Marilyn Sorenson, of Lake Forest, Illinois):

“I checked with Albert and his good memory and found out ours was installed in 1899. He recalls he was 6 years old and Nita was 4 years old. Before that, Dad’s good friend and neighbor Harry Wooding, who lived just across the road and about a block away and was considered a genius with inventions, had made two telephones out of cigar boxes, one at his house and one at ours. As he hadn’t figured out how to make it ring yet, they had to go outside and yell to go to the phone. Then they could converse. In 1899, Harry was hired to install a telephone system in the Stella neighborhood. He tied the wire to his buggy to make the rounds. Each family had their own code. We lived 5 miles out of town. The operator in Stella had 1 long ring. We had two long rings, the neighbors 3 long rings, Uncle George had 4, etc. Some had a long, 2 short, etc.”

An amusing quote from Lewis C. Edwards (op. cit., page 201) bears out Aunt Helen’s comments:

“The citizens of Muddy (precinct) are intelligent and wide awake and have always taken all active interest in the political and material questions connected with the history of our county… Muddy is the home of two of the liveliest towns in the county, Stella and Shubert, the former in the extreme west and the latter in the extreme east part of the precinct, both having railway connection, the former on the Missouri-Pacific Railroad and the latter on the Nebraska City branch of the Burlington Railroad.”

The remarkable photo on the following page of the William B. Williams home with family members gathered was among the possessions of Helen Williams Spickler. It was made available by Marilyn Spickler Sorenson. The people (and dogs!) had been identified by Helen. Helen was born on October 16, 1900, so the photo must have been taken in the early part of 1901. Lambert was born in 1906. This home was in the East Muddy Precinct, Shubert.

Catherine Williams family photo

Left to right: Scott (the dog), Albert (son of Billy and Emma), Aunt Belle Roberts (on horse, the wife of Williams Roberts and Aunt of Billy Williams), Llewellyn Williams (Catherine’s son), Bruce Williams (son of Mary Jane), Hazel (dog), Wauneta (daughter of Billy and Emma), un-named dog, Helen (daughter of Billy and Emma, in baby carriage), Emma Lambert Williams, Colonel (son of Billy and Emma) Mary Jane Williams Mary Ann Roberts (“Aunty Roberts,” sister of Catherine) Catherine Roberts Williams (mother of Uncle Billy) and William Butler Williams (“Uncle Billy”) 

            More lines from Helen about Catherine: “Grandma was a small, energetic woman. She ran her farm and raised her children with their help and that of helpful neighbors.

“Her home was typical of pioneer homes, but held a certain charm and warmth that made it memorable. In the center of one wall over a marble-top table, with the Bible on it, was a large, framed picture of Queen Victoria in her royal robes. Whenever we asked about it, she would say with pride, “That’s our Queen.” Over the sofa, with cushions of silk and velvet patchwork designed with their beautiful needlework, hung a portrait of our Grandfather. When we asked about him, Grandma, Aunty and all the children would always say, “He was such a good, kind man.”

            I would love to see a good image of an “older” David. I hope we can find one!

“Grandma wore long, full skirts, as was the style. Underneath, however, she wore a short petticoat that came just to her knees. This enabled her to move about more freely when she was out of doors, like chasing pigs or climbing fences. She enjoyed wonderful health and was rarely sick until her last illness, which lasted only two weeks.”

More reflections:

I remember going to visit “Uncle Billy’s” farm. I must have been around six years old. The house and everything in it looked very old. I seem to remember a functioning “pitcher pump” (a small shallow well pump with a handle and a spout that looks like a pitcher) mounted on the work surface next to the sink in the enclosed back porch area.

While the adults were chatting in the house, I went exploring and ended up spending most of that time in Uncle Billy’s workshop, which was at the side of a barn. Of special interest to me was a simple but practical jig saw that Uncle Billy had made himself, and I vaguely remember that it was driven by some sort of treadle apparatus. I was obsessed with jig saws, as I was already making things with the simple tools that Dad had given me, and I thought that you could make just about anything with a jig saw!

I’m sure that during those summer visits, I can remember Dad asking “How’s Bruce doing?” I don’t think that I ever met Bruce, though it’s possible, as he died in 1956. His mother was Mary Jane, Catherine and David’s daughter, who apparently had never married. It’s a tribute to the family that in the family history materials that I’ve seen, there’s no hint of rejection of her as an “unwed mother,” but only affection and respect. She appears in each census report as living with the family, and after Catherine’s death, on the 1920 census, is still in Aspinwall precinct living with Bruce and Mary Ann, her aunt (Auntie Roberts), who lived until 1927. Their grave markers in the Prairie Union Cemetery (even Catherine’s) are so similar in design and condition that they were most likely placed at a later date by someone who had financial resources (possibly Uncle Billy or someone in his family?). It was actually a general internet search for Bruce Williams through Google that led me to know that he was buried in the Prairie Union Cemetery. This led me to the whole family!

Stella, now a “sleepy” rural center, though having a modern consolidated district public school, was a remarkably busy place during the years of David and Catherine.

The following lines are by Camilla Banks, Box 133, Stella, NE 68442, with additional material from The History of Richardson County, published by Taylor Publishing Co., 1985; and History of Richardson County Nebraska, by Lewic C. Edwards, 1917: “Arriving as it did in the 1880s, Stella’s future ranking among the cities in the area was noted at the time Andreas was completing his large History of Nebraska. It was pointed out, “…the land in a radius of seven miles is principally occupied by well-to-do farmers who make a specialty of stock-breeding.” With a railroad to facilitate shipping, “…their operations can enlarge to the sensible advantage of the town.

         “Homes and businesses immediately burst upon the scene. By September 1882, there were 25 business firms up and running in the new town. The Stella Tribune was established in August 1882. Under the name “Stella Press,” it continued for more than 70 years.”

While visiting the Stella Public Library in 2007, I examined old issues of the Stella Press, and was fascinated by the fact that the September 2, 1898 issue carried substantial coverage of the Spanish-American War action in the Philippines, as well as local and Nebraska-wide news. I noted that a one-year subscription cost $1.00!

“The State Bank of Stella was founded in January 1886. Another institution, the Farmers State Bank, fell victim to the Depression in the 1930s.”


The U.S. Federal Census lists “Catherine Williams, Mary A. Roberts (sister), Bruce David (nephew), Mary J. Williams (daughter), and John Snyder (boarder)” in Aspinwall Precinct.


Reese Williams and his wife, Bertha Anderson, with their children Leon, Cecil, Harry and Ralph, established residence on their homestead in the sand hills of Ericson, Garfield County, Nebraska. Murray was born there in April 1906, and Bert in December 1907.


The U.S. Federal Census shows Katherine Williams (age 74), and Alfred Duesfeldt (age 51) living together in the Aspinwall precinct.

16 Feb 1916

Catherine died (This date is from her grave marker in the Prairie Union Cemetery).

Little Catherine Williams grave stone

“Little Catherine” (1914-1917), daughter of Reese and Bertha Williams

My reflections again:

A sobering side note for the time period surrounding Catherine’s death: Reese and Bertha had a daughter whom they named Catherine. She was born on 5 April 1914, after Reese and Bertha had nine sons in a row (one of whom died in infancy). How precious she must have been to them. Catherine, Reese’s mother, died on 16 February 1916, and Catherine, their only daughter, died in 1917. Her grave marker in the Sheridan Cemetery in Auburn is comparable to those of her parents, Reese and Bertha. Dad (Bert) was between the ages of 8 and 10 at that time, Irwin was 3 years younger and Woody 5 years younger. Evelyn was born a month before her grandmother Catherine died, and a year before her sister Catherine died. In 1919, their home in Ansley burned, and they lost nearly everything. How they must have suffered through this period of their lives. I wonder if this resulted in the identifiable “sub-cohort” of siblings, with Bert as the oldest, and Mildred as the youngest (3 boys and 2 girls), closer emotionally than the older five sibs.?

Williams grave stones

Reese Christmas Williams and Bertha Williams

I wonder if this was formative in Bert’s maturation process. Both Evelyn and Mildred have told me that Bert was their favorite brother.

I’ve been unable to find the family of Reese and Bertha in the 1920 federal census. I wonder where they were. Did they have a settled residence at that time?

One reason why Reese and Bertha had so few photos is that when their home in Ansley burned, they lost everything except a sewing machine and two rocking chairs (according to Mildred in a letter dated February 16, 2003). That fire would have been around 1919. Another letter from Evelyn to my sister, Janet, (dated October 10, 1990) said, “I suppose my parents may have had some pictures, but our house burned when I was 5 yrs. Old. Almost nothing was saved.”

This must have been an extremely stressful, pain-filled five year time period for Reese, Bertha and their children.

Back to David and Catherine: I’m grateful to them for what they’ve conveyed to us, their descendants. They passed on their culture, their values, their personality qualities and their stories!

This is only a piece of their story, of course, with their children, other than William B. and Reese not really included here. I’d love to expand our connections with the other pieces, and will watch for opportunities to do so!

I continue to gather details and documentation as these become available. Perhaps others in the family would like to join in building upon what we already know!

David Williams

Mercer Island, Washington

September 26, 2010


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