Wednesday, September 28, 2022

George Ethelbert VanGilder--My Paternal Great Grandfather

George Ethelbert VanGilder
Reproduced from a tintype
circa 1882
Tintype is in my possession

     How do I know the tintype is George Ethelbert VanGilder and the date?  His daughter, my Grandmother Hughes, wrote the information on the back on a piece of medical adhesive tape--My father at age 21.  Thank you Grams.

     This blog has been a labor of love.  I have been collecting "bits and bobs" over several decades from family, personal research, and travel to Morgantown.  There was no one alive who knew great grandfather when I became interested in family genealogy; however, it is evident from research that he was an affable, popular man.  I am pleased to finally be able to write my paternal great grandfather's story and will update it if additional information becomes available.

     My paternal great grandfather, George Ethelbert VanGilder, was born on January 27, 1861 in Monongalia County, the son of John Oliphant VanGilder and Mary Louise Hill.  He was the fourth known child in the family born after siblings; Anna Belle VanGilder, Jacob Young VanGilder and Joseph Hill VanGilder.

     George's father was a chairmaker in Morgantown with the Hennen Furniture Factory when George was born.  Before and after his birth, his father served as a Captain, Company 4, 76th Regiment of the West Virginia Militia in the Civil War.  I have documents showing December, 1861, September 1862, August 4 and September, 1864.   

     The VanGilder's were living on a farm in 1861, property that was willed to Mary Hill VanGilder by her father, Joseph Davidson Hill.  The property was on the Stewartstown Road just outside the city boundary, on a hill above the present day location of West Virginia University.

     Following George's birth, seven additional children were born; Sallie Ellsworth VanGilder, Robert Ross VanGilder, Mary Frances VanGilder (Fannie), Betty (Bettie) Levada VanGilder, Emma Leona VanGilder, Lida Edna VanGilder and Lena Gertrude VanGider.  

     During his adolescent years, George would have been helping his father on the farm and with outside chores. He probably attended school.  There were aunts, uncles and cousins living nearby.  Certainly there were family gatherings.  

     There is not much known about the family that was handed down through the generations.  I have found that George's father wanted to purchase ninety-seven acres in May, 1868.  He borrowed money to make the purchase without benefit of a legal document.  Once the loan was paid, it appears the lender was not honest about the conditions.  A legal battle ensued from 1874-1882, first in the county court , then the circuit court and finally in the Supreme Court of West Virginia. I am certain that the household experienced some pressure filled times during this nine year period.   

1880 West Virginia Census

     I did a cut and paste on the 1880 census to show only the John Oliphant VanGilder family.  George is listed as at home.  If he was attending classes at West Virginia University in 1880, he would be at home since the university was down the hill from the VanGilder farm.

West Virginia University Journal

West Virginia University Journal

George was enrolled at West Virginia University for, at a minimum, two years.  He is listed in two journals I found on line.  In the 1881-1882 WVU Journal he was listed as an irregular preparatory student meaning he did not study Latin or Greek.  In the 1882-1883 WVU Journal he was in the preparatory program.  

     George, along with his father, were active on the Morgan District School Board in 1883.  His father was President of the School Board and George was the Secretary. (Wiley, 657)

     The VanGilder's suffered a loss on August 4, 1884 with the death of Anna Belle VanGilder, their oldest child, at age twenty-eight.

Morgan District, Monongalia County, West Virginia
Showing the area of Woodland School #2
and farms of students who attended

     George taught school for two years at the Woodland School #2.  The area had a free school system and his school was a country school.  "The Acts of 1871-3 provided the county superintendent should be assisted by two examiners, appointed by the presidents of the Boards of Education in the county, in the issuing of teacher's certificates." (Henry)

The Monongalia Story, III Discord
Earl L. Core
Chapter Eighty-one, 1857
page 446

     The partial map of the Morgan District is highlighted to show Woodland School#2 and the various farms where the students lived.  Also highlighted and underlined in blue is the VanGilder farm.  My knowledge that George taught school was found in a 1888 Autograph Album.  It is signed by many, or all, of his students and a couple of pages list Woodland School.  

Jessie Pool's page in the Autograph Album

     One of his students at Woodland was a young lady named Jessie Pool.  Her father's farm is highlighted and underlined in blue on the map.  Jessie and George were related through the VanGilder line both tracing back to Jacob VanGilder and Anna Margaret Kibler/Gibler early Monongalia County pioneers.  I think I figured out they were second cousins once or twice removed.  

Marriage Record
George Ethelbert VanGilder and Jessica Pool

     I mention Jessie because three years after she signed the Autograph Book, she and George married on October 28, 1891 in Morgantown, Monongalia County, West Virginia.  Jessie, daughter of Sampson Frum Pool and Sarah Louise Harner was twenty-one years of age when she married.  George was thirty.  The ceremony took place in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Morgantown.  The ceremony was performed by Reverend Hough Houston (Hoffman Houston).  Hough was a cousin of George's through his mother's line as his maternal grandmother was Sarah Houston Hill.

     An amusing story regarding the marriage, was told to me by Cousin Kae Wallace Billik, maternal grand-daughter of George and Jessie.  Jessie's father apparently warned her that marrying a man so much older would leave her a widow with a bunch of children to raise.  Perhaps in the end, the prophecy was not too far off.  Cousin Kae also said that George's pet name for Jessie was "his peach blossom."

     The VanGilder family suffered another loss, Robert Ross VanGilder died on September 25, 1890.  George's occupation at the time of his marriage is painter.  It is my understanding that he was a house painter, a job he and his brother, Robert Ross VanGilder did together until Robert's death.  

Cabinet Card
in my possession

Early 1890's
Cabinet Card
In my possession
     An educated guess is that these photos were taken at the same time either before or after the wedding.  George's cabinet card is stamped on the back, C. S. Rogers, Photographer, Morgantown, West Virginia.

    There are no records that I have seen to indicate where the newly weds began their life.  Were they living at one of the two father's farms or in Morgantown?  

     One question that has been in my mind for over a decade.  Did George and Jessie have another child that either died as a miscarriage or an infant? At Mount Union Cemetery, there is a small stone in front of George's burial marker with ABV engraved on it.  A baby VanGilder?  A Boy VanGilder?  

Cabinet Card
I believe given to me by Cousin Kae
In my possession

Register of Births
Monongalia County, West Virginia
East Side
page 145 & 146

     Living on the east side of Morgantown, George and Jessie welcomed their first child, a daughter, Mary Louise VanGilder, born on March 19, 1894. George lists his occupation as a carpenter.  Perhaps Mary Louise was named in honor of George's mother, Mary Louise Hill VanGilder.

Cabinet Card
Given to me by Cousin Kae
In my possession

Register of Births
Monongalia County, West Virginia
East Side
pages 170 &171

     A second daughter, Anna Estella VanGilder, was born on April 8, 1896 in an area called Sunnyside.  It is located on the Monongahela River just outside the city limits of Morgantown.  George lists his occupation as a painter.   Side note:  When I mention information given to me by Cousin Kae, Kae (Catherine) was Anna Estella's oldest daughter.


1886 Map

     Finally an indication of where the VanGilder Family lived. In between the red lines was the Sunnyside area.  The blue line underlines Falling Run.  It cuts through the West Virginia University campus.

     A more contemporary map with Sunnyside marked.  The red line shows University Drive where the VanGilder's home was located and the blue line is Falling Run.

The VanGilder's remained in this area during the remainder of George's life.

"Many home building lots in Sunnyside were sold at reasonable prices at a special auction on June 28 and 28, 1893." (Core, 179)  

In 1894 to provide more convenient communication between the new Sunnyside section and Morgantown, Dr. P.B. Reynolds and others erected a private footbridge across Falling Run near the University Campus. (Callahan, 262)  

 In 1898 the town of Seneca was created and incorporated.  In an election on February 5, 1898, voters agreed for Sunnyside to become part of Seneca. (Core, 227)  

"The new town takes in a large scope of territory and will soon be a very important one.  It has within its bounds the University and Morgantown proper can no longer be said to be the seat of that institution." (New Dominion, Morgantown, West Virginia, February 9, 1898)    

     I had never heard Sunnyside mentioned until Estella's birth record; however, Seneca is in my notes.  Going down this Sunnyside/Seneca rabbit hole was beneficial to my understanding of the Morgantown area and placement of my family.  I have been to Morgantown several times and know that the portion of University Driveway where they had a home was demolished to make way for WVU expansion.

Cabinet Card of the VanGilder Family
Circa 1897
In my possession

     I believe this cabinet card was given to me by Cousin Kae.  It is interesting to me that the background is rural rather than in a studio.  Perhaps it was taken on the road by their home in Sunnyside.  

     Pictured:  George and Jessie VanGilder.  On George's lap is Estella and the cute pouty daughter is Mary Louise.  The ages of the girls puts the photo at 1897 and I do believe the slight bulge in great grandmother's stomach area makes me think she is pregnant with my paternal grandmother 😀💖


    When the "subdivision" of Seneca was formed in 1898 it was decided that there would be an election of officers on March  21, 1898.  George Ethelbert VanGilder was elected to be the first recorder. (Core, 229)

Register of Births
Monongalia County, West Virginia
East Side

Certified Birth Certificate
Issued August 2, 1942

     My paternal grandmother, Sarah Margaret VanGilder (Sally) aka Grams, was born on March 2, 1898 in Seneca. George lists his occupation as a painter and his residence is also in Seneca. The actual record had April as the month and March is written over top. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of my Grams at a young age.  Note that the residence is in the newly formed area called Seneca, no longer Sunnyside.

     In George's obituary it is mentioned that he had some involvement in merchandise in Morgantown.  I also have a note that he ran a store with Charles Pell.  I do not have the time frame and I can not put my fingers on any more information on the store.  I think the reference came from my cousin, Robert Poole Wilkins.  I will add it when I locate it.  Charles Pell married George's sister, Bettie Levada VanGilder on November 7, 1903 and Charles' occupation is salesman.  Charles' 1900 West Virginia census lists his occupation as a merchant.  

1900 West Virginia Census

Close up of 1900 West Virginia Census

          When I first pulled up George and Jessie's 1900 census report I did not notice that he was the enumerator.  I was thrilled when I saw it.  To see his signature and realize all the work he did collecting the information on numerous pages and all the walking or horseback or buggy riding he had to do to complete the job.

     George canvassed the area of the Morgan District north of Decker's Creek within the Seneca Division from June 4, 1900 to June 28, 1900.  There are 1,880 names on nineteen pages.  He was the enumerator for his parents and his in-laws (Sampson Frum and Sarah Louise Harner Pool).  If you look at the 1886 map showing the Woodland School and the VanGilder and Pool farms and also the more recent maps giving an early outline of the Seneca area, then add many additional farms and houses, it gives an idea of the area my great grandfather covered for his census report.

     On the 1900 census, George lists himself a a full-time employee as a watchman. He owns his house with a mortgage.  Jessie lists she is a mother of three, Mary L., A. Estelle and Sarah M.   The VanGilder's have an eighteen year old servant living in the house.  There is also a twenty-four year old male boarder who is employed as a stenographer.

Journal of the House of Delegates
of the
State of West Virginia

Journal of the Senate
of the
State of West Virginia

Biennial Report of the
Board of Regents and President
West Virginia University

     I periodically look for family members in the Google Books search engine and was delighted to find three references to George as employed as a night watchman at West Virginia University in 1901 and a watchman in 1902.  

     The references in 1901 is a request for funds for salaries of West Virginia University employees and teachers presented for a vote in the West Virginia House of Representatives and Senate.  George' salary is listed as $600.00.

     The 1902 reference is from a West Virginia Biennial Report from West Virginia University listing $50.00 as George's salary.

     I learned that my great grandfather was a member of The Knights of Pythias a secret fraternal society.  The members are dedicated to the cause of universal peace and harmony.  Friendship, kindness, generosity and tolerance are a reality in their lives.  Family and active interest in community are foremost.      
     "In April, 1888 the Morgantown Knights of Pythias Lodge was organized in The Odd Fellows Hall." (Callahan, 258)  There was an article in the the Evening Post on October 9, 1900 that hundreds of persons attended the Grand Lodge sessions of Knights of Pythias in Morgantown (Core, 264)  Certainly George VanGilder was among the attendees.

Register of Births
Monongalia County, West Virginia
First Assessment District
page 48

     A fourth daughter, Jessie Virginia VanGilder (Ginger) , was born on October 28, 1903 in Morgantown.  George is listed as dead.  The information was given by Jessie.  This is a bit of a mystery since George VanGilder died in 1904, seven months after Jessie was born.  Perhaps no notice of birth was given at the time baby Jessie was born and Mom gave the record of birth after George died in 1904.  George's obituary mentions four daughters.

     The Morgantown VanGilder family lost their patriarch, John Oliphant VanGilder, on February 14, 1904 at age seventy-five.  John had suffered a stroke in 1902 and a second one that had left him paralyzed a month or so before his death.  He was buried in Mount Union Cemetery.  The obituary gives a succinct outline of his life.

     Knowing the outcome of George's story, it is evident that he had not been healthy for some time.  It may have been difficult attending his father's funeral in February.

     Cousin Robert Poole Wilkins found this notice in The Morgantown Weekly Post, May 6, 1904, page 6.  

"George E. VanGilder who has been ill for the past six weeks is no better and his condition is considered critical.  A report gained circulation this morning that Mr. Van Gilder was dead and the POST is pleased to correct it."

Morgantown Weekly Post
April 21, 1904
page 2

Morgantown Weekly Post
May 5, 1904
page 6

     With the above information regarding great grandfather's health slowly declining, he ran for an elected office with the Republican party as Assessor locally.  This was certainly decided back in April of 1904.  

Morgantown Weekly Post
May 19, 1904
Front Page

       This newspaper article lists the winners of the Republican primary.   

The Morgantown Weekly Post
May 19, 1904
Front Page

     George's popularity and work ethic clearly was shown by the primary election votes.  He had more votes cast for him than any other candidates running for all the various offices in the Republican primary.  

     Five days after his victory, George Ethelbert VanGilder succumbed to illness caused by kidney disease.  He died at his home, 54 University Driveway on May 24, 1904 at the age of forty-three.  The obituary indicates that George may have been the assessor previous to his recent run, which accounts for his large vote total.  

     A few additions and corrections to the obituary.  He left his wife, Jessie Pool VanGilder, age thirty three and four young daughters; Mary Louise VanGilder age 10, Anna Estella VanGilder age 8,  my paternal grandmother, Sarah Margaret VanGilder, age 6 and Jessica Virginia VanGilder, 4 days shy of 7 months.  He had two brothers and six sisters alive when he died. 

     The obituary speaks to his character, local activities and employment.  I have transcribed the obituary and posted it on Flipside.

     George was buried in Mount Union Cemetery on May 26, 1904 following services at his home. This photograph shows a small corner of the small marble marker in front of George's burial marker that I mentioned above--ABV engraved on it--and my question as to what it means.  If I ever get back to Morgantown, I hope to get a better picture of it.

     Other family members buried in Mount Union Cemetery are George's wife, Jessie Pool VanGilder; his parents, John Oliphant VanGilder and Mary Louise Hill VanGilder; his brother, Jacob Young VanGilder along with two wives and one son; his brother, Robert Ross VanGilder; his sister, Sallie Ellsworth VanGilder Boyd and six of her children.   

     I have recently found a guardian bond for George's children filed on June 25, 1904 with Jessie VanGilder and her father Sampson Pool.  Also land that came to them through their paternal grandmother's will, as his heirs, in filed in 1908.
My Dad, George VanGilder Hughes

     I had to add this photograph of my Dad, George VanGilder Hughes, taken at the corner of VanGilder and George Streets in Morgantown, West Virginia (listed as Avenue on the current Google map).  My paternal grandmother named her first born son to honor her father.  

Google maps
showing VanGilder and George Avenues

     It is my understanding that VanGilder Street could mark the southern boundary of the old John Oliphant VanGilder farm.  Stewart Street marks the west.  The other boundary lines are not known to me. Some of the information regarding the "lay" of the VanGilder land came from Mary Louise Hill VanGilder's will.  I'm certain George Street has been named for George Ethelbert VanGilder.  I hope some day a property map will appear on a Morgantown website.

     The property is located on a hill.  I assume that a portion shown on the maps above, the rectangle between VanGilder, Stewart, Riley Street and George were part of the farm.  In an older Google map Liberty Street is listed as VanGlider Avenue (probably a typo error on the part of the cartographer).   


     Straightening out a geological confusion of mine.  I have, until now, never understood the "east" and "west" of Monongalia County.  Where is the division?  I mistakenly thought the division was somewhere in Morgantown, forgetting that the county is not just Morgantown. 😉  A note from Cousin Robert Poole Wilkins to  the rescue.  "Monongalia County was divided into two sections separated from each other by the Monongahela River."  With this knowledge, it makes sense that everything VanGilder occurs in east Monongalia County.  

A huge thank you to cousins Robert Poole Wilkins and Catherine "Kae" Wallace Billik, who have supplied research, information and photographs.  Also to my paternal grandmother, Sarah (Sara) Margaret VanGilder Hughes who kept a small treasure trove of family memorabilia.

George Ethelbert VanGilder Blogs on Flipside

-VANGILDER, GEORGE ETHELBERT--Autograph Album and Teaching Information

-VANGILDER, GEORGE ETHELBERT--Obituary and Transcription


-VANGILDER, GEORGE ETHELBERT West Virginia University student



Biennial Report of the Board of Regents and President West Virginia University, west Virginia University, 1902.

Callahan, James Morton. History of The Making of Morgantown West Virginia A Type Study of Trans-Appalachian Local History, Morgantown Printing and Binding Company, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1926. page 258, 262.

Core, Earl L. The Monongalia Story A Bicentennial History IV Industrialization, McClain Publishing Company, Parsons, West Virginia, 1982. pages 179, 227, 229 264.

Journal of the House of Delegates of the State of West Virginia for the Twenty Fifth Regular Session Commencing January 7, 1901, The Tribute Company, Charleston, West Virginia, 1901, page 661.

Journal of the Senate of the State of West Virginia for the Twenty Fifth Regular Session Commencing January 9, 1901, The Tribute Company, Charleston, West Virginia, 1901, page 348.

Wiley, Samuel T. History of Monongalia County, West Virginia, Preston Publishing Company, Kingwood, West Virginia, 1883, page 657.

I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU. All comments are welcome; however, if they are inappropriate, they will not be published.    PLEASE post your e-mail in the comment section if you would like to network about a particular surname or topic. I will capture it for my use only and not include it when I publish your comment.
© 2022, copyright Linda Hughes Hiser

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