Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Great Grand-Aunt Mary Susan (Davis) Denny

Mary Susan is a bit of a mystery in our family. She was the oldest sister of my paternal great grandmother, Sarah Francis (Davis) Wallen-Livesay. Their father, John Miller Davis, died in 1880 when the sisters were all very young. Mallie, the youngest sister was only 2 months old. Almost four years later their mother, Ursula Ann (Martin) Davis, married Cornelius Donaldson Burnette and soon the three sisters gained four half-siblings, three more sisters and a brother.

Mary Susan was only 16 when she married James Wilson Denny in Rockcastle County, Kentucky in 1891. She and James moved to Avon, Hendricks Co., Indiana and that is where their first son, Thomas Lee, was born. Their second son, John Wilson, was born in Pulaski Co., Kentucky and then two daughters, Retta May and Lola Edna, were born in Hendricks Co, Indiana.

Shortly after 1901 it became clear that something had happened to Mary Susan as she is no longer in the picture. In his diary, my great grandfather, Oliver Morton Wallen, husband of sister Sarah, stated that Mary S. Denny and one of her half sisters had come to visit them mid-March of 1901 and that is the last time her name is found. James Denny remarried in 1904 and started a new family so I am left with the conclusion that he and Mary Susan divorced. If she had died, the family would surely have some knowledge of it.

Family Group Record
In going over my grand-Aunt Sula's genealogy records for the family I found something that I had overlooked these many years: there was a note at the bottom of their Family Group Record that Mary Susan's sons Thomas and John were left deaf and dumb after having had Scarlet Fever. This is why I found Thomas in Allen Co., Indiana in a home for simple-minded youth in 1910. However, Thomas filled out applications for WWI and WWII and although he was listed as partially dependent on the first, there was no mention of any disability other than two missing fingers on the second. He also went on to marry and raise a family. On John's WWI application, he is listed as being deaf and dumb and in 1910 he is in Marion Co., Indiana in a home for the deaf. Mary Susan's daughter, Lola Edna, was living with an older woman as a servant in 1910. She was only 12. I do not know what became of Retta May. She and her mother are a total blank after 1901.

In an e-mail with my paternal grand-aunt Myrtle, age 90 at the time, she asked what I knew about Mary Susan. She had been told that Mary Susan "left the family and disappeared when hardly out of her teens". When I told her what I knew about her, Myrtle indicated near disbelief that her aunt Mary Susan had interaction with the family into the turn of the century: "I was surprised by all that information about her, because Mother definitely gave me the impression that she just went off and had no other contact with the family.  I think that was what Sula thought too.  The only solution I can think of is that what she did when she left home was so thoroughly disapproved of by the family that they cut her off and had no other connection with her, even though your newspaper articles indicate that she visited my mother years later.  I wish I had asked some questions about my mother's early life but I was only 10 or 12 or 14 and was interested only in myself, God help me."

Sula knew about the births of the children when she was working on the family history back in the 1960s because she had them all listed on Mary Susan's family group record and Sula got most all her information by contacting family members. Mary Susan was slightly older than "hardly out of her teens", as Myrtle thought all those years because she was 26 years old in 1901 when we last hear of her.

If Mary Susan did something to displease the family, it wasn't very likely that it was her youthful marriage to James Denny. James was a local boy and, from the few excerpts mentioning him in Oliver's diary, he seemed to be an accepted member of the family. Could it be that Mary Susan left James and her children for purely selfish reasons? I wonder if I can ever know.

Other than "Denny", some of James and Mary Susan's descendants have the surnames Northcutt, Barrickman, Hine, and Isenhour. Maybe there is at least one that can enlighten me about their ancestor, my great grand-aunt Mary Susan. I'd love to know the rest of the story!



  1. Oh, these lost women! You have done excellent research trying to figure this out. Hope someone finds this post and you, with some details of Mary.

  2. Oh fascinating story. I hope too that someone stumbles into your blog with a new clue if not the whole answer.