52 Ancestors – Orval Jerrain Maffit, A Short Life with a Tragic End

Orval Maffit-6 months, 1910

Orval Jerrain Maffit, 6 months old, 1910

Orval Jerrain Maffit is my great-granduncle.  He is the fifth child and third son of Seth Maffit & Emma Esther Jerrain, my 2nd great-grandparents.  His oldest sister and brother both died as infants, so he grew up as the third child and second son.  He was born 12 May 1910 in Chicago.1 2 3  Five months later he was baptized in St. Anne, Illinois on 21 October 1910.4

At some point after Orval’s birth, his family moved from Chicago to Montana where they tried their hand at dryland farming.  The exact date of this move is in question.  Family records indicate the move occurred between 1911 and 1913.  Emma was most certainly in Chicago on 21 October 1910, when Orval was born, and in Gildford, Hill, Montana on 1 June 1913,5 when her next child, Hope Estelle was born.  Seth, on the other hand, had to have arrived in Montana prior to 13 August 1910 as his first land patent for the family farm was dated 13 August 1915.6  Regardless of when the entire family had moved to Montana, Emma seemed to have a certain amount of mobility as she is back in Chicago 23 November 1913, for Estelle to be baptized.7

These photos all fall in the window of time in question.  I wish I could get my hands on the originals to see if there are any additional clues.  The first two appear to be taken by a photographer in a studio.  I’m leaning toward both of them having been taken in Chicago.

Hilan, Maynard and Orval Mafifit in carriage - Chicago

l-r:  Hilan Thorne Maffit, Maynard Seth Maffit, and Orval Jerrain Maffit

Orval, Hilan, Emma and Maynard Maffit - Chicago- abt 1913

Back, l-r:  Orval Jerrain Maffit, Emma Esther Jerrain; front, l-r: Maynard Seth Maffit, Hilan Thorne Maffit, about 1913

This photo is very interesting.  The note at the bottom indicates the photo was taken on Sunday, the 9th in 1913 and is addressed “to pa”.  I know that Emma was in Chicago in November of 1913 for Estelle’s baptism.  The 9th of November 1913 fell on a Sunday and may very well be the date this photograph was taken.  The outerwear seems appropriate for November in Chicago.

Hilan, Orval & Maynard Maffit, 1913

l-r: Hilan Thorne Maffit, Orval Jerrain Maffit, Maynard Seth Maffit; The note at the bottom indicates the photo was taken Sunday, the 9th in 1913 and is addressed “to pa”.

Hilan, Orval and Maynard Maffit - 1913 in Chicago

l-r: Hilan Thorne Maffit, Orval Jerrain Maffit, Maynard Seth Maffit

Then this photo was taken on Friday, 21 November 1913, just two days before Estelle’s baptism in Chicago and as such, was most likely taken in Chicago.

Grandma Maffit & Hope Estelle Maffit

Hope Estelle Maffit and her mother Emma Esther Jerrain, 21 November 1913.


By May 1917, the children were attending Hingham School in Montana.


School House 1937

Maffit children and their classmates, May 1917, Hingham School


In 1920, the Maffit family was still living in Hingham, Hill, Montana.  There were now eight living children.  Orval was nine years old and listed on the census as having no occupation.8

Orval’s sister, Estelle, compiled several notebooks of family records.  In those records, she shares some details about the move from Chicago to Montana and additional moves that followed:


1923 was a big year for the Maffit family.  The farm was sold at auction in July,9 and Emma’s father, John Baptiste Jerrain, visited the family in Great Falls.  Here he can be seen with Orval and Jackie.

Orval Maffit, John B. Jerrain, Jackie Maffit

l-r: Orval Jerrain Maffit, John Baptiste Jerrain, Jacqueline Unity Maffit, John was their maternal grandfather, 1923.

Orval Maffit

Orval Jerrain Maffit

Hilan remembers, “that Orval was always on the move and didn’t want to stay on the farm.  He wanted adventure, so Seth and Emma gave permission for him to travel to visit Emma’s relatives.”10

This fateful trip would end badly for the Maffit family.  From the family book entitled Family Tree:  John Baptiste Jerrain & Esther Estelle Therrian,11 comes this compiled information about Orval that was written and reviewed by the grandchildren of Seth & Emma:

“When he was a teenager, he went back to St. Anne’s to visit relatives.  Later he visited Shirlee Jerrain’s family in Elmhurst.  Shirlee’s, father John A. Jerrain, was Emma’s brother.  Shirlee remembers Orval staying at their house in Elmhurst for awhile.  Emma sent a message that he was to come home because a new baby had been born into the family.  Money had been sent so he could buy a ticket and ride on the train.  The family was notified that Orval had decided to ride the rails and was killed in a fall from the train.  The family believed there was foul play in his death as his wallet was missing.  Our family records show that Orval was buried in the Jerrain family plot in St. Anne’s Church.”

Newspaper accounts12 from this time add additional details:


Youth Killed in Minneapolis, Son of Seth Moffit, 708 Eighth Avenue North

Orville Moffit, Great Falls youth who was killed Friday at Minneapolis when he fell under a freight train on which he was attempting to catch a ride, was Saturday evening identified as the 16 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Seth Roffit, 705 Eighth avenue north.

The boy whose age was reported in press dispatches as 22 years, was running beside a freight train in the Minneapolis yards in an attempt to catch a ride towards Great Falls.  He collided with a derrick used in sewer excavating and was thrown under the cars and instantly killed.

Young Moffit was accompanied by another youth of about his age, who said that he had been traveling about the country with the Great Falls boy for several weeks. Through letters carried in Moffit’s coat, the address of his parents was learned and they were notified of the accident by Minnesota officers.

The boy, according to Mr. Moffit, who is employed at the Anaconda company’s smelter, was born in May, 1910, at Chicago.  He attended the grade schools of Great Falls for several years and was recently employed by the Rainbow hotel as a bell boy.

“Orville,” said Mr. Moffit Saturday night, “left Great Falls in June and visited in our former home at Chicago with relatives.  He also made visits to other relatives in the middle west and worked in the harvest fields.

“I was informed by Minnesota authorities that the boy with him at the time of the accident said they had travelled together for several weeks, but I know that this is not so.”

In addition to his parents the boy is survived by four brothers, Maynard, Everd, Lorado and Dale Moffit, and four sisters, Hyland, Estelle, Marjorie, and Jacalyn Moffit.

The body will be taken to Chicago for funeral services and interment.”


These photos of Orval’s funeral were part of the Maffit photo collection found on a CD my Grandma kept in her private papers.

Orval Maffit's funeral

Orval Maffit's funeral in St. Anne-Grandpa 1st in line

Orval Maffit's funeral #2jpg


Emma buried three of her twelve children before her death in 1945.  No photos remain of her first two children who died as infants.  However, there are several photographs of Orval including this one that was said to have been kept on Emma’s desk.


Orval Maffit-picture was kept on Emma Maffit's desk


It has faded with time, but I wonder if it was her favorite photo of Orval?

As a genealogist, I regularly find families who suffered the loss of children.  But every single time my heart aches for the parents of those children.  Especially the mothers.  Learning details about those precious children and telling their stories feels like a gift for the mothers and fathers who had to say goodbye too soon.  ❤️




  1. I have inherited a small collection of typed genealogy records created by my great-grandmother Estelle Duval and her mother Emma Maffit.  There are three thin binders – two blue, one green, and a white pocket folder.  Each book and folder is very similar to the others. 
  2. Duval, Mrs. Frank. For Deane Alice Duval: Your Relations, Health Record, Birth Information, Wedding Anniversaries, Death, Dates and Causes. 1938. 
  3. Boone, Ardis M. “Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne.” Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, by Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy, Kankakee Valley Genealogical Society, 1851, p. 101. 
  4. Boone, Ardis M. “Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne.” Father Charles Chiniquy’s Ledger, 1851 : First St. Anne Catholic Church, Christian Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, Second Presbyterian Church of St. Anne, by Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy, Kankakee Valley Genealogical Society, 1851, p. 101. 
  5. Presbyterian Historical Society; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; U.S., “Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970”; Book Title: Session/Register 1887-1923; Accession Number: Vault BX 9211 .I30608 I42, image for Estell Hope Maffit, baptism 23 Nov 1913, image 182 of 228, line 534; accessed through “U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970,” database and images, ( : accessed 25 January 2016). 
  6. A paper copy of Seth Maffit’s Land Patent, dated 13 August 1915, from family records. 
  7. Presbyterian Historical Society; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; U.S., “Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970”; Book Title: Session/Register 1887-1923; Accession Number: Vault BX 9211 .I30608 I42, image for Estell Hope Maffit, baptism 23 Nov 1913, image 182 of 228, line 534; accessed through “U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1970,” database and images, ( : accessed 25 January 2016). 
  8. 1920 U.S. census, Hingham, Hill, Montana, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 129, page 1A (handwritten), dwelling 10, family 10, lines 37-46, Seth Maffit household, digital image,, ( : accessed 22 June 2018); original source data NARA microfilm publication T625_971. 
  9. A paper copy of a Sheriff’s Deed dated 7 July 1923, from family records. 
  10. Jones, Peggy. The John Baptiste Jerrain and Esther Estelle Therien Family Tree. 2004. 
  11. Jones, Peggy. The John Baptiste Jerrain and Esther Estelle Therien Family Tree. 2004. 
  12. “Train Victim is Identified as Local Boy,” Great Falls Tribune, 10 October 1926, p. 6, col. 5; digital images,, ( : accessed 18 May 2018). 


Photograph Showcase: Just the Beginning


img008 - edited

Naomi Skeen, Rulon Powell Peterson, and young son Ronald Skeen Peterson, about 1928

My great-grandparents, Rulon Powell Peterson and Naomi Skeen, married on the 29th of October 1924.  Sixteen months later, my Grandpa was born on Valentine’s Day in 1926.

He enjoyed nearly three years as the only child until his sister Janice was born on the 29th of December in 1928.  Eventually, he would have five younger siblings.

But not yet.  First, he was the only child of his wonderful parents.  It was just the beginning of their family.  The beginning of my Grandpa’s journey through life.  The beginning of a life that would become meaningful to so, so many, especially to his posterity of 53 (soon to be 54).

But on the day this photo was taken, my Grandpa was just a darling little boy wearing a very white romper standing next to his parents.  I wonder if on this day anyone knew just how amazing this little boy would become?




ps – Isn’t this photo fantastic?  I love Naomi’s clothing, all of the details – so pretty!  I even love how damaged the photo is.  Normally I clean photos up quite a bit.  But not this one.  ❤️




Photograph Showcase: Christmas Eve 2011

16696369855_5f1fd495b6_o (1)

This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas photos.

That is my marvelous middle boy up there.  I took this photo on Christmas Eve morning in 2011.  That year I had purchased a Lego advent calendar for him.  Somehow he knew (or suspected?) that the final Lego pieces in the calendar were a Yoda Santa.  He anticipated opening that last little window all month long.

He could not wait for that cool moment!

It turned out he was right and on Christmas Eve all of that eager anticipation was fully realized when he pulled out his very own Yoda Santa.

Somehow I managed to capture that moment in this incredible shot.

Childhood can be so magical.

Preserving the magic in photos is priceless.  ❤



And just for fun, here is a photo of that marvelous middle boy with his favorite pal, my awesome oldest boy, taken the next day:

16508530908_cc0cd613e6_o (1)

And a rare pregnant photo of myself while expecting my darling youngest boy:


Merry Christmas!


I hope you each enjoy some wonderful family time over the coming week.  I will be taking a little break to enjoy each moment.  AND!!!  We are soooooo excited to FaceTime with our missionary on Christmas day!  ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤   See you soon!



ps – I keep meaning to write a blog post about the GRO PDF pilot program and I just haven’t fit it in.  If you have any English ancestry, or English birth or death records you need, NOW is the time to order them.  They are far less expensive and you get them in just a few business days as opposed to weeks and weeks and weeks of waiting.  I have ordered many records over the last few months.  The pilot period will end very soon – they haven’t announced the date but only said it will run for about 3 months and it started in October, so time’s a-wastin’!  You can learn more about the program here.  If you have questions, ask!  I’ll try to pay attention and answer asap.  Merry Christmas!




Photograph Showcase: Christmas 1952


COSTELLO Christmas, 25 December 1952

25 December 1952, from l-r:  Uncle Frank (barely peeking out), Auntie V, Grandma Deane holding Uncle C.

I love this adorable Christmas photo!


There is just so much to love about it.  The little Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the center of the room may be my favorite part.  It’s so perfect for my sweet little Auntie V to help decorate and enjoy.  But then there is my Grandma, squatting down, wearing peep-toe heels, holding a baby and somehow keeping her balance.  And what about that strand of pearls?  This may be the only time I’ve ever seen her wearing a strand of pearls.  My Grandma was more the hunting and fishing type.  I also love the ball toy.  My own children had two different updated versions of this same toy.  And of course, that hobby horse is fantastic!  One last little gem to point out is Grandma’s only sibling peeking in just a tiny bit from the left.

Do you have any favorite family Christmas photos?



And just for fun – here is the original scan before I worked a little PhotoShop magic:


I straightened, cropped, edited out dust and adhesive residue, and repaired the portions that were torn away by tape.  I prefer to remove distractions from old photos.  How do you feel about editing old photos?




Photograph Showcase: Christmas Cuties

costello2 - smaller

Aren’t my aunt and uncle adorable?!

This is another 11×17″ portrait that I recently scanned.  It was taken in 1954 by my great-grandmother, Hope Estelle Maffit Duval.  I’ve been wondering if the star was crafted out of tin foil.  What do you think?

The last several Decembers this photo has been on display in my piano room.  Do you like to use vintage family photos as holiday decorations?


Happy Thursday, I hope you find a precious family photo to preserve and share today!




A New Toy at the Library


tb book 0011

The first page of text from the Telesphore Brouillette book, exactly as it scanned, saved as a jpeg.  Looks pretty good!


On Friday I went on a little adventure with my favorite 5-year-old pal.  I picked him up from Kindergarten, had a quick lunch, and then we were off to BYU for some important work.  I had reserved an overhead scanner so that I could scan the Telesphore Brouillette book my cousin Margaret mailed to me.

Now you might be wondering about my taking a 5-year-old to a Family History Library.  (You aren’t the only one.  A certain well-known genealogist who has strong opinions about who should and should not work on genealogy doesn’t think he belongs there either.  And yet, he is always there when I show up with my kiddo.  Haha!)  I swear, my kid is the best 5-year-old ever.  A few new Kindergarten apps on my phone, and the promise of a “pink cookie” after we are done and that kid is an angel.  Well.  He is always an angel.

We arrived and I went to the desk because I wasn’t sure which scanner was the one I had reserved, when low and behold I spotted this brand new beauty.


It was love at first sight.  I bailed on my scheduled scanner and used this brand-spankin’ new toy.  Okay.  I don’t actually know how new it really is.  It’s new since the last time I went to BYU.

It can’t be reserved, but I lucked out and it was free.  I scanned the Telesphore Brouillette book – all 185ish pages – in 45 minutes.



Do you know how long it would have taken me on a flat-bed scanner?!

Me neither.  But a reeeeeeally long time.  Like a few weeks.  Maybe even two months.

(Insert an explanation here about patrons at the center and not having lots of time and getting bored if I scan for too long.  etc.  etc.)

The best part was that I was way less worried about damaging the book.  It is so simple to just turn the page and hit scan.  Way less wear and tear on the spine and binding.


You can see a bit of the fancy scanning tech in this photo.  Also the books on Japanese something or other that were the perfect plain black to use as my “weights” to hold the pages open.

I will definitely be using this scanner again.  In fact, I did a few test pages of a different item I have been scanning, the painfully slow way, that I am going to compare and see if I like the quality well enough to switch to this scanner.

So for those who may wonder… this scanner can scan at 600 dpi, save to a thumb-drive or upload to the cloud (and maybe email…?  I think there were four save options).  The available formats include jpeg, pdf, searchable pdf – which is FABULOUSLY accurate by the way, and a few others I ignored.  There is no tiff setting.  You can save as one set of images or as individual images.  You can save in one format and then save again in another format, over and over until you have everything you want.  As you are scanning, if you notice a scan isn’t what you want – not straight enough or something – you can select those images and delete them, rescan those pages, and then keep scanning.

I am in love!

My cute little pumpkin was an angel as always.  He definitely earned his “pink cookie” after a nice leisurely stroll across campus.  He insisted on stomping on crunchy leaves and then throwing them up in the air by the handsful while I took some pictures.



Isn’t he adorable?  ❤️❤️❤️


Happy Monday, I hope you make a fantastic genealogy discovery this week!



ps – I have been very absent the last two months.  I have some serious catching up to do.  Thank you for hanging with me.  xoxo




Photograph Showcase: Adorable in his Knickers


PETERSON, Ronald as young boy in knickers

Ronald Skeen Peterson


This adorable boy is my Grandpa, Ronald Skeen Peterson.  There are so many things about this photo to love – his suit, especially the knickers, his socks, the big smile, the tip of his head, the details of the curtains in the background.  It’s just a great picture that puts a smile on my face.



Happy Thursday, the FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing Event starts tomorrow!  Will you index just one batch?  Click on over and give it a try.