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). 


Ellis Album, Photo 3 – All Four Ellis Children


ELLIS, children of Claude & Blanche, WWII

The four children of Claude Albert Ellis & Blanche Octavia Huband.  Back, l-r:  Mary Margaret Ellis, Dale Huband Ellis, Beth Louise Ellis; front: Claudia Ellis.

I have so many questions when I look at this photo.  My Grandma is on the left.  She is wearing a corsage made of gardenias.  It appears to be three gardenias.  For their entire married lives, my Grandpa would buy her a double gardenia corsage for Mother’s Day.  In fact, it was such a habit, that the first Mother’s Day after my Grandpa died, the florist delivered a double gardenia corsage to my Grandma.  She called her boys to thank them who then called the florist to thank him.  They took care of it for the remaining Mother’s Days of her life.  When she passed, the florist made her one last double gardenia corsage.  Was the gardenia corsage in this photo from my Grandpa?  Did the tradition start before their first Mother’s Day as a married couple?

Uncle Dale was in the Navy during WWII.  Was this photo taken when he was on leave?  About to ship out?  There is nothing written on the back.  I know that his ship went down and the family spent some uncertain time – weeks? – hoping to hear from him.  In the end, he made it home safely.  Now that I look at this beautiful photograph, I want to know more!!  Hopefully, I find more details in the letters from this time period.

Isn’t Claudia so adorable?  She was born more than a decade after my Grandma, the next youngest sibling.

I love the way that photos cause me to ask questions I hadn’t thought about before.  Studying old photos can be a great way to prompt new research questions.




ps – I’ve been deep cleaning/organizing my office.  I found three more Ellis photo albums.  I may need to rename this series.  Maybe – Red Ellis Album…?  😯😍



Here are the first two pages of the album to give context for this photo:


This post is part of a series sharing this wonderful old family photo album.  You can learn more about the album here.


Treasures: Penitentiary Letter



These are my 2nd great-grandparents, Susan Kaziah Davis and Frederick William Ellis.  They were both born in England.  They each joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and immigrated to America.  They made their way to Utah where they met.  In 1869, they were married in Salt Lake City.  They had ten children.  Their youngest son, Claude Albert Ellis, is my great-grandfather.  His daughter, Mary Margaret Ellis, is my grandmother.  In 1930, Frederick was a widower and is found living in the home of his son Claude.  This means that my Grandma spent some of her growing up years with her Grandpa Ellis living in her home.  She knew him well.  And, that is probably why I have so many Ellis family treasures.

Back to Frederick and Susan.  And Sarah.  In 1881, Frederick married Sarah Jane Barker.  Frederick was a polygamist.  He and Sarah had six children.  It wasn’t long after his marriage to Sarah that polygamy became a felony.  LDS polygamists were forced to make a choice.  Frederick was not willing to divorce Sarah.  And so, on two occasions, he spent time in the Utah Penitentiary.

Growing up, my Grandma only had happy, positive things to say about her grandparents.  She had a framed picture hanging on her wall of the Frederick William Ellis family.  At the time it was taken, Sarah was no longer living.  Front and center are Frederick and Susan, surrounded by 12 of the children from both wives.  (One had died, I’m not sure why the other three were not in the photo, maybe they lived too far away at the time it was taken.)  Grandma seemed to have no negative feelings about polygamy.  And since it was so close to her, generationally speaking, it had an impact on my perspective.  I just really didn’t think much about it.  It just was.  And now that I am older, I wish I had thought to ask my Grandma more questions about what polygamy was like for her grandparents.  But I did not ask.  And so I am left to try to glean what I can from the bits of their lives they left behind.

This letter, was among the treasures in my Grandma’s boxes.  It was written by Frederick to Susan on 1 January 1887.  It is 131 years old.  What a treasure!




Utah Penitentiary

Jan 1st 1887

Dear Susey,

I recived your letter yesterday and wase very glad to hear from you and to know you wase feeling better, I have been watching for a letter evry day for a week, Mother and Father sent me up a cake and a Pie and apples and candy for Christmas, I expect thay well come up and see me before thay go Back,

We had a concert on Christmas eve and we had a good time, being on of the committee you know what part I have to take, We have one evry week, I feal a little more at home now I have on my my new close, I do not feal

-page 2-

so much like a black sheep thay say I look good in them

Bro Tracey Left here the other day and I expect he will call on you some day

I have got one of the school arithmetic now but I do not know wether I well go to school or not yet, as Bro Butler is in this Cell he his willing to tell me all I want to know

I have sent to Father to get me some Books and some over shoe’s and you can fix it with him when he comes home

I sent to you the other day for a few things I expect you have recived the letter before this

Pleas tell Fredy not to do anything to the hay Rack before I come home as I well be home in time then I well make a new one tell him

-page 3-

to get some good strate stakes about 3 or 4 feet long to go around the rack if he has time

I would like the children to write to me at any time as it well be all the news I well get from home and tell them to be good children and I well see them again some day

I hope you had a Merry Christmas and I wish you a happy new year remember me to the Bishop and tell him I well write to him some day this is about all I have to say at Present

Hoping this will find you all well

I Remane yours


F. W. Ellis

If I had my slippers I would like it


That last line may be my very favorite part.  There is something so gentle and understated about it as well as the fact that it just catches me off guard each time I read it and I usually laugh out loud a bit.

There is something so cool about holding a letter this old.  What a joy to be the current steward of this family treasure.


Happy Monday!  Do you have any old family letters?  If so, what is the oldest letter you have?



ps – If you are curious about polygamy in my tree, let me tell you a bit.  My Dad descends from all LDS pioneers.  In his part of my tree, I counted 19 pioneer men and only 4 were definitely polygamists and 2 might have been (more research is needed on those men).  Additionally, I have one female ancestor, Sarah Jane Marler, who was married to a man who was not a polygamist (from whom I descend) and then when he was killed she married his best friend who was already married.  Many people are under the impression that polygamy was practiced by all members of the LDS church.  That is not true.  Many LDS men were never polygamists.  The church issued what was known as the Manifesto in 1890, officially ending the practice of polygamy.  Of course, that wasn’t something that could be followed immediately.  But it did mean that no more men entered into the practice of polygamy.  I have heard that a few more marriages somehow happened, but generally speaking, no more polygamous marriages occurred after 1890.



Cousins All Around

Last week I had a very unexpected experience.  I met a cousin that I had never heard of before.  We were in the same place, I heard his last name, then where he was from and had to interrupt to ask if he was related to my GrandAunt Beth‘s husband, Uncle Darwin.  After all, they share the same last name, a last name I’ve only ever heard in my own family, and they are from the same city about 2 hours North of me.

He responded with, “Yes, I am related to Darwin and Beth.”  At first, I was thinking that he was acknowledging his relationship to Beth through marriage.  I was wrong.  As we talked it became clear that he is actually more closely related to Aunt Beth – and to me! – than to Uncle Darwin.  This man and I share the common ancestors of Frederick William Ellis & Susan Kaziah Davis, pictured above.  We are second cousins once removed!

As we talked, I mentioned that I have a few family treasures from Frederick & Susan and invited him to stop by my home the next day to have a look.  He was staying with his daughter who lives in the next town, just minutes from my home.

The very next day, my newly discovered cousin came to my home, so did my Uncle.  We looked at some family treasures, talked about our shared family members, and were in awe of some of the artifacts that have survived all these years.  He especially enjoyed going through the Family Record book kept by Frederick.  He lovingly stroked the pages as he saw the names of his mother, grandparents, and then his own name, and the names of some of his siblings handwritten by his great-grandfather.  It was a beautiful moment.  We had a mini-Ellis family reunion right in my piano room.  It was a wonderful two hours of sharing.

My cousin is in his upper 80s, yet he is a second cousin to my father who is in his mid-60s.  Despite the geographic distance, the age difference, and never having met before – nor even hearing of each other before, we discovered our connection at a very unexpected moment.

And now I can’t help but wonder, how many cousin connections are all around me as I go about my daily life?  How many cousins have I spoken with and not known they were my cousin?  How many treasures do I hold that would mean so much to my unknown loved ones if only I realized who they were, how we connect and invited them to stop by and spend a little time enjoying the treasures of our shared ancestors?

This wonderful cousin is the first one to ever take me up on an offer to stop by to see some family heirlooms.  I hope he won’t be the last.

And now, I fear, I will become that person who obsessively tries to analyze everyone’s tree in my head while I talk to them.  But that’s not a bad thing, right?  😉

Our visit has prompted me to review some treasures that I can’t wait any longer to share.  My next several posts will focus on this part of my tree.  I’ve already begun scanning.  Are you excited?!  I am.  ❤


ps – This means the several posts I have been working on for weeks are being pushed back again.  Do you ever find yourself experiencing genealogy ADHD?  That’s what I feel like this week.  So much to share – so little time!  Can’t focus or finish because of the wonderful interruptions.  And I suddenly feel even more sorry for my child with ADHD.  I feel it with genealogy, he feels it all the time.



Grandpa Costello’s 1932 Buick

V, Barbara, Amberly

Auntie V, Aunt Barbara, and Amberly at Barbara’s home in Spokane, Washington.  13 March 2018


Last week I was able to spend some time with my GrandAunt Barbara and my Auntie V at Barbara’s home in Spokane, Washington.  We had a good time together.  Aunt Barbara shared lots of stories, photos, and other family heirlooms with us.  I have so much to preserve from that visit.  It’s exciting!  One of my favorite finds was a grouping of photographs and stories about Grandpa Costello’s car.


COSTELLO, John & Mary by his car

John & Mary Costello standing next to Grandpa’s 1932 Buick


Grandpa Costello bought a 1932 Buick right off the showroom floor.  Apparently, Grandma Costello wasn’t too happy about that.  Grandpa babied that car – a deluxe model complete with flower holders in the back seat – he would park it in the garage that had a dirt floor, but every time he took it out he would dust the entire car.


COSTELLO, kids in John's car, 1932

Costello children in their father’s car – Dan, Vince, and Virginia


When Aunt Barbara was dating Uncle Dan, Grandpa Costello still had that car.  So Barbara rode it in.  When Grandpa Costello could no longer drive, the car was sold to some friends of Aunt Virginia’s.  Dan was very upset by that because he really wanted that car.

Years later, Dan and Barbara flew in Dan’s plane to somewhere near Ione.*  There was a car show near the airport and in that car show, there was Grandpa’s car!  His actual car, not just the same model.


COSTELLO, Dan standing by John's car

Dan Costello standing next to his father’s car in 1974.

COSTELLO, John's car in a car show in Bonner's Ferry, 1974


Each time I visit my relatives from an older generation I learn new details about my ancestors.  Each and every trip is so worth it.  I LOVE the picture of John and Mary standing next to Grandpa’s car!!  What a treasure to add to my small “John Costello” collection.


COSTELLO, John's car pictures from Aunt Barbara


I used these photos along with the audio of this part of the interview to create a video using Animoto.  I’m toying with purchasing a plan with Animoto and created this video as part of my trial.  Have you used Animoto or a similar service or program?  Which do you prefer?  I tried using Adobe Spark but there were far too many limitations with the audio.  I have lots and lots of audio files that would work nicely in a video and definitely want flexibility in the audio files I can use.  Here is my video:




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



*{Ummm, can I just say that I wish I had asked about Dan’s plane and flying?  I was so distracted by the car stories that I missed that tid-bit…}


Photograph Showcase: Proud of His Plane


DUVAL, Francis Henry by his plane, with his mechanic

Francis Henry Duval (on the right) posing with his plane and his mechanic.


Isn’t this such a cool photo?


My great grandfather, Francis Henry Duval, owned a plane with his brother-in-law, Bill Hunter.  Bill was married to Grandpa Duval’s older sister Vera.  They owned the plane for a few years until it burned.  This was during the time that Grandpa was making moonshine so I wonder if they ever used the plane to run their bootleg whiskey?  Hmmmm… maybe I can get to the bottom of that.


Happy Thursday!  Do you have any plane-owning or moonshine-making ancestors?  They are fascinating!




Photograph Showcase: James Young in Kilts

James Young in kilts

James Young (1876-1945)

James Young is my 2nd great grandfather.  He was born in Scotland and immigrated to America between 1907 and 1910.  This photograph was taken in Scotland sometime before he left.  I LOVE the details in this photo and cherish its special place atop my piano.

James’ grandson, Gregg Young, shared this photo with me along with the following information:

“According to Mary Young Costello and Andrew Young, this picture is of James Young in his kilts. He was in the Highland regiment, Black Watch and was a bagpiper. I believe that he (or his father) spent some time in India. Both my Dad (Andrew Young) and Mary talked of him bringing back three items: an ostrich feather, a gold Indian rupee and (unfortunately) I can’t remember the third item. There was lots of jealousy between my Dad and my Aunt Mary. They both were very much alike and, like similar poles of a magnet repel, they had their moments. Each wanted to own the feather and the rupee. My Dad had an ostrich feather but only the ostrich feather. He believed Mary had the rupee. But both would deny to the other that they had any of the treasures.”


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