I feel like Ruth Mendell could tell me a lot.

Here’s the background. On 17 Nov 1864 my great-great-grandfather Seth Dunham married Lavina Jessie Springston in Napa, California. He was 38; she was 15. This particular genealogical mystery is about Lavinia’s ancestry.

Lavina’s parents were William Springston, born about 1818 in Ohio, and Nancy, who was born about 1820 in Ohio. You notice I don’t have a last name for Nancy, and that’s one of the mysteries. Of their nine children, I have only one record with a clue as to her maiden name: the death certificate of their son William T. Springston, born 2 Apr 1864 in California and died 1 May 1949 in Fresno, California. His death certificate gives his mother’s maiden name as Todd. Another possible clue: Lavina was baptized into the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santa Rosa in August 1870, and her name is recorded as Nancy Marice Spring[s]ton. [UPDATE: I have obtained the death certificates of two other children of William and Nancy and they confirm her maiden name was Todd.]

So, was her maiden name Todd, Marice, or something else? And what about her husband William? Where did he come from?

Despite much research, I have been unable to find a likely Todd family, and there are many Springstons around that time, none with a very clear tie to William. Well, except if you see who was hanging out with Ruth Mendell.

I first came across Ruth Mendell in the 1850 U.S. Census, living with William and Nancy Springston and three of their children — including my great-great-grandmother Lavina — in Litchfield, Hillsdale, Michigan:

Last Name First Name Age Born Sex Birthplace
Springston William 32 1818 Male O[hio]
Springston Nancy 30 1820 Female O[hio]
Springston Caroline 7 1843 Female O[hio]
Springston Delos 4 1846 Male O[hio]
Springston Lovina 1 1849 Female Michigan
Mendell Henry 37 1813 Male O[hio]
Mendell Maria 27 1823 Female O[hio]
Mendell Albert 4 1846 Male O[hio]
Mendell Amos 71 1779 Male Massachusetts
Mendell Ruth 62 1788 Female Massachusetts

To me this looks like Ruth and Amos are husband and wife, with Henry as their son, and they are somehow related to either William or Nancy Springston.

By 1860, William and Nancy would be settled in Napa, California. It looks like they had left Ruth behind before then. In an 1856 Iowa state census, she was living in Kane, Pottawattamie, Iowa, with some other Springstons:

Last Name First Name Sex Age Born Birthplace Status
Springston Charles Male 49 1807 Ohio Married
Springston Angeline Female 44 1812 New York Married
Springston Harriet E. Female 14 1842 Pennsylvania
Springston Louisa Female 12 1844 Pennsylvania
Springston Wm. R. Male 5 1851 Pennsylvania
Springston Ruth Ann Female 3 1853 Michigan
Mendall Ruth Female 73 1783 NH Widowed

Ruth is widowed; if Amos was her husband he has died in the intervening six years. But who are these new Springstons, Charles and Angeline? Is Charles William’s older brother? It seems that way. If Ruth was not related to Charles and William, perhaps as their maternal grandmother, why would she stay with them? But that would mean Henry Mendell was a very young son, to be younger than Charles and only a few years older than William. Seems unlikely; the ages seem to build a case that she was the mother of either Nancy or Angeline. Were the Mendells living with William and Nancy in 1850 only temporarily?

The 1860 U.S. Census seems to bolster the case for Ruth being Angeline’s mother. Charles has died or left and Angeline is the head of the household, caring for her children and Ruth in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie, Iowa:

Last Name First Name Age Born Sex Birthplace
Springston Angeline 44 1816 Female New York
Springston Matilda L. 14 1846 Female Pennsylvania
Springston William R. 9 1851 Male Pennsylvania
Springston Ruth Ann 7 1853 Female Michigan
Springston Emma S. 1 1859 Female Iowa
Mindel Ruth 74 1786 Female Massachusetts

Angeline, it seems would give her all; by 1881 she is listed as a resident of a poorhouse in New York, a widow age 63.

New York Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses,1830-1920, For Angelina Springston

New York Census of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses,1830-1920, for Angelina Springston (ancestry.com)

Ruth Mendell is tied to a number of possible solutions as to the ancestry of my great-great-great-grandparents William and Nancy Springston. Was she Angeline’s mother, or was Angeline just kind enough to take in her sister-in-law Nancy’s mother? Or was Ruth the grandmother of Charles and William Springston, or their mother who remarried?

Clearly, Ruth knows something, and some breakthrough is needed to figure out were she fits in; perhaps she will point to another generation in the Springston line.

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