Chapter 1 - Ancestry
Each of us is a composite of our ancestors. Our height, weight, hair and eye color, etc., are predetermined by our genetic makeup. My story would not be complete without providing my ancestral background.
My mother, Doris Luella Thomas was born in Prospect, Ohio, October 13, 1922, the daughter of Ross Lancaster and Helen Pearl (Smith) Thomas. My grandparents divorced while my mother was young and she was raised by her grandparents on the Thomas farm, on the River Road, Ohio Route 309, about two miles south of Prospect. My grandfather Thomas remarried and became a machinist in Cleveland, Ohio. He claimed to be an inventor, and supposedly invented a popular type of can-opener and the trigger mechanism used on the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This was entirely possible. He was a walking encyclopedia and one of the most fascinating men I have ever known. His stories could keep you entranced for hours. I think that much of my love of learning and my interest in almost everything that exists comes from him
My Great-grandfather Josephus Thomas came to Ohio in 1906 from Blacksville, West Virginia, from the family farm which had been occupied since shortly after the American Revolution. Thomas’ lived at the family farm for 200 years! The family cemetery is on the farm, which creates a very interesting dilemma. The farm straddles the state line between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The state line runs through the family cemetery and part of the family is buried in Monongalia County, West Virginia, while others are buried in Greene County, Pennsylvania!
Thomas Farm – Blacksville, West Virginia
My 4th great-grandfather William Thomas had migrated from Wales before the American Revolution and served as a soldier in the same. Family legend says that he was a Welsh stable hand working for an English Lord. He eloped with the Englishman’s daughter and had to flee to France with a price on his head. They eventually came to America just before the American Revolution. In 1798, he was massacred by a band of Delaware Indians while building a split-rail fence on the farm.
There may some truth in the elopement story because my Mother’s family always believed they came from France, even though there are no French names in the family. Another possibility is that the Thomas family may have lived in the Norman-occupied area of Wales, and may have had Norman blood. Other family names on the Thomas side were Keck, Swan, Miner, and Van Meter; these were all English, German or Dutch names.
The Smith family had settled in Nelsonville in Southern Ohio. My great-grandfather Nelson Zachariah Smith moved to Richwood, Ohio in 1912. Family legend says that he was forced to leave the area because his bride Clara Morrison was a Quaker and the family shunned them because he was a Baptist. Her family was a mixture of Irish and Bavarian Quakers, with family names of Morrison, Haines (originally Heinz), Fairman and Ladusky. The Morrison family came to Ohio from North Carolina. I know very little about this side of the family, other than they held extensive land holdings in Vinton County, Ohio. The old family farm is now a very large State Park – Tar Hollow. I do know that great-grandfather James Morrison had a town named after him – Jimtown, Ohio. This small community has long since disappeared.
I know very little about the Smith family. My Great-grandfather Smith was said to be a very closed-mouthed and strict Baptist, who revealed little.
My grandmother, Helen Pearl Smith, was born in Richwood, Ohio in 1905, one of eight children. She married my grandfather, Ross Thomas in 1922, and after her divorce from Grandpa Ross, remarried Ernest (Jack) Leslie Chapman from Humboldt, Tennessee in 1935.
Grandmother Helen Pearl Smith (Thomas) (Chapman) with her second husband Ernest Leslie Chapman
Paul David Penry – My Father My father was born in Prospect, Ohio on 4 May 1916.
My father’s family came from Breconshire Wales in 1806, settling in Radnor, Ohio. My fourth great-grandfather David Penry named the community Radnor because his wife Mary Pugh Penry was from Radnorshire, Wales. The first white child born in Radnor Township was my third great-grandfather David Penry, Jr. His son, John Price Penry, was a soldier in the Civil War, serving two enlistments with the 20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He traveled with Grant on his march through Georgia and was wounded during the siege of Atlanta. He carried a Confederate minnie ball in his body for over thirty years, lived on a small disability pension, and had a small farm near Radnor.
My Grandfather, John Jones Penry, was a locomotive repairman with the Erie Railroad, and my father a telegrapher with the same railroad. Some other names on the Penry side of the family are Latham, Rodgers, Osborn, Geer, Fleming, Evans, Jones, and Pugh.
My Great-Grandparent’s Family. John Price Penry, John Jones Penry, Angelina Augusta Fleming Penry, David, Charles, Crozier, and Myrtle
Front Row: John Price Penry and siblings: Mary and Thomas Second Row: Amelia and Hannah
My grandparents on both sides went through some very rough times during the Great Depression. My mother said that food from the Thomas farm kept them from starvation, My Mother indicated that the stock market crash of 1929 nearly bankrupted Josephus Thomas who had invested heavily. I do know that both of my sets of grandparents worked in bars in Prospect, Ohio to earn money during the Great Depression, and because of the attitudes of the residents, my parents were pretty well ostracized in school. Prospect was a town of very conservative church-going people. Alcohol was readily and widely consumed, but to sell or be involved in the sale of the “Devil’s Brew” was something no self-respecting person would consider. This attitude was unfortunate since both sides of the family were very old respected pioneer families. My great-grandfather was a well-known Civil War veteran and one of the county’s leading citizens. But, it appears that my father and both grandfathers had drinking problems which resulted in my father becoming an alcoholic. This contributed to the eventual divorce of my parents, and my Thomas grandparents. My parents had marital difficulties that ended in a very bitter divorce. Mother forbade me to visit my father or my father’s family, even though she still maintained a friendship with my father’s sisters. I have never known the full reasons for the divorce, but my mother said that my father’s drinking made him an abusive drunk and would not discuss him. However, in later life, she became senile and constantly reminded me of how I looked like him, even to the point of occasionally calling me by his name. My grandmother Penry said that my mother was too young and not strong enough to stand up to my father.
In any event, I grew up with very little contact with my father’s side of the family. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I met most of them. All were wonderful and talented people. Each of them always told me that my father was a black sheep and a renegade and felt sorry for my mother. This paragraph tells about my adoptive father’s line. My dad, Henry J. Gilliam, was actually born Henry Junior Gillam. In the region of Kentucky where my dad lived, there were several Gillam clans. To avoid confusion each clan adopted a different spelling, Gillum, Gillam, or Gilliam. These clans were all of Welsh ancestry and the original name for all families was Gwilliam, a variation of William. When my father went into the Army in World War II, the Army listed him as Gilliam and he kept this spelling the rest of his life. He never spelled out the Junior, but always signed as Henry J. Gilliam. His friends and family called him “Bud.” When my sister and I were young, we did also, and later on as adults, we started calling him Dad. My sister usually called him “Pops.” His parents were Henry and Minnie Mae (Crisp) Gilliam. They were of Welsh Norman and Cherokee descent. Dad was one-fourth Cherokee and had inherited dark skin, black hair, and high cheekbones. He was very, very handsome and could almost double for Gregory Peck. Other family names were Crisp, Hicks, and Click, Stegall, and Webb.
Homes of my Ancestors:
Cefn Brith – Penry Ancestral Home – Breconshire, Wales built in 9th Century
John Jones Penry Home – Prospect, Ohio