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  • Writer's pictureDavid Beers

You Poor Unfortunate Soul

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

You poor unfortunate soul

You poor unfortunate soul

My great-grandmother, my father's paternal grandmother, has the saddest life story of almost all of my ancestors. Like in most tragic lives, she bears the consequences of other people's actions and choices. And the tragedy of her life passed on to her children and grandchildren. Cordelia Maurer was the daughter of George Maurer, and Margaret Bilsborrow was born in Westfield, New York, in 1880.

George Maurer was the oldest son of German-speaking immigrants, Andrew (Andres) Maurer and Catherine Strobel, from Germany that borders what is now Saarland and the Rhineland. George was born in Hudson, New York, in 1840. The Maurers arrived in the US in the late 1830s with other "Germans" from the Palatine. After the Peace of Westphalia, that area was annexed by the Kingdom of Bavaria and ruled by "Mad" King Ludwig. The family settled in Hudson, New York, and then moved to Herkimer County in upstate New York. Early residences are in the towns of Ohio and Russia. He is a fascinating character whom I will flesh out later in another post. He served in the US Army during the Civil War and fought under the command of General US Grant and his adjacent Tecumseh Sherman. George fought and wounded at the Battle of Port Hudson. The injury to his hand and leg is probably why he probably became an alcoholic. He died in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1921.

Margaret Bilsborrow was the daughter of Robert Bilsborrow, an immigrant from Blackburn, Lancaster, UK, and Catherine Davies (or Davis), daughter of Welsh immigrants living in Oneida County, New York. The Bilsborrows moved to Westfield, and when George and Margaret married, they settled there. They had two daughters Estella and Cordelia. At some point, Margaret contracted tuberculosis, which, of course, both her daughters caught as well. Margaret died in 1882, at the age of 35, leaving George with two daughters aged 8 and 2.

George quickly remarried. He married Emaline Hane, the daughter of his neighbor, and started a new family. The girls moved in with George's sister Cordelia who was married to a Dr. William H. Delong. The girls never returned to their father after that. Eventually, the Delongs adopted Estella and Cordelia, and both most likely benefited in their recovery by living with a medical doctor. The Delongs moved to Emporium, Pennsylvania, and became part of a group that founded the town (village, hamlet) of Emporia, Florida, about 40 miles west of Ormond Beach in western Volusia county in the later 1870s. The Delongs were some of the first "snowbirds" going to New York during the Florida summer's sticky heat and then returning to avoid the arctic tundra, which is upstate New York in the winter.

Also in that community were the Beers. John Leonard Beers was also a Civil War veteran, wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. He moved with his father to Emporium to start a lumber mill and ran a store in town. His wife Catherine "Kate" Zacharias had a millinery shop with her mother, Rebecca. They also moved to Emporia in 1878 permanently. John then started to grow citrus (mostly oranges) and opened a packing house and managed groves for other farmers in the community. He is noted by one of his sons as an early pioneer in the citrus industry in Florida. John and Kate's oldest son was John Joseph Beers. He was 8 when the family moved south. Florida, in the 1870s, was still very rural and struggling to recover from the Civil War. John returned to Pennsylvania to go to high school and college, living with family in Gettysburg. He is among the first graduating class of Gettysburg High School and attended Gettysburg College as well. After he graduated in the early 1890s, he returned to work with his father. There were devastating freezes in the mid-1890s in Florida, which killed off much of the citrus industry in the area. John (the father) died in 1896 and Kate in 1898. John (the son) bought his three younger brothers' shares of the family business and ran the packing house and groves until he died in 1913.

Since the Delong's had nieces/daughters of eligible age, they introduced Estella to the young John Joseph Beers. They fell in love and were engaged to be married. But Estella's tuberculosis flared up, and she tragically died. So what's a fellow supposed to do? Marry the younger sister, of course! So John and Cordelia married in early 1900 and by December had their first child, my grandfather John Leonard (II), named after his paternal grandfather. (I use JLB II for my grandfather, and JLB I for his grandfather because it becomes too complicated and confusing to follow, even for me). Cordelia was also sick and was weak her entire life. In 1904, they had their second child, a girl, named after her grandmother and aunt. Cordelia became terminally ill after the delivery. She was expected to die before the end of 1904. I know this because her grave marker says 1904, but she died in January of 1905. JLB II was four, and his sister was an infant in arms.

The dysfunction and tragedy continue in the next generation. The widower married Cordelia's cousin, Frances Maurer. George's younger brother Andrew Maurer, Jr. had moved to Emporia to help with the Maurer/Delong girls' illnesses. John and Frances had two daughters of their own. John built a new house on the lake for his new bride, complete with an office paneled with orange crates. It is still standing today. Just like George did with his daughters, John sent the young children to live with, wait for it..., Cordelia's adopted parents, the Delongs. In my family's telling of things, they became Gramma and Grandpa DeLong. They lived with the Delongs and never moved into their father's new home.

John died of complications of tuberculosis in 1913. Cordelia's children went to live with John's brothers. Frances died of tuberculosis in 1917, and her two daughters went to a sanatorium in Tuscan, Arizona, where the youngest died in 1926. The effects of Cordelia's tragic life and death still ripple through her descendants today.

The story is that Cordelia was always a severe person, never happy, and probably because she was sick all her life and without parents because of her mother's death and her father's rejection and abandonment. Cordelia suffered physical and emotional trauma, which she passed down to her children and grandchildren. I do not know if Cordelia had lived to raise her children if things might have been different. I suspect that not much would have changed because of what she had already experienced. That fact that Cordelia was her sister's replacement and husband's second choice probably didn't go very far in building up her ego and self-esteem. What did her thoughts know that she was leaving her young children during a time and place where fathers were not expected to nurture their children. Was she afraid that they would be abandoned like she and her sister were? Did she talk with her aunt about this, or did Cordelia DeLong know what would happen, and she and her husband stepped up to raise their daughter's children. How does one rest in peace with thoughts like this? The only grace in all of this is that she was out of physical pain, but her soul must have grieved and possibly still does. I only have a couple of other ancestors whose stories are as sad as hers. She is at the top of the list for me.

I visited Emporia, once in the 1980s with my great (or is it grand) aunt. She showed me the house that her father had built. DeLong's place was in ruins. She said it was the perfect house in the community. Dr. DeLong had the only car, and he and her father helped string the phone wire from the railroad line to the homes in Emporia. I went back a few years ago and went to the cemetery where three generations of Beers and Maurers are buried. John is between Cordelia and Frances. Her adoptive parents, the DeLongs, are there, but her parents and sister are buried in Westfield. When we were there, my wife, at the time, remarked that she felt Cordelia's presence and that she wanted to connect with us. A horsefly got into the car and wouldn't leave, which seemed to be a physical manifestation of that desire.

In what I am learning about genetic memory and shared energies, I do not doubt that the part of Cordelia that makes up me physically and the part of her carried forward in the stories and pictures of her resonates with whatever part of her spirit remained in that place. I hope that she feels honored and affirmed by telling her story and giving her a place in my heart and mind. I am sure there are a much more complicated story and personality that I can intuit.

My aunt has her grandmother's name. I have always thought that Cordelia is a beautiful name. It is a bit old fashioned, but it fits her. I look at the frail young woman in the picture with sadness and pain in her eyes and only can feel great empathy for her. I hope to reflect on love and honor to her spirit, and she has some healing. In doing so, healing that part of Cordelia that is me

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