The immediate ancestry of my great-grandfather, William Henry Burrows is something of a puzzle and a mystery. This page attempts to document and untangle it. My current reconstruction of it goes something like this:

Pedigree tree of William Henry Burrows

Drawn out this way, it all looks clean and simple. It isn't. Growing up I had heard a fair amount about Wm H. Burrows, known in the family as "Papaman". He was the proprietor of W.H. Burrows & Co., a successful clothing store with stores in a couple of cities and towns in Iowa, an automotive early adopter who usually owned 3 cars. His wife was Iona Blue, daughter of the owner of the dry goods store he first worked in after coming to Belle Plaine Iowa.

Gam's Story

When I first became interested in genealogy, I interviewed my grandmother, Grace Burrows, his daughter-in-law, about him and anyone else she could remember. The first time we spoke, she said only that his father was also William Henry, and that she didn't know his grandfather's name. The second time she said quite definitively that his father was Thomas Burrows, his mother Martha Lowell, and that he was of Irish descent.

The immigrant, whom she thought to be Thomas's father or grandfather was a "high born" protestant, who was disowned by his father for marrying a Catholic girl. After their first child was born the Catholic bride would stand by the gate to her father-in-law's estate, babe in arms, in the hope that the sight of his grandson who melt the old man's heart. Her husband felt humiliated by this and packed the family off to America. (In scraps of family papers I found a note that says that the son was the oldest and that as a result of his being disowned, his brother inherited and that either the father or the brother may have been named "Stephen".

Thomas Burrows died, she said, when William Henry was three years old, "of the effects of the Civil War". Young William left home at the age of 14 and by the time he was 18, opened the first roller skating rink in Nebraska, along with a partner. The rink failed and he moved to Bell Plains, where he worked in a dry goods, store, married the boss's daughter and opened his own store. Both stores were destroyed in the "great Belle Plaine fire" in the 1890s. J.D. Blue became an insurance agent, but William Henry reopened his store with a new partner.

WHB's Mother - Martha Lowell

My grandmother was clearer on Papaman's mother's name. My grandfather, Lowell Anderson Burrows was named after his two grandmothers: Martha Lowell and Ella Anderson. Unfortunately, that was all she could tell me. My father's cousin, Cathy Cramer, was able to tell me that Martha remarried a man named Knott.

In the last few years I have managed to find what I believe are Martha's census records covering the years from 1850 to 1920, records that I believe demonstrate that she was the daughter of Amos and Mary/Polly Lowell, as well as establishing that she was married three times. The following chart shows the key data from the 1850-1900 censuses:

1850 Census 1860 Census 1870 Census 1880 Census 1900 Census
Lucretia Bartlett 50 Lucretia Bartlett 60 Lucretia Bartlett 70 Lucretia Bartlett 81
Israel Bartlett 54 Celestia Bush 53
Byron Bartlet 20 Byron Bartlett 33 Byron Bartlett 40
May D Bartlett 3
Emma J Bartlett 1 Emma Bartlett 12
Sarah Bartlett 8
Amos Lowell 54 Cook Knott 32 John C. Knott 52
Polly Lowell 49 Thomas Burrows 25 Chil Live
Martha Lowell 11 Martha Bartlett 19 Martha Burrows 27 Martha Knott 36 Martha Knott 56 5 4
Lula Burrows 7 Lulu Knott 16 Louie Burroughs 35
William Burrows 5 William Knott 15
Alta Knott 8
Amos Lowell 17 Amos Lowell 37
Emereta Lowell 28
Harry Lowell 3mo Harry Lowell 20 nephew

The pink and blue highlighted lines running through the 1870, 1880 and 1900 census show William and his sister Lulu first under the name Burrows, then Knott and then Lulu goes back to her birth name, though the census taker appears to have transcribed it with the wrong spelling. Also in the 1900 Knott household is a nephew, "Harry Lowell". The grey lines running through the 1850, 1880 and 1900 censuses trace Harry back to Martha's brother Amos. The 1900 census also says that Martha has given birth to 5 children, of whom 4 are alive. These would be May, Emma and Sarah Bartlett, and William and Lulu Burrows (all shown in blue lettering). May is missing from her father's household in 1870, and so seems a likely candidate for one who has died, probably quite young. On the other hand Brian Hulleberg lists Sarah as dying on January 29, 1892. Given that Martha seems to leave family behind, I suppose it is possible that she doesn't know that her daughter has died.

Additional confirmation that Martha is the daughter of Amos and Mary Lowell, is the fact that Martha and J.C. Knott were the witnesses for her brother Ira's wedding to Mary Crenshaw in 1872. Ira's family bible has additional confirmation.

If the censuses tell a coherent story in regard to her parentage and marriages, they are not as clear cut in the matter of her age and date of birth. Martha ages 8 years between the 1850 and 1860, and 1860 and 1870 censuses and 9 between 1870 and 1880. Surprisingly, she ages a full 20 between 1880 and 1900, but makes up for it with only 7 years between 1900 and 1910 (not shown above). By 1920, she manages to age 12 years in a decade. My guess is that feminine vanity only struck once she was an adult and that she was born in September, 1938. This would make her 81 in 1920, rather than the 75 that is listed in the census.

If Thomas is the Irish-born Thomas Burrows working as a farm laborer in John H. Hawes household in 1860, then he, too, aged only 8 years between 1860 and 1870. The Hawes connection offers a possible mechanism for Thomas and Martha meeting, though it is highly speculative. Hawes's daughter Sarah married a Philander Bartlett who lived on the farm next door, as evidenced by the order of families listed in the 1860 census. If Philander and Byron Bartlett were relatives, it is possible that Martha met the young farmhand while visiting her husband's kin. I have therefore added Philander's family to the families that I am researching. So far, though, there is no obvious similarities in the trees of Philander and either of the two Bartlett lines in my tree.

While the story told by the census and other data holds together pretty well, it doesn't jibe very well with the family oral traditions that Thomas died at the age of 38 when his son was 3, or that William left home at the age of 14. Depending on which census record you take their dates from, the difference in age between Thomas and William is between 20 and 23 years and not 35, and they are listed in the same household when William was 5.

So, when did Thomas die? In the 1900 census, both J. Cook and Martha say that they have been married 27 years. This would date their marriage as 1872. The two were witnesses at the marriage of Martha's brother Ira on June 22 of that year. Martha was living with Thomas in the 1870 census, so we can infer that he died sometime between 1870 and 1872 at the age of somewhere between 26 and 30. It would thus appear that rather dying at 38 when his son was 3, it was closer to 28 when his son was 6.