Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Ramsey Curse and Happy Endings

Sorry for the lack of posts, I recently had house guests and then my husband suffered a family tragedy. But it's partly for this reason that I want to get back into honoring ancestors and relatives.

Bertha May Ramsey suffered from the
"Ramsey curse" of early deaths in her
family, including herself.
This article is about what I've started calling the "Ramsey Curse" in light of all the premature deaths in this family. My 2nd great grandmother, Bertha May Ramsey, lost her mother when she was only about 10-12 years old. Her father remarried twice and so she had several half siblings. As an adult, Bertha's first husband, George Benton Phillips, also died prematurely leaving her with five young girls to raise on her own in rural Ohio. Not surprisingly she quickly remarried to my 2nd great grandfather, Ralph Springer Pike, and had three more girls. Then Bertha herself died in 1914 when she was only 40 years old and Ralph remarried to Edna Zearley who, according to my great grandmother, resented her stepdaughters and embodied the evil stepmother. Bertha's daughters from her previous marriage were then orphans and what happened to them while they were still minors is still a mystery to me. They might have stayed with their stepfather or gone to live with another relative or they may have even lived in an orphanage, which were still in use at the time. Given that Ralph's new wife resented his own children, it seems unlikely that she allowed his orphaned stepdaughters to stay with them.

The second eldest, Eva M. Phillips, had already been married the year prior to Bertha's death and the eldest, Lela Phillips, was an adult and married a year after her mother's death. But the remaining three, Ester, Ruby and Alice, were still minors and unmarried. Ester and Alice married immediately upon turning 18 which suggests that wherever they were living as orphans was turning them out as they reached the age of majority and their best option was to marry quickly. Ruby Phillips (b. 1899), however, obviously decided to go it on her own and sadly, as a result, she wound up pregnant and unmarried in 1920 when she was 21 years old. She found refuge in the Salvation Army Home Maternity Home and Nursery in Bellevue, near Pittsburgh, which was a home for women like Ruby having a child out of wedlock. It originally aimed to keep mother and child together, a very progressive idea for the times, but they also arranged for adoptions.

Sadly, the fate of Ruby's baby is unknown. It either died or was adopted - as you can see, I don't even know whether it was a boy or girl and I don't know how to find out, I've never done adoption research before (any tips?). But Ruby's story at least has a somewhat happy ending. By 1930, she had become a nurse, probably inspired by those who worked at the Salvation Army home and had helped her when she needed it most. And then in 1937, she finally married at the age of 37 to a man named Thomas C. Russell. When I heard this name, I knew it sounded familiar. See if you can follow this.

Ruby's half-sister, Jennie Lee Pike, had married James Edward Bauer whose mother, Anna Jane Russell, had a half brother named Thomas C. Russell. So Ruby married her half sister's husband's mother's half brother.

Unfortunately, Ruby and Thomas didn't have any children together that I know of so she has no known descendants apart from possibly the baby she gave up. Thomas was 44 when he married Ruby and had been previously married with two children from his first wife so it's possible he was only looking for companionship from his second marriage. Having a child out of wedlock was still very taboo in the 1920s and 1930s and could ruin a woman's chance of ever marrying and having a traditional family. But as I covered in a previous entry, the Russell family was no stranger to scandalous behavior.

I am putting this one out there so Ruby's story gets told - with no legitimate children, she has no one else to remember her and tell her story. And maybe if anyone is researching the genealogy of their parent or grandparent who had a birth mother named Ruby Phillips, they will find this. I have a lot of info on the Ramsey lineage, though granted nothing on the Phillips lineage since I am descended from the Pikes.


  1. What an incredible story about Ruby. I am glad she found a vocation for the rest of her life. I have a lot of maiden Aunts and Uncles, even some religious ones that never had heirs but actually find that some, especially the women, lived interesting lives. Some took care of the old parents or orphaned relatives. I always make sure to document their lives fully.

  2. Did you ever find out what the Ramsey curse health condition was?

    1. Good question! I should have included the causes of death but I don't have all of them. Bertha herself died of Bronco Pneumonia but I don't know what her mother or first husband died from.