If I had only official documents to go on, I’d know next to nothing about my great great grandmother. Using the usual vitals, census, and obituary, her life could be summed up as follows. Zerilda Eleanora Rakestraw was born circa 1869, the daughter of Francis Marion and Mary Elizabeth (Gilliland) Rakestraw. She married Frank Springer on February 28, 1892. She gave birth to Mildred Gertrude Springer on November 20, 1892. She died of consumption on June 13, 1894 and was buried at Fairview Cemetery.
The biggest hurdles I had in my research were the lack of official documents. The state of Indiana didn’t require birth records until 1882. There was no birth record. The 1890 Census would’ve been the first census to list her occupation. There is no surviving copy of the 1890 Census for Indiana. For reasons I can’t fathom, her death was never reported to the city or the county Health Department. No death record. Another hurdle was that Zerilda changed her name, and not legally.
Fortunately, I had some good information from my grandfather, who had heard it from Zerilda’s mother. There are also a handful of more unconventional records for her. Additionally, the Rakestraws saved a lot of things, for which I am eternally grateful. And now, I present the life of Zerilda Rakestraw, as complete as I believe it will ever be.
Serralda Ella Nora Rakestraw was born on June 5, 1868 in New Albany, Indiana to parents Francis Marion and Mary Elizabeth (Gilliland) Rakestraw. (This is according to a transcription of the Rakestraw Family Bible. I don’t know where the Bible is currently located. I have been spelling it Zerilda Eleanora based on the official documents that bear her name. I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should change how I write it).
She appears on the Census, with her parents, as Zerilda, age 1.
On the Census, she is living with her parents and her younger brother. She is listed as Elnora, age 11.
Here, I have no documentation. My grandfather said that she taught school in Louisville for a year or so before she married. I could not find any mention of her in New Albany or Louisville City Directories. He also said that she hated her first name and, as an adult, decided to go by Ella Nora Rakestraw. This may have started before adulthood, since she seems to have gone by her middle name(s) on the 1880 Census. I have a couple of photos to share here.
Grandpa said this is the photo she had taken for the school. Presumably for a yearbook or similar type of thing.
By December of 1891, Ella had met Frank Springer. It would seem that they were long-distance courting by this letter from Frank, dated December 17, 1891.
Frank and Ella were married on February 28, 1892.
Within a week, Frank and Ella had moved to his brother’s farm, outside of Paoli, Indiana.
In April, Ella received a letter from her cousin Othela, congratulating her on her marriage to Frank and expressing concern for her illness.
Sometime in May, Ella had gone back to New Albany to stay with her parents, probably having realized that she was pregnant and would need her mother’s help. Frank wrote to her shortly after her arrival.
On November 20, 1892, Ella gave birth to a daughter, Mildred Gertrude Springer. Frank was present for the birth of his daughter, as this letter dated November 27, 1892, suggests.
In December, both Ella and baby Mildred were sick.
Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to find this photocopy and not the original. Since the quality is so bad, I cannot tell if this is just Ella, or if Mildred is perhaps in a bassinet to the left.
In a letter dated January 22, 1893, Frank writes that he is sorry to hear that Ella and the baby are both still sick. He also writes that he will come for them when the weather is better.
Here the letters have stopped and it would seem that Ella was home with Frank from here on, however, she must have gone back to stay with her parents before the end of May in 1894. And, in researching Frank’s story, I learned that he did leave home sometime in 1893 for the World’s Fair in Chicago, so it makes sense that Ella would not stay alone on the farm with the baby.
This one should read “adoption of Mildred G. Springer,” but as we all know, the papers sometimes get things wrong.
On June 13, 1894, just two and a half weeks after her parents adopted Mildred, Ella died of consumption. She was buried at Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Indiana.
It took me quite some time to find her in Fairview, as her tombstone reads “Ellen N. Springer” and Frank is not buried there.
So ends the short life of Zerilda Eleanora (Rakestraw) Springer.