Friday, January 31, 2014

What is a family "tradition"?

Not too long ago, I  started taking the classes offered by the National Genealogical Society.  The CD course entitled "American Genealogy: A Home Study Course" is a wonderful way to fill in the gaps if you have been a self taught genealogist.

It was in these classes that I learned the true definition of a family "tradition" was two fold.   If you had asked me before, I would have said a family tradition is something that your family does every Friday night is pizza night or every Christmas Eve the family gathers to have a "sang in" (that's suppose to be pronounced with a nice southern accent and is defined as singing old gospel hymns with guitar accompaniment!) I learned that a family tradition is not only a custom that our family does regularly, but can also be a belief passed down through the generations.  You know what I am talking about...the story of great-great-great grandma being a Cherokee princess or the story of great-great-great grandpa running the woods with Daniel Boone!

I have one of these traditions.

The Tradition:

When you start talking about the Bowser Family, it isn't too long till they bring up the alcoholism. The Bowser men have been known as drunks for as far back as anyone alive can remember.  It is told that one of the Bowser ancestors moved to an area in Ohio and lived near a tavern called "Black Horse Tavern".  Apparently, the tavern was also near the church they attended.  The Bowser's were Dunkard's (not be confused with "drunkards"!) and members of the old order Church of the Brethren.  The proximity to the tavern is said to be the reason why the ancestor started drinking and consequently, he and his descendants have suffered the effects of alcoholism ever since.

Gathering Information:

I wanted to find out how "true" this tradition was.  I needed to gather information.  First I conducted interviews.  An interview with my aunt narrowed my research to a particular location. She had in her possession a grade card that belonged to my grandfather, Clyde Edmund Bowser. The grade card was from the "Black Horse School" and was located in Pike Twp., Clark County, Ohio.  How ironic!!  My family tradition talked about a "Black Horse Tavern" and now I have a grade card with the name of a school as "Black Horse School".  I now had a location of the possible tavern!

Next, I interviewed my cousin Chloe.  She is from the Springfield area of Clark County.  When I asked her about the tavern she did not know where it was, but she did know of a place commonly referred to as "Black Horse Corner".  This corner was located at the intersection of Detrick Jordan Road and Folk Ream Road in Pike Twp., Clark County.  She mentioned that there is an old Church of the Brethren meeting house there on the corner as well.  More clues!!

Finding Records

The first Bowser living in the area is John Bowser (born 14 Aug 1841 in Montgomery County, Ohio).  He was living with his parents, Henry and Catherine Bowser, in Montgomery County, Ohio for the 1860 census. In 1870, John is found married to wife Mariah and they are living in Pike Twp., Clark County.  John is the first Bowser in the area of our family tradition.

I was able to locate the John Bowser family in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 Pike Twp., Clark County, Ohio censuses, proving he and his family lived in the right location for several years.  But where exactly in Pike Twp. did John Bowser live?  Was his farm "close" to "Black Horse Tavern" or near the "Black Horse Corner"?  Was he the first Bowser to have a drinking problem?

The 1910 Pike Twp., Clark County, Ohio census listed John as a widow and living on North Hampton Pike.  Today, North Hampton Pike/Road can be found running east to west and crossing over Detrick Jordan Road a mile and 1/2 from the intersection of Detrick Jordan and Folk Ream roads, aka "Black Horse Corner".  Just because John lived on North Hampton Pike doesn't prove he lived close to "Black Horse Corner".  He could have lived anywhere on North Hampton was a long road!  I needed to know WHERE on North Hampton Pike John's farm was located.

At the Clark County, Ohio rootsweb page at, I found a map of the township and the property lines and names of owners.  This 1870 map showed John Bowser's farm in Section 7, with Donnel's Creek listed as running through it.  Also shown was a "Dunkard Church" (nickname sometimes given to the old order Church of the Brethren, also known as German Baptists) just down the road.  Unfortunately, there were few road names given and it was unclear as to whether this property was on North Hampton Rd. or near the present day "Black Horse Corner".  However, the church was a hint that I was on the right track.  Our story indicated that the ancestor lived near a tavern and the church he attended.

Next, I searched the "US Indexed County Land Ownership Maps" from 1860-1918 on  Locating the 1894 map of Pike Twp., I found John Bower's farm again in Section 7, with Donnel's Creek passing through his property.  This time more road names were listed and the house on John Bowser's property was at an intersection of then Detrick Pike and unknown road.  Ah ha!!  John Bowser's farm was located on the corner of then Detrick Pike and North Hampton Pike.

By looking at a google map of today, I was able to locate the old farm house of John Bowser, still standing, and located at the corner of now Detrick-Jordan Rd. and North Hampton Rd.  This property has Donnel's Creek running through it and is a mile and 1/2 north of the church aforementioned.  This church is at the corner of Detrick Jordan and Folk Ream roads, aka "Black Horse Corner".  It seems certain that John Bowser's farm was located 1 1/2 miles north of the "Black Horse Corner".

To further prove that John Bowser was the first ancestor who lived near the tavern, I located his obituary.  I was SHOCKED at what it said:

"John Bowser, 81, one of the county's prominent farmers died Monday at his home, the Black Horse Tavern, two miles south of North Hampton.  Mr. Bowser has been retired from active farming for a number of years.  He was born in Montgomery County, but had made Clark Co. his home for fifty years.  He was a member of the Church of the Brethern [sic] of Donnels Creek..."
(obituary found at; entry for John Bowser, The Springfield Daily News, no date given but assumed to have been in the paper near his time of death 2 April 1923; accessed 5 Jun 2011)

I guess that old John not only lived close to the tavern, he lived AT the tavern!

Guess what?  With the help of a wonderful librarian from the Clark County Library, I found a picture of the Black Horse Tavern.  I already had a copy, I just didn't know it!  The picture below is of John's daughter, Mary Etta Bowser Barnhart (first woman on the left) and her husband George (man holding the baby) standing in front of their home, aka "Black Horse Tavern".

Evaluation of the family tradition

I can't make the assumption that John was the first drinker, however it was well known that each of his boys were drinkers.  Mary Etta said of her brothers some years later that her father was very disappointed that the boys all drank so heavily.  I don't know if the tavern was a place of business when John lived there with his young family.  Perhaps there were many a traveler passing through that attracted the boys to a "wilder" lifestyle.  Either way, it was fun to follow this family tradition! 

Here's to you and hoping you have fun "proving" a family tradition! 

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