Thursday, November 28, 2013

How My Dad's Family Found Me

Me, Lee M., Bruce, c 1954
Lee M. and Lee, c 1940
In 1958, when I was eight, and my brother Bruce was three, we lost our father Lee Marbell Burrows, the only child of Lee and Lois Hatch Burrows, in a tragic boating accident in Yellowstone National Park. His father, our grandfather Lee, had died ten years previously of a heart attack just three days shy of his 49th birthday, and six weeks before the marriage of his only child to our mother. We barely got to know our father, and never knew our grandfather.

Me, Bruce, Lois, 1962
Our grandmother Lois became our only connection to our dad's family, but she lived a day's drive away from us, and died just seven and a half years after our dad, in 1966. Once she was gone, my connection to my dad's family was slim. In 1990, one of our Burrows' relatives compiled a detailed chart of the family history and sent it to as many of the clan as she could. I appreciated receiving it, but after looking at it, put it away, too busy with raising my children to give it a lot of thought. It confirmed that while our family surname was Burrows, a result of a mistake made when my grandfather Lee enlisted in the Navy during WWI, my grandfather began his life as Lee Burrous, son of Marion Henry and Eliza Bushart Burrous, my great grandparents.

The Search Begins

From time to time, I googled Marion's name, finding bits and pieces of helpful information, which I dutifully filed away. I even made contact with a couple of cousins, one of whom sent me the same chart that I already had and a few stories about Marion's sons via e-mail. Unbeknownst to me, however, he was very ill, and passed away not long afterward. The other cousin was seeking, just as I was. Since neither of us had the information that the other sought, I once again felt that I was at an impasse.

Included in the few items about my dad's family that I inherited from my mom after her death in 2000, were my grandmother Lois' photos. None were marked unless my mom had done so from her memory. The only photo of the Burrous family was this poor, mimeographed copy of a copy of a family portrait taken in Genoa, Colorado in 1909. Just enough to make me curious.

A large, good-looking family. Thanks to my mom, I had names to go with the faces, but without any other information, they were all strangers to me.

Genealogy Classes Help Me Out

In 2011, after 10 years of being in possession of the family history files and photos that my mom had compiled and left behind after her death, I decided it was time for me to become serious about my family history. I enrolled in a 'community enrichment' genealogy class at my local community college. The class was about the latest methods in internet research, and was extremely helpful.

From the chart I had been sent, I knew that Eliza's father, William Henry Bushart, had enlisted in the Union Army in 1862 at the age of 37 or 38, and died in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863, leaving a widow, Susanna Hook Bushart, and six children, the youngest having been born just two weeks prior. 

Having learned about the website Find A Grave ( through my genealogy class, I searched for William, and found that he had a memorial already set up. I requested, and received management of it and added a photo of the Heroes of Illinois Memorial and a bio of my great-great grandfather. 

A Serendipitous Surprise

About that same time, one of my dad's cousins had learned about Find A Grave. Checking it out, he saw the work that I had done on William's memorial and emailed me. This was how we met, beginning a friendship and a correspondence that has continued on. As it turned out, he had visited William Henry's grave in person, leading to his interest in it and Find A Grave. 

The Missing Pieces

The original photo, sent to me by my cousin. Back row: L-R: James, Olive, Walter, Hobart, Hattie, Dewey, Claude, Lee (my grandfather). Front row: Sadie, Clarence, Theodore, Marion, Eliza, Homer, William
My cousin sent me photos and newspaper clippings among other helpful information, including this good copy of the family portrait. Finally, I began to feel that I knew my family as people, not just grainy faces on a poor copy of a copy.

The Burrous family and car, c 1909

Between what my cousin sent me, and the websites, Ancestry and Genealogy Bank, I've been able to piece together a fairly comprehensive life story for my great grandparents. I've learned that they married in Illinois in 1880 and had 14 children between the years of 1881 and 1906. That they farmed in Illinois, Minnesota and Colorado, and briefly toyed with idea of growing citrus in California, even purchasing a place there, but deciding to live in Colorado instead. There, Eliza died in 1929 at the age of 69 and Marion in 1937 at the age of 77. I've wondered what it must have been like for my great grandmother Eliza to be the mother of fourteen children, ten of them boys, and decided that she had to have had patience. According to Marion's obituary, he had a genial personality, cheery smile and friendly disposition and was a man who made friends and held them throughout his life. I can only hope that I inherited some of their fine qualities. 

One of the most precious photos that I received from my cousin, is this one of my great grandparents. When my daughter saw it, she exclaimed that the shape of my eyes is just like Eliza's, while I decided that I finally know where I got my nose!

Eliza Bushart and Marion Henry Burrous, c 1895


Our family has always enjoyed a good glass of  beer. I assumed it was because we were Westerners, but this photo leads me to believe that perhaps it's at least partly genetic! Taken at a family reunion in 1936 in Colorado, that's my dad Lee M, leaning on the keg. Great grandpa Marion is seated toward the left, holding a cane. All told, Marion and Eliza had 13 children who lived to adulthood, at least 39 grandchildren, and an untold number of great, great-great and great-great-great grandchildren. What a discovery for a girl with one sibling, and one first cousin. 


  1. I love this post with all the photos, Ellen. Great history here.

    1. Thanks, Glenda. It was so amazing to learn more, and connect with, my dad's side of the family.