Chance Finds: A Wealth of Information

Today’s chance find is a will I happened across while indexing.  A typical will provides plenty of useful information for the genealogist, but once in a while, you’ll find one that can truly enrich the picture of the life of an ancestor.

Will of John Greenlee

In the Name of God, amen I, John Greenlee, pauper, of the County of Westmoreland, and State of Pennsylvania, being sick and weak in body, but of Sound Mind and Memory Considering the Certainty of death, and the Uncertainty of the time thereof and being desirous to Settle my Worldly Affairs and thereby be the better prepared to leave this World, when it Shall please God to Call me hence, do therefor publish this My Last Will and testament, in Manner And form following that is to Say.–

1st.  And principally, I Commit my Soul into the hands of Almighty God, and my body to the earth to be decently buried.–I devise, and bequeath as follows.–  1st Being a Soldier of the War of 1812 and having Six months, in Said War faithfully for, My Country served, a law having been passed in September 1850, allowing each Soldier that Served six months, a Warrant for eighty Acres of land.  2d  I give and devise Unto my Son William Greenlee, his heirs and Assigns forever, all my, right title, and interest in My land Warrant about to be issued, by the Government of the United States, for my Service as a Soldier of the War of 1812, giving My Son William, a preference over My Other Children Owing to his Charge of Me when in a Very helpless State of paralysis, in which State I am now lying and from his attention to Me, Some eight or ten Years ago when laboring Under an attack of the Same kind, and from his attention to his Mother when laboring Under disease.  Untill her death,—  In testimony whereof I have hereunto Set My hand And Seal this 17th day May A.D. 1851.

John his X mark Greenlee (L.S.)

Signed, Sealed, published and declared by John Greenlee, the above Named testator, as and for his last Will and testament, in the presence of us, who at his request, and
in his presence have Subscribed our Names, at Witness hereto

   Saml Cooper
{ James Moorhead
Samuel Dixon

Legally proved and approved this 26th day of August A.D. 1851

Jas Keenan–Dep. r.1

Some of the data found here might not be available anywhere else, particularly the information about John Greenlee’s multiple attacks of paralysis and the fact that his son, William, cared for both parents through their illnesses.

If this was my family and this story hadn’t been passed down through oral tradition, I’d be over the moon to find this much detail!

1 “Pennsylvania Probate Records,1683-1994,” digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 4 Sep 2017); Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994 > Westmoreland County > Wills 1839-1870 vol 3-5, image 169 of 701, entry for John Greenlee (Vol 3, p 321, no. 1814).


Stanley Robert Smith: A Question of Justice

Shock might have been the reaction in the courtroom that afternoon.  Ten to 25 years in prison for stealing $1.28 worth of gas.

To put this into perspective, let’s look at several other convictions from the same time period:

Clayton Flora, a car thief in Hamilton, Ohio, was sent to the state penitentiary for one year.1

In nearby West Virginia, married couple Ora and Martha Bailey, received five years in prison–the maximum sentence for their crime–after their three young children (Homer, 8; William, 5; and Lacy, 2) were discovered held in a dark, unventilated room of their home.  The five year old had been beaten to a criminal degree after it was said he refused to collect “his share of the coal and kindling wood”.2

Fred Green, a 35 year old WWI veteran from Akron, stabbed his wife to death after she told him that he didn’t have the nerve to do it.  On March 11, 1931,  he was sentenced to seven to 20 years in the state penitentiary. 3

Stanley Smith and Charles Williams surely would have at least attempted a defense if they thought that the consequences of their actions would be so severe.  Instead, neither had even testified at the trial. 4   The two were returned to their cells in the Hancock County Jail to await transfer to the Ohio State Penitentiary.

In the days that followed, Charles Williams’ lawyer filed a petition in error.5 The point of contention was not whether Stanley and Charles had stolen the gasoline or even whether they had pushed the gas station’s proprietor from the running board of their vehicle.  Instead, they questioned whether these actions indeed constituted the serious crime of highway robbery.

Why didn’t Stanley appeal as well?

Perhaps his lawyer, W. S. Snook, felt that there was no point in doing so.  It is possible that, upon conferring, it was decided that it made sense to file only one appeal–to test the waters, as it were.

Financial concerns may have been another motive.  It was unlikely to have been an inexpensive proposition, hiring a lawyer for such a duration, and by this point, it was in the midst of the Great Depression.

Whatever the reasons, Stanley’s actions came with consequences.  On May 26, 1931, he was transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary.  Charles Williams was retained at the county jail to await the outcome of his appeal.

Next Time:  The Ohio State Penitentiary

1 “Jech Begins Life Term,” Hamilton Journal (Hamilton, Ohio), 26 Jan 1931, p 14 col 3.
“Parents Sentenced to Five Years in Pen,” The Star (Marion, Ohio), 9 May 1931, p 7 col 3.
3 “War Hero, Killer, Gets Prison Term,” Sandusky Register (Sandusky, Ohio), 12 Mar 1931, p 1 col 3.
4 “Found Guilty of Robbery Charge,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 19 May 1931, p 3 col 1.
5 “Taken To Pen,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 27 May 1931, p 7 col 4.

The Family Photo Album: Four Generations

arras 4 generations

The photo above depicts four generations of the Arras family of Hancock County, Ohio.

Johann Philipp Arras, known as Philip (1832-1913)
George Henry Arras, known as Henry (1862-1943)
Oliver Martin Arras (1889-1973)
Theron Henry Lamont Arras (1910-2003)

The genealogy bug seems to skip a generation in this family.

Theron was my great-uncle, brother of my grandmother, Lucia Arras.  He was an incredible genealogist, working with German researchers to trace the origin of all the families involved in the shipwreck of the “Famous Dove” (Brig James Beacham).  His work was published in the Palatine Immigrant of July 1988.

Theron’s grandfather, Henry Arras, was also interested in the family history, as I’ve mentioned before.  He worked with the Rev. John Gauss, pastor of Trinity church in Jenera, Ohio, to compile a history, the Familien Rekord, of the Arras family from Germany to Hancock County, Ohio.  I hope to include the Familien Rekord on the blog at a later date.

The original of this photo hangs in a large oval frame on my second floor landing, so you can see it as you come up the stairs.  Theron owned it until his passing.  Prior to that, it hung in the parlor of his parents’ home in Findlay, Ohio.


Stanley Robert Smith: Groundhog Day, Stanley-Style

Stanley and his accomplice, Charles Williams, were probably starting to think they’d really gotten away with it this time.  It had been nearly two weeks since they had sped away from the filling station outside Arlington, Ohio, shoving its proprietor off the running board of their moving vehicle.

Then, suddenly, the prospect of a Sunday meal with the family dwindled to a far-distant dream.  Stanley would be spending his afternoon at the police station.  By this point, the people there might have been just as familiar as family (and had roughly the same amount of control over their connection to him).

Clyde Richard, the owner of the filling station in question, was unlikely to forget the faces of the men who had so recently robbed him.  On March 29, 1931, he picked Stanley out of a lineup of ten young men; the next day, he accompanied Hancock County deputy sheriff Lyle Harvitt to Lima, where he pointed out Charles Williams in the street. 1

The two were taken to Stanley’s old haunt, the Hancock County Jail.

hancock county jail
The Hancock County jail and sheriff’s residence. (Source: Findlay-Hancock County Public Library Digital Collection,

For the next month, the two bided their time in different sections of the jail. The weekend before their trial, Sheriff O. E. Willford and Deputy Sheriff Lyle Harvitt transported several other prisoners to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, leaving Deputies Paul Solt and Justin Stone in charge.

Married to the Law

Once again, it’s proven that you can’t throw a stone in Hancock County without hitting a relative.  We’re related to yet another player in Stanley’s saga.  Deputy Paul Solt was married to Frona Arras, the second cousin of Oliver Arras, Stanley’s brother-in-law.

paul solt relationship

Just a year and a half after this episode, Paul Solt died at 40 years of age.  His kidneys had failed due to chronic interstitial nephritis caused by an infection of the right knee joint.  Frona was left alone to care for their 14 year old daughter, Marjorie.

marjorie solt
Marjorie Solt, taken from the 1937 Findlay High School yearbook

Not Quite Houdini

Stanley Smith and Charles Williams attempted to take full advantage of the sheriff’s absence.  Apparently they caused quite the ruckus.  Would you expect any less?

“…Deputies Paul Solt and Justin Stone found that Williams had one bar almost sawed off. He had used the teeth of a pair of pliers. Beneath the bunk the officials discovered concealed an improvised dagger made from a brace off the cot. A necktie had been wrapped around the one end to be used as a handle.

Bolts had been taken out of the hinges of Williams’ cell door. He had also torn an old hot air register from the wall, apparently seeking a means of escape in that manner.

Smith’s efforts to escape had not advanced as far as that of his companion. He tried to pick the lock with wire from a clothes hanger. Part of the wire became stuck in the lock. He also tore some plaster from a wall between his cell and an adjacent one….” 3

Admittedly, Stanley’s attempt plays a bit “Three Stooges” to Charles’s “Escape From Alcatraz”.

No Laughing Matter

The following Monday, the two appeared in the court of common pleas, where they offered no defense. Their lawyers, William Snook of Findlay and Dudley Henderson of Lima, asked the jury to have mercy. Within half an hour of retiring, the jury returned with a verdict.

Stanley Smith and Charles Williams were found guilty of highway robbery, a crime which carried a sentence of ten to 25 years in the state penitentiary. 4

Next Time:  A Question of Justice

1 “Hold 2 In Gas Theft,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 31 Mar 1931, p 2 col 7.
2 “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” FamilySearch , (, accessed 25 Aug 2017), death certificate image, Paul Solt, 13 Nov 1933, digital image from FHL microfilm 1,992,982.
3 “Frustrate Jail Break Attempt,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 18 May 1931, p 5 col 6.
4 “Found Guilty of Robbery Charge,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 19 May 1931, p 3 col 1.

Chance Finds: And You Smell Like One, Too!

This time, my “chance find” is a little less random, as it actually involves a player in Stanley Smith’s saga, prosecutor Marcus C. Downing.  Courtesy of the Findlay Morning Republican, 21 May 1931:

Members of Kiwanis Club Hear Toledoan Who Poses As Briton

Indignation almost reached the point of open hostility among members of the Kiwanis club yesterday as they listened to neatly worded criticisms of Americans in the address of a speaker introduced by Marcus C. Downing as an English author and educator from Oxford.  Progressing from mild innuendo to pointed affronts to national pride, the speaker reached a climax in an open comparison of Kiwanians to monkeys.

The remark was challenged by Mr. Downing, chairman of the meeting.  In the ensuing confusion and embarrassment it was revealed that the speaker was Arthur Bries, of Toledo, whose impersonation of an egotistical Englishman aroused the antagonism of Findlay Legionnaires Monday night. 1

Mr. Downing seems to have had an interesting sense of humor.  Following is the pertinent portion of the article about the Legionnaires’ dinner, which included Civil War veterans among its guests:

Program Enlivened.

The treat of the evening came as a surprise to all.  An Englishman was introduced by Prosecutor Marcus Downing who gave a lengthy speech in which he ridiculed the American soldiers until the Legionnaires could stand it no longer and began leaving the hall, one by one.  After a riot was almost inevitable, chairman Lloyd Light announced that he was not an Englishman at all, and was put on the program as a joke, which proved a complete deception.  The speaker was Arthur Bries of Chicago. 2

1 “‘Englishman’ Speaks,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 21 May 1931, p 2 col 7.
2 “Guests Feted By Legion Veterans,” Findlay Morning Republican (Findlay, Ohio), 19 May 1931, p 12 col 4.