A TREASURE DRAWER STARTS THE STORY
Some may say I was a snoopy little girl when I opened my grandmother’s built-in cabinet’s drawer chockfull of wonderful things to explore, but I prefer to be called a young family archaeologist uncovering historical family artifacts from the depths of grandma’s pullout treasure chest. The drawer’s treasure helped develop my curiosity for my ancestors.
Under the hand-crocheted doilies and embroidered napkins was a black hat – oval in shape, no brim, but had folded up flaps hugging the sides with the ribbon tails dangling from the back. This hat has long disappeared. I guess it was a Glengarry hat which goes along with the family story we were Scottish. I had always wondered about that, but I have yet to find any Portas family connecting outside of Lincolnshire, England.
Another interesting item was a pair of tiny leather shoes with a button on each to clasp the straps. They looked like a pair of girls Mary Jane's or ballet slippers. Grandma said they belonged to my grandfather and they went along with the hat.
As the story goes, grandpa had these shoes when he came to America in 1870 at three years of age along with his parents John and Mary Ann Portus, his older sister Georgianna, and little brother John Henry. That’s 147 years ago!
William was born 22 Jan 1867 in Nether Hallam, Sheffield, Yorkshire. He’d be 150 years old now. Almost a year later on 22 Dec 1867 he was baptized in St. Michael’s Coningsby, Lincolnshire parish church although they were living in Horncastle.
|Baptism entry in the parish record of St. Michael's, Coningsby, Lincolnshire.|
Dec 22 (1867), William Dennis, (parents) John & Mary Ann, Portieus,
(abode) Horncastle, (father's occupation) Labourer
|Coningsby parish church St. Michael's. [photo by me]|
The family sailed from England in April of 1870 aboard the ship SS Malta, arrived in New York on 3 May, and were living on Maple St. in Mechanics Grove, Illinois, (now Mundelein) in time for the 1870 federal census on 21 June. The manifest was hard to find as their name was PORTEUS and I was unsuspecting of that spelling. And only John was listed, Mary Ann was listed as M.A. On the 1870 census, our surname looks to be spelled phonetically probably due to the heavy Lincolnshire accent of my great grandfather John. The proper Scottish spelling of our name – PORTEOUS – as our surname is now, was first seen in Lake County. In Lincolnshire, England, our surname was spelled PORTAS or PORTUS. As my genealogy advanced, I realized not to rely on one spelling.
|All young William's belongings were in this wooden trunk. His name is carved on the top.|
LAKE COUNTY, ILLINOIS
I grew up in the house grandpa built for grandma as a wedding present. It was a big two-story house located next to Lincoln School on Maple St. in Mundelein. The house is no longer there, but the house across the street is one Mary Ann’s uncle John Rouse secured for them to live in temporarily before moving to the Midlothian Road house.
|Panorama view of Maple Ave. houses. You can see the W.D. Porteous house and the school next door. Evidently this image was taken before the orchard was put in.|
|Another view of the Maple Ave. house. Aunt Violet, my dad's older sister is |
standing by the orchard where the chickens are running free.
I have grandpa's autograph book presented to him 24 June 1883, which would make him about 16-17 years old. It was probably a birthday or graduation present from his great aunt Matilda Rouse. My grandmother Carrie Ida SNYDER wrote in it as a “friend” in 1890. I also have her book in which William wrote in 1889 “Ever remember a friend.”
Grandpa and grandma would be married a few years later in 1895. William and Carrie had four children, three of which lived to be adults. They are Violet, Carroll (my dad), and Mildred (aunt MiMi). I don’t have a record of the fourth because he/she died at birth and maybe was never named. I heard it was a girl named Ruth, but can’t verify it.
|Marriage - 22 October 1895. William was 28 and Carrie Ida Snyder, 26. |
They were married at the Snyder home.
|Grandma and grandpa's wedding picture.|
Grandma and grandpa in front. Aunt Violet and aunt Mildred sitting in tree
with my dad Carroll standing in tree.
William became a naturalized citizen 16 March 1888. He was 21 years of age. Normally, a child would have become a citizen when his father did, but John didn’t become a citizen until two years after.
|A petition, final oath and certificate (minor).|
William was a carpenter contractor. He had a ditch digging machine and had a threshing machine which he had hired men to work for him. Most of my information comes from stories told by my aunt Violet and Grandma. I have not put them all together yet. Some may be subject to my memory or to theirs – I’m currently poking around for proof.
|Ditch digging machine in front of the Maple Ave. house. Aunt Violet is standing on it.|
I did learn William was a magistrate/justice of the peace, according to the curator of the Fort Hill Historical Society there. He was also AREA/Mundelein's Treasurer.
|1922 Directory for AREA (Mundelein).|
I have an envelope with William’s corner card return address showing the title of Village Treasurer.
|Envelope with my grandfather's corner card (return address).|
Obituaries can hold a lot of information. I found out more about him from his 1927 obituary.
|Headstone in Ivanhoe Cemetery. Find A Grave Memorial# 65551437.|
|Memorial certificate from the Modern Woodman.|
Little by little I'm finding more things about my grandfather. These details and proving some of the stories will put “meat on the bones” of his life and give me a better picture of just who he was. My family history research never ends.