Ruth Tenney was born in 1837 in Hamburg, New York. She and her family moved to Michigan shortly afterward. They settled on a farm in Marengo, Calhoun, Michigan. Ruth was a beautiful woman with gorgeous black hair and startling blue eyes. People couldn’t help staring at her. She was not just superficially pretty. Ruth was kind and generous with everyone. She was always willing to lend a helping hand wherever it was needed.
In 1858, Henry Rice began working on her father’s farm. Ruth took notice of Henry immediately. Henry was tall, dark and handsome with beautiful blue eyes of his own. She did what she could to capture his attention. It didn’t take long for Henry to become enamored with Ruth. They married on Dec 08, 1859 and moved to a farm of their own.
When the Civil war started in 1861, Henry was 37 years old. He felt he was a little too old to be a soldier and did not enlist when the younger men were volunteering. Instead, Henry and Ruth worked the farm and began their family. Their daughter Ella was born in 1863. Henry was ecstatic.
In February 1865, the Union recruiters came around again and made an impassioned plea for any man regardless of age to enlist. Henry decided to go. On March 4th, 1865, he left his daughter and pregnant wife and marched off to Tennessee.
The war officially ended on April 9th, just a month after Henry left, but the troops weren’t dismissed. Unfortunately, Henry contracted dysentery in June and was sent to a Military hospital to recuperate. Instead of getting better, Henry died in September, a month before his son William was born. Henry’s family took in Ruth and the kids, but Ruth knew she couldn’t stay there forever.
In 1869, Ruth met Nathan Norton, a man twenty years her senior. Nathan came to Michigan from Macedon, New York to visit his brother Ansel. He was a widower with adult children back in Macedon. He met Ruth and fell for her youthful beauty. Ruth didn’t much care for him, but she married him anyway. She thought the marriage could provide security for her family. As it turned out, his children weren’t happy about the marriage, and Ruth’s children didn’t like Nathan. The newly united family moved in with Ruth’s father on a farm in Bellevue, Michigan. The men worked the farm, while Ruth and Ella, kept house.
In 1885, Nathan was 65 years old. His eye sight and hearing were failing. He wasn’t able to help much on the farm. Nathan had been talking about wanting to visit his children back in New York. William worked for the railroad and was able to arrange a one-way trip for Nathan. Nathan promised to be back in a month. He never returned.
After, a year, Ruth sent a letter to Nathan’s daughter, Rachel Ann, asking when Nathan was coming home. She did not get a response. Ten years later, Ruth decided she might as well get divorced on grounds of desertion. She began the process, but a traveling salesman named Levi Hunter came by and told her that he believed Nathan had died, so she stopped the divorce process.
In 1897, Ruth married a local farmer named John Chambers. He died in 1904. Ruth’s funds soon dwindled. In 1907, she applied for a widow’s pension from her first husband’s civil war service. The U.S. Pension office began gathering information and asked Ruth for all her husband’s death certificates. She was able to produce Henry’s and John’s, but she didn’t have Nathan’s. Ruth told them she didn’t know when he died. So, the government began their investigation.
The truth came out in 1907. The Pension Office discovered that Nathan didn’t die until 1905. It seems my Grandma Ruth was a bigamist. She was married to both Nathan and John for seven years at the same time. The government wasn’t convinced that she didn’t know that Nathan was alive. She was denied the pension. The government said she forfeited her rights to a pension based on “the adulterous cohabitation of a widow. She knew of his whereabouts and did not take ordinary precautions to ensure that she was free to marry. When asked why, she stated ‘I do not know. I supposed he was dead, I guess.’”.
Ruth appealed the decision. They questioned her children, Nathan’s and John’s children and even her neighbors as to whether Ruth really knew she was married to two men at the same time. No one really knew for sure. They all just said she was a fine woman and not capable of immorality. Finally, in 1908, they decided that since all her husbands were dead, she could receive a pension of $12 a month.
Ruth never married again. She maintained her innocence until her death in 1918. She is buried with her third husband in Bellevue Cemetery.
Michigan Old Soldiers' Home, Kent County, Michigan Records. Grand Rapids, MI Public Library.
National Archives and Records Administration Title: U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 Publication: Name: Ancestry.com Operations Inc; Location: Provo, UT, USA; Date: 2000;
Ancestry.com Title: 1860 United States Federal Census.Census Place: Marengo, Calhoun, Michigan; Roll: M653_539; Page: 613; Image: 610; Family History Library Film: 803539. Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data - 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records;
Ancestry.com Title: 1870 United States Federal Census Publication: Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Original data - 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Record;
Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; 1880 United States Federal Census. Bellevue Township, Eaton County, Michigan ED# 75; Publication: Name: Ancestry.com Operations Inc; Location: Provo, UT, USA; Date: 2010;
Ancestry.com Title: 1900 United States Federal Census; Census Place: Bellevue, Eaton, Michigan; Roll: 709; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0060; FHL microfilm: 1240709. Publication: Name: Ancestry.com Operations Inc; Location: Provo, UT, USA; Date: 2004;
Ancestry.com Title: 1910 United States Federal Census; Census Place: Paradise, Grand Traverse, Michigan; Roll: T624_648; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0048; FHL microfilm: 1374661; Publication: Name: Ancestry.com Operations Inc; Location: Provo, UT, USA; Date: 2006;
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with Ruth by comparing test results with other carriers of her mitochondrial DNA.
However, there are no known mtDNA test-takers in her direct maternal line.
It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share DNA with Ruth: