Monday, September 7, 2015

DNA Results Help Uncover The Unusual, but Sad, Life of George W Ravell

A guest blog post by Charles K. Wilkinson, my 4th cousin.

Central Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts

1838 - 1915
1843 - 1892
1876- 1913

My DNA results identified a probable third cousin (PTC) on Ancestry.  This means that PTC and I should have common great-great grandparents.   PTC ‘s tree was quite extensive having over 66,000 people.   PTC identified seven of 8 pairs of great-great grandparents, none of which matched any of my great-great grandparents.

PTC’s great-grandfather, for which the great-great grand-parents were not identified, was George W. Rowell.  I had a great-grandfather named John Ravell.   John Ravell had a younger brother named George W.  Ravell. 

Could George W. Rowell and George W. Ravell be one and the same person?

Central Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts

1894  ETHEL W., HIS WIFE  1982
1871  CLARENCE W. McNUTT  1926
1897  MINERVA   1897
1891  MILDRED R. BALL 1965

Research on George W.  Ravell   

George W Ravell was born in Salem, MA to parents John and Eliza Jane (Ashby) Ravell on November 18, 1840, the 7th of 10 children consisting of 7 girls and 3 boys.   George’s father died in an accident in 1850 when George was 9 and his mother died of consumption in 1853 when George was 13.  Four of the five oldest children, all girls, died between 1848 and 1852.  Benjamin, the second youngest offspring, died about 5 months after his mother’s death; he was living with his great-uncle and namesake Benjamin Pickering Ravell in Lynn.  (The elder Benjamin was born just 4 months before his nephew, George’s father.)  The MA 1855 census revealed the location of the 5 remaining Ravell children.    The two youngest living children, both girls, – Martha and Emeline (Emma) – lived with their older sister Ellen (Ravell) Buxton in South Danvers.   The two boys did not live with family.   John, my great-grandfather, age 17, was living with the Hood family in Danvers; George, now 15, was living with the Tyler family in Middleton.  The occupations of the heads of both of those households were shoemakers.

George Ravel married Eliza Ann Reed in South Danvers, MA in 1860.  He and Eliza were listed in the 1860 Federal Census (last name spelled Ravels).   George registered for the Civil War Draft in 1863 (last name spelled as Ravell), and was listed in the 1865 MA census with his wife and 2 children,  Benjamin P. – age 4, and Eliza E. – age 1.  In the two listings in 1860, George’s occupation was shoemaker.  In the 1863 Draft Registration and the 1865 Census, his occupation was morocco dresser[1].   The family resided in South Danvers[2] in all the above listings.  After 1865, George Ravel (Ravell) disappeared from the records, with one notable exception which will be discussed later.  His wife Eliza and 2 children appeared in the both the 1870 and 1880 Federal Censuses, residing in Peabody with Eliza’s aunt, Harriet Very.

Research on George W. Rowell:

George W. Rowell was listed in both the 1870 and 1880 Federal Censuses.  His wife was Charlotte (Steele) and they had four children born between 1869 and 1875.   The oldest, George Washington Rowell, was born in Pennsylvania and the other three in Delaware.  George’s ages, 29 and 39 respectively, were consistent with a birth-date in late 1840.   His occupation in both censuses was morocco dresser, the same as George W. Ravel.  George’s place of birth was MA, and Charlotte’s was New Brunswick.  Their 1870 residence was in Wilmington Division 28, New Castle, Delaware.   By 1880 they had moved to Beverly, MA.   There were two revealing entries in the 1880 Federal Census: 1. George was suffering from liver problems, and 2. he had been unemployed for 6 months during the census year.

Death Record for George W. Ravel, alias Rowel:

The Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988, Bridgewater Deaths for 1887 gave the death record for ‘George Ravel, alias Rowel’.   He died at the Bridgewater State Farm[3], the cause of death was ‘insane’, and place of burial was ‘Salem’.  As was common in most records of the past, there were certain discrepancies: he was recorded as single, as having been born in Beverly, his parents were listed as ‘Jake and Eliza’ instead of John and Eliza, and his age was given as 47, not 46.  These could have been recording errors or intentional misinformation by either George or whoever was responsible for him.  Without doubt, this is our George W. Ravell, alias George W. Rowell.

Charlotte Steele:

Charlotte Steele’s death record, filled out by her daughter, Charlotte Steele McNutt in January 1915 gives useful information about Charlotte, the widow of George W. Rowell.  Charlotte was born in St John’s, New Brunswick on Nov. 26 1830 of parents Joseph Steele and Charlotte Jackson, both born in New Brunswick.   How did George, as a married man, meet Charlotte Steele?  One first suspects as logical that George might have been on duty down south during the Civil War when he met Charlotte Steele.  The records provide a very plausible, quite different,  explanation.  In June of 1868, George’s youngest sister, Emma, married John Steele, Jr.  John emigrated from New Brunswick in 1862 according to the 1900 Federal census.  The 1861 Canadian census listed John, age 14, his parents John and Charlotte, and siblings Charlotte, age 30, and Christopher, age 7, living in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  Emma’s marriage to John Steele took place approximately 2 years before George W. Rowell and Charlotte were living in Delaware with an 11 month old son.  Circumstances between George and Charlotte in MA in 1868 appeared to have forced them to make a decision to flee rather than stay and face the consequences of their actions.


If Charlotte’s father was indeed Joseph, and not John, she possibly was the half sibling of John, Jr. and Christopher.  I have found no evidence of a certificate of marriage for George W. Rowell and Charlotte Steele.  Charlotte was 10 years older than George and, while ‘married’ to George, lied about her age.  In the 1870 Census she was listed as 33, not 39; in 1880 she was listed as 45, not 49.

George’s parents were John Ravell and Eliza Jane Ashby.  His father John Ravell's parentage is not well documented, but the similarity of given family names point strongly to John being the grandson of Adam Ravell and Elizabeth Pickering of Salem; he was possibly the son of their son John, or the illegitimate son of one of their younger daughters.  Eliza Ashby's brother Nathanial (born the same year as the Prophet Joseph Smith) became a Mormon, and travelled west with a large group.  The Ashbys have a rich history as shipwrights in Salem, MA.

[1] "Morocco" was a type of goat skin leather that was much lighter in weight than what had been typically used in shoe manufacturing.. The "dresser" was the person who actually tanned or softened the leather.

[2] South Danvers separated from Danvers and incorporated as a town on May 18, 1855.  The name was changed to Peabody, after George Peabody, on April 30, 1868.

[3] The Bridgewater State Farm was one of three state Almshouses that cared for the ‘Sick Poor’ of Massachusetts. Bridgewater existed as an Almshouse from 1854-1887, at which time it was called a State Farm.  Later it evolved into Bridgewater State Hospital for the care of the insane. 

Published under a Creative Commons License
Charles K. Wilkinson, "DNA Results Help Uncover The Unusual, but Sad, Life of George W Ravell", Nutfield Genealogy,  posted September 7, 2015 ( : accessed [access date]). 

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