Sarah Jane Boorem
1840-1874

by Jeffrey L. Thomas

 

Until recently the ancestry of John Boorem's first wife, Sarah Jane, was a confusing and seemingly unknown chapter in Boorem family history. Having died shortly after giving birth to her daughter Laura in 1874, there is scant little family tradition concerning Jane. Fortunately, persistent research over the last several years has finally brought to light some of the details regarding her short life.

Jane was born in Monroe County, Pennsylvania in 1840, and is mentioned in two different sections of a book titled "Commemorative Biographical Record of Northeastern Pennsylvania," J.H. Beers & Co., Chicago, 1900. This valuable genealogical reference book was published in the early 20th century and chronicles the life and times of many of the pioneer settlers from several northeastern Pennsylvania counties, including Monroe. In the section on Jane's husband, John Boorem (p. 651), she is referred to as the daughter of Isaac and Mary Smieson. In the section of the book that mentions Jane's brother William Starner, (p. 1397), she is mentioned as the daughter of Joseph Starner and Mary Van Horn (daughter of John Van Horn). We are fortunate to have the William Starner bio because it ties the Boorem family to the early Van Horn settlers of Monroe county, specifically Revolutionary War soldier Benjamin Van Horn (b. 1759), who set up one of the area's first saw mills in Jackson Corners (now Appenzell).

Given this information we should expect to find Jane in the 1850 census living with the family of William and Mary Starner in Coolbaugh Township (Monroe Co.), however this is not the case. Instead we find her living with the large, extended family of her grandmother, Susanna Van Horn (Mary's mother) in Jackson Township. In the census she is listed as Sarah J. Simons, age 9 years. Since we know that William Starner and Mary Van Horn were married in 1844, and that Jane was born prior to their marriage, the census entry seems to confirm the obvious; Jane was the daughter of Mary Van Horn, but not the daughter of William Starner. The 1860 census is even more interesting, because we actually find Jane listed twice, a little known, but not uncommon circumstance resulting from the same person being present in two different households on different "census-taking" dates. In the first instance, Jane is again living with her Grandmother Van Horn's family, this time in Paradise Township, where she is listed as Sarah J. Van Horn, 18, occupation, domestic. The latter tells us that at the time Jane was working as a household servant somewhere, and the fact that her grandmother Susanna gives her last name as Van Horn, again strongly hints at Jane's illegitimacy. In Jane's second census listing she is found in Jackson Township working as a servant in the family Samuel and Lucy Ann Ables. Lucy Ann (Van Horn) was Jane's aunt. In this return Jane is listed as Sarah J. Simonson, 18, servant.

All of the above leads us to speculate as to the identity of Jane's true father. Fortunately, in 2014 family researcher Amy Tedeschi, (a descendant of John and Jane Boorem's daughter Susie Boorem Surplus), made a significant find that has led to the solving (I believe) of this family puzzle. We know that Mary Van Horn was baptized at St. Mark's Church, Appenzell, Monroe County, in 1819. Amy considered the possibility that as an illegitimate granddaughter, perhaps Jane was also baptized at the church as well, and she was right. We now have Jane's baptism record showing that she was born 24 Aug 1840, was the daughter of Mary and Isaac (Simes in the record), with Susanna Van Horn as the sponsor. The baptism entry is found below.

 

 

At this point it proves useful to examine the variations of Jane's names found in different records, as follows:

(1840) Baptism Record: Sarah Jane Simes (d/o Isaac)
(1850) Census, Jackson, Monroe: Sarah J. Simons
(1860) Census, Paradise, Monroe: Sarah J. Vanhorn
(1860) Census, Jackson, Monroe: Sarah J. Simonson
(1898) John Boorem CW pension file: Sarah J. Simanson
(1900) John Boorem biography: Jane Smieson (d/o Isaac)
(1916) John Boorem CW pension file: Sarah Jane Simonds

We can discount the baptism name of "Simes," because it is very likely that Isaac was not present at the ceremony. As it turns out, John Boorem, on more than one occasion, comes very close to his wife's maiden name. Ultimately, however, it is Jane's aunt Lucy Ann Ables and the 1860 census that provides us with the only instance of Jane's correct maiden name, Sarah J. Simonson. We can understand why Jane's grandmother was reluctant to use her granddaughter's correct name, however apparently there was no reason not to do so for her aunt. So, the next question becomes, who was Isaac Simonson?

Recent research has likely identified the origins and movements of the Simonson family. Isaac Simonson was born circa 1808 in Bergen, New Jersey. He was the son of Justus and Elizabeth Simonson, who moved their family into Luzerne and Monroe counties, Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Census and tax records show Justus and his sons, Aaron, John, Isaac, and Barney, lived in Bear Township, Luzerne County, and Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, between 1830 and 1870. In later years the family finally settled in two areas (1) near Pittston in Luzerne County, and (2) in Roaring Brook, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. Although the census never lists Isaac as residing in Monroe County, his three brothers mentioned above all lived in Tobyhanna Township for a period of between 10 and 30 years. Therefore it is easy to envision that Isaac could have visited one of his brothers in Monroe County in the late 1830s, where he may have encountered the young Mary Van Horn. Isaac Simonson seems to have been a loner, never married, and living in different households and relatives in different census years. Isaac Simonson makes his last appearance in the 1880 census of Roaring Brook, Lackawanna county, where he was living with his sister-in-law Phoebe Simonson, widow of his brother Aaron, and disappears from the records thereafter. In making the argument for this Isaac Simonson, it should be pointed out that no other individual, family, or other variations of the names listed above fits any of the records, places, or timeframes needed to be a realistic alternative. Interestingly, Isaac's father, Justus Simonson, was a well-respected founder of Stoddartsville, a community in Bear Township, Luzerne County, which is just across the Lehigh River from Tobyhanna Township in Monroe County. Justus lived to be a remarkable 98 years old, and is buried with his wife Elizabeth in the now dilapidated Stoddartsville cemetery. Their grave markers are still standing at this writing.

The aforementioned biography of John Boorem states that after being discharged from service in the Civil War, John returned home in early 1863. The bio goes on to state that John married Jane in 1866 and started his family, which we know included children Susie (b. 1863), Ida, (b. 1866) who died young, Agnes, (b. 1877), Joseph (b. 1872), and Laura, (b. 1874). The puzzle here is daughter Susie. All known records for Susie indicate that she was born in 1863, yet in his biography John states that he did not marry Jane until 1866. Could John have been wrong about his marriage date? We know that John returned home shortly after he was discharged from the army in December 1862, so it is possible that Susie's actual date of birth was a bit later than 1863. We can discount the possibility that Susie was not John's daughter because photographs of the two (below) show a very strong family resemblance. In addition, had Susie not been Jane's daughter, we would not expect to see her with the family in the 1870 census of Barrett Township, Monroe County. At this time, no record of Susie's baptism (or any of John Boorem's children) has been located, therefore we are left to speculate as to the circumstances of her birth. It is my feeling that Susie was the daughter of John and Jane Boorem, although she may have been born before they were married.

The only other mentions of Jane following the 1870 census are membership records from the Mountainhome United Methodist Church, (below), showing that both John and Jane were members of the church shortly prior to Jane's death.

 

 

It seems odd that we don't find mention of the John Boorem family in the records of the church until the early 1870s, because our family tradition has always claimed that John Boorem helped build the new Methodist church in Mountainhome (opened in 1859) and was one of its earliest members. In fact, there is a well-known early Barrett Township photograph (below) depicting John Boorem (at right) during the construction of the church. I recently examined the records of the church at the Monroe County Historical Association in Stroudsburg, PA, and, although the records seem to be in sequential order, they may not be complete. There simply don't appear to be enough entries for what should have been a growing congregation.

 

 

Following the birth of Susie, John and Jane's next child was the aforementioned Addie (or Ida) Catherine Boorem who was born in 1866. Family tradition says that she died from scarlet fever in 1871, and census returns from 1870 and 1880 tend to support this notion; she is present in the returns of 1870, but absent in 1880. Her place in the family has only recently been reestablished using information from the 1870 census along with John Boorem's Civil War pension file. Next was daughter Agnes Boorem born in 1867, followed by Joseph Hooker Boorem, my great grandfather, in 1872. The last child born to John and Jane Boorem was Laura Jane in 1874. Unfortunately Jane Boorem died shortly after Laura was born at age 34. Family tradition claims that Laura was the surviving daughter of twins born to her mother and it was Laura's stillborn twin that caused Jane's death. Apparently those attending the birth were unaware of the second child. Jane and her stillborn infant were buried at the nearby Methodist church cemetery in Mountainhome. Although there are three family members buried in the Boorem plot in Mountainhome (Addie, Jane, and Hooker Boorem's infant son John), there are no markers to identify their graves.

The death of his wife must have weighed heavily on John Boorem, who at the time had three underage children still at home. Although his children Susie, Agnes and Hooker would continue to live with their father, who remarried in 1879/80, John apparently asked his brother-in-law Joe Starner to raise the infant Laura. Joe Starner was Jane's half-brother, the son of Joseph Starner and Jane's mother Mary Van Horn. Joe Starner and his wife Jane Reinhardt had no children, so they agreed to take Laura and raise her as their own in nearby Tobyhanna Mills. Here again we see another link between Jane and the children of Joseph and Mary Van Horn Starner, and the fact that Laura was taken by her mother's brother is also a good indication that John Boorem knew his wife's family.

Jane Boorem's death was a sad ending to what appears to have been a difficult life. She was an illegitimate child raised by her grandmother rather than her mother and stepfather, and may have had an illegitimate child herself. She died at age 34 and is buried in an unmarked grave with her daughter and grandson. We can only hope that she was treated well while growing up in her grandmother's household, and that she found happiness in her marriage to John Boorem. It is my hope that I will one day locate her grave and perhaps place a small marker in the cemetery in honor of her memory.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
Updated August, 2014
jltbalt1@verizon.net

 

Below: John Boorem and the children of his first wife Jane:
Hooker, Agnes, John Boorem, Laura, Susie

 

Below: St Mark's Church, Appenzell. Sarah Jane Simonson was baptized here in 1840.

 

Below: the Mountainhome Methodist Church Cemetery

 

Below: Is this the site of the Boorem family plot in the cemetery?
The four corner markers shown in the photograph next to the back wall of the church are marked "B".

 


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Text and photographs copyright © 2014 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved
e-mail: jltbalt1@verizon.net