Lydia Boorem


Right: Lydia Boorem Robbins (seated) and her daughter Clara.

Lydia Boorem was born on the Boorem farm in Paradise Valley on July 13, 1845. She was the last child of John and Elizabeth Boorem and was probably only months old when her father died in an accident while chopping trees near the family home. She grew up in Paradise Valley, and in 1867 she married Sanford G. Robbins of Scranton, Pa. Sanford was the brother of Samuel Robbins, who had married Lydia's older sister Sarah circa 1849.

Like his brother-in-law John Boorem, Sanford Robbins served in the army during the Civil War, enlisting in Battery H of the 1st Light Artillery Regiment Pennsylvania, on July 16, 1861. His brother Peter served in Co. F, 203rd Pennsylvania Infantry. Sanford's Civil War file found at the National Archives in Washington D.C. tells us that he was 18 years old at the time of his enlistment, 5 ft 8 in tall, dark complexion, brown eyes, brown hair. His occupation was given as blacksmith. After the war Sanford returned home and married Lydia Boorem on 20 Feb 1867.

In the 1870 census we see that the families of Samuel and Sarah Robbins and Sanford and Lydia Robbins were living together in Blakely Township in Luzerne County. By then Samuel and Sarah's last child William had been born, while Sanford and Lydia Robbins are shown as the parents of 2-year-old Clara. Samuel Robbins is listed as the head of the household, owning his home, which was valued at $1,000.00. This was quite an improvement from 1860, and might be partially explained by Samuel inheriting some of his father's estate. Both Samuel and Sanford are listed as plasterers.

Circa 1871 Sanford and Lydia's son Charles was born, and it they may have had another daughter Edith born a few years later. By the time of the 1880 census, however, the family of Sanford and Lydia Robbins would be no more. The 1880 census shows us that the widowed Lydia was living with the family of her older sister Elizabeth Polhamus, in Scranton, while her children Clara and Charles were back in Paradise Valley living with the family of her brother Joseph Boorem. What happened?

Until recently little was known about the fate of Sanford Robbins, beyond the fact that he died sometime prior to 1880, or did he? Information from his Civil War pension file obtained recently by Harry Robbins, a descendant of Caleb, has shed some light on the situation. Lydia eventually applied for Sanford's Civil War pension. In her application and in a later deposition she explains that her husband walked out the door in May of 1874 to "transact some business", and was never heard from again. His death on all documents was subsequently set as 1874. According to Lydia, there was no indication of any marital problems. He was simply never heard from again. Indeed there is no Sanford Robbins anywhere in the 1880 census. Had he simply left home, or did he meet with some type of accident, or was perhaps the victim of foul play? It's something we'll probably never know.

Although the disappearance of her husband undoubtedly made it difficult for Lydia to raise her children, it seems curious that she would remain in Scranton while her children were sent to live with their uncle in Paradise Valley. As we shall see, Lydia would again be separated from her children in the years that followed.

On 25 Sep 1884, Lydia Boorem Robbins remarried Joseph Hedden, also a veteran of the Civil War. Company I of the 50th Pennsylvania regiment. Joseph enlisted on Sept. 7, 1861, and is described as 19 years old, 5 ft 7 3/4 in. tall, light complexion, blue eyes, dark hair, and a farmer.

After they married Joseph and Lydia lived in Scranton, where the first son Wilber was born in 1887 followed by John in 1890. Like her first husband, Joseph Hedden also has a Civil War pension file at the National Archives, and it is from this file that we learn of several unfortunate details concerning Lydia's second marriage.

In depositions claiming the pension of her first husband Sanford Robbins, Lydia states Joseph Hedden walked out on her before "my youngest son was born." She then received a letter from Joseph asking her to bring the boys and come out to live with him in to Salina, Ohio. Lydia states that her and the boys went out to Ohio, but her husband's home was little more than a "shack." She claims that it was cold, and they just couldn't get by on Joseph's the $12 a month Civil War pension. Lydia and the boys stayed three months, after which she says that she and Joseph agreed that things weren't working out and that she should take the boys back to Scranton.

After returning to Scranton Lydia placed her sons an Orphan's where they remained until the age of 16. In fact, that is exactly where I found them in the census of 1900. The returns for that year show that Wilber and John Hedden were living at the soldier's orphan's home in Chester Springs, Susquehanna Co., Pa.

Back in Ohio, in 1894 Joseph Hedden filed for divorce from Lydia on the grounds that she disserted him. Lydia didn't do much to fight the charge since she was so far away, and felt that there was little to gain in doing so. Lydia would later regret her decision not to fight the divorce.

In 1909 Lydia applied for the pension of her first husband Sanford Robbins. Her application was ultimately rejected on the grounds that she remarried before applying for her first husband's pension, an automatic rejection at that time. Eventually the law would be changed, which would give Lydia the opportunity to try again.

In 1910 census we find that Lydia was living in Scranton. The returns for that year show that she was divorced, and living with her son John Hedden and daughter Clara Robbins. She is also listed as having given birth to 6 children, 4 of who were still living. We know who three of her four living children were Clara Robbins and John and Wilbur Hedden. If the aforementioned Edith Robbins was indeed her daughter, that would make four. Lydia's son Charles Robbins had died in 1891 from a "skull fracture," just short of his 21st birthday, and was buried in a single grave in Forest Hill cemetery in Dunmore, near Scranton. If the numbers from the census are correct and Lydia had a sixth child, he or she remains unaccounted for.

Joseph Hedden died on 17 Dec 1912. His pension file shows that he died in Cannon County, Tennessee at the home of a man named Joseph McGillary. Somehow McGillary was made the executor of Joseph Hedden's estate and he soon filed a claim against the estate asking compensation for his expenses in tending to Hedden during his final days and for burying him after he died. He was eventually awarded some compensation for his services, although the amount was less than he requested. Since Joseph Hedden had divorced Lydia in 1894, she had no legal claim to his pension as his widow, and got nothing. Further, there is no evidence that she even tried to claim her 2nd husband's pension.

Instead, in 1918 Lydia successfully petitioned to reopen her application for Sanford Robbins pension which had been denied in 1909. In support of her new application, Lydia filed two affidavits, testifying to the details of her two marriages. The affidavits were taken in October 1919 and are handwritten. Corrections to spelling and punctuation have been made and certain words have been added for clarity.

October 24, 1919
Scranton, Pa.

In answer regarding the claim 911466 of (the) widow of Sanford G. Robbins, who served in Company H, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery.

In answer to my remarriage. I was married to Joseph Hedden, October 1886. Two sons were born by this marriage and at the age of ? and seven I sent them to the Soldier's Orphans School on Hartford, Pa. He (Joseph Hedden) never supported me, or the children. He deserted me before the last son was born and I did not hear from him until he was three years old. Then he wrote to me asking me to come and live with him, I and the boys. We went, but could not stay and live on 12 dollars a month, 4 of us. He could not work. He had been to the soldier's home and got a pension. He bought a lot (land) in Selina, Ohio and built a shack on it, and there is where I found him. We stayed three months, then we agreed I should come back to Scranton where I had always lived. I came back and I got the boys in school where they stayed until they were 16 years old. While they were at school, Hedden got a divorce - claimed desertion. I tried to prevent him from getting it. For sure, he got it (the divorce) to prevent me from getting a pension if I outlived him. He has been dead for 5 years now, but he got it (the divorce) in Ohio and I was here (in Scranton), and could not prevent him. If he would of lived near, he would of never got it.

Mrs. Lydia Robbins

The next day, October 25, 1919, Lydia gave a deposition in regards to the details of her first marriage.

My first husband Sanford G. Robbins left home to transact some business and was never heard from that day on. He had no reason to leave like that. He belonged to the Engineer's Brotherhood, and (I) had a detective looking for him, but find (they found) no trace of him. He had a card from the lodge and he never had used it. They came to me (the lodge?) and said he must be dead, and gave me his funeral benefits. We had always lived happily. He bid us goodbye the morning he went away. That was the last of him. No one has heard from him since.

And being divorced from Hedden, I was informed my name was Robbins again. I have lived single ever since and worked hard for a living. Now I am 74 years old and can't work no more. Hoping this will be satisfactory.

Mrs. Lydia Robbins

Sworn and subscribed before me a Notary Public, this 25 day of October, 1919.

Kathryn C. Griffin
Notary Public


Mrs. Ella J. Dearden
Francis Boorem

Ella Dearden was the Lydia's niece (the daughter of her sister Elizabeth), and Francis Boorem was Lydia's brother. Francis, known as "Squire Boorem" served as Justice of the Peace for Paradise Township for many years.

In response to her new application, the Bureau of Pensions wrote to Lydia saying that she had failed to provide the evidence requested. The file indicates that no action was taken in the mater of Lydia reopening her claim of 1909. Instead, the next document in the file is yet another application from Lydia. This time she applied for Sanford's pension under the new Remarried Widow's Pension Act of 1916. In that year a law had been passed that finally allowed a widow to claim a pension, even if she had remarried prior to filing for her first husband's pension. With this new act it seemed that Lydia would finally be able to claim the pension of her first husband. To support her new application, Lydia again had to furnish an affidavit testifying to the facts of her two marriages. By this time she had moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and was living with her son Wilber (Hedden) and Clara (Robbins), and the affidavit was taken from here.

Springfield, Mass.
January 29, 1921.

I, Lydia Robbins, do hereby make the following statements; My last husband, Joseph Hedden, left me before my youngest son was born, and I supported myself and children by working out by the day, and also doing work at home, until my youngest son was three years old, when I received a letter from him in Salina, Ohio, asking me to come out there to live with him. I took the two boys and went out there, but he lived in a little shack, which was cold. We could not stay, as he was unable to work and had only his pension of $12.00 a month for the four of us. I came back and went to work again for people for whom I had worked for years. I them put the boys in the Soldier's Orphan Home, as Hartford, Pa.

I heard nothing more from my husband until I was served with papers claiming a divorce on the grounds of desertion, and, as I had no money with which to fight the same, and as there was nothing said against my character, I was not particularly interested n the suit, as he had never supported us anyway. He never could have gotten a divorce in Pennsylvania, as I was well known among all the members of both Col. Monies and Ezra Griffiths Posts, as an honest, hardworking woman, and was a member of the Ladies of the Grand Army Circle, being the first President of the Circle, and holding the office for a number of years. Joseph Hedden enlisted September 7, 1861, at Scranton, Pa., in Co. I, 50th PA Infantry and was discharged July 13th, 1865, at Washington D.C. on account of the end of the war.


Mrs. Lydia Robbins

After making Lydia provide certain additional evidence (making her jump through a few more hoops), she received a reply to her application from the Commissioner of the Widow Division.

August 8, 1921

Mrs. Lydia Robbins
25 Bartlett Avenue
Springfield, Massachusetts


Your above titled claim under the Act of May 1920, filed October 22, 1920, is rejected on the ground that your divorce from your last husband, Joseph Hedden, was not without fault on your own part; hence, you have no title to pension under said Act.

Very respectfully,
Washington Gardner

Lydia had been turned down this time because she had failed to contest her divorce from Joseph Hedden. Joseph had been granted a divorce from Lydia in Ohio on the grounds of desertion, and this legal document, that is part of the pension file, apparently weighed heavily in the decision. It seems that Lydia's 2nd husband was still causing trouble or his wife some nine years after his death.

That same year, 1920, the Boorem family held their first annual reunion back in Paradise Valley close to the old Boorem family homestead where Lydia had grown up. By 1920 the only surviving 3rd-generation Boorem family members were Lydia and her brother Francis (Frank) Boorem. A group photograph from one of these early reunions shows that Lydia and Frank were front and center in the middle of the large portrait, with Lydia seated next to her daughter Clara. In addition, minutes from several of these early reunions mention that a small collection was taken up to give to aunt Lydia.

Francis Boorem died in 1927, leaving Lydia as the last surviving 3rd-generation Boorem. We get one final glimpse of Lydia in the 1930 census, where the returns show that she was living with her son Wilber Hedden back in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her daughter Clara Robbins, who never married and remained with her mother throughout most of her life, was also living at the home of her half-brother.

One final document in the pension file proves that Lydia was still living in 1935. It is a letter from the Board of Public Welfare, City of Springfield to the Veteran's Administration in Washington, D.C. The letter, dated January 31, 1935, indicates that Lydia had applied for "Old Age Assistance", and the board was requesting information from the VA in support of her claim.

Family tradition says that Clara Robbins died in 1935, and it is assumed Lydia died shortly thereafter when she would have been about ninety years old. My grandmother, Dorothy Boorem Thomas-Kott remembers attending her great aunt Lydia's funeral (somewhere in Monroe County), and recalls that she was buried holding onto a small box. When my grandmother asked about the box she was told that it contained the ashes of Lydia's daughter, presumably Clara. Together for most of their lives, Lydia and her daughter Clara would remain together in death.

When I completed the first edition of the Boorem family history back in the late 1980s, I knew very little about Lydia Boorem, however, recently we have rediscovered important and interesting details regarding this branch of the Boorem family. Needless to say, Lydia had very bad luck with both of her marriages. She tried for years to claim the pension of her first husband, who disappeared without a trace in 1874, and some would argue, was cheated out of her second's husband's pension by circumstances she felt were beyond her control. With her passing, the 116-year old story of the second generation Boorems comes to close.

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Text and photographs copyright 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas, with all rights reserved