Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.

Kerse (Kearse, Kierce, Kearsey) James H. — Irish Cop, Yachtsman, Animal Lover– 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge


Evelyn, yacht of Thomas and James kerse

James H. Kerse, my great-grandfather, 1857-1921,  was born, raised and died in Richmond,Virginia. Not only that, but he served the city well as a police officer for over a quarter century! As the son of an Irish immigrant, I am told that James was definitely identified as an “Irish Cop”! He married his beloved wife, Mary Catherine Botto, herself the daughter of an Italian emigrant. We have a family story about a neighbor who walked by James ‘s house one day and lamented that his Irish friend had gone and “ruined his life” by marrying “that Italian woman”! LOL As I understand it, he loved that Italian woman with every ounce of his being,and she was the practical one, the business woman who allowed him his pleasures of boating, fishing, and hunting with her business savvy and entrepreneurship–she is another story. 

James however, as a sergeant with the Richmond City police force for many years, was apparently well thought of, well-respected, and seen as a down to earth, friendly man. He died in 1921, my mother was only three, so she did not know him. How do I know as much as I do about him? Besides family stories, I discovered something remarkable about the Richmond Times Dispatch –not only did it report news, but in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s , it functioned as our facebook of today! We can find amazing stories of the everyday occurences of our ancestors in the paper–in archives in State libraries, as well as on websites like Genealogybank.com where I got all of the articles cited in this blog post. 

One of the funniest stories I found about my great-grandfather told of a cow coming to vist him one Halloween night in 1913! This has to be one of the funniest pranks ever pulled by teens or friends on a Halloween night–look at this story! Notice the charm and wit as my grandfather handled this situation! No wonder he was a popular police officer! (click on the image to enlarge it for reading)

Kerse, James H. lost cow

As funny as this article is, i know my great-grandfather was well-respected because I found an article about his being wanted as the chief of police. This was published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on March 11, 1905:

 Although we know that he was not made the chief, the very proposal shows he was held in high esteem by his peers and superiors. 

I wanted to include one last story about my great grandfather James and his son Thomas–my mother’s father– my grandfather. This is the story of James and his son Thomas taking a party of individuals on a weekend excursion aboard ship on the Evelyn, a yacht first owned by James and handed down to Thomas his son. (Thomas later owned another yacht which he named the “Lady Jane”. Evelyn was his first-born daughter of six, Jane was his baby daughter.) It is a wonderful story on many fronts–it tells us about the historic Tangier Island off the coast of Virginia. However, of great interest to me was the fact that the trip took place in 1917–just as we were joining World War I. Notice how this pleasure cruise must deal with the military precautions and activities  in the Chesapeake Bay.  Stories like this bring this period in history right to our front door! 

There are actually several other stories tht I found–about James training his setters to fish as well as hunt!  Stories of him actually arresting people on the streets of Richmond, and keeping the peace! It is such a wonderful way to fill in some history–I feel I’ve gotten to know my great grandfather in ways I never expected, Here’s hoping you have the opportunity to find your own family stories!. Have a great day and ek, Helen

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Five Generations of Women, Daughters, Mothers, and Grandmothers

 Image          Its been 130 years since my grandmother was born.  Katherine Steptoe Houchins, called Kate, was born in the Southwestern area of Virginia, in Patrick County, a beautiful, mountainous area of  Virginia. She died in 1943, in the city of Richmond,Virginia. She may not have wanted for much in her early years, because her mother was Evalina Langhorne, daughter of James Steptoe Langhorne, a wealthy plantation owner and his wife Elizabeth Rachel Omohundro. However, Kate’s mother Evalina  was only 15 when she married, had seven children, then died in childbirth, along with the twins she was having in October, 1900. One of her other children had died at age 2, while the other six children  ranged in age from 3 to 17, with my Grandmother Kate being the oldest! They had lived with their Grandpa Steptoe as  he was called, but his house burned to the ground sometime shortly before her mother’s death. Her grandfather Steptoe was blind,and died in 1905, so he was unable to help a great deal with these children. Their own father, age  46 at the time of his wife’s death, left the state with another 15-year-old with whom he had two more children. So the six surviving children were farmed out to boarding schools, military schools, and other family members. On the 1910 census, I can find five of them, in school or in a relative’s home. However, as adults, I knew all five of my great aunts and uncles and they seemed very close for having been torn apart for ten to fifteen years. 

          Kate went to live with  Langhorne cousins in Richmond, Virginia, and attended  nursing school. Then she married Thomas Philip Kearse, (Kerse) and had seven children herself, one of whom was my mother, Margaret Steptoe Kearse Youngblood. Kate had a hard adult life I believe.  After losing her mother at age 17, her beloved grandfather shortly thereafter, and losing the home in which she’d lived,  her sense of security must have been battered. Then her only son of seven children drowned! Her husband had a yacht, with which he captained tour groups and parties up and down the James River and across the Chesapeake Bay to Maryland  and the Eastern Shore.   The children all learned to swim and spent many happy occasions on the boat always with friends and family. However, one day in October, 1922, 7 yr. old Thomas Philip Kearse Jr. , called Bucky, was out in a dingy with a 16-year-old boy. A big ship came by and the huge wake caused the boys to capsize! The sixteen year old tried in vain to save his little friend, the big ship even turned around and tried to help, to no avail. It was a few days before they found his body! Young when her mother dies, house burns down, father leaves the family, child dies, what else ? It’s hard to believe, but this wonderful woman, a nurse by profession and by all reports a superb one, met tragedy at the hands of a patient. She was caring for a comatose private duty patient. She had bathed him and went to empty the water, as my mother told the story. When she returned to the room, he yelled out for her to get away and called her by the name of some of our military adversaries in  WWI. He was delirious, but afraid. Unfortunately, there was either a rifle hanging on the wall that was still loaded, or a gun in a table drawer beside the bed. I have heard both versions of the story, no one knew any weapon there was loaded. In his delirious state he shot my grandmother in the head! Within a couple of hours, he was dead of his own illness, just that last semiconscious rousing  turned her whole world upside down and that of her children and husband also! She was shot on January 28, 1930, but not killed. The bullet apparently split in half, half traveling down her neck,and half lodging in her brain, inoperable. She lived,but was unable to talk and walk well for the rest of her life–and she had six children! By then her husband worked for the police department as did his father and grandfather! But they always had the boat! Their stories of adventure were endless! 

In honor of Mother’s Day 2013, I want to write more about these six women/girls in my familly.I would love to hear about your Mom or grandmom, especially unique things about them. Enjoy your Mother’s Day!