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my philby family history

Philby family tree, Iowa

While rewatching the entire run of Downton Abbey, Rafa brought up an interesting topic: did I ever visit the town my English ancestors came from? The closest I got was Manchester, but Oldham is still on my list. In the meantime, I couldn’t help digging out copies of genealogy research passed down to me by family members & scouring the internet for more details.

While not of general interest for this blog, I thought it would be nice to post my findings for posterity’s sake. A distant relative might Google these people, then get in touch. Let’s start with my immediate family & work backwards…

William Larry Wright
13 May 1936 in Jacksonville, FL — 19 May 2017 in Deland, FL

married on 11 Jun 1961

Elizabeth Gae Philby
25 Feb 1941 in Mystic, IA — 22 Aug 2009 in Centerville, IA

My mom got married when she was 20, & I’ve already written about her life story & our relationship. After my dad passed away, I found out he married the woman he left my mom for… but no one knows if he divorced my mom first! Classic definition of a dead-beat dad, he never paid child support & never bothered to be involved in my life. Yet I ended up with a box of his belongings after he died. Go figure. At least those few documents have helped piece together part of a story that no one ever discussed with me.

Philby family tree, Gae Philby, Larry Wright
· Dating in Florida, circa 1959 / wedding day 1961 / Iowa 1978

Emmett James Philby
17 Jul 1907 in Madison, PA — 28 May 2002 in Moulton, IA

married on 09 Aug 1931

Alma Gladys Litsey
11 Mar 1909 in Numa, IA — 12 Jan 1981 in Corydon, IA

My mother was their second child. Her sister, Georgia Mae Philby, came along first on 24 Jun 1937 in Plano, IA. She married Carl Lee Carlson on 25 Nov 1965. Carl passed away in 2018, & Rafa & I scattered his ashes on my grandfather’s plot outside Centerville. Mae is still doing pretty well physically although a mild case of dementia keeps her from remembering much family history.

I have such fond memories of both my grandparents & spending time at their house in Centerville, IA. Alma died of diabetes when I was 10 years old, but when I listened to old cassette tapes I recognized her voice right away! Emmett loved his woodworking, made a scale replica of the town of Plano for their museum, & married again to Mary Dotson (Philby) on 30 Aug 1991. She’s still in Moulton, IA & I hope to visit again soon.

Philby family tree, Emmett Philby, Alma Litsey
· Dating in Iowa, circa 1930 / holding my mom & my aunt with curls, circa 1942 / 36th wedding anniversary 1967 / Iowa 1980




Let’s take a brief detour down my grandmother’s family tree…

John Wesley Litsey
05 Nov 1875 in Numa, IA — 12 Aug 1934 in Numa, IA

married on 09 Oct 1905

Ida Mae Zugg
29 Mar 1892 in Lancaster, MO — 20 Sep 1983 in Corydon, IA

The oldest of eight siblings, John’s parents were Henry M. Litsey (1848—1924) & Susan Teters (1841—1934). Ida had ten siblings whose parents were Addison Sherman Zugg (1869—1946) & Nancy Hetta Ayer (1871—1959). Looking at the dates closely, I got a surprise after doing the math… my great-grandmother got married when she was 13 to man who was 30!! That’s the biggest age disparity in my family history.

They didn’t waste time. Only 10 months after marrying, they had Edna Olive Litsey (Darrah) who lived from 28 Aug 1906 until 07 Nov 1989. Next my grandmother came along, followed by Doris H. Litsey in 1913 who never reached her first birthday. Not sure of the cause of death, but I would love to know more. Finally, they had Alzia Virginia Litsey (Curtis) who lived from 02 Apr 1918 until 04 Jul 2002. Ida married Charles Matheson but was widowed again in 1959.

Philby family tree, Ida Mae Zugg
· Ida seated with Edna, circa 1955 / seated to my right, 1971 / birthday in 1981

Obviously I never knew either set of my great-great-grandparents on this side of the family. But I got to know all my grandmother’s sisters very well! As a pre-teen, I’d spend summer days in Seymour, IA with Edna as she took care of my great-grandmother. Loved that house & all the conversations we had together, plus Edna made the best lunches. Funny the things we remember.




Back on track…

George Philby
04 Oct 1864 in Oldham, UK — 24 Apr 1941 in Centerville, IA

married on 08 Apr 1886

Emma Elizabeth Rothwell
21 Oct 1868 in Saint Ellen, UK — 13 Mar 1926 in Plano, IA

My grandfather had nine siblings: an infant who died in childbirth, Thomas who lived for only one month, Ida, Sarah Ann who died at the age of two, Georgette Wales, Deborah, John Leroy who died of pneumonia before turning one + two adopted sons: Thomas Rothwell Hall & Joe Flint. If I ever met any of Emmett’s sisters, I was too young to remember. George came to the US at the age of 9, grew up in Pennsylvania & eventually settled in Iowa to work in various coal mines his entire life.

Philby family tree, George Philby, Emma Rothwell
· Location & year unknown / top, with Mae in 1939 / bottom, Emmett between his parents / with Mae in 1937

Thomas Philby
22 Aug 1842 in Stalybridge, UK — 19 Dec 1912 in Mystic, IA

married on 03 Jan 1864

Sarah Ann Ogden
07 Mar 1846 in Oldham, UK — 14 Feb 1928 in Centerville, IA

Thomas & Sarah Ann win the award for most interesting ancestors because of what they left behind: a hand-written journal! Although I don’t know who has the original, I’ve had copies for over 20 years. What a story Thomas told! He’d stayed behind when his parents left the UK but eventually reunited with them. Thomas & Sarah had seven children with birthplaces spread across Oldham, Pennsylvania & Illinois: another George, another Samuel, Mary Elizabeth, Charles Harry, Joseph Adam, Alice Ann & Lady Sylvinia.

Philby family tree, Thomas Philby journal, diary

Thomas, along with son Samuel & son-in-law Robert Lawton, bought a 20-acre tract of land near Centerville, IA & added to their holdings over the years. This land formed the Peacock Coal Company which operated until the early 1930s. Most of the leftover lumber after the mine’s sale went to build a house in Diamond, IA. I wish I had an original copy of the second photo below… everyone is so fancy!

Philby family tree, Thomas Philby, Sarah Ann Ogden
· from left to right: Thomas Philby, Sarah Ann Ogden, George Philby, Ida Philby (Moden) & seated child Edith Moden
Philby family tree, Thomas Philby, Sarah Ann Ogden
· Back row, left to right: Samuel, Mary, Charles, Sylvinia, George
· Front row, left to right: Joseph, Sarah Ann, Sylvinia, Thomas

George Filby
23 Apr 1820 in Cotton, UK — 21 Jan 1875 in Centerville, IA

married in 1842

Elizabeth Shelton
24 Mar 1823 in Hadlington, UK — 19 Dec 1908 in Lemons, MO

They had seven children, including Thomas above. The other siblings were Samuel I., John W., Lady Margret A., George C., David & get this… Captain Francis Edenburg Philby. Just as Lady was her actual name & not a title, Captain was also his first name. Born on board the S.S. Francis Edinburgh during the transatlantic trip, his namesake comes from the captain & the name of the ship. Classic. Someone —either port officials or a family member— is responsible for changing the spelling of their last name, replacing “F” with “Ph”. They arrived in New York City on 24 Dec 1863… in the middle of a country at war. I’d love to know why the Filby’s decided to leave the UK at that particular time!

Philby family tree, George Filby, Elizabeth Shelton
· From right to left, George Filby, Elizabeth Shelton (standing), daughter Margaret & Elizabeth’s sister Margaret (seated).

In the 1960s, my grandfather corresponded with Ellsworth L. Filby who dedicated much of his spare time to research the Filby-Filbee-Philbey-Philby family tree. Emmett helped piece together history from southern Iowa, & his work is now part of the The Filby Association database. As the youngest living member of my branch, I hope to identify & catalog all the photographs passed down to me. At some point! So few people are alive now to ask questions, I doubt I’ll make much progress. But I’ll do what I can to keep our family history alive. If you have any connection to anyone mentioned here, let’s chat!

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