Isaac and Martha Dolby



Each step in life we've taken,
The paths that we have roamed;
Have always led us to this place,
Where our hearts have found a home.

A common destination,
Two hearts searched so to find;
A destiny that leads us back,
Each and every time.
Excerpt of a poem by Allison Chambers Coxsey 1996

On a cold and frozen Peoria Illinois day on the 1st of February 1875, Martha Styers Dolby found herself in a very stressful, upsetting and dangerous situation. She was about to face the most difficult few weeks of her life. She and her children had just had their world turned upside down - altered and changed forever - by the death of her husband, Isaac Dolby, who had been killed on this day.

Things could hardly get worse for Martha as she looked at her children. Jonas at age 10 was the oldest, and had achieved the status of the "man of the family", upon the death of his father. You have to know that he would have tried hard to be brave and secretly wanting to just go off and cry. Christian was just 5 years old and he was still not sure of what was happening, while the youngest son Samuel, had just turned 4 a few days prior. As she placed her hand on her stomach she was reminded that the baby she was carrying would never know its father. Martha was overwhelmed with worry and fear. She didn't know what to do. She was far from her Pennsylvania home and family and she prayed for the strength to get through the days ahead.

Martha's mind traveled back in time. She remembered when she and Isaac were married on the 16th of August 1863 back in Lewisburg Pennsylvania. Isaac was a young soldier in the Union Army, eager to do his duty, win a war and get back home. That first year or so was so very hard - Isaac was gone nearly all of the time. He was finally discharged in 1865 at Peoria IL and returned home to his wife and son in Pennsylvania. They lived in Benton Co MO for several years while the next two sons were born. They must have moved to Peoria sometime after 1871.

Martha had now made her decision to take her husband back to his home in Pennsylvania for burial. So on this cold, bleak, winter day she packed up the children, their belongings, her dead husband, and loaded them all into a wagon. The family headed back to Pennsylvania, and according to a family letter, it took Martha 3 weeks to get them all safely back to Pennsylvania. Isaac was finally buried on February 22, 1875 in Montandan Cemetery in Northumberland Co Pennsylvania. In the spring of this same year, Isaac's last child was born. Edwin entered the world on the 18th day of May 1875. A widow and her four babies had made it back home to an uncertain future.

In every family there are a few people who pull at your heartstrings. People who stand out somehow, someone highly respect or just someone you feel such closeness to. In Martha Styers Dolby I felt all of these things. She was not related by blood - but the tie is deeper than that. Her responsibility to her family, her determination to hold together the lives of her children were such simple, basic elements of a woman.

Martha worked as domestic for a man named Robert Giffen in 1880 in Northumberland Co PA. She died the 10th of February 1892 and is also buried in Montandan Cemetery. The oldest son Jonas was born 16 November 1864 and might have married a girl named Hannah. I believe Jonas might also have been living in Philadelphia in 1880 with a family named Thompson. Christian was born 24 June 1869, Samuel was born 7 February 1871 and both boys were living with their grandparents, Christian & Catherine (Zimmerman) Dolby, in 1880, Northumberland Co PA, just a few houses down from the home in which their mother was working. The youngest son James Edwin might have been living with a family named Lincoln in Union Co PA in 1880. Martha apparently had to "farm" her kids out to relatives and/or friends while she worked. In all these years we have not found any of her descendants and I would so very much like to find one.

Martha & Isaac Headstones