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Ruth Elizabeth Claybourn

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Highslide JS
Ruth Claybourn Smith
(1918-2010)

Ruth Elizabeth Claybourn passed away this week on 1 December 2010. Ruth was born 12 July 1918 in Benton, Illinois as the second child and only daughter of Noel Clyde Claybourn. Ruth loved school and graduated from Benton High School in 1936. Ruth was named “Miss Benton” in 1936 in a Personality and Beauty Contest and represented Benton in the contest at the State Fair in Springfield.

She married Elmer Ellsworth “Chick” Johnson (born 12 June 1913) on 3 December 1939. Chick was an oil well driller and operated his own company. The couple had a 100 acre farm between Elberfeld and Millersburg, Indiana, near Evansville and raised pure bred horses and ponies as a hobby. Along with Chick, Ruth loved life in the country with horses, gardening, swimming and other outdoor activities. She shared a lifelong love of reading with her children and enjoyed playing the piano and organ.

A fulltime mother until her children were all in school, Ruth was employed as a bookkeeper for J. B. Drilling Company and Francis Barnes Accounting, and later as an optical assistant in the office of Dr. Charles Brizius. She was always involved with her children in church, school, and scouting activities.

Chick and Ruth were also both active in various Masonic and Shrine activities. Chick was an active Mason and Shriner who served as Potentate of the Hadi Shrine Temple, while Ruth was active in Rainbow Girls as Mother Adviser and in the Daughters of the Nile and the Egyptian Band. Over a period of twenty plus years the couple enjoyed family activities with the Shrine White Horse Patrol and Chick was dedicated to helping organize the Shrine Circus every Thanksgiving.

Chick died in October of 1977 and, following his death, Ruth reconnected with a highschool classmate, Robert Smith, then living in California. After a courtship of several months by telephone, sight unseen, he proposed and they were married shortly after. Upon his retirement from the faculty at San Bernardino State College, they enjoyed travel and had a happy twenty years developing a mutual interest in ceramics from throwing pots to sculpture, studying under Les Miley at Evansville College and at San Bernardino State College in California.

In Ruth’s older age she had moved into a home for the elderly in Evansville, Indiana, and one day while not feeling particularly well, she requested that a nearby harp be played for her. As the beautiful music filled the air that day on 1 December 2010, Ruth passed away.

FGS Award of Merit

Today the Claybourn Genealogical Society received notice that it has received the “Award of Merit” from the Federation of Genealogical Societies. The following is portions of the letter CGS received:

The Federation of Genealogical Societies is proud to award The Claybourn Genealogical Society an Award of Merit for meritorious contributions benefiting the genealogical community. The Claybourn Family History website is truly indeed deserving of this award. Rich in family history biographical information which includes detailed accounts of many of these family members with citation references, if one is working on a Claybourn line, one would be remiss in not stopping at this website and spending some time there.

In addition, the Societies preservation concerns as example the “Claybourn Bible” is a strong commitment to the recording and documenting the family history while making sure the gems of the family remain intact.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies will honor its award winners at the opening session of the annual conference on Thursday 19 August 2010, in Knoxville, TN.

Many thanks to all of the CGS supporters who helped make this possible.

New Permanent Member

Jennifer Claybourne-Torkelson, the daughter of Stephen Claybourne, granddaughter of Charles Franklin Claybourne, and great-granddaughter of Mourten Franklin Claybourne, is now a permanent member of the Claybourn Genealogical Society. Jennifer works with the digital collections unit of the University of Minnesota Library and is married Scott A. Torkelson. They have a daughter, Sylvia I. Torkelson. Photos of Jennifer and her family are available here.

Jennifer has taken a wonderful interest in CGS, and her support, along with other members, helps pay for things like web hosting expenses and research fees. Click here to become a member of CGS.

The Story of the Claybourn Bible

In 2007 James and Dorothy Stitt, both born in 1914, were in the twilight of their lives. They lived in Easton, Pennsylvania, but with their health failing, the pair moved out of their house and into a nursing home.

Unfortunately during the move much of James and Dorothy’s belongings were organized and sold by strangers at an auction. Unsold items were simply discarded as trash. These items, some well over a hundred years old, were literally placed in the trash bins.

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and an antique dealer in Easton catered to this reality. The dealer called Barbara Wentz, a genealogist who haunts flea markets. In her spare time Barbara looks for items to sell on eBay or return/sell to family descendants if she can find them. Although she lived an hour away from the dealer, she had a reputation for taking an interest in just the sort or artifacts the dealer had uncovered.

Barbara suspected the discarded items might have some value to distant relatives somewhere, so she purchased a Bible for $20 and a photo album for $100.

The Bible was a large leather Bible printed in 1872 with the name W.D. Claybourn engraved on one side and E.J. Claybourn on the other. This Bible had belonged to none other than William Divine Claybourn and his wife Elizabeth (“Lizzie”). William, born in 1819, is the patriarch to all Americans who spell their name “Claybourn”.

As it turns out, the woman who had moved out and put these items up for sale – Dorothy Jewett Stitt – was the daughter of Gladys Norfleet, who in turn was one of 11 children of Lucy Belle Claybourn (1867 – 1949). Lucy Belle Claybourn was the 16th child to William Divine Claybourn (1819 – 1896). Through this lineage the Bible had been handed down from generation to generation.

Inside this “Claybourn Bible” were pages detailing various family records such as the births, deaths and marriages of William and Lizzie’s family, including Lizzie’s children from her first marriage. These separate family record pages appear to have been older than the Bible itself, and may have been transferred from an even older Bible. Either way, they have provided a valuable opportunity to confirm the dates of certain births, deaths and marriages in their biographies.

Lizzie also wrote inside the covers of this leather Bible and on some of the Bible pages. Some of the notes were rather sad things, including one about being lonely and another about how much she misses Bill (presumably this was a reference to William after he had died).

The other item Barbara purchased was a Photograph Album of the family of Lucy Belle Claybourn and her husband Edgar Norfleet. Included in this was a tin photo of William D. Claybourn, featured to the left.

Armed with this treasure Barbara went in search of the family’s descendants, and thanks to the Claybourn Genealogical Society’s extensive website, she quickly got in touch with its founder Joshua A. Claybourn. CGS now preserves the artifacts for posterity.

“I have always haunted flea markets being a lover of old stuff,” said Barbara. “Since I don’t work, about five years ago I decided to try selling on ebay – concentrating on local history books I could find ‘cheap’. It was just enough of an income to pay for all of my subscriptions [to research websites]. Then I started branching out a bit – finding a photo with a name for a dollar or so and trying to discover who they were. It is really a hobby that I just love to do – it is relaxing and challenging. There is nothing more exciting for me than to be able to get an item back to a family.”

The Claybourn Genealogical Society would like to thank Barbara for being “a lover of old stuff” and helping preserve an important piece of our family’s history.

Shirley Eleanor Nash, R.I.P.

If you read it all the way through to the end, I think you will find this to be one of the best obituaries ever written, in large part because the life it details is incredible. It is also offered below.


Shirley Eleanor Nash, 93, died peacefully Thursday, March 11, 2010, at the Garden House in Morro Bay, her hand held, being told she was loved, her favorite Andres Segovia album was playing in the background, and her room was filled with flowers and cards from friends, family and the Marines. She will be deeply missed.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1916, Shirley, came to Pasadena, Calif., as a child with her parents, Herbert Howgate Nash, an administrator at Cal Tech and Christina Eleanor Nash, a nursing volunteer. Shirley was the first of three children. In high school, she won recognition as a classical ballet dancer performing at the Rose Bowl, El Capitan, the Pantages, the Greek Theater and in movies with stars Margaret O’Sullivan, Fred MacMurry, the Marx Brothers and a flop starring Fibber McGee and Molly. After high school, she enrolled at Pasadena City College.

In 1940, yearning to see the world, she quit school, sold her car and bought a steamship ticket to China. As the only American, her fellow passengers were Japanese diplomats being ordered home and German army officers recalled to Berlin. Shirley told how the atmosphere was very tense with the two groups barely polite to one another. Arriving in Shanghai, she worked as a daily newspaper reporter in the city guarded by Japanese tanks and barbed wire barricades.

In November 1941, she boarded the last ship out of China before the war. A sister ship, with all her belongings, was blown up in the Philippines. While in China she meet a “China Marine” from the 4th Regiment of the Marine Corps, whom she married after World War II. Shirley returned home, joined the Marines, attended boot camp at New York’s Hunter College, then Quartermaster School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Shirley scored the highest ever, to that date, on the Officer Candidate School test and became a first lieutenant, served as the disbursing officer in the transport department stationed in Washington, D.C.

She traveled across the United States over 40 times on Marine Corps business. Upon leaving the Marines after WWII, she married Edward Ellery Kash, who had been captured by the Japanese, survived the Bataan Death march and spent most of the war in a Japanese prison camp. They lived in New York until divorcing, and then Shirley moved to Mexico City. They had one child, Pandora Noel Nash.

In the 1950s, Shirley attended Whittier College on the GI Bill and received a Bachelors and Masters with highest honors and worked as a college professor at Chaffey College for 25 years where she founded and headed the Interior Design department and taught architectural history. She utilized her dance and theater expertise at Chaffey, producing and choreographing numerous musicals including South Pacific, Oklahoma and Finian’s Rainbow.

Every summer was spent traveling the world’s most unusual places. Shirley was the first white woman to explore Dutch Guiana’s Suriname River, and she did it in a dugout canoe just 5 years after locals stopped practicing cannibalism. She taught school in St. Thomas and St. Croix during the 1960’s and tromped through mosquito-infested jungles to photograph ruins in Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Merida and Palenque decades before they became popular tourist destinations.

Shirley became a scholar specializing in California’s estancia and adobe architectural history of the 18th and 19th centuries. She was part of a team of historians that catalogued many of the 19th century homes in southern California. Noted as feisty and finding ways to get things done, she once applied to Hearst Castle for permission to do on-site research of its architecture and interiors, but was declined. She then applied for a job as a guide and was hired, which allowed her to do her research and get paid too.

She was married to Dwight Mossman, a southern California businessman, for 25 years. She was active in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, California Historic Society, Southern California Historic Society, Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Society of Architectural Historians, the Pasadena Historical Society, Ontario Historic Landmarks Society, Historical Society of Pomona Valley, the American Society of Interior Designers and the Retired Officers Association. An art lover, Shirley was an award-winning photographer, a skilled carver, weaver, mosaic artist and a basket maker using traditional Native American materials.

Shirley moved to Los Osos in 1998. She became a Charter member of the Marine Corps League, Detachment 680 and helped in the early planning stages of the San Luis Obispo County Veterans Museum and the Toys for Tots campaigns. In 2007, she was awarded the Detachment’s Challenge Coin, a special recognition medallion, presented by the Commandant for her service to the League.

Shirley is survived by daughter, Pandora Nash-Karner of Los Osos; grandson Eriel Shayne Nash of Los Osos; numerous cousins, nieces and nephews from King City, Oakland, Davis, and Etna, Calif., Bellevue and Olympia, Wash., Sidney, British Columbia; and Taipei, Taiwan. She was preceded in death by brother James H. Nash, M.D. of San Luis Obispo; and sister Phyllis Nash Barren of Bellevue, Wash. A gathering of family and friends will be held in early summer officiated by Richard Carsel and attended to by the Marine Corps League. Donations can be made to Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, 277 South Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO HOO’ what a ride!” That was how Shirley Nash lived her life.

Tim Haley, of the Marine Corps League wrote, “Rest assured Shirley reported in to her final duty station standing tall and looking sharp and took her place among the formation of Marines. Mission accomplished Lt. Nash, well done. Semper Fidelis.”