An Inventor in the Family

One of the first things I do when looking for information on an ancestor is a simple Google search. I did that one day on a guy named Silas Portis & found an interesting piece of information. The first time I “Googled” Silas, I saw this drawing for a patent on a gate opening device.

SilasPortisPatentDraw

Lately, the Google search gives a link in Google Books to Scientific American magazine from February 4, 1893, pg.73. This includes a nice illustration as well as a description of Silas’ device.

SPortisScientificAmer

The whole idea is that a person would not have to get down from the wagon or carriage, hold the horse steady and at the same time open the gate, then repeat the same process to close the gate once the wagon had passed through.

Looking at the US Patent office rules, a person who wanted to file for a patent would have to submit a detailed drawing and description of the device as well as the appropriate fees. I searched the US Patent & Trademark office website <uspto.gov> for more information on Silas’ patent. Since the first drawing I found had a patent number, I was able to find the actual patent for Silas’ “Gate-Worker.” The Patent No. 436,543 was dated November 17, 1891. The specifications are very technical with a description of each element of the device and how it all worked in sequence to open & close the gate. Other information found in the Patent paperwork was that Silas was from Monrovia, Indiana and he assigned two thirds of the patent to Telemichus N. Bennett and Albert Taylor who also lived in Monrovia.

So who was Silas Portis? He shows up in the 1850 US Census in the Northern subdivision of Davidson County, North Carolina with his Mother, Rachel and siblings, Emeline, Elizabeth and George W (my GG Grandfather). Silas attended school within the year and is listed as a laborer.

1850PortisFamilyNC

Silas was born June 14, 1833 according to his headstone. Other records list 1834 or 1835 as his birth-year. In 1860, he shows up in the US Census, still in North Carolina, but this time in the Southern Division of Guilford County. He is listed as an Engineer with a group of other men, including 2 Miners, a Blacksmith, Carpenter, another Engineer and several laborers. The assumption is that he worked in a mine. There were gold mines in Guilford County, NC. His wife, Rebecca and their two daughters, Louise & Charlotte, are in a separate listing from Silas, but on the same page. I haven’t found any information as to what Silas did during the Civil War.

In 1880, Silas was living in Guilford Township of Hendricks County, Indiana. He has married a 2nd time after his first wife, Rebecca died. The 1880 Census lists Silas with his wife, son and step-son. At this time he was working in a Saw Mill.

1880SilasPortisIN

On June 18, 1883, the Hendricks County Republican newspaper reports “Silas Portis has hired to the Monrovia millers as an engineer. Silas has been with us for some time and we regret that he is going to leave us, though while we lose a good citizen Monrovia gains one.”

A sad event occurred in Silas’ family in September of 1888. His 10 year old son, Cecil died. The report is that Cecil was leading a cow to pasture with the rope tied around his waist. The cow became frightened and ran, dragging Cecil and killing him.

In 1900, Silas lives in Monroe Twp. of Morgan County, Indiana. He is listed in the US Census with his wife, Mary and 18 year old daughter, Ovis (or Avis). His job description is again Engineer. By this time, he has already secured his patent for his Gate-Worker device.

Silas died March 14, 1904. He was 70 years old. He is buried in West Union Cemetery, Monrovia, Indiana.

So, even though Silas Portis was not a direct ancestor of mine, he is still part of the family & it’s kind of cool to know that he has his name on a US Patent. I wonder if he made any money off of his invention? Knowing Silas’ story, maybe it’s not so unusual that some of my relatives have the need to “tinker” with things.

© MJM 2018

From 3 log cabin to a house in town

So how long did George & Mariah Portis really live in that 3 log cabin mentioned in the last post?

They show up in the 1900 US Census, renting a home on W Harrison St. in Martinsville, IN. Their daughter, Bertha Crider & her son Goldie F (probably Frank) live with them. Also in the home are a son “Elmer” (probably Elbert) & daughters Gertrude & Georgie.

In the 1910 US Census, 70 year old George & 61 year old Mariah are listed with their son Elbert and granddaughter Floy Urton, living on Hucker St in Brooklyn, IN. They own a home at that time. George is also listed as being able to read but not write. I could not find Hucker street in Brooklyn but there is a “Hooker” street. Hooker street travels North/South and turns West into High street.

So here are George & Mariah on the front porch of their house in Brooklyn.mariahgeorgeportis-copyGeorge died in 1916. In the 1920 US Census, Mariah shows up with Oscar and Gertrude McKinley and their boys, Myron and Loran in Brooklyn, IN. No street name is listed in this census.

Here is a picture of Mariah, Oscar, Gertrude and the boys on the front porch. The same front porch as shown in the above picture.brooklynhouseSo, in 1996, after I got started in researching the Family History, Grandpa (Loran McKinley) took me on a road trip to show me where he grew up in Brooklyn, IN. He drove up High street and pointed out the house he had lived in.brooklynhouse1996The house didn’t look very different from the old pictures & was still standing strong after about 80 years! I’ve been past it a few more times during the years, just to make sure it is still there. Pretty cool!

©MJMcK 2016

Thirteen Children in a Cabin 3 Logs High

Mariah (Minton) Portis sitting in front of the cabin in which she had 13 children.

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Caption on back of photo: George Portis erected this house near the year 1870 near Wilbur, Morgan Co. Ind. These logs were yellow Poplar. Mr Portis hewed these logs by hand, they were 3 ft through after they were finished. This house was build in the hollow West of Wilbur. This is Mrs. Portis 1920.

There is a news clipping, I’m not sure what newspaper it came from, nor when it was written. Josephine Foster reported on the historic photo. She mentions some attributes of the structure of the cabin. First, there were no windows (except the one high up in the loft). The lack of windows helped keep intruders out. Also the doorway is very short as was common in early cabins. To me it looks like there was a shed added on to the left of the main building. The community of Wilbur, where they lived, is now a cross roads in west central Morgan county in Gregg Twp.

George Portis was born Dec. 15, 1839 (some sources say 1830) in Davidson County, NC. Mariah Minton was born June 30, 1848 in Knox County, TN. They were married Jan. 29, 1865 in Morgan County, IN. George died in 1916 and Mariah in 1923. They are buried in Bethel Friends Church cemetery.

George & Mariah Portis had 13 children:

  • Ezekiel, born in 1866 and lived 5 days
  • Sarah, born in 1868, lived just over a month
  • (Miles J.) Bradley (1871-1929)
  • Silas J. (1872-1933)
  • Bertha Ann (1875 or 76-1940) twin
  • Burton F. (1875 or 76-1934) twin
  • Usher L. born in 1879, lived less than a year
  • Clyda, born in 1880 and lived just over a year
  • Pearl A. (1882-1895), died at 13 years
  • Elbert L. (1884-1952)
  • Gertrude (1888-1967)
  • Georgetta (1892-1962)
  • Earl, born in 1895, lived 1 month

Of the 13, only 7 lived to adulthood. But that is still plenty in such a small cabin!

George and Mariah are my great-great Grandparents. Their daughter, Gertrude, married Oscar McKinley Feb 15, 1908 in Morgan Co. IN.

Sometime in the mid 1900’s George and Mariah moved to Brooklyn, IN and lived in the same house as Gertrude and Oscar. The house in Brooklyn is where my Grandfather, Loran was born.

© MJM 2016