Welcome to our Thornton family

In this blog we attempt to create a visual history of a main southern Kentucky Thornton branch, descended from Scots-Irish Thorntons who may have arrived in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s. If your goal is to check whether or not you or a family member are listed in our genealogy file, the first eight posts contain more than 1,500 names, listed generationally. Use the 'find' command to scroll through the material...Good luck.

Also, if you have photos, corrections, or inquiries, please feel free to contact us at thorntonsoky@gmail.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Distant Cousins: Henry Clay Thornton

Henry Clay Thornton, son of William and Martha Patton Thornton, was born Dec. 12, 1839, into a family of overachievers: his siblings’ families excelled in education, medicine, and law. Henry C. Thornton became a lawyer of good reputation who mentored other local lawyers, including his nephew William Wheeler Thornton, a future Deputy Attorney General of Indiana, judge, and Indiana Supreme Court Librarian. A building still stands in central Logansport that was built to house his law office: the Thornton-Baldwin Building. Later in his life, Henry would move to Pennsylvania from where his wife, Millamenta Comegys Worth, originated. Her parents were members of a prominent farming family in eastern Pennsylvania. They had two children: Henry Worth and Margaret Worth. Henry Clay Thornton died Oct. 9, 1901, near Newtown, PA. Minerva Thornton Bickell referred to Henry as a lawyer living “near Philadelphia” in her 1907 family history.

Margaret Worth Thornton married Isaac Wheeler Geer (b. Feb 1, 1873), son of David and Eunice Orinda Witter Geer and grandson of Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Geer of the American Militia (who was also a prominent New England businessman and office holder). Isaac W. Geer worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and served as Superintendent of its Logansport Division, which included the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis lines. Margaret and Isaac had two daughters: Helen Thornton (b. Jan. 27, 1903, Newcastle, PA) and Margaret Worth (b. Oct.11, 1909, Logansport, IN). Margaret Worth Geer married John Henry Kleine who later served as an Illinois State Representative from Lake Forest, a suburb of Chicago. John and Margaret Kleine had two children: John Geer and Margaret Eleanor. Helen Thornton Geer was an author and professor of Library Science at the University of Rhode Island.

Sir Henry Worth Thornton was born Nov. 6, 1871, in Logansport, Indiana. He had a privileged upbringing, attending St. Paul’s, a prominent boarding school, and, afterwards, the University of Pennsylvania, where he excelled at football and helped the team to win the championship by defeating Princeton. After graduation he coached Vanderbilt University’s football team to a 7-1 record (1894). Henry began his long career in the railroad business by joining the Pennsylvania Railroad where he was a draftsman and engineer. In 1911 Henry was promoted to General Superintendent of the Long Island Railroad. In 1914, when England needed a manager to modernize the Great Eastern Railway, upon recommendation from the managers of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Sir Henry was chosen. His ability to modernize and to move supplies was useful during World War I: In 1917 he was made Director General of Allied Railways in France and in 1918 Inspector General of Transportation (Military Rank: Major General). Henry was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1919 (He had given up American citizenship in 1916).

In 1922 Canada sought a proven manager to modernize its railway system and to finish amalgamating several disparate and costly lines: Sir Henry Worth Thornton was chosen. He immediately made a name for himself by introducing passenger friendly travel (radios in car, more relaxed seating) and worker-friendly policies. He experimented with new technology, like ball-bearing locomotives. His innovation with radio was a precursor to Canada’s national broadcasting services. In the early 1930s, when the Great Depression took a toll on the railway’s profits, the Conservative Government forced Sir Henry to resign, denied him a pension, and forced a bank to remove him from its Board of Directors. Sir Henry Thornton died one year later (March 4, 1933; New York City) from cancer, nearly broke and disgraced. Later governments recognized the modernizing influence of Henry, and his reputation was restored: he was inducted into the National Railroad Hall of Fame in 2002.

Sir Henry Thornton married Lady Virginia Dike Blair on June 20, 1901. She came from a prominent western Pennsylvanian family. They had two children: James Worth and Anna Blair. After divorcing Lady Blair Thornton in 1926, he married Ms. Martha Watriss, daughter of Franklin N. Watriss, a prominent lawyer and member of the Nassau County Commission, NY.

Sir Henry and Lady Thornton (left) at the Ontario Jockey Club in Canada (1920s). (City of Toronto Archives)

Distant Cousins: Henry Clay Thornton (Part II)

Anna Blair Thornton was born May 25, 1904, and married Dr. Winston Franklin Harrison. They would make their home in Coral Gables, Florida, and have three children. Penelope Harrison served as an Episcopal nun in Colorado Springs, Colorado; her sister, Wynne Harrison, married Judge Norman Palmero and is a community activist, business owner, and Republican Party loyalist in Colorado Springs. Winston and Anna also had a son: Blair Thornton Harrison.

After attending the Royal Military College, Ontario, James Worth Thornton (b: Sept. 19, 1906; d: Feb. 6, 1983) earned a reputation as both a “shabby genteel” international playboy (reportedly, an outstanding polo player) and also as a conventional spouse. While working in a firm in Frankfurt, Germany, he married Helene-Marthe (Elena) Mumm von Zchwarzenstein, a Russian-French-German aristocrat and member of the famed Mumm family who had made a fortune in the champagne business. Members of her family had served as Russian and German diplomats, ladies-in-waiting to the Czarina, and one as mayor of Frankfurt, Germany. James served as a captain in the Army Air Forces during World War II. After having a son, Henry Hermann Mumm Thornton, in Germany, they moved to Montreal and then to New York City, where Elena served as an assistant editor at Town and Country. It was as an editor that she began to work with famed critic and essayist Edmund Wilson: the two would become so close that they would run away to Reno, Nevada, divorce their respective spouses, and get married (1946). In several of his books, Edmund Wilson records events about Henry H. M. Thornton and family.

James Thornton joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950. After retiring in 1958, he would re-marry too,wedding Martha Florence Armstrong, granddaughter of the 1st Baronet Armstrong. They moved frequently, living in New York City, Spain, Bermuda, Florida, and Virginia.

Henry H. M. Thornton (b: 1932) wed Rita Daphne Sellar and had three children: Sandra Christine, Elena Martha, and Nina Rosalie. Henry was in banking and was mentioned frequently in his step-father’s journal, including references to money and marriage problems. Henry also has a half-sister: Helen Miranda Wilson, a well respected artist. Elena Martha Thornton married Michael Case Kissel, a musician and producer in New York City. Michael Kissel’s father was a prominent sculptor and his grandfather an innovator in the movie business. Michael is a direct descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the Thorn, Dallett, and Case families. Elena is an environmental attorney.

Dr. Sandra Christine Thornton married Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. Senator Whitehouse descended from a long line of diplomats: his father served as Ambassador to Thailand and Laos. Dr. Thornton-Whitehouse is an oceanographer with a Ph. D. from the University of Rhode Island. She consults for the Rhode Island Legislature and chaired Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council. Nina Rosalie Thornton wed Joseph Michael McMann, and they live in Martha’s Vineyard.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Henry Clay Thornton (Part III): Brothers, Sisters and Cousins

Even though Henry Thornton’s family achieved an enviable level of success, many of his brothers and sisters were equally remarkable in their respective fields. Most notable was perhaps Dr. William Patton Thornton (b. Feb 6, 1817) who was one of the first students of Wabash College, Indiana, and would earn medical degrees from Ohio College in Cincinnati; Kemper’s Medical College, St. Louis; and Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia. After practicing medicine in Mississippi, Dr. WP Thornton returned to Ohio where he became the primary physician for the affluent, powerful families in the northern Cincinnati suburbs. Also, he authored articles on cholera and ear, nose, and throat topics. Dr. Thornton was elected Mayor of College Hill, Ohio, and died in office in his 66th year (Oct. 10, 1883). Dr. WP Thornton and his wife, Electa Bacon Thornton, were buried at Spring Grove Cemetery, Ohio. After the death of Mrs. Thornton, the estate passed on to Wabash College for the endowment of a professorship.

However, Dr. WP Thornton was not the only medical doctor in the family. Dr. Joseph Lyles Thornton (b: Nov. 14, 1826) graduated from the Ohio Medical College in 1862. Nevertheless, he stayed in education, remaining the Principal of Hughes High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, until 1873. After holding several educational positions in Chicago over the following two decades, he returned to Ohio, serving as President of the Ohio Valley Paper Company, 1892-1895. In 1903, Dr. J L Thornton wrote an account of his family’s westward move to Indiana that captured the difficulties of pioneer life, while also revealing a familial focus on education that would propel various members to great success. Dr. Joseph Lyles Thornton and his wife, Mary Corbin Thornton, were buried at Spring Grove Cemetery with many of their children, most of whom died young. Sadly, James Harvey Thornton died from an accidental shotgun blast when only 14; Joseph Lyles Thornton Jr. committed suicide in Seattle, Washington, in 1890, only three years after graduating from Yale.

William and Joseph’s other siblings became respectable farmers, except for Elizabeth (b: 1819) who married Abraham Graffis and whose sons were well respected businessmen, running a shoe company in central Logansport, Indiana. Of Henry Clay Thornton’s nieces and nephews, the most remarkable was William Wheeler Thornton, son of John Allen and Ellen Barnett Thomas Thornton, who became a prominent legal scholar, writing treatises on law and serving as Deputy Attorney General, Indiana Supreme Court Librarian, and circuit judge in Marion County.

However, not all was serious and restrained. Abner Scott Thornton (b: Feb 14, 1821) raised his great granddaughter, Edna, granddaughter of Justus and Martha E. Thornton Goodrich. Upon attaining her maturity, she and her mother, Nellie Goodrich, headed for New York City, where they became chorus line dancers in musicals. In short time, Edna Goodrich became a Broadway star and even appeared in early Hollywood movies, most notably, Armstrong’s Wife. Edna also became friends with Stanford White, even introducing him to Evelyn Nesbitt, whose husband murdered Stanford in a jealous rage at Madison Square Garden. The murder trial became a national sensation. Later, Edna married comedian Nat Goodwin and became embroiled in another sensational court case over a $1.7 million pre-nuptial Trust.

Edna Goodrich, with hat...