People, Place, and Time

Telling my family's stories

A short bio of Jack/John/A.J. Ritenour

Andrew Jackson Ritenour is one of the slipperiest puzzles for genealogy. He was born March 9, 1867 to confederate refugees (Wm. Henry Ritenour and Martha Ellen George) from Warren County, Virginia, which was devastated by Union troops, after they had fled to the vicinity of Hagerstown, Maryland (a town that sent men to both sides of the civil war, located near Antietam). He moved with his parents to Northwestern Illinois in the 1870s and helped his father on their truck farm near Cherry Grove in Carroll County. When his parents became Dunkard Brethren, Jack did not, and he moved off to Savanna. And that’s all I know about his childhood.

In Carroll County, he got involved with a 15-year-old girl named Minnie Mae Oberheim, daughter of John Frederick Oberheim and Emma Jane Lashelle. They were married on January 8, 1890, requiring the consent of her father. Jack wrote his name ‘John’ on the marriage license, spelled his name several different ways, and indicated that his mother’s maiden name was Blackwood (the only record we have of that last name for her). They had several children (Earl, Fran, Helen Mae, and Kenneth), but they were divorced in 1923, farming the kids out to extended family. Minnie Mae moved to a house in Savanna, was an immaculate housekeep and a staunch Methodist churchgoer. Jack was anything but that.

Jack moved to a shack in the country and/or a little flat in downtown Savanna, and worked in the fish markets along the Mississippi in Savanna. He listed farming as his occupation on the censuses – when he can be found on them at all, but indicates that he worked at the fish market for 40+ years. On the 1920 Census, he says he is a house carpenter. He owned a model-T long after they were popular, and drove it with the top down all the time, letting it fill up with rainwater. One of his grand-daughters remembers that his little house always had beans cooking, and that he was ‘quite a character.’ Family oral history says he was sometimes called ‘Crazy Jack,’ and that he hung around with someone called ‘Chicken,’ that I have not managed to identify. 

Jack had a lot of names. He went by John, A.J., A. John, Jackson, and Jack. Those names are used interchangeably in his obituary, and his tombstone reads ‘A. John Ritenour.’ He was illiterate most, if not all of his life, and spelled his last name in a whole variety of ways. He is the only person in all the genealogy that I have been unable to find on a census (the 1930). He died on March 28, 1947.

I have a feeling Crazy Jack is one of the more unusual people in my family tree, and I’m pretty fond of the crazy old coot.


About Hattifattener

Age: 37 Lives: All over the place. Education: PhD, linguistics, UBC.

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2010 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .
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