The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Community

March 30, 2013

Beth Oljace, who do you think you are?

This article is the first in a limited series of articles that will trace the genealogy of some of Madison County’s better-known citizens. The series is modeled on the popular NBC television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” Beth Oljace has written in the third person, as she will in future articles.

This series is intended to show the value of researching genealogy by using the Anderson Public Library, 111 E. 12th St.


Beth Oljace thinks that it’s a miracle that she exists at all. None of her grandparents should ever have met in the first place. Three of the four were born in different states in the Midwest. The fourth was born in Eastern Europe.

Her first ancestor in Madison County

Beth’s mother, Audrey Busby, came from a family of longtime Madison County residents. The Busby family came from northern England to the southern United States before the American Revolution. They settled in North Carolina and then moved to Monroe County, W. Va., before making their way to Indiana.

They settled first in the Richmond area, but bought land around Pendleton in the 1820s and moved to Madison County around 1825.

Isaac Busby, the first ancestor to settle in Madison County, was well-known as a farmer and supporter of the schools in Fall Creek Township. His descendants spread throughout Madison County and were farmers, justices of the peace and businessmen. His grandson, Silas Busby, bought a farm in Jackson Township near the town of Hamilton and raised a large family there. His son, John McCallister Busby, trained as a teacher at the Spiceland Academy and married a pretty Quaker student named Emma Brown. John Busby farmed, owned a sawmill and was well-known for his mechanical prowess. (He did the maintenance on the elevator in the Banner Store in downtown Anderson.) He and his wife had nine children, most of whom became farmers like him.

His youngest son was named Arthur. Arthur wanted to go to college, but he had appendicitis with peritonitis after he finished high school, which in those days meant a long recovery. He was too weak to do the heavy agricultural work on the farm. He went to live with an aunt and uncle in Daytona Beach, Fla. His uncle ran a hardware store and Arthur became his assistant. At the Baptist Church in Daytona Beach he met a girl named Lillian Mitchell.

Missouri pioneers

Lillian Mitchell was born in Elsbury, Mo., about 50 miles northwest of St. Louis. Her ancestors were Irish who came to the United States early on. Three of her ancestors — John Mulherin, John Mitchell and Henry Read — fought in the Revolutionary War. Some settled in Pennsylvania, then went south to South Carolina, northwest to Kentucky and came to Missouri in the 1820s. Her father’s ancestors settled in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and came to Missouri in the 1830s. Her grandmother told her a story that she had ridden a horse and carried a rosebush with her on the journey.

Her ancestors settled in Pike and Lincoln Counties north of St. Louis. They were farmers and ministers and public officials. An aunt ran the local hotel. Lillian’s father was a farmer, but she didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife. She moved to Urbana, Illinois to live with a cousin and go to high school. After high school, she and a friend took a trip to Florida. Lillian liked Daytona Beach and decided to move there. She got a job in a bank. One of her famous customers was John D. Rockefeller.

Lillian and Arthur married and had a daughter named Audrey. They loved Daytona Beach and bought a house there but when the Depression hit Arthur lost his job in the hardware store and they lost their house. At home in Madison County, Arthur’s father owned several farms and there was a place for them to live. Arthur farmed and later got a job with the Post Office in Anderson where he was a mail carrier for several years. Their daughter, Audrey, graduated from Anderson High School. Her parents, who had wanted to go college, sent her to Indiana University.

On the other side of the Atlantic

Beth’s grandmother, Bessie Christenson, grew up on farms in the Midwest but her father was born in Haldum, a small market town in eastern Denmark. Chris Georg Christensen left Denmark in his teens and came to the United States. For several years he moved about the country from job to job. In 1894 he sailed home to Denmark and married Bertha Neilsen whom he brought to the United States with him. The couple settled in Illinois for a while, moved to northern Wisconsin where Bessie was born, moved back to Illinois and then to LaPorte County, Indiana. Bessie’s father worked as a farmer and a carpenter. One of his acquaintances at LaPorte County agricultural sales was Belle Gunness, the famous lady known as Bluebeard of La Porte County.

Bessie hated her name—she thought it made her sound like a cow. She went to school and wanted to be a teacher, but her mother died while several of her younger brothers and sisters were still small and she had to leave school to help take care of them. A little later she wanted to earn some money, so she went to nearby Gary and got a job as domestic help. Bessie was a very good dancer and liked to go to dances. At a dance she met Barney.

As it turned out, Barney didn’t like his name either, which was really Bronko Oljaca. He was the son of Petar Oljaca and his wife, Rosa Popovich. They came to the United States from Bosanski Novi in Bosnia, which at that time was a part of Austria. The family was Serbian. Petar and two of his older daughters had come first and settled for a time in Steeltown, Pa. In 1907, Rosa brought their three other children to the United States. The family moved to West Allis, Wisc. and then to Gary where they ran a series of boarding houses and taverns. Barney’s mother died and he ran away from home. He joined the Army after World War I. When he met Bessie, he had just come back to Gary.

Bessie and Barney married and he worked in the steel mill. Like Arthur and Lillian, they lost their house in the Depression. They had three sons, the second of whom was Edward. All of their sons were good students and each of them went to college. Edward went to Indiana University and met Audrey Busby in the cafeteria where they both worked. They married and raised a family of three daughters, one of whom was Beth.

Beth and her sisters moved to Anderson in 1971. Since 1982 she has worked for the Anderson Public Library.

Beth Oljace works in the Indiana Room at the Anderson Public Library. She can be reached at boljace@yahoo.com.

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