Editor’s Note: This is a new feature in The Sun from freelance writer, Sarah Hunt, who will do historical pieces about the “forgotten women of Clermont County.”
A funny thing happened when I tried to track down the real story of how Amelia, Ohio got its name. I knew the town was named for a woman named Amelia, but it turns out the actual historical details are more than a little fuzzy.
Legend, and about twelve “official” and unofficial websites, say that when the post office finally arrived at Milton (a shortened version of Milltown), USPS officials required a new name, as another Milton in Ohio was already on the books. A woman named Amelia, wife of the toll-keeper on the edge of town, and, according to legend, “popular with the locals.” Sometimes, stagecoach drivers would simply yell “Amelia” as they approached the stop to pay the toll.
As it turns out, “Amelia” is a nickname. And while many websites tell of an Amelia Bowdoin at the heart of this legend, there’s no census data to back up that claim, nor are there any Bowdoins currently residing in Clermont County or listed in census data before or after the town was named in 1836. When I dug a little deeper, I discovered Armilla Bodin, wife of the toll-keeper, resident of the “Amelia Bowdoin House” along SR-125. Her nickname may have been Amelia, but again, these details are unclear. Maybe her name sounded like “Amelia” to the post office employee or it was written down wrong. The true details have been lost to history, at least unless some new evidence turns up.
This is how historical and genealogical research often goes. You start with a nugget of truth, wander down the road a bit, and uncover unexpected revelations. It’s the story of America, really. Our ancestors arrived here from all over the world and lived messy, complicated lives that turn our carefully charted family trees into intermingled masses of bushy branches. It’s fascinating, if a little unsettling at times. Family folklore doesn’t always line up with reality. As someone researching a family line, it can feel sad when a lead dries up, leaving the mystery of some long-forgotten relative unsolved. This seems to happen far more often when it comes to women, for all kinds of reasons.
It wasn’t so long ago that women were most commonly referenced by their husband or father (Mrs. John Smith). It wasn’t so long before that when women were little more than “chattel,” effectively owned as part of a man’s estate through the legal concept of coverture. When it comes to African American and other minority women, the records are even murkier. Many women who have done great things have been effectively lost over time, often relegated to a footnote in some old history book, at best.
Modern technology is allowing us to recover some of these important historical stories, however, and I’m excited to bring some of them to you once a month. My focus here will be on women who helped shape local history, in big and small ways, their stories uncovered through the magic of modern genealogic research as well as through local historians and maybe even a few of those heavy, dusty research volumes at a local library.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever truly uncover the real story of Armilla Bodin, but perhaps the details aren’t as important as the big picture. Whoever she was, she mattered, and even if we weren’t still saying her name (or nickname) every time we talk about the town of Amelia, she mattered. Like so many women who lived before and after, she was a mother, daughter, sister and friend, a touchpoint for many more people than she ever realized, to be sure. Her story interlocks with other stories, which interlock with other stories, and so it goes. It turns out, the footnotes in some old history book do actually matter.
Do you have a great family history story about a local woman? I’d love to hear it. Email me at email@example.com.
Sarah Bricker Hunt, a CNE alum, is a local award-winning freelance writer, mom of two really cool boys, and a perpetual student of history and people. She is the founder of Storybuzz Communications, which partners with organizations and individuals to define, enhance, and amplify the message they want to share with the world.