Laura Ann Brooks Wheeling, Early Life

Mother of Charles Henry Wheeling

Laura Ann Brooks was born in Geneva, Illinois (Kane County) on August 2, 1857. She was the eldest child of William J. and Annie Brooks.

In 1857, Geneva, Illinois was a small town on the Chicago & North Western Railroad. In the early days, Yankees and New Yorkers populated Geneva. [1] Laura’s father, William, was born in New York. A carpenter would have had very good employment opportunities in a growing town. Perhaps he moved to Geneva on the recommendation of relatives or friends. Did he move with his parents and siblings? Did he move there alone as a young adult? Did he meet and marry Annie back East, then move with his wife to Geneva? These questions are yet unanswered.

On March 4, 1861, when Laura was 3 ½ years old, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the United States.[2]

On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter beginning the Civil War. Laura’s father, William, was 28 years old. It seems he did not enlist in the military and fight in the Civil War. Laura’s sister Emma was born in 1863 and her brother William J. was born in 1864. This leads me to believe that Laura’s father was at home during the Civil War. Enlistment in the Civil War was voluntary. Due to the high numbers of Illinoisians serving in the Union Army, it wasn’t necessary to draft recruits into the military in the early years of the war.[3]

To see a Civil War Volunteer Enlistment form, click here:

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Laura was 5 years old.[4]

Laura’s brother, William, was born in 1864.

On June 2, 1865, the Civil War ended with General Edmund Kirby Smith’s acceptance of the terms of surrender in Galveston, Texas.

“With Smith’s surrender, the last Confederate army ceased to exist, bringing a formal end to the bloodiest four years in U.S. history.”[5]

The Civil War ended two months before Laura’s 8th birthday. For as long as Laura could remember, there had been war. It would have been in the newspapers. Every adult would have been talking about it. There would have been constant worry for the welfare of neighbors and relatives who were fighting. There would have been funerals to attend for the fallen soldiers. I wonder how these early childhood impressions and experiences shaped who Laura grew up to be?

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth in Washington, D.C. President Lincoln died the next day.[6]

Laura’s sister, Mary E., was born in 1866.

According to the 1870 United States Federal Census, by the time Laura was 14 years old on June 15, 1870, she was living with her family in Jacksonville, Illinois (Morgan county). She resided with her father, William Brooks, age 37, her mother, Ann, and her siblings. Her father was at least a second generation American citizen. Her father was born in New York. Laura’s paternal grandparents were born in Massachusetts. Her mother had immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Laura’s father was a carpenter and her mother was a housewife. Laura and her sisters, Alice and Emma, were attending school. William and Mary E., her youngest siblings, were not yet in school.

Laura’s brother, Frank. was born in 1877. In the summer of 1877, Laura would have been 20 years old.

Come back in the coming days for another chapter in Laura’s life.








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