52 Ancestors: #49, The Invisible Aunt Catherine, Illegitimate Child

Catherine Sapp (Butts) (September 21, 1891-??)

In the small town of Danville, Ohio, St. Luke’s Catholic Church is a long time institution.  In fact, the original St. Luke’s in Danville was one of the oldest Catholic churches in Ohio.  A couple from Maryland, George and Catherine Sapp moved to this area of Ohio, and several families from their Maryland congregation and one nearby–St. Ignatius in Mt Savage and St. Mary’s in Cumberland–followed. The settlement they started was known by their name, and the Sapps donated the land for the first church, a log structure built in 1824.

One of the people who later joined this Catholic Community was  Henry Butts, my great-grandfather, who had been born in 1835 in Pennsylvania. Henry, a day laborer and farmer, fought in the Civil War when it started. He and his wife, Ann Marie Smith Butts were devout Catholics, and there are family stories of how Ann Marie walked to church, many times carrying her small children.

Mamie Butts Kaser mother of Catherine Sapp

Mamie Butts Kaser About 1893– Wedding picture?

So it must have been a great shock for the family when they learned that their daughter, Mary Isadore was pregnant with an illegitimate child. Pictures of “Mame” and the stories that my father told about her give no hint of a rebellious nature.  On the contrary, she looks very meek. How embarrassing it must have been for her to stand in front of the congregation of friends and neighbors with the father of the child, George Sapp as their illegitimate child was christened May 8,  1892. The church record says she was born September 18, 1891.

Was this George a member of the family that had started the church? Judging by census records, he was not a son of the original George and Catherine, and if he was related, I have not been able to prove it, since there are more George Sapps than you might imagine.

The question of why George and Mary did not wed is only one of the many mysteries about K/Catherine Sapp/Butts.  This aunt on my father’s side, is shrouded in mystery.

Why Did George and Mame Not Marry?

Did the Butts disapprove of George? On the christening record at St. Luke’s church, it identifies George as “non-Catholic.” Very strange, if he was related to the family involved with the church. Perhaps he was the black sheep of the family and the Butts family wanted to keep their daughter from him.

Is it possible that the Sapps did not approve of the Butts family?

Was George already promised to another?

What Was Her Name?

( UPDATE:  More about her various names in this new post from March 2000)

Then, there is my mysterious aunt’s name.  The Ohio Birth Records say that her name is Casalena Sapp.  A census report in 1900 has her name as Cathaleen Sapp but in 1910 the census shows her name as Katherine Butts, but since there are Catherines (with a “c”) in both the Butts and Sapp families, Catherine is more likely. (With a bad transcription explaining the “Casalena” and the “Cathaleen”.)

Catherine Sapp/Katherine Butts

Katherine Butts – 1910 United States Federal Census

Catherine Sapp/Katherine Butts

Katherine Butts, dressmaker – 1910 United States Federal Census

One other clue to her name is the fact that my sister’s middle name is Katherine, and my mother explained to me that she was named for “a favorite aunt.”  I always thought that was an aunt on my mother’s side who she referred to as “Aunt Cath” (although her name was really Caroline). My mother did say, “Of course we changed the spelling to “K” because Catherine with a “C” is the Catholic way of spelling it.” And mother was NOT a Catholic. My sister says she always thought it was an “aunt” on my father’s side.

Catherine an aunt? She was really my father, Paul Kaser’s half sister. Apparently the “aunt” part was a family myth that either my father believed, or maintained to hide the illegitimate child.  As my sister points out, my father was very protective of his mother, so might not have wanted to discuss the truth. On the other hand, he seemed pretty open about other things that happened in his family.

That aunt vs sister thing partly explains the confusion about whether her name is Sapp or Butts. Her father’s name was George Sapp, and her mother’s name was Mary Isadore Butts.  Since she was an illegitimate child, her last name was up for grabs. In fact, just two years after C/Katherine was born and baptized at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Danville Ohio, Mary Isadore, known as Mame, married Clifford Kaser and  gave birth to four children, including my father, Paul Kaser, born the year after this picture was taken.

Mame and Cliff Kaser Family 1908

Kaser Family, Irene, Mary I. (Mamie), Keith, Clifford Kaser About 1908

Meanwhile, George and Mary Isadore (Mame) did not want to get married, so when Mame married Clifford Kaser in 1893, and Cliff–apparently not the most tolerant of husbands– did not want to adopt the little girl. So the toddler C/Katherine stayed with her grandmother and grandfather, Henry Allen and Ann Marie Smith Butts. In the 1900 census, the little girl is listed as Cathaleen Sapp, but in the 1910 census, she is 18, listed as a dressmaker, and her name has changed to Katherine Butts.

Where Did She Go?

It came as a surprise to discover her name in this 1910 census, because up until now I had believed the family tale. “A History of the Henry Allen Butts Family” written for a family reunion by Rev. Homer Blubaugh, says:

“Catherine was not accepted by her stepfather [Clifford Kaser], so lived with Ann and Henry Butts, her grandparents, until age 16.  One night she walked out of Henry’s house without saying ‘goodbye’ and is never heard from again by anyone in the family.  Mame’s sister, Rosalie, was there that evening and remembered her quiet disappearance.”

Rev. Blubaugh’s history is a combination of research from original documents and family hearsay, so the age at which the girl disappeared is not the only thing he got wrong. But disappear she does.  I can find no trace of her after that 1910 census.

How on earth will I ever track down the movements of a young woman who wanted to disappear–particularly when I have no idea what name she might have been using? This is where it would be nice to have a long-lost cousin pop up with a clue as to what happened to Casalena/Cathaleen/Catherine/Katherine Sapp or Butts or some other name she assumed when she left the only home she had known. Help??

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Paul Kaser, who is the son of
  • Mary I. Butts Kaser, who is the mother of
  • Catherine Sapp (or Butts).

Research Notes

  • “A History of the Henry Allen Butts Family” by Rev. Homer Blubaugh (unpublished)
  • Personal correspondence from Jane Butts Kilgore.
  • Personal correspondence from Mary Vonville.
  • St. Luke’s Records 1829-early 1900. Available through Googlebooks.com for purchase.  I saw the relevant records in person at a visit to St. Luke’s.
  • Birth, death, marriage dates from Ancestry.com various census and other records.
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9 thoughts on “52 Ancestors: #49, The Invisible Aunt Catherine, Illegitimate Child

  1. Kerry Dexter

    What an interesting story — I wonder what else you will learn.
    I’ve never heard that bit about Catherine with a c being ‘the Catholic way ‘ of spelling the name —

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Unfortunately, Kerry, I doubt that I will learn anything else. As to the Catherine with a “c”, it could have been one of those myths that my mother, from a Puritan, anti-Catholic background, may have picked up.However, I have read on line that the most famous Catherine is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and also that the K did not exist in the Celtic or early Anglo-Saxon alphabets, so the original–and more Irish or Scottish spelling would be “C”. But all this is “history in reverse”–taking the present and trying to figure out the beginning.

  2. Kerry Dexter

    whether you learn anything else or not, it is surely an interesting story.

    about the C for Catherine thing: it’s true that the Celtic languages do not have K in their alphabets, although the sound is certainly there. the two most famous saints, Catherine of of Alexandria and Catherine of Siena, were neither of them living in Celtic/Gaelic speaking lands, though, so I don’t know what that tells us — except that Catriona and Caitlin and Cait — Catherine, Kathleen, and Kate — are all popular names in Celtic lands and cultures.


    Vera, You may not wish to post this and that is fine with me. Mame was more than likely an “innocent” and “taken in” by George Sapp, perhaps with promise of marriage, of whom I have heard more than once was similiar to a “lothario” and had plied his charms upon more than one young woman “innocent” in the area, and there may have even been more than just Catherine/Cathleen as a seed of his lotharism. There were not telephones or much communication for young women in one area to really notify other young women in his current target area that there was danger and that the attention had an ulterior purpose. I sincerely believe that Mame was taken in or plied with strong drink or herbs/teas or etc. for the deed to have been done and a child to have been planted. Her mother was an extremely strong Catholic and, although her father would often drive a buggy to the church with the family, he stayed outside for years and would not enter. He did get baptized about 2 or so years before his death but, he would sit upon the buggy with blankets around him in the winter and wait outside before he was baptized. One of her brothers did often visit a young woman after his wife died and she did have a child who carried only the mother’s surname, both the child and at least 1 descendant do yet live. It seems he had “roving hands” as he aged (Alzheimers?) however, that is ABSOLUTELY NOT something the family would have accepted as the parents reared them. Someone who would be about 100 now, if alive, did have illegitimate children while young and uncontrollable, which would not have happened in the family generations ago, but, that person did do right by their other later children. Once Mame found out about George’s dishonest and immoral activities with others she absolutely would have been repulsed and would not have wanted a marriage and I don’t blame her for not wanting to marry an unfaithful person! Perhaps, in a small part, she married whom she did to atone for past sins however, we would not know in this life what a person really thought or how they loved. When one asks about the family I say that they were good hard workers doing the best they could with what they had and that they were very talented and artistic working with their hands.

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Mary Martha, you certainly have added some juicy gossip/details to the Catherine/Mame story. I have always thought that Mame was either raped or fooled into an affair with George, but I had not heard that he had a reputation. Since he is openly listed on the Baptism of Catherine (along with Mame) at the Catholic church in Danville, it would be interesting to search the records and see if he had any other liaisons that caused illegitimate children. As for Mame marrying her older, rather strict husband, I figured her family laid down the law. “Here’s a man who is a good worker and can provide for you, and he’s willing to marry you. You won’t find many like that.”

      1. Bro

        The presence of both the natural father and mother (unmarried) at Catherine’s christening seems unusual. Were they both really there and was there some understanding they would be married subsequently? In any case, the christening seems a kind of redemption and legitimizing of Catherine herself as a member of the Community of Christ in the local congregation. Maybe those people were not all as cold and intolerant as we in our supposedly “Enlightened” Age think they were. You mention Mame as possibly a “rebellious” daughter, but there may have been many circumstances and emotions leading to her pre-martial pregnancy that might suggest her own possibly rebellious nature was the cause of it. As you noted, Mame settled into a conventional marriage and was deeply respected by her family and community. In any case, the quiet disappearance of a lost and troubled child (Catherine) is bound to leave a gnawing concern about her fate. Perhaps, like so many other “misfits,” she wandered out West, took a new name and with it peace. Let’s hope so.

        1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

          I have no idea what the practice of the Catholic Church was at that time. To me, the most unusual thing was the span of time between Catherine’s birth and her christening. It is easy to speculate about Catherine/Kathleen’s life, but practically impossible to pin down the truth.

  4. Jennifer Page

    My maternal grandmother’s name at birth was Catherine. When she got older she changed her name to Katherine. No one in our family knows why she did not even my mother nor my mother’s sister. Maybe she changed it because she was not a Catholic. She was Prostestant….. My great grandmother was illegitimate. She was my grandmother Katherine’s mother in law. I asked my grandfather about his grandmother. He said he knew nothing of her not even her name. He said all he knew was that his grandmother died in the bed with his mother Lillie when she was a baby. My mother and my aunt knew their grandmother Lillie was illegitimate and grew up thinking that their great grandmother was a bad girl or some kind of prostitute. My aunt and I do a lot of genealogy and we found out that their great grandmother’s name was Sally Jones Moody and that she was previously married to a elderly Mr. Moody and they had 2 sons together. Mr. Moody died and Sally started seeing my 2nd great grandfather Loftis Clendenon. Sally got pregnant with my great grandmother Lillie and they got married 6 months after Lillie was born. Sally died when Lillie was about a year old. I don’t know how Sally died. Maybe one day I will find out. At least we found out that Sally wasn’t a bad girl . My mother said she remembers the Moody boys coming to visit her grandparents but didn’t know they were her grandmother’s half brothers…..My aunt and I realized things like that happened back then like it does now. My aunt talked to a genealogist at Salt Lake City and she said it wasn’t an uncommon thing back in the 1800s for couples to live together before they got married. It was because back then there were traveling preachers and traveling judges. They would come around ever so often and if you didn’t know the preacher or judge had come to town, you would miss getting married. Some people gave up and decided just to live together. That’s probably why we can’t find a marriage license of some of our ancestors. I also think some people had a marriage ceremony in front of family ,friends and God instead of waiting for the judge or preacher….. I have found since this Sally’s parents names and things about her siblings. I wish my grandfather was alive so my aunt and I could tell him what we found out.

    1. Avatar photoVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      What an interesting story and how wonderful that you were able to piece it together. I was interested in your comment about Catherine/Katherine. My mother said to me once that Catherine was Catholic and Katherine protestant, and I never knew where that came from. Back in the 1700s and earlier, nobody seemed to care how they spelled anything, including names, so I always thought it was just that carelessness with details. Your final statement about wishing your grandfather were alive so you could tell him, really rings a bell with me. So often I wish my mother, or grandmother, or other person were around. My mother would have been SO excited to learn she was related to Emily Dickinson, for instance.


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