Celia Orpha Whitman was the oldest child of James Kennicutt Whitman and Sarah Ellen Vallette. She was born 21 May 1851 in Oakfield, Genesee County, New York. Celia was given her maternal grandmother’s name, Orpha (see her story below) for a middle name, and knew her. She also knew her paternal grandparents, James W. and Betsey Whitman, before she and her family moved west leaving Oakfield at about age 13. The family eventually settled in Manchester, Delaware County, Iowa. She and her younger sister, Louisa, were both unmarried and spent a lot of time living and travelling together according to collected family letters.
Celia is remembered by her great-niece, as having been a very tall and imposing woman, who was a “schoolmarm” by trade. She tells us that as a young child she was terrified of her stern Aunt Celia because of her severe and unyielding disposition. To a child, this very tall and commanding woman must have seemed intimidating. However, through some of Celia’s own correspondence and writings, we see a woman who is very concerned about her family and keeps in regular contact with cousins and extended family in an effort to find out more about her own genealogy. It is to Celia we owe a great deal for the things we know of the Whitman, Kennicott, and Polley lines. Celia wrote all over the country to various cousins and distant relations to find out the origins of her family. She protected the Whitman family bible (see below) begun by her parents in the early 1850s and saw that it was passed down to the next generations of Whitmans. She began a book, of sorts, handwritten at first and then asiduously typed retelling the stories and generations for her Vallette and Whitman heritage. For her time, Celia was an impressively organized genealogist. Her writings have clarified a few family mysteries and her facts, while unsourced according to today's genealogical standards, have proven reliable time and time again.
For a woman who wrote so much about her family, we know very litte about her personally. No diaries and not many letters have surfaced about her, excepting her genealogical writings. In the 1900 federal census we find the sisters, Celia and Louisa, living together. They were living in Kanosh, Millard County, UT, right next door to their married brother, Edward, and with their unmarried brother Wilbur. In 1910, Celia and Louisa have moved to Illinois and are housed with the John J. and Jessie L. Acker family, and both listed as “aunt.” Jessie Louisa Acker was Jessie Louisa Lewis, daughter of Celia’s sister, Jessie, and her husband Thomas Jefferson Lewis. Celia was a Dressmaker in 1910.
Celia’s obituary gives us a little look into her life. The news of Celia’s passing was reported in the Glen Ellyn News and The Glen Ellyn on December 14th, 1939.
Miss CELIA ORPHA WHITMAN, aged 88, a resident of this village for the past sixteen years, died December 11. Miss Whitman had lived in Lombard and Wheaton before coming to Glen Ellyn. She was born May 21, 1851 at Oakfield, Genesee County, N.Y. and is survived by one sister Miss Louisa E. Whitman of Glen Ellyn, and one brother Edward N. Whitman of Salt Lake City. Funeral services were held at the Pierce Funeral Home in Wheaton, Wednesday, December 13,at 2 p.m. Dean Cowan C. Williams of St. Marks Episcopal Church officiated.
Photos above: (Top) Celia, aged about 12, tintype. (Middle) Celia aged about 50, circa 1900. (Lower) Celia (with glasses, seated next to child in high chair) is enjoying dinner in her father's Manchester, Iowa home. The man across from her is recognized as the eldest brother, James Adolphus Whitman, and the man to her right in profile is her youngest brother, Wilbur Archer Whitman. Other women pictured are likely sisters Frances and Louisa. If the woman sitting next to James is Celia's mother, Sarah Ellen (Vallette) Whitman, then this picture was taken before her death in 1889.