Filson Family Farm

Filson Family Farm

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Grandmother's siblings (Coplen lineage)

Writing a family history about people you’ve never met can be challenging. I don’t want to do a disservice to them, so I use only facts from documents in hopes that a distant relative will step forward to help me learn more about the ancestors I never knew. This is my hope for my Coplen lineage. I remember my grandmother Grace speaking fondly of her brothers and sisters, but they were always too far away for me to get to know them. Now, I have photos of them and have become curious about who they were.

My Grandmother Grace was born to Elmer R. Coplen (1867-1950) and Frances A. Rodabaugh, who met at a church convention and married in 1891. They had a family of seven and raised them all on a farm in Talma, Indiana. The farm is situated in Newcastle Township west of the Tippacanoe River. For a short time between 1893 and 1896, they moved to Logansport, Indiana to take care of Frances' ailing father.

1907 Map of Bloomingsburg, Indiana (AKA Talma, Indiana)
Recently I was visiting my aunt and I was thrilled to have the chance to see an old Coplen family bible that belonged to Elmer and Frances. It is a very thick bible with fragile pages, and a brown and burgundy leather cover with the inscription “Elmer Coplen” on the bottom. In the center of the book are four pages that list the family’s marriages, births and deaths. Before the implementation of vital records in the late 1800s, family bibles were considered a legal document. If a family needed to provide proof of a birth, marriage or death, they would take their bible to a clerk of the court as proof of the event.

Family Bible of Elmer Coplen
Here in this 1908 photo you can see Elmer and Frances dressed in their finest with their children Earl (back), Floyd (left), my Grandmother Grace seated upon the lap of her mother, and Blanch (right).

Earl Lowell (1892-1962) married Florence R. VanLue and was a successful pig farmer, raising many champion pigs.

Blanche O. (1899-1979) married Joseph J. Grass and lived on a farm next to her family farm in Talma. On that same farm today, you can still see a barn built by Martin Van Buren Coplen who is Elmer’s father.

Floyd F. (1902-1991) married Mary R. Collura. He was a carpenter and a railroad inspector. They lived in Elkhart, Indiana.

My grandmother Grace Geneiver (1905-2003) married Russell Filson and lived near Inwood, Indiana.

Fern P. (1909-2010) married Harry Thorp, who she divorced, and married Max C. Achberger. After Max died, she was a companion of Mendel Bunner of Springport, Indiana. She was a hairdresser and lived to see 100.

The youngest was Frances Magdalen (1913–1991) who married Ellsworth Phelps.

Elmer Coplen, Bud Phelps, Blanch Grass, Mary Coplen, Floyd Coplen, Florence Coplen, Frances Phelps, Russell Filson, Grace Filson, Fern Achberger and Max Achberger. At a family reunion in 1958.
John Martin Coplen (1894-1898) was the second child of Elmer and Frances. At the young age of four he died of membranous croup. At the time his mother Frances was four months pregnant.

As I write about my linage, it is these young souls that intrigue me most. This blog may be the only writing of their entire existence. There are no school records, no class photos. He didn't live to have military or marriage records, and no children to carry on his name. All that remains is a birth, an obituary and this photo of his grave lying for eternity with his parents.

I can envision the day he learned to walk, the day he got his first tooth, the way he would make his mom smile when he pronounced a word wrong. He dutifully followed his big brother Earl and dad out to the barn yard and climbed upon the horse cart to sit next to them. I am sure Earl would hold onto him so he would not fall off as they went out into the fields to work. Some days he would stay with his mom to feed the chickens and help pull weeds out in the garden. Then one day a cough would develop, a fever would flare and a few days later he passed, leaving behind his family full of pain. They would live the rest of their lives knowing the world had just lost a special someone.

I first learned of John's short life through the 1900 census. This census asked each female of childbearing years how many children she has given birth to and how many are still living. The US Government was in the mist of trying to help with the infant mortality problem. I envision Frances sitting across from the census worker and her heart sinking when asked such a heavy question. I wonder if it gave her peace that John’s life was on record, even in this indirect way.

1900 Census Newcastle Township, Indiana (detail)
When I looked closer at this one page of the 1900 census, which is a time capsule of the Coplen family and all their neighbors, I was surprised to see on this one page, the 13 women on it, had suffered the loss of 8 children. I can imagine when John Martin Coplen died, the neighborhood women rallied around the Coplen family to comfort them, for they all knew how the loss of a child felt.

1900 census Newcastle Township, Indiana


  1. My Grandfather's name was Donald Grass. He was from Talma, In. Do you know if he is related to the Coplens? Perhaps he was a child of Blanche and Joseph Grass.

  2. If you would like more information on the Grass Family email me at