Sunday, July 22, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Week 30 Genealogy Serendipity

Week #30 – Genealogy Serendipity

Week 30: Genealogy Serendipity. Every genealogist has tales of surprise findings or coincidences when climbing the family tree. What is your most memorable serendipitous discovery? Did it involve ancestors in your tree, living folks or both? How did this surprise affect your research and does it still impact you today?

I was born as a baby-boomer in the 1950's. My parents were young at the time of my birth, Dad was 22 and Mom 21. My Grandpa Bean had died 5 years before I was born, so I never knew him.

It wasn't really until 2001, when I totally submerged myself into all things genealogy, that it really hit me about my Grandpa!

My Grandpa was born a year after the end of the Civil War!

Yep, you read that right!!!

Sounds really strange today to hear someone as young as my Dad make the claim that his Grandpa fought in the Civil War. But it's true!!!

At the close of the Civil War, my great-grandmother found herself in Ohio, having moved there on her own with small children, by oxen-pulled wagon to be near her soldier husband. They intended to move back to West Virginia, but Great-Grandma was soon in the family way, and so they waited until after the baby was born, in December of 1866, to move back.

Yep, that was my Grandpa!

I am told it was a bitter cold winter, and they came back in the worst possible time, just a couple of weeks after his birth on the 15th [around New Year's!].

The way Grandpa told it to Dad, his mother carried him inside the bodice of her dress to keep him warm. At night the older ones had to sleep under the wagon, and the younger ones bundled with Great-Grandma inside to stay warm.

Grandpa wasn't a very tall man [about 5'7"], and all the men, including his own sons, towered over him at about 6-feet tall, and taller still! I am told Grandpa used to tease and say that the travel to West Virginia in the dead of winter stunted his growth! Froze it right outta him!

As if that wasn't confusing enough to a youngster...."Yes, dear, Grandpa's Daddy did fight in the Civil War!"..... I had the huge family to deal with!

Grandpa was in his 30's before he ever married. And before he died, he'd fathered 15 children. From three different wives.

Nothing sordid here. No divorces, or anything like that.

Grandpa had simply outlived his first two wives, who had the sad misfortune of dying at early ages.

His first wife was just 20 years old when they married. She was 8-1/2 years his junior. She gave birth to three children in 7 years. Then she succombed to "consumption" [tuberculosis].

Five years later, he married again. This time a woman 17 years to the day younger than he was. She not only took on the task of finishing raising his first three children, but promptly began having her own babies as well. Nine of them in 22 years. Her last at the age of 45. Because she did not receive good prenatal care, she died following the birth of the last child from toxemia.

Now Grandpa was the father of 12 children. Most grown. And in 6 more years, when he was 69, he married his third wife, who was 38 years old. She had her first child at 40, her second at 42, and her last at 46. Grandpa was now 77 years old.[My Dad was child number 13, and is from Grandpa's last marriage.]

Try explaining that to a kid!

My oldest aunt was actually a year older than my own Grandma! And my first cousins called my Grandma, "Aunt Mary". [Can you imagine the conversations we cousins had as kids??? "She's my Grandma, and we had the same Grandpa, so why isn't she your Grandma too?", or "How can Aunt Rita be my aunt, when she's older than Grandma?"] Our parents simply told us the ever indulgent, "Because that's the way it is!" answer!

In 1954 when Grandpa passed away, he'd buried two wives and four children. He'd had his father murdered, and lost his mother a short 13-months later. Some say to heart break. He'd lost all but one of his eight siblings.

Did it affect me learning so much about the man? The pain he must have endured? Knowing that he fathered a family so very late in life?

Yes it did. I believe that of all four of my grandparents, I know more about the real man than I know about the other three combined.

I know from his children that he loved them all fiercely. That he adored his sons and daughters. And when he lost the fourth child, he nearly lost his mind.

I know that he was never content with what he had, but was forever searching for the brass ring. And no one had to tell me this. Census records, and his own journals and store ledgers tell the account. His feet forever itched for a different place to call home. And his hand itched for a better income! He tried a dozen or so businesses!

When I visit the cemetery where he lies, I often sit right down on the grave and talk to him. I also talk to his mother's grave. I feel like they are just beyond a thin veil and hear every word I say! I have often felt their presence and their guidance.

But forever will I be amazed that a man well into his 70's became the father of my father. That his father was a soldier in the Civil War. That he lived a life that encompassed and touched so many! And that continues to touch to this very day.

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