Sunday, December 30, 2018

Four Great-Grandmothers

I started one of the books I got for Christmas, about the Indo-Europeans, which challenged in the first chapter that we all have four great-grandmothers, but we seldom know their maiden names or even their first names at times, nor anything about them.  His point is how quickly we will all be forgotten, and suggested that nothing may be known of us sooner than we think. As things stand on the latter, my children will all have many stories of my wife and I, should their own grandchildren ever ask. Yet it is a rare grandchild who does that,  More often, there are forty-year-olds who say "I wish I had asked Nana more about her parents, and Aunt Bessie doesn't focus that well anymore." I knew one grandmother well, yet she never talked about her own parents or early life much. She talked about her children and other grandchildren, and to a lesser extent her siblings and their descendants. What little I know about her mother is from other sources, and it is sparse. She died when my mother was six, and I don't recall she was ever mentioned.  We will get to her in her turn. I have four granddaughters. One is two and would never remember me on the basis of current contact. She would only hear rumors from her father, who came into our family when he was sixteen and doesn't pay much attention to things that don't concern him this week. He is not a nostalgic person (for good reason). Her older sister, now seven, might retain some memory of me when she is old, if she is that sort of person. At the moment, I think the full extent of my identity would be "We took walks when he came up to Nome. He taught me to play Sleeping Queens. He used to send me postcards." The other two granddaughters know me better, and they might conceivably have many things to say to their own children.  If they ever have children. If the subject of great-grandparents ever comes up. If they don't get worn out talking about the other three grandparents first. Other grandchildren may still appear.

So, point taken.

As to my own knowledge, I do know the full name of all four great-grandmothers, but very little about any of them. So even I who pays attention to such things am good evidence of his point. I technically refute it by my bare genealogical knowledge, but again, point taken. I will write down what I know about all of them just to have it down in record in case my descendants ever care to stretch their knowledge farther back. I know more about grandparents, but mostly only the one, my mother's mother. I may get to them sometime as well. The rest of you may be mildly interested.

Mabel Eaton, from the Fitchburg-Leominster area. She married the irresponsible William Neat and had a daughter, Ruth Irene. Ruth died in 1952, William seemed to be married to someone else when he visited us for a half hour in Manchester in 1960 or so. I could likely discover more by searching Social Security records or something.

Clara Crowell, from Lower East Pubnico, Nova Scotia, married Charlie Wyman and had five sons. She had two poems published in newspapers, but we don't even have titles. A house down and across the road, which one of her sons had lived in until he was divorced, she called "The House of Broken Dreams," which sounds like the sort of thing a poetess would say. When there was an epidemic, she got word to her two youngest sons, who were out on a hunting trip, not to return to town, but to go stay with their brother in Massachusetts, around 1922. Except that can't be her, because she died in 1918.  So the record is wrong or the story is wrong. Perhaps my grandfather came here at 15, not 19, and she died in the epidemic. Just guessing now.

Nellie Louise Wallace, from Londonderry, NH, married Charles Smith, who abandoned her when the children were 11, 9, and 4.  Nana Smith. She taught at a one-room schoolhouse in Londonderry right on the Manchester line starting at age 16, and then in East Manchester (Hallsville). She lived to 92, dying in 1954 just after I was born. She visited at her daughter's camp at the narrows on Suncook Pond - we have a picture of it, and my Aunt Cynthia remembered her best from there.  Londonderry had few people, and as she was also a teacher she likely knew Robert Frost, who taught her son Freshman English in 1910 at Pinkerton Academy, but I never heard a word of it. I had heard from my uncle that that side of the family was a little stern and difficult, but a woman at church contradicted this directly, referring to her first: "Well, Nellie wasn't at all alarming!" She is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Manchester. My mother would have known her but I don't recall her mentioning her. She was related to Gen. John Stark, and reportedly to Ocean-Born Mary, though we have never been able to confirm the latter.  I have other info from the genealogical notes we have, that was not in my memory, recorded below.*

Augusta Lindquist, born Liared, Sweden and came to America when very young, growing up in Pontiac, RI (pronounced "Poont-yak" if you have a Swedish accent, and my Aunt Sal grew up thinking it was a Swedish word), then moving to Manchester. She must have arrived by 1882, as she was one of the original members of Gethsemane Svenska Evangelisk Kirkan Forsamingans. She was one of many children - at least eight, but I'd have to look it up. She married in 1894 - we have her husband's brass wedding band with the date, and a picture of them hangs in our hall - and bore nine children, plus a stillbirth. Twin boys died in childhood, around eight, I think. She had most of her children on a farm in Bedford, but the farm or the farmer failed and her husband took a job in a tea house after 1903.  He died in 1910, leaving her with seven children from 3-16. The two oldest left school and took jobs, and she worked cleaning houses. She mentioned to one of her daughters that she resented when people asked if she could recommend any other nice Swedish ladies to clean. "You'd think we couldn't do anything else." She lost a 19-year-old daughter in 1925 to scarlet fever, and a 26 y/o daughter who had moved to New York in 1927. She herself died in 1936 and is buried with them. We visit that grave every year. I don't know why it is far from the Swedish section where her husband is buried. A woman we knew from church in 1979 thought our infant son looked like her, with a cheerful, round face. She lived in a small apartment on Penacook St with the five daughters until they left, one by one.

*Little, skinny, stoic, quiet, so afraid of thunderstorms that she would get sick. She made bread on top of the stove at camp and some other food called "widdows," or perhaps "widders." She kept a chamberpot under her bed. She lived on Harrison St near Elm in Manchester.


Sam L. said...

I don't know the maiden names of my grandmothers, though I think my sister may. My aunt did a geneology for my dad's side, so his mom I could look up, when I get it out of storage.

james said...

There probably aren't enough hours in the day for them all to know you well. What do you want them to know about you?

Donna B. said...

I speak of my parents to my grandchildren. I say 'My mother would be so proud of how you dribbled that ball and then made that basket!' Or, "My father would be so proud of how you fixed that." They are amazed that I had parents and then they are curious.

HMS Defiant said...

Both of my grandmothers did geneology back along the maternal line. In each case they went back several hundred years.
I knew my great grandfather fairly well. He died at 102 and was a right gentleman to the end. Up every day, pressed white shirt, tie and then down to read in his shed where he stoked up a fire in his Ben Franklin stove. He had hundreds of old books that my sister and I enjoyed enormously. They were all printed between 1888 and 1920. I'm afraid all the stories of them and the others of that era will pass with my parents.
I will probably pass on to my daughter my sword and journals. She can do with them what she likes.

RichardJohnson said...

I know next to nothing about my great-grandmothers, but know some stories about great-grandfathers.

My older cousin was five when our great-grandfather died, so she has some memory of him. Apparently he was at times ornery to other adults (quarrels on politics, for example) but always kind to his great-grandchildren.

Coincidentally, last month I gave a second cousin a large photo (18"X 12" oval) of our great-grandmother with my grandmother when she was 6. At age 40, our great-grandmother was rather good-looking.

My other grandmother lost her mother when she was an infant, so that is a great-grandmother I know nothing about.

One great-grandmother lost her husband when my grandfather was 7. A cousin told me that, although bedridden, she managed a 300 acre farm- with a lot of help from her bachelor brothers.

Of my great-grandfathers, two were dead before my parents were born, so they had little in the way of stories about those two grandfathers, my great grandfathers.

The other two great-grandfathers died at 89 and 95. Their lives spanned the Civil War and World War II. I have heard a fair number of stories about them. For example, a granddaughter was about to marry a Northerner stationed in the Southwest during WW2. Her grandfather/my great-grandfather: "I hear you are going to marry a Yankee. Grandaughter's reply: "And a Damnyankee at that."

I heard that story when visiting my second cousin last month. His mother spoke the "damnyankee.'

I got to know one of my grandmothers fairly well when I was an adult, so I have lots of stories, and a perspective on her much richer than the "loving grandmother" bit- such as stories of various family conflicts from years before I was born.

Murph said...

Over the last dozen years or so I have indulged myself in family genealogy research. I was extremely lucky in my starting point, in that in the 1960s a couple of my maternal uncles actually wrote down their recollections of growing up in turn-of-the-century, early 1900s, Baltimore. They described their family, schooling (math taught in German by nuns, carrying a pistol to school, rulers across knuckles for misbehavior), their games (rolling hoops, leapfrog), crabbing in the harbor, etc. Their German grandfather was Supt. of Machinery for the BFD, and one of the essays describes young boys chasing after the speeding horse-drawn fire engines, and the competitions between fire companies.

My genealogical research confirmed some of the essay information, and contradicted other info, but none of the data-oriented information available on ancestry or familysearch can reproduce those very personal recollections of my ancestors' *real* lives. They are a family treasure.

I did learn to beware of family mythology, though. In his "official" BFD biography, as well as his obituaries and death certificate (probably just copied from the bio), the Supt. claimed to have been born in Germany in 1842 and brought to the U.S. at age 6 months. That was the story that was handed down, generation after generation. However, certain of the "story" dates contradicted each other (no one seemed to have noticed that.)

Deeper diving into city directories, immigration and census records, and the like revealed that the only immigration record that fit all of the known facts was a German family that immigrated in 1852: John, a dairyman, and his wife, Anne, along with their four children (including the Supt. (then age 11), and John's brother, George, all of whom subsequently show up in census records in Baltimore, and of whom, other than the Supt., we had NEVER heard tell. I finally linked up the Supt. with his German-born brother, Martin (one of the children on that immigration record), through a newspaper article describing a 1895 wedding party that identified the groom (Supt's son) as a cousin of the best man (Martin's son.)

My uncles never spoke or wrote of any of that family's members except the Supt.'s bunch: my eldest living cousin, whose father wrote most of the essays, has NO recollection of ever hearing of any family but the Supt.'s. After much discussion, we surmise that there may have been a family estrangement when the Supt. (his family was Catholic from the Baden area) married into a Protestant family from Hesse. ...but that's a guess; no one still living knows for sure.

All of that persuaded me to volunteer at the local LDS family history center (no, I'm not Mormon, but they don't care), and further indulge my pastime. It is quite amazing what is now available online; new records are added almost daily. (You should see all the original Swedish records they have linked.)

I now have a family tree (no, not posted on family search) with ~4,000 individuals, some with lots of info, some with naught but a marriage reference. I have been able to assist with my grandkids' elementary school "family unit" stories and timelines. They learn that they are an important piece, a link, in a long line of individuals of strength and courage, who worked hard, took risks, birthed and raised children, and hoped for and sought bright futures for those children. I think it a worthy effort.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, family rumors often turn out to be untrue. As I disagree with living family members about events in our lifetimes that is hardly surprising. Memory is often a cheat. Some, clearly, are embellishments or intentional forgettings. People came to America to reinvent themselves.

As to the long line of wonderful ancestors, Murph, my family has something of the opposite. Scandals on both sides of the family. One gggg-uncle seems to have wasted $100,000 of inheritance in the mid-1800's, which would be about $10M now. In Londonderry, NH. It hardly seems possible. There are abandonments and suspicious name changes, and no one who particularly distinguished themselves anytime in the last 300 years. Even our revolutionary ancestor who qualifies us for the DAR seems to have been only an intermittent soldier - as most were then.

james said...

My grandfather started talking about family history when visiting us one night, and my mother surreptitiously turned on a tape recorder. When it clicked and she had to flip the tape, he clammed up. Unfortunately the tape was lost in the civil war. There was one story about a gggm that I wish I could get the details on--she ran a ferry across a river using a rope, and had violent set-tos with boaters who cut it.
Grandfather's father told _him_ that he had had a falling-out with his kinsman Devil Anse and had to decamp. Alas for family tradition, one of my cousins got into genealogy and discovered that ggf had apparently moved south from Missouri, with some lack of clarity about who was left behind.

Grim said...

I only know of one of my great grandmothers well enough to speak of her, my mother’s mother’s mother. She lived to be 97 and thus had time to make a lasting impression on my mother’s generation and the earlier part of mine. Apparently this was chiefly through terrorizing people, especially by tripping them with broomsticks, though my mother speaks fondly of her care when she, my mother, was sick as a girl.

She was a Primitive Baptist and her father (one of two great-great grandfathers I know enough to discuss) was a circuit riding preacher. She loved the annual foot washings. She did not like to go to the ordinary Baptist Church nearby, but wanted to be transported to one of the distant Primitive Baptist churches her father used to serve. Now and then they would take her, but it was a long way and hard to do often. Sometimes she’d get mad about this and go around telling the neighbors how her children wouldn’t take her to church.

She was apparently quite a forceful person. Everyone who speaks of her conveys fear and respect, though she’s been gone many years.

Texan99 said...

Generations were long in my family. I couldn't tell you the names of any of my "greats." I can remember only a few references by my parents or their siblings to their own grandparents.

My sister does a lot of genealogy and certainly has told me the names. They just don't stick. I can remember my paternal grandmother's maiden name, and that's about all.

Grim said...

Oh, another story about my great grandmother: apparently they never told her that my mother married while at college. They were too afraid, apparently, to confess to her that she hadn’t been consulted. She lived out her life unaware that her granddaughter was married. My own grandmother, everyone went along with hiding it from her. She died before I was born, so no revealing pregnancy gave away the game.

Grim said...

I talked to my mother last night, and she told me more about this. Apparently my great grandmother was one of many sisters, all of whom lived into their 90s. The family terror of them was also apparently more universal: my grandfather, my mother’s father, would remind my mother to pretend her name was “June” whenever they’d go to visit Great Aunt June, who had insisted the girl be named after her. She was not, but everyone pretended she was to appease Great Aunt June.

Hearing these stories about this conclave of fearsome Great Aunts, I’m reminded of the legends of the Norns or the Furies. Clearly these were formidable women.

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