Genealogy

My grandmother never learned to drive a car. That was not an unusual situation during her lifetime, even though it is very unusual today. I never could figure out how women…or anyone for that matter…could get by these days without being able to drive, much less manage to raise nine kids and get them through all the stuff needed for their schooling without driving a car. Nevertheless, my grandmother did just that.

Since she didn’t ever drive, and counted on Grandpa for all the things that went with raising a family, I also found myself surprised when she said she was taking a trip to Ireland with her sisters. It wasn’t so much that traveling was so unusual for my grandmother, because my family had taken her places, as had Bob and I. I also know that there were other family members who had taken them traveling…so, while taking a trip wasn’t an unusual thing…taking a trip to Ireland seemed like taking a trip to the moon. It seemed so strange that Grandma and her sisters would be going so far away alone!!

The trip was to follow their roots. They planned to stay with family that lived there. It was the trip of a lifetime for my grandmother and while I felt nervous, I was so excited for her. She would see the green Irish hills, castles and ruins. She would see the coast of Ireland that I had heard was so beautiful, and most of all she could trace her roots back to there.  I can’t think of a more exciting trip for my grandmother to get to take. What a wonderful treat for her!

The trip was everything she had hoped it would be, and she returned to us different somehow. She was a world traveler now. She had been to distant shores and visited family and graves far away. I was so happy for her, and secretly hoped I’d be able to make such a trip some day. I imagined seeing castles and the ruins of castles. I wondered what stories I would hear of the past and those who lived in it. I am so happy that my grandmother had the opportunity to take such a trip. The chance to see new places, and meet new people…the chance to go in search of her roots.

Having grown up in town, I didn’t spend much time around horses. I had a friend that lived out in the country, and rode a little when I went to her house, but I didn’t meet her until junior high, so I didn’t ride often, even though I found myself enjoying it when I did. My girls got to ride when we went to visit Bob’s grandmother in Montana, but that was just once a year, so they were no more experienced than I was. We were what would have to be like tourist horseback riders. I have been looking at some really old family pictures, and I have come to the determination that our kind of riding would have been unacceptable in the days of the Old West.

When Bob was growing up, they spent more time around horses than we did, and so had the opportunity to ride more than I did. Still, of he rode when he was very little, he always had someone older on the horse with him. Most of the time you would see Bob with his sisters, Marlyce and Debbie. It was a way to make sure he didn’t fall off, because he would have probably tried to make the horse gallop or buck, if I know him.

Apparently however, just a few short generations back, children were expected to be born with horse riding expertise, because I found this picture of Lester, my first cousin once removed on my Grandpa Byer’s side, and he was pretty little when he first was placed on a horse. Lester was born in 1920, and while I’m sure that he didn’t do much riding in this picture, it did strike me as amusing that here he was being a grown up big boy and sitting on his horse all by himself. I’ll bet that by the time he was 5 years old or so, he was a pretty accomplished horseman too, since he had such an early start. Even if he wasn’t an expert, my guess is that he certainly was not a tourist horseman…like me.

Most of us are able to trace our roots back to the Old West, since many of our ancestors were homesteaders. The Old West was a dangerous place to live. There were few, if any lawmen around, and outlaws found it to be a good hiding place. Probably a bigger concern for many of the settlers was the Indian population. There were a lot of hard feelings toward the white man, because of broken treaties and stolen lands. Still, this wasn’t really the fault of the settlers and homesteaders, but they were the ones who often suffered the consequences. For this reason, friendships between the Indians and the White Man were rare.

My grandfather’s family was privileged to have one of those rare relationships. They were accepted and even loved by the Indians in the area. They were invited to the Pow Wows and other celebrations. The had meals and probably hunts with the Indians, and got to know them well. They knew men like Chief Thin Elk and Sitting Bull, two Lakota Sioux Indians and their tribes. They spent time with them, and learned their customs…spoke their language. Not many White Men had the opportunity to do that.

Of course, when we think back on the Old West, the first thing that comes to mind are the old shows, like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Little House on the Prairie. We seldom think of the real people who lived those times…especially our own ancestors. I had been told that my great grandfather knew some Indians, but it just didn’t register until I saw pictures of him with the Indians…being friends with the Indians…having Pow Wows with the Indians. My great grandfather was one of those rare people who really did know Indians from the Old West. It was such an eye opening moment for me.

When you think of your grandmother, how do you picture her? Is she gray haired and wrinkled, or can you picture the girl she once was? Most of us can only imagine our grandmothers as the age they were when we were able to have our first memory. That would put them in the vicinity of 40 to 50 years old, and of course, we are certain that they are ancient, mostly because when we are very young, anything over 20 is ancient. Rarely do we consider the idea that our grandmother could have been young once. We are sure she was born old…or at the very least, have not been young in such a long time that there is no way they remember it.

It can be so hard to picture as young, someone who we assume has always been old, but there was a time when our grandmother was a girl. She had to go through the same teenaged years, even though the times were different then. Could she possibly understand what kids go through today? I think she does, because even though she hasn’t gone through the exact things kids today have, she still had the same emotions and age related changes you did.

Bob’s grandmother grew to adulthood during the Roaring Twenties…a time of breaking with tradition. World War I was over, and everyone was in the mood to party and…well cut loose from the mundane. Jazz music became the “in thing” and I’m quite sure that the parents of that generation thought they were insane. And maybe to a degree, they were. Finally having the war over must have given them a feeling of euphoria. It’s like being under pressure for a long, long time, and finally the pressure is over, and you feel like you can fly.

That is the age when Bob’s grandmother grew up, and when I look at the pictures of her in those young years, she really looked the part, but of course, by the time she reached the age of 20, the Great Depression had hit. I can only imagine the emotions she must have gone through. The roller coaster ride from euphoria to depression within a matter of a few years. Now this generation of young people was going to have to really prove themselves. They were going to have to be the generation that would bring this country back from the brink. Imagine the emotions they must have gone through. Still, they did start our country on the road back from the brink to recovery. When you think about that, you are able to get beyond the idea that they couldn’t possibly have ever gone through the things you have gone through, to the point where you finally understand that it is you who have never gone the things they have gone through. It brings an appreciation of just how amazing that generation really was.

It is somewhat rare to be able to take pictures of five generations of a family. Many people are able to take four generation pictures, but five is not always possible. When my two oldest grandchildren were just babies, we were able to get that picture that so many people would love to have. The pictures we took were and are pictures we will always treasure.

Many people think that five generation pictures represent the ability to live long lives, and that is true, but so much more is represented in those treasured pictures. Five generations represents the wisdom of age being passed down from generation to generation, and that is exactly what we did have in our family. Things like the ability to grow your own food in a garden or raise cattle, chickens, and horses. The ability to knit, sew, embroider, and crochet things like clothing, blankets, table cloths, pillow cases, and so much more. It was these abilities being taught by the older generation to the next, and the next, and the next generation. What a blessing to have these things taught to a great grandchild, who can then teach it to their child, grand child, and great grandchild. A child learning from its parent, who learned from their parents, and grandparents.

So much wisdom and knowledge has been passed down this way. In fact, we would not know how to do many things that we know, were it not for the generations the came before us. When I look at these pictures, I remember the things we learned for Bob’s grandparents. From card games played out between ruthless partners, to recipes like Grandma’s Strawberry Rhubarb Jam…which was the best jam I have ever tasted. It’s almost as if the wisdom and knowledge of the prior generation has been entrusted to the next generation to pass on to the future generations. Our grandparents and great grandparents have given us the best that was in them, in the hope that through us, they might live on. It is almost a sacred trust.

Since the time of these pictures, the babies have reached the age of 16, and Grandma has since passed away. Her words, stories, wisdom, knowledge, and especially her love continue to live on in my memory. She was a very special lady, and I only wish my grandchildren could have known her…not just have been in a picture with her. She lived so much of the history they only know from books, and she could have taught them so much. Unfortunately, the miles that separated us from her, made any real relationship with her impossible during their early years, and before they were old enough to remember her much, she was gone. She passed away on March 28, 1998, just 2 years and one month after the birth of those babies. I just hope that the things she taught her son, my father-in-law, who taught his son, my husband, can be remembered by his children, my daughters, to pass on to their children, my grandchildren, and to their children, and their children, and on into the generations beyond.

With the upcoming release of the 3D version of the movie Titanic, discussion in our office turned to the passengers on that fateful voyage. My boss, Jim and his wife, Julie found out that there was a couple on board the Titanic named Charles Emil Henry Stengel who was traveling with his wife Annie May. I have been researching both my family tree, and theirs, so I told them I would check into it. Unfortunately, so far, I haven’t found the connection in their family that I am fairly certain exists, but I will keep looking for it. As I was looking for the name of those passengers, however, I found that there was a man named William Augustus Spencer, who was traveling with his wife Marie Eugenie. It has been my experience in my years of research, that most of people with the last name of Spencer are related, so I began researching William Augustus Spencer.

He was pretty simple to find, as he became famous when he died during the Titanic disaster. Of course, finding him doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to connect him to me. The good news is that the Spencer family is one of the few who kept extensive records. I followed the line backwards through names I had never heard of before, until I finally came to one I knew quite well…Gerard Spencer who married Alice Whitebread. To get to that connection, I had to go back to the 1500’s. Then moving to my own tree, and starting at Gerard, I followed the correct children to get back to William Augustus Spencer. After that, I requested a relationship connection between William and myself. I found out that William Augustus Spencer is my 7th cousin 3 times removed. I know that relationship seems very distant, and I suppose most would consider it so, but when you consider that Princess Diana was my 18th cousin, I guess 7th isn’t so far after all.

William was married as I said, but they had no children, so sadly his line ended on that tragic day at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean when the RMS Titanic met her fate. He was 57 years old. His wife Marie Eugenie died just 6 months later in Paris. She was only 46 years old. Strangely, I have found several survivors who died a short time after the Titanic sank. The causes of death have varied and really cannot be linked to the sinking of the Titanic, but I still find it strange. I don’t know what Marie’s cause of death was, but at 45 years of age, it seems strange to me…almost like she died of a broken heart.

William Augustus Spencer’s estate was valued at $2,218,650 of which $1,273,071 went to Marie and the remainder to his nephew and his sister, so Marie was not destitute. But money cannot buy happiness, as we all know, and it certainly couldn’t extend her short life. Their story is one that I find interesting, and even strange to think that one of my family members perished on that tragic day…that seemed so far removed from my family a mere 2 days ago. But, I also find it very sad to think that two lives were…ended that day. One just took 6 more months to complete the ending process.

Years ago…September of 1976 to be exact, Bob and I went to Yakima, Washington to visit his great grandmother. While we were there, Great Grandma showed me a copy of a family tree, in the form of a real tree. As we looked it over, I noticed that Bob’s great great great grandmother’s last name was Spencer..the same as my maiden name. Susan Frances Spencer married William Elkins Cheshire on January 31, 1847, and their daughter Sarah Jane Cheshire married Joseph Leonidas Knox on March 4, 1875, and their son Edgar Allen Knox married Nellie Elizabeth DeGood (the grandmother who was showing me the tree) on December 25, 1907, producing Robert Leonidas Knox who married Nettie Landis Noyes, producing Joann Eleanor Knox who married Walter Andrew Schulenberg, producing Robert Walter Schulenberg, who married me on March 1, 1975.

The only clue I have as to what Susan Frances Spencer might have looked like is her daughter Sarah Jane Cheshire Knox, shown here. I know that Susan married William Cheshire, and that her life was rather short. She was born January 30, 1830, in Jefferson City, Tennessee, and died at the age of 46 years, on May 26, 1876 in Caldwell, Missouri…just over 100 years before I would find out about her, and begin a quest to find out more about her, that would span 36 years to date.

The Spencer family, or at least the branch I come from kept extensive, detailed records, so I never dreamed I would have so much trouble locating a Spencer or their ancestors, but with Susan Frances Spencer and her ancestors, that has not been the case. The trail to find out more always seems to turn very cold right at Susan, and I am left with questions. Who was Susan Frances Spencer Cheshire? How did she die? Who were her parents?

Susan married very young. She was only 17 years and 1 day on her wedding day. Hers was a marriage that would only last 29 years, and would produce 10 children between 1847 and 1867. She did not die in child birth, so what happened. Was there some epidemic in Missouri in 1876? It’s possible since there was a Yellow Fever Epidemic in Georgia in 1876, but I can’t find anything saying that it spread to Missouri. Another dead end!!

I have to wonder if I will ever know if she was related to me. I suspect that she was, because most of the Spencer families seem to come from one branch or another of the same set of grandparents back in England. I would also like to know if back in Bob’s family history somewhere, we will find that he too, is related to the current royal family in England.

I have been researching our family history, and recently I came across a site called Find A Grave. I know that seems odd, but it has been quite exciting to me. I have found the graves of several of my grandparents and great grandparents, and great great grandparents, etc. These are people I have never met, of course, such as my grandpa’s dad, Cornelius George Byer, who died in 1930, my grandmother’s mother, Estella Shaw Pattan, who died in 1959. I have also seen links to many other members of their families, as well as other branches of my family and Bob’s, and I look forward to exploring those links as well.

I also found pictures of many of these grandparents, which I had never seen before. They weren’t all real clear, but it was exciting to see the faces of my ancestors. And some were pretty clear, so I got a very good look. There was some history about some of them too. I felt like I had just found a hidden treasure chest. I knew about the site for a little while, but I hadn’t explored it much. I thought I would need a lot of information on the burial site and dates in order to find a grave, but found that I could search a last name and when I did…well, I was amazed at the treasures I discovered.

I found out that my grandmother who married my grandfather on December 24, 1927, shared her anniversary with her great grandmother who married her great grandfather on December 24, 1872. That anniversary date is also shared by my cousin, Raelynn and her husband on December 24 as well. Sorry, I’m not sure of the year on that one, but maybe this story will bring me that information.

There were also stories that I knew about before, like my great great grandfather who, to me seemed to be eccentric…even in his young years. He served in the Civil War twice. He was also married twice, but forgot to divorce either wife, and after 17 years away from his first family, his son saw him wandering around town and brought him home where he spent his remaining years. I suppose many people would think he was a scoundrel, but I think maybe he experienced an injury that caused amnesia, or that his memory was in some other way compromised. No matter who or what he was, he was my great great grandfather, and that is the way it is.

The history of one’s family is such an interesting thing. We don’t know what factors and events in our background played together to make us the people we are today, but the experiences they had were passed down to the future generations nevertheless. We can’t separate our experiences for the way we raise our own children. Our past affects our future, and the future of our kids. I have found so many things out about my family from this and other sites, and my research has been interesting and exciting. I feel like I know my ancestors a little bit. And that is worth the search.

Sometimes, when I look at some of the pictures of my dad and my Uncle Bill, and think about all their antics, I find that they remind me quite a bit of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. They were always getting into trouble…oh not the kind that was really bad, just the kind that was a little bad. And of course, their favorite thing to do was to go fishing…or anything else that involved the water and no school. They were always trying some new thing…some new invention…or some new gimmick. Just like Mark Twain’s characters.

I can totally see my dad and uncle as two more characters in those novels. They would fit right in. I’m not sure the story lines would even have to be altered…except to add to more kids. Dad and Uncle Bill used to do things like setting off dynamite on Independence Day…not firecrackers…no, that was too small scale…they set off dynamite. Or they might set of dynamite on the top of the gate post…just to see what would happen. Of course, then they had to take out and reset the gate post before their mom got home from town, because she would have tanned their hides for them.

Don’t get me wrong. they had to work hard, as did their sisters, but if there was a way to get out of the work, or to find some shortcut, you can be sure that the brothers were right there. My guess is that as little boys, they were a handful for their mom. I’m quite sure that my grandmother would have done anything for her kids, but I think her boys might have been hard to reign in sometimes. But still, they were loyal to her and mostly helpful.

I guess you would have to say that they were…adventurous, and that is the part of those boys that reminds me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Their adventures are what got them into trouble, and yet, their adventurous spirit is what made you love them in spite of their crazy antics. That is the kind of boys they were. And when Uncle Bill came out here to visit my dad before his passing, you could still see the twinkle in their eyes when they talked about the things they used to do. It was pretty funny. In my mind, I could just see my grandmother, on her way home from town…wondering what her mischievous boys had been up to all day, and what messes she was going to come home to. I’m also quite sure that more often than not, she came home to some mess that needed to be cleaned up…and a couple of boys who needed a good spanking…even if they didn’t mean to make the mess. I can also see her dealing with the dilemma of should I spank them…or just laugh about the whole thing.

Ah, here it comes…the wearin’ of the green, corned beef and cabbage, and green beer for those who like that…Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a day for partying…and pinching for those who forget to wear green. Most people look at Saint Patrick’s Day as just another party day. And I enjoy the pinching games and the corned beef and cabbage, but I’ll leave the green beer for others.

One thing that Saint Patrick’s Day does make me think of, however, is my Irish background. I think most of us have a little Irish background, and some have a lot. You can usually find it by the last names, like Bob’s grandmother, whose name before her marriage was Leary, or my great grandmother, whose maiden name was Shaw. Many of these ancestors really never knew very much of their Irish roots, because their families have been in the United States for centuries. I don’t remember either of these grandmothers ever mentioning Irish roots, or being particularly Irish.

Still, many people whose Irish traditions, or any other traditions common to their countries, have been passed down from generation to generation, feel a deep attachment to the past and to their roots. Anytime you look back at your family history, you can’t help but feel the beginnings of an attachment to a different time and a different place. It’s easy to envision what life might have been like then. Days before cars and planes, when people traveled by horse and buggy. Days when moving to a new country meant leaving your family behind forever…never to see them again.

Travel wasn’t so easy then. And yet brave people like our ancestors, who wanted to have a better life, set out into the unknown. They had no idea what they would find out there, but they set aside their fears and went anyway. They were pioneers, and were it not for them, we would not be where we are today, or have what we have today. They are also the inventors. Someone had to come up with all of the modern conveniences that we have today. They were people with that same pioneer spirit. What would our world be like without those people and people like them. People who carried their traditions into a new world, or people who came to the new world and started traditions of their own.

Much of my background is German and English, but there is some Irish, and the Irish family members that I have had the pleasure of knowing were very much a treasure as valuable as the emerald colored hills of the old country. So I’ll carry on the tradition today. Wearin’ the green, and pinching those who forget, and eating corned beef and cabbage with loved ones. Because, today…everybody is a little bit Irish. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all.

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