Genealogy

I was talking to my mom about this picture, and it reminded her of when her brother, Larry started Kindergarten. I’m not sure how the teacher knew about my mom as far as the kids went, because she is 2 years younger than my Uncle Larry, but when Grandma took Larry in for his first day, the teacher asked why his twin wasn’t starting school with him. When the teacher  asked that,  Grandma answered by saying, “Twin??” When the teacher said that she meant my mom, Grandma was very surprised, as I’m sure most of us would be. She hadn’t noticed that there was a huge similarity in their looks, although they obviously look like sister and brother, and both were blonds. Of course, Grandma told her that my mom is two years younger than Uncle Larry, and so she wouldn’t be starting school yet. The teacher was very surprised, and I’m certain my grandmother got a kick out of that for days.

It’s funny how people can see things differently than they are, and I’m sure Grandma was very surprised to think that someone thought that my 3 year old mom was the same age as her 5 year old brother. I have had this same thing happen to me with my grandchildren, Chris and Shai, who were just one day apart, but really didn’t look alike at all, since they are cousins, but people still thought they were twins. I guess it is all a matter of perspective. It’s how each person sees a situation or a person. It can be something that really surprises you.

If you knew my mom and her brothers, you would know that in many ways they were very much alike. Mom being in the middle of two brothers was highly influenced by them. She was also very protective of them, and they of her. And if one got into trouble, it was quite likely that the other two were involved or at least, supportive of the others in whatever trouble was going on…an alliance that sometimes got them in trouble, as my mom found out when she tried to protect Uncle Larry from her mom when she was giving him a spanking. Needless to say, mom got a spanking too. I think when it came to their mom, my mom knew that she would have to let her brothers deal with that on their own after that. Maybe that alliance is what caused that teacher to think mom and Uncle Larry were twins in the first place, in addition to the similarities in looks. Nevertheless, it was a real surprise to my grandmother.

For many years I have been trying to find out if Susan Frances Spencer, who is Bob’s 3rd great grandmother, has a connection to my own Spencer family ancestry. It has been a struggle to say the least. I originally found out about Susan while Bob and I were visiting his great grandmother in September of 1976 in Yakima, Washington. Susan had stayed on my mind off and on through the years, and when I began researching our family history, I found that no information was available beyond Susan on Ancestry.com. Recently, as I was going through some old papers…looking for pictures, of course…I came across an old piece of paper where I had written the known information at the time of our visit to Yakima, in 1976. I was pleasantly surprised to find the names of Susan’s parents.

Within Ancestry.com, one tiny bit of information can open a whole new world of information. I began to trace her family back, and the further back I got, the more familiar the names began to sound. I started getting excited. I had tried to trace children of my great uncles down to try to connect to Susan that way, but hadn’t had much success. Now that information coming out started to mean something to me. As I continued the connections of Bob’s side of the family, I began to think that I was very close. Finally a name surfaced that I knew I had in my family tree…Gerard Spencer. As it turns out, Gerard, who is my 9th great grandfather, is also Bob’s 11th great grandfather. My family descends from Gerard’s son Michael, and Bob’s family descends from Gerard’s son, Thomas. So what does this information mean to me? Well, it means that Bob and I are actually cousins. Bob is my 10th cousin twice removed to be exact. Strange isn’t it? I suppose that might be something that could have bothered me 38 years ago, but since we have been married over 37 years now, I’m not going to let it upset me much.

One thing that Bob’s family might find interesting, however, is that since I can trace my line back to Princess Diana, and they are in that same lineage, theirs can also be traced back to Princess Diana. Princess Diana is my 18th cousin. Since Bob and I share a grandfather, Gerard, and Gerard is my 9th great grandfather, and Bob’s 11th great grandfather, that should make Princess Diana’s 20th cousin. Now that…is amazing!!

Some old pictures are classics, like a picture of your grandfather with only part of the nine kids he and your grandmother had. It’s strange to see Grandpa so young, and if your parent is in the picture, like mine is, seeing your mom or dad that young is really odd, unless you have seen a lot of those really old pictures, which I had not. Their children, Evelyn, Virginia, Delores, Larry, Collene, and Wayne (the baby being held by Evelyn), born in that order, surround their Dad. It looks to me like they were on one of their many outings, most likely rock hunting, which was a favorite pass time for the whole family, although Aunt Evelyn doesn’t looks so happy…probably because, Uncle Wayne is crying, or so it looks to me.

It must have been taken in the Fall or Spring, because everyone is wearing coats. I was looking at my mom, who is the little girl Grandpa has his hand on, and I thought it was interesting that her hat looked like some worn by little immigrant girls on the Titanic. That interests me, because my grandfather’s dad immigrated from Russia, and Mom reminds me of that era, but I could be wrong on that thought. Of course, my grandfather’s mom was born in the United States, and Great Grandpa Byer was gone by the time my mom was born, so any similarity is probably accidental. I wish I could have known him.

I think it is interesting that the children are recognizable to me, even my mom, who is actually looking down a bit. There is just enough of her face for me to tell without a doubt that it is my mom. We all think that children change so much from the time they are little to the time they are grown, but the more I look at pictures, the more I realize that it isn’t so. Those little faces are smaller, but the features are the same, and while some might look quite a bit different, many really don’t.

Bob’s great grandmother was a truly amazing woman. She lived to be 97 years young…and she lived at home. She just never seemed to age. She loved them, and she was patient with them. She didn’t mind their play, and in fact, she loved it, noise, mess, and all. She loved their laughter, and she laughed with them. Many older people get grouchy and don’t like noise, but she loved it when kids were involved.

I first met Great Grandma Knox when she traveled from her home in Yakima, Washington to Casper, Wyoming with he husband Edgar, her son Frank and his wife Helen. She was such a sweet woman. I enjoyed talking with her immensely, so I can totally understand why the kids all loved being with her. She was blessed enough to spend time with 4 generations of her offspring, from her children to her great great grandchildren…or was it her offspring that was blessed. I tend to think the latter, because Grandma Knox just simply had a way with kids.

When Bob and I went up to visit her in September of 1976, just a month after Grandpa passed away, she still had a gentleness of spirit, and the ability to enjoy her great great grandchildren, my daughters, Corrie and Amy. A number of years later, she would again travel to Casper to see the remainder of the grandchildren born during her lifetime. The kids had such a great time. Again,I marvelled at how she took such great pleasure in the laughter and play of her great great grandchildren, just as she had her children and grandchildren. The kids giggled and played, running around the house, like they always did when they were together, and instead of seeming annoyed, Grandma Knox seemed delighted. I suppose that is the reason the kids were still smiling in the pictures we took. It was because she had a way with kids and they truly loved her.

Many people think that the elderly have nothing left to give to this world. They are pretty much done, and maybe even waiting to die, right? I couldn’t disagree more. I have been a caregiver since 2005, and while there have been challenges and sadness, the overall experience has been very rewarding. While there have been times when they are irritable, or even downright grouchy, I have found that if you will just walk a mile in their shoes, you will walk away with a new understanding of what they are going through and why they might have mood swings.

I have also found that if you take the time to listen to things they have to say, you can learn a lot about their lives while you are caring for them. These people have live in times that we have no idea about, and listening can teach you a lot about the past…a past that is your heritage. So many of my stories have come from just such talks about days gone by, and I will be forever grateful for having been given the opportunity to hear about it. All too soon, these people could be gone, and with them go all the stories they have stored in their heads. If you have that opportunity, I strongly recommend you have a talk with your parents or other aging loved one so that you can see what it would have been like to walk in their shoes.

Last night and this morning, I found out what it really is like to walk a mile in their shoes, when I experienced a headache that just would not go away, and would not allow me to even think much. My neck was out of place, and after my Chiropractic appointment, I felt much better. Still, it was an eye opener for me, because the one thing a caregiver can’t do, is feel the pain of their patient. For days now, I have been and probably will continue to try to minimize the back pain my mother-in-law feels in an effort to get her to continue to walk. She experiences pain in the low back and would love to get out of walking, which is something I can’t allow, hence the need to minimise. I doubt if she will believe me when I say the it is not so bad, but with Alzheimer’s disease, she will also not remember it later….a very good thing. Nevertheless, I will do whatever I can to minimize it, because after the horrible headache I had last night, I can honestly say that I have walked a mile, or maybe two, in their shoes.

There are ancestors in my family tree whose very name makes me want to know more about. Some of these people have a lot of factual data associated with them, and one little blurb about who they really are. People like Angeloah Shaw and his wife Mary Sapney Shaw come to mind. I have heard he was a minister, but that is all I can find on him, so I wonder what else he did in life. My mom told me that he used to walk 12 miles to town, stay the night, and walk 12 miles back when they needed supplies. That seems like a long walk back with those supplies. I’m sure he was used to the 12 miles in, and since Bob and I have often walked 8 miles in 2 hours, I can see how he could do that, but we weren’t carrying boxes and bags of supplies either. My guess is that he was a man who was in good shape. Still that is not much to know about your great great great grandfather

Then there is Susan Frances Spencer. She is an ancestor on my husband’s side who’s last name is the same as my maiden name, making me wonder if we are related. Unfortunately, little is known about her, including very little factual data. I would like to know if she and I are related. To my knowledge there is not even a picture of Susan. She has eluded me for 36 years, but I keep looking. All I know of her is that she died 13 days after giving birth to her twin daughters, both of whom also died within 8 months of her death. I would like to know if she is related to the Spencer line from England that I come from, as do most Spencers in the United States, from what I have heard. Still, the Spencer line is usually so well documented, and then there is this girl, who seems to exist only in a few places in the documentation world.

Of course, there are the well known and well documented members of my family tree, which I wish was the majority. So much is known about them, and it is very interesting to look it all over, but for some reason it is the elusive ancestors that seem to intrigue me the most…maybe because they are elusive, I don’t know for sure. I will continue to search around to see what I can fid, hoping that someday someone will know a little more about these mysteries and will finally unlock the door to the whole story.

When I was a kid, I thought that mostly men carried or used guns…probably because I watched too many old Western shows in which the women were portrayed as weak and needing protection. The only women who carried or used guns were looked upon like…well less than womanly…I mean most of those women were outlaws who wore mens pants for Pete’s sake. The only time the women in the Old West movies used a gun was when there was no other choice, and no man around to save her, and even then, she usually lost the fight, unless she was the main star. Needless to say it was probably a pretty warped view of the women of the West on my part.

Of course, now that I am older, I know that this portrayal was very incorrect. The women of the Old West were a tough lot. They might have been looked at by people from back East as less than womanly, but times were changing, and women had to be tough to survive in the Old West. The men who came to settle the West needed women who could work side by side with them and who were tough enough to take care of themselves when the men were away. Only the most determined women were going to be able to make it here. Things have changed some now. There are probably as many women back east that can handle a gun as there are women out west who can. Womem are active in many careers that require them to carry a gun on a regular basis, and be tough enough to go up against the men they must to survive, whether it be in war or law enforcement.

My grandmother was one of those women who was able to handle a gun, and while they never moved as far west as my dad and my aunts did, they did not live in the east either. Wisconsin and Minnesota were wilder places back then, and even in North Dakota in the early 1900’s there was need for a gun. Of course, mostly the guns were used for hunting, but had the need ever arisen, my grandmother would have taken on man or beast to protect her children. She was one tough lady, who worked hard on the farm, and raised her children right, and I am very proud of all she did. I only wish I had been able to know her, but I was only 3 months old when she left us on July 11, 1956. I look forward to getting to know her in Heaven, because I’m sure she will have some stories to tell.

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.

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