Genealogy

As I was going through some old pictures, of some family members who I don’t know, I came across some very old style wedding dresses and veils. The thing I found rather odd is that while the dress seemed overly simple, the veil and especially the head piece were overly elaborate. It almost seemed to me that what cost they didn’t put into the dress, they instead put into the head piece.

When my girls got married, the wedding dress was the biggest part of the wedding planning. The veil carried a close second to that, but the dress was really what you noticed. Pearls and sequines, and satin and lace were the bling of choice. The head piece was floral, but not nearly as big as the ones from years gone by.

I have begun to wonder about the history of wedding attire, so I did a little research on it. I found that in the early 1800’s, Weddings were very simple. The dress was often just their best dress, and believe it or not, was often black, because that best dress also doubled as a funeral dress. The other thing about that dress was that it was not kept in pristeen condition, but rather, it went back to normal use right after the wedding.

The white wedding dress was not the normal attire until 1840, when the newly crowned Queen Victoria of Great Britain wed Prince Albert. Unlike the monarch before her, Victoria chose to be married in a splendid, white satin gown. In reaction, young women in England and America, fascinated by the newly married queen’s style, immediately began insisting on white wedding dresses of their own. A new style was born. Our fascination with royalty seems to affect style quite often. Personally, I like this style change, because I think a woman looks beautiful in a white wedding dress. Of course, I have also seen beautiful brides in other colors or in embellished white dresses too. I’m sure the joy of the day plays a huge part in the beauty of the bride.

The symbolism of the bridal veil is as varied as the culture it comes from, ranging from protection from wind and sun, to warding off evil spirits. The most common is to symbolize modesty and purity, indicating that only virgins should wear them, but that is probably not followed much these days. The one I like best is that the veil is lifted by the husband to symbolize his acceptance of his bride…like accepting a gift. He unwraps his bride as he takes her as his own. Of course, with women’s lib came equal rights, so many women lift their own veil to symbolize their equality. As for me, I personally like the idea of the groom unwrapping his bride like a gift, for that is really what she is to him, as he is to her. The gift of love.

Today is election day, and while I hope everyone will get out there and vote, this is not going to be a political push blog, but rather a way of looking back on our family’s past. Most of us have a politician or two in our history, and probably even a president or two in our past. Our family is no different. I have long been told by Bob’s grandmother that Bob is related to President James K Polk. I wasn’t sure at first how that relationship ran, but then she told me that his middle name was Knox, which was her married name. So in tracing the line, I have found that James K Polk is Bob’s second cousin 5 times removed. It’s funny how close some of those relationships seem.

The Knox side of Bob’s family is also related to President Andrew Jackson. This relationship is a little more distant, in that it is by marriage. Andrew Jackson is the husband of the aunt of the wife of Bob’s first cousin 6 times removed. Now that one is a mouthful, and if your aren’t too sure just exactly how that whole relationship works, don’t worry, because you are not alone. That one is enough to throw anyone who isn’t able to look at it on a family history timeline.

Through Bob’s family on the Knox side, I have also found that we are shirttail relation to George HW Bush, and of course, George W Bush, but it would take me a while to break down the exact relationship there for you. Suffice it to say, that while I am very happy to be related to them, as most of you would be able to guess, we were, nevertheless, not invited to the White House for Christmas, because I’m quite sure that they have no idea who I am, much less that we are distantly related. That is a fact that I find to be a bit of a bummer, since I would love to spend just one Christmas at the White House. Can you just imagine!!

I’m quite sure there are other presidents, as well as other politicians, in our family tree, but so far I have not located them. What I have realized, however, is that some families tend to have politics running through their veins. That definitely appears to be the case in Bob’s family, or at least the Knox side of it. So, what about you? Do you have a president or two hiding in the woodwork of your family history?

The USCGC Spencer (WMEC-905) is a U S Coast Guard medium endurance cutter. It was named after my 5th cousin 5 times removed, John Canfield Spencer. He was born January 8, 1788 in Hudson, New York, and died May 18, 1855 in Albany, New York. During the War of 1812, he served in the U S Army where he was appointed the brigade judge advocate general for the northern frontier. John was the 17th Secretary of War from October 12, 1841 to March 4, 1843 and the 16th Secretary of the Treasurer from March 8, 1843 to May 2, 1844, under President John Tyler. As one of few northerners in an administration dominated by southern interests, John found it was becoming increasingly difficult to serve in his cabinet post, so he resigned as Treasury Secretary in May of 1844.

WMEC-905 is the third cutter to serve the United States bearing the name “Spencer”. The history of Spencer started in 1843 when the original Spencer was commissioned to serve in the Revenue Cutter Service. An Iron hulled steamer, she served as a lightship off Hampton Roads, Virginia until 1848. The second cutter to carry the name Spencer was hull number W-36, commissioned in 1937. At a length of 327 feet, she first started service as a search and rescue unit patrolling Alaska’s fishing grounds. After the United States entered WWII, the Coast Guard temporarily became part of the US Navy. Spencer saw significant combat action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. In the “Battle of the Atlantic”,  Spencer acted as a convoy escort and hunted German submarines, sinking the U-225 and the U-175 in 1944. In late 1944, Spencer reported to the Navy’s Seventh (Pacific) Fleet as a Communications Command Ship. There she was credited with taking part in numerous amphibious invasions including Luzon and Palawan in the Philippines.

After the war, Spencer returned to her Coast Guard duties serving at an Atlantic Ocean Station. Here she provided navigational assistance for the fledgling trans-Atlantic air industry and more importantly, acted as a search and rescue platform for both airplanes and ships. In January 1969, Spencer returned to combat duty off the Coast of Vietnam. For ten months, she provided surveillance to prevent troops and supplies from getting into South Vietnam. In November 1969, Spencer returned to the United States to continue her peace time mission of ocean station keeping. The second Spencer served the nation for more then 37 years and when decommissioned in 1974, she was the most decorated cutter in the Coast Guard’s fleet.

The Spencer of today was commissioned into service on 28th of June 1986. She is credited for confiscating over 46,000 pounds of marijuana and 8800 pounds of cocaine. In 1991 she towed a disabled U.S. Navy frigate, twice her size, to safety, and participated in the search for a missing Air National Guard paratrooper during the “Perfect Storm”. In early 1996, she responded to the Alas Nacionales plane crash off the coastal waters of the Dominican Republic in which 189 people were killed. When the fishing vessel Lady of Grace became disabled during a severe storm in November 1997, Spencer was there to save the crew and tow the vessel to safety. In 1999, Spencer was the on-scene commander for the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 off Nantucket, controlling both U S Navy and Coast Guard assets in search and recovery efforts. In 2005, Spencer was an initial responder during Hurricane Katrina.


I would like to thank TxHwy105 and Len Eagleburger on Ancestry.com for providing the Spencer historical information and the US Coast Guard site for photos of the Spencer.

It’s easy to see how much or how little a person has changed, when you know them well. When you watch someone grow up and see them every day, you see the changes as they grow, but, it is harder to picture an older person as a young person. Our memory of them is only after their features have aged. Then we find a picture of them as a child, and we can see the features that have stayed the same, and the ones that have changed. It can be very surprising to find that not so much has really changed.

When I came across these pictures of Bob’s great grandfather and these of my second cousin, Ted, I was amazed at the fact that I was able to tell that the younger versions were indeed them. It took me by surprise, especially with Ted, who I see just about every week. Yes, I know what he looks like now, but even though Ted is my second cousin, I was not aware of that fact until about 20 years ago, when our daughters were bowling together, so the thought of knowing what he looked like as a child never occurred to me. Then, as I was going through some of my mom’s old picture a few weeks ago, I came across this picture. It was so absolutely clear that this was my cousin Ted.

With Bob’s grandfather, I think it might be even more surprising, in that I never knew him well. In fact, I only met him on that one visit, about three months before he passed away. And yet, I could easily tell that this little boy was indeed Bob’s great grandfather. The jawline and the eyes, and even the way he held his head gave it away. I guess you never really change that much, even though we like to think we do through the years.

I often like to think about what these people might have been like as young children. That is how they would normally change the most. Of course, different times and different generations would have produced very different people, as children too. The times were very different when Bob’s grandfather was young, as compared to when my cousin Ted was young. Still, not so much has changed in the way children act and play, when they are little anyway. The main change I see, is the toys they play with. Computers would have been viewed as almost alien in Bob’s grandfather’s childhood, and we would laugh at their toys too, because much has changed in our world, but I don’t think people have really change all that much.

Daughters-in-law come in many forms. Some can be difficult to get along with, and some can be simply impossible to get along with. However, some can be sweet and special, and easy to get along with. Of course, that works both ways. Mothers-in-law have been notorious to sticking their noses in where they don’t belong, or at least many have been given that bad rap in the past, whether they were really like that or not.  But when the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is a good one, it can be very rewarding to all concerned. If they will allow themselves to get along, they might just find that their mother-in-law, or daughter-in-law can be very helpful, now and for years to come.

I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that in years past, there was less discord between in-laws, be they mothers, fathers, daughters, or sons. Bob’s great grandmother seemed to have a very pleasant relationship with with her daughters-in-law. While they didn’t always live near each other, they did for a time, and the way I understand things, they enjoyed spending time together.

I think that relationships with the in-laws, are to a very large degree about working things out together. It is about each person being understanding of the feelings of the other person. People have good and bad days, and with understanding, and acceptance, people can get along. That is the only way those relationships can work. I’m sure that through the years there were mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships that were horrible, because that is the way things go in this world, but I truly think that the relationship between Bob’s great grandmother and her daughters-in-law, was a very good one. The little bit of time that I had the pleasure of knowing Great Grandma Knox, Grandma Knox, and Aunt Helen, I can honestly say that these women got along famously. Great Grandma Knox made several trips to visit her daughter-in-law, Bob’s grandma with her other daughter-in-law, Bob’s Aunt Helen, and his Uncle Frank. They enjoyed each other’s company, because they chose to not only get along, but to like each other.

You can’t research your family history without reaching the conclusion at some point that each of us is an amazing mixture of different heritages, cultures, and nationalities. The names that have combined to bring us to the point of our place in history, come from all walks of life, and from many different countries. After centuries of marriages, the bloodline changes to the point of becoming almost unrecognizable. If good records are not kept, it can get to the point of not being able to trace the family history at all. I have personally come up against parts of my family history where I am at a dead end, and all I can do is hope that somewhere along the way, someone had some information that they will input into their history, so I can continue on with my line.

When I think about the different nationalities that have come together to bring about the person who is me, I am in awe of how it can all mix and still keep some semblance of who the original people were. Of course, there is a definite loss of the cultures, languages, and homelands of the prior generations, but the bloodline doesn’t really lose its history, it just becomes somewhat like muddy waters. You can’t easily see all the details of each part of what makes up the whole, but you know that it is there…somewhere.

I find it so interesting to look at all of my ancestors. There were some amazing characters in my history. Famous names mingle with not so famous names throughout my history, and it makes me wonder how these different people ever got together in the first place, but then most people aren’t famous until later in life. Some are born into it, but many achieve greatness through the course of their life, and many live their entire lives with their greatness known only to their lives ones and close friends.

I believe that no matter who we are or where we come from, whether we are famous or not, we are an amazing mixture of all that is in our ancestry. No matter what country we now live in, most of us have come from many nations to arrive where we are. It is what makes us who we are, and it is why each of us is unique. Even siblings can take more of their line from opposite parents and thereby come more along the lines of that parent than the other. It is an amazing mixture.

My grandmother’s brother on my mom’s side, has been an interesting character to me. I always liked Great Uncle Bill, and his wife, Great Aunt Stella, but I can’t say that I always knew him very well. Recently as I have been researching my family’s history, I have again come across Great Uncle Bill, both in pictures and in stories. I found a cousin named Marlene, who had told a story about a time in Great Uncle Bill and Great Aunt Stella’s life when they lived in Kemmerer, Wyoming. Great Uncle Bill had worked for the Railroad for a number of years, and while living in Kemmerer, the railroad provided them with a beautiful place outside of town. It was a two story house and a bunk house and a little house just for the railroad car that they used every day. The bunkhouse served a dual purpose, becoming a dance hall when it was time to do Great Uncle Bill’s favorite passtime, which is dancing, and more specifically square dancing. They loved holding those dances, and usually had more than a dozen couples in attendance.

Marlene tells about the summer she and her siblings got to spend with Great Uncle Bill and Great Aunt Stella. She painted a picture of Great Aunt Stella cooking on the old wood cook stove the house had. For one of the dances, Marlene and her siblings got to help bake cupcakes for the dance in that old wood cook stove. She tells me that Great Aunt Stella could make that cook stove create the most wonderful things to eat. The cupcakes were frosted with green and blue frosting, which were met with mixed feelings at the dance…probably because of the blue and green lips they would create.

Great Uncle Bill also loved to play the fiddle and was an excellent caller for the square dances. Marlene always had such a great time, because she had learned to square dance, and was better than most of the adults. It must have been great fun to be able to keep up with the adults at a real square dance. And Great Uncle Bill could really play the fiddle. It was his passion. He had won many competitions and was a grand champion, several times over.

After emailing back and forth and reading the story Marlene posted on Ancestry.com, I feel like I now know my Great Uncle Bill and my Great Aunt Stella better. Great Uncle Bill passed away in December, 2005, and Great Aunt Stella passed away in December, 2009. Today, his birthday, Great Uncle Bill would have been 96 years old. I can’t help but think about how sad it is that the fiddle is now silenced, the dances over, but then, that is just on this earth. I’m sure there is room in Heaven for a dancing fiddle player like my Great Uncle Bill and his favorite partner, Stella.

In researching my family history, I have seen many names change as people misspell them, Americanize them, or they change because part of the name is no longer important or does not exactly apply. The Spencer name has taken many twists and turns, going from being an occupational name, when it was Despencer, to a French sounding version when it was Le deSpencer, to the name we all now recognize following the marriage of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles in London on July 29, 1981. One of the most interesting things I found with the Spencer name is when it was hyphenated, and for some reason, many people did not realize that it was a hyphenated name. Many people think that Winston Spencer Churchill’s last name was Churchill, but that is really not the case. His name really was Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

In 1700, following the 1698 death of his first wife, Arabella Cavendish, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland married his second wife, Anne Churchill, who was the daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. This was an important alliance for Sunderland and for his descendants. Through it, he was introduced to political life and later the dukedom of Marlborough came to the Spencers. It would seem that this alliance was important enough to keep the Churchill name in the marriage, because their children also carried the name originally.

The Spencer family divided into two branches at this point. The older children kept the Spencer-Churchill, and later Churchill name in many cases, and the younger children continued on with the Spencer name. From the Spencer-Churchill branch, came Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, who went by Winston Churchill as often as he went by Winston Spencer Churchill. I have not really found any evidence that he personally went by Winston Spencer-Churchill, although there are some documents about him that correctly list his name that way.

Princess Diana’s line came from the youngest son of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, whose name was John Spencer. This branch of the family took the correct name, which was Spencer, without the hyphenated addition of the  Churchill name, no matter how important the alliance of the two families was at the time of their joining. In researching the lines of a family, the thing that makes it the most difficult is the altering of the original names, because it makes it difficult to be sure we are following the lines correctly

Being widowed is quite likely the most devastating thing that can happen in a married person’s life. The immediate feeling is “how can I go on” or “I don’t want to go on” or something similar, and yet, life does go on, whether we like it or not. The spouse who has gone home wouldn’t want the surviving spouse to quit. They want them to continue to live a full life. They must go one living until their own time comes, but how full that life is…well, that is up to the surviving spouse. I have looked through pictures of my grandmother on trips taken after Grandpa passed away, and while I know that she missed Grandpa terribly, Grandma knew that he would want her to go on living life to the fullest.

In many ways, it reminds me of the latest version of “The Titanic” in which Rose, after losing Jack, went on to do all the things he had inspired her to go out and do. Looking at my grandmother walking along the Gulf of Mexico, or exploring the castles of Ireland, tells a tale of survival. She went on to do some of the things that Grandpa would have been so thrilled to see her do. I have to wonder what was on her mind as she took some of these trips. I suspect that it was somewhat bittersweet, because while it was exciting to see these places, it would have been sad to think that her beloved husband didn’t get to experience it with her. I’m sure she also felt like he was with her in spirit, but that really is not the same.

While the years following being widowed can seem long and lonely, they often aren’t many, and they fly by. My grandmother followed my grandfather to Heaven in 1988, just 8 years after Grandpa went home. I’m sure they are happily discussing her adventures during the time they were apart, and knowing my grandpa, I’m also sure his eyes sparkle when she tells him of that time, although, nothing could possibly compare to what they are experiencing now. In fact, come to think of it, they probably haven’t even given Grandma’s adventures a single thought since she arrived.

I never got the chance to get to know my grandmother, my dad’s mom, but I have heard so many great things about her. She was such a strong woman, running a farm, much of the time with just the help of her children, and carrying on the day to day workload that it takes to run a family and get all the kids headed out for school and such. She was not a big woman, as the size of this dress told me, and yet, she has always seemed larger in my mind, because of her capabilities. The dress shows that she was maybe a little taller than I am, and slender. I had noticed that too, in other pictures, but she also had to have been very strong, to carry the load of the work and home responsibilities that she did. I’m sure it was the size of the work that she did, and not the size of the woman, that made me think she had to have been a bigger woman that she really was.

My grandmother’s parents immigrated to the Unite States from Germany in the years before she was born. I’m sure that many of the traditions for Germany came along with them too, and I know that my dad’s grandma spoke much German or a combination of English and German to my dad when he was little, including “So, du bist a ocha man” which would translate to “So, now you are a big man” when he fell after rocking back too far in his chair at the kitchen table. I have to wonder what other traditions were passed from parents to daughter.

One thing that I’m sure was passed along was a good work ethic. My grandmother was a very hard working woman, who was really nothing like the frilly, lacey wedding dress that she wore on her wedding day. The dress, while beautiful, was soon replaced by the everyday work dresses of a woman with a pioneer spirit and the strength to do what needed to be done to make a living on a farm.  Of course, I suppose there are very few of us who would wear clothing during our marriage that would be anything similar to the gown we would choose to wear for our wedding day. Still, I think that the gown we choose for our wedding day does depict the type of woman we are…at least at the time. People change as they mature, and life events play a huge part in that change. I’m sure that my grandmother rose to the occasions in her life to become the strong woman I have heard about all my life.

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