As we have traveled through six states in ten days, we have not only been connecting with family members, previously known and those previously unknown to us, but we have been somewhat following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our travels have taken us to several of the places that our ancestors lived and died. Some graves have been easy to find, and some not so much. I think it is sad that more of the records have not been put into sites like findagrave.com, and I think I will set myself to the task of putting as many in as I can, so that more of my family members can find the graves of their ancestors, should they decide they would like to do that. The graves that had been listed and included the plot and block numbers, were so easy to find. Such was the case with my dad’s parents’ graves. We thought it was going to be hard to find them, even though Mom thought she knew where they were, and was actually very close, but in the end, Find A Grave told us exactly where it was, and we found it easily.
Our trek then took us to Webster City, Iowa, where my great great grandfather, Allen Spenser was buried. We aren’t sure why his stone spells Spencer with “s” or if that was simply an error that was made when the stone was placed, but it was definitely the wrong spelling, since his wife, Lydia’s stone in Oklahoma is spelled Spencer. This grave was a surprising find in that while I had seen a picture of the stone, from when my Uncle Bill made the trip, I had no block or plot number. We started into the cemetery, and I remembered that the picture showed a building in the background. I saw a building and a hillside, and decided to take a little walk. I didn’t have to go very far before I found what I was looking for, Allen Spenser’s grave. The odd thing was that while the stone was standing up when Uncle Bill was there, it was laying down when I was there, and while the picture taken by someone else years earlier had an old house in it, Uncle Bill’s picture had none. Think what you would like, I personally think it was God’s guiding that found that grave at the first place we stopped to look.
The next memorial we found was the United Airlines Flight 232 Crash Memorial, and while it was not a grave, I must say it was beautiful. My Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in that crash, and since we were going right by there, I wanted to stop at the memorial the people of Sioux City put up in honor of the victims and the brave people who saved as many lives as possible. That memorial had a deep impact on me. Aunt Gladys’ tragic death was something that I felt deeply, because I had always loved her very much. To find a place that was dedicated to her memory was so heartwarming. It felt like a place of peace and reverence. No, the victims aren’t buried there, but they are remembered there, and it is a beautiful, well maintained place to remember them…and one I’ll never forget.
We stopped in Gordon, Nebraska and were again guided by Mom’s memory and a picture of the stone. Before long, we were at my mom’s grandfather, Cornelius George Byer’s grave. The record I had also showed his dad buried there in Gordon, but we could not find that one, even with the directory, so the records I had found could be wrong. I really wished that we could have found that one too, because it would have cleared up some possible errors in the spelling of the Byer name too, but I guess that one will be a story for another day and another trek.
Not every life is of a common type. Once in a while, circumstances come about that create a living situation or way of life that is very different, and for most of us, one that seems exotic in many ways. Such is the case my Great Great Uncle William Jonathan Davis, who married my Great Great Aunt Theresa Elizabeth Spencer on September 29, 1883 in Webster City, Iowa. Their married life was of the much more normal type. They lived several places, finally settling on a ranch near Rushville, Nebraska, where they raised their nine children. That kind of life seems very normal, and it was, but William’s childhood was far from what most of us would consider normal.
William Jonathan Davis was born on June 5, 1856 in Llanduno, Wales. His mother Catherine Aldrich Davis died when he was two weeks old. I’m sure that over the years he felt a bit of sadness over the loss of the mother he never knew, but not as much as his older brother Charles Henry, who was a year or so older than William.
When William was seven years old, his father William Jonathan Davis Sr also passed away, leaving the two boys orphaned. Thankfully they had an uncle, Walter Davis who owned a fleet of merchant ships. He took the two boys with him on a freighter and their home was the high seas for the next eleven years. Now to a couple of little boys, I’m sure the high seas felt like quite an adventure, and life on a ship probably kept their imaginations working overtime, thus alleviating at least some of the sadness over their father’s death, by keeping them very busy. My guess is that over time, they became some of the best deck hands their Uncle Walter ever had, and they loved him dearly…so much so, in fact that William named his first son, Walter, after the uncle who saved their lives, and gave them hope for the future again.
In 1874, his uncle’s ship was delivering cargo to New York City, and Charles and William decided that it was time for them to go out on their own. After saying good bye to their uncle, the boys stayed in New York City, and then in 1875 moved to Chicago, Illinois. William got a job with the North-Western Railway Company, and was later transferred to Kamrar, Iowa as the Section Boss. It was there that he would meet the love of his life, my Great Great Aunt Theresa, or Tessie as she was lovingly nicknamed. The rest, as they say is history, as they lived happily ever after. Quite a change of lifestyle for a boy raised on the high seas.