Lawrence E. Wells, my Nampie, my mom’s dad, has been on my mind lately. If you read my last post, you’ll understand why.
I have only fleeting, vague memories of him, as he died when I was just a little girl of five.
What I do remember, though hazy, is a grandfather who let us crawl all over him and the couch and who would chase us around his and Nana’s living room. My sister remembers him letting her “fix” his hair.
Through research, I’ve found a complicated, but clearer, picture of this man. He was someone who had trouble keeping a job and who lied about his age and life experiences. He was also someone who obviously was devoted to his wife and child.
Though my memories of him are faint, I have a very clear memory of the day he died, September 24, 1963. We were at our house in Inyokern, and it was evening. I was in the living room, and Mom went to answer the phone in the office down the hall.
The next thing I heard was Mom wailing, her heart absolutely broken at the news that her beloved Daddy had passed away. She was inconsolable. My dad never looked so helpless and lost. This was beyond him to repair.
I was stunned. It was the first time I realized that adults were not the unshakable, all-knowing, in-control beings I imagined them to be. My mom’s reaction, rather than Nampie’s death, rocked my world.
According to his obituary, Nampie had just returned home from the hospital, where he had been treated for a heart attack.
Years later, Mom said that he had died as a result of an auto accident. According to her, Nampie’s chest impacted the steering column, leaving him deeply bruised, and the resulting blood clot later dislodged, causing his heart to stop.
There seems to be some validity to this. The cause of death on the death certificate is “Acute Coronary Infarction.” But, in the line for other significant conditions contributing to death is written “…coronary thrombosis 1961…” A blood clot.
There are several blank lines which would have contained more information, but it seems that Mom’s memory of her dad’s accident as a contributing cause to his death might be a possibility.
What I know for certain, is that my time with him was much, much too short.
A few weeks ago, The Hubs and I drove up to Nevada to pick up some farm-raised beef from my brother and have a little visit with my mom as well.
Mom is cleaning out her house, preparing to sell it and move to a senior home in her town. At 97 (!), she’s tired of doing her own housekeeping and is looking forward to someone else doing the cooking.
On a prior visit, while putting away her clothes, I noticed a wooden box with a wood-burned design on it in her closet. The box was dusty, and it obviously hadn’t been opened in ages. I snuck a peek and found inside dozens of letters from my Nampie to my Nana, my mom’s parents. I quickly closed it, but I didn’t forget about it.
This visit, I asked Mom if I could have the box, since she was cleaning out, and she agreed. She had never read the letters, feeling that it was a bit too close to home. I think she was just a bit afraid of what she might learn about her mom and dad.
On our 9-hour drive back home to Southern California I began to read the letters aloud. It was a gripping view into the heart of my grandfather, but the letters also raised quite a few questions.
The letters begin in 1920, before Nampie (Lawrence) and Nana (Vida) were married. The last letter is in the fall of 1927.
All were written while Lawrence was away from Vida, and later, also away from my mom, Bula, as a little girl.
Lawrence was working at various jobs in around California, including a long stretch in the San Francisco Bay area. I say working rather loosely, as from his letters, he was mostly out of work. Meanwhile back in Los Angeles, Vida had her teacher’s certificate and was teaching Manual Arts, first in Riverside and then in the Los Angles school district.
After they were married, Vida and Lawrence purchased a plot of land on Humphreys Avenue in Los Angeles. According to Mom, there was a garage on the property, and Lawrence and Vida added a little apartment behind the garage to live in while they saved and waited to build a proper house. Vida, and then later Bula, were living in the garage addition while Lawrence was away, mostly living in rooming or boarding houses.
While the letters might not specifically mention conflict, the subject of this blog post, there are certainly instances where conflict is lurking in the background.
But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s start with the first letters, beginning June 1920 through 1921. I’ll save the others for another day.
Lawrence and Vida aren’t married yet; Vida is living at her parents’ home in Los Angeles, and Lawrence is working in the Searles Valley, north of LA, for a mining company. Lawrence is only 19.
…this is a larger camp than I expected. They have a show and everything… it sure does get hot here… I ought to write to my sister (Mabel) but I am a little bit worried that my step mother will get my address and that I do not want her to do… Your friend, Lawrence
Conflict: Lawrence has just driven from Los Angeles to Borosolvay to begin a new job in the mining town. It sounds as if he just finished up his first day at the plant. It’s hot, he mentions having no thoughts in his head, and him being nervous. The conflict is the mention of his step-mother. He had no step-mother! His parents were living apart most of the time, with his father staying in Montana and his mother in Southern California. But, they did not divorce, and therefor, there was no remarriage. If he just was so muddle-headed from the work and the heat as to make such a misstatement, and he was referring to his mother, it still begs the question as to why he didn’t what her to know where he was.
June 24, 1920…I just came home from work… I went to Trona last night to the show. After we got there I went up to the store with a bunch of the boys and on our way to the show they by accident found out how I am and I have not had any peace since. One of the boys punched me in the back and I slipped and sat down on my glasses which finished them up. I am sending them in with this letter. I want you to have them fixed and keep them there as I will be in town one week from Sunday…as ever a true friend, Lawrence E.
Conflict: This one is pretty obvious, to a point. The boys shoved Lawrence for “how I am…” All sorts of possibilities come to mind as to why men would bully another young man. In other letters from family members to Vida, veiled references to “how he is” are also made in reference to him not being able to keep a job. The possibility of a learning disability or ADHD come to mind. Lawrence makes several references in the letters to being unable to write well or to things being too much for him. It’s really rather sad…
The letters from 1920 continue:
June 26 or 28… I received my glasses and your letter all OK… It’s hotter than the Devil up here only 112 degrees in the shade and in some places in the plant where I am working it is 150…
June 30, 1920… My arm is still in a sling… I am going over to Trona this evening to the show… I have got a good chance to come back here to work as they want me very much… I don’t think I will come back here as I would much rather be in Los Angeles where my Very Best Girl is… Your one armed brother, Lawrence E.
Lawrence didn’t return to Boroslvay, and at the start of the 1920 school year, Vida took a teaching job in Riverside, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
Sept. 21, 1920… Dearest Vida… I am going out home this afternoon and have a little talk with mother… did you get the apartment? I don’t suppose that you were so lucky… but one can never tell… I sure hope you did.
And, on a Western Union Telegram sheet in the same envelope, postmarked Los Angeles:
I am leaving on the 2:10 for Los Angeles. Everything is in my favor for work. I will send you some money tomorrow by the Western Union… if you get the apartment you can pay what you wish on it but don’t cut yourself short.
Sept. 23, 1920… I was out home Tuesday and had a little talk with Mother and then we went over to the school and had a talk with dad. I also told her when we were gong to get married but she did not like it because we did not let her know sooner. I would let it go until the 10th of next month but I have already told them when I was going to leave and they have got another man to take my place so we can’t put it off another week on that account. Dad was in favor of us and said that it is best for us to marry now rather than later or when we are older. There were no questions asked as to how we were to manage things so what they don’t know won’t hurt them…
Conflict: This one is easy. Lawrence’s mother, my great-grandmother Theoline, wasn’t in favor of this marriage, now less than two weeks away. I suspect that Lawrence held off telling her until she couldn’t really do much more than voice her displeasure.
Lawrence and Vida married October 3, 1920.
There are no more letters for 1920. They begin again in May 1921. In fact, all the letters from this year were written in May. The first is postmarked May 5, 1921. Vida is now pregnant with my mom, due in August 1921. Lawrence is staying with Vida’s parents and her sister, Dola, in Los Angeles while he looks for work, and he and Vida have an apartment in Riverside.
From a letter postmarked Los Angeles, May 5, 1920:
I don’t know where I am so I put NO MANS LAND oh wife! Dear HONEY, I am not sick as you see but I think I am a little off in my feet so I am sitting down. (HA) Everything is all right so far but I have not found any work… Oh say dear will you fill my fountain pen it is in my blue coat it is almost empty… I sure slept good last night but oh that bed was lonesome without my stove oven even though I was not cold… I did not get a chance to go the church last night as Mother and Dola went to hear Jo play. If I had of known that I could have stayed longer with you but of course I did not know as usual… I expect I will be home some time tomorrow night but if I do not come I will phone you about eight o’clock in the evening. But I hope I can find something tomorrow so I won’t have to worry so much about the future as you know what it is going to cost us before long.
Conflict: The hints are there! Lawrence expresses frustration that his mother- and sister-in-law aren’t forthcoming about things, leaving him purposely in the dark. There is also a hint about the coming baby.
The next envelope, postmarked May 16, included letters from Lawrence, Eva, and Dola.
From Lawrence to Vida:
Hello, KID! How in the Hell are you? It is now (he drew a clock face that reads 4:45) PM but now (another clock face with 5:10) PM. I have been outside talking to Mr. Ab? I don’t know how to spell the rest… He said if I was a member of the railroad brotherhood he could get me a job but I ain’t so I am out of luck… I also went to the LA Gas & Electric Co. but they had not put on any men for about 1one month so I was out of luck again. I went over to the S. P. Shops but they were only taking back the old men… I did not arrive here until 10 o’clock… we had a blow out… and one of the other drivers could not get the tire back on… the driver gave me a cigar long before the tire blew out and I do’t know what he gave it to me for but I guess he must have known…
From Dola to Vida:
Dearest Sis, Just finished a conflab with your “Big Baby” so decided I’d scrawl you a few lines. Yes, we are still alive, but in Agony– just finished a meal– He’s saying “oh-oh-oh. I’m still in agony.” Nuff said-… Frank (Dola’s future husband) has been awfully tired lately: has been working on the “garbage” in the evenings… Went to Santa Ana Canyon… We thought about you folks when we got to Ontario last evening… Love, Dola
From Eva to Vida:
Dear Daughter– Just had a fairlysquare meal, the first since a week ago last Fri. morning. Gaining slowly but as long as I’m on the mend I must not complain… Lawrence says he is in misery since he ate supper– is that a compliment or slam in the mama’s cooking? Guess we all did the meal justice anyway… He has been out to see about work as I suppose he has told you… Papa thinks he might get into some of the big lumber yards… I know you will be relieved when you hear he has work and will be anxious to hear & we’ll let you know as soon as possible so don’t you worry one bit, girlie. Glad you are planning on coming down Fri 27 for it’ll be quite a time to have him gone but we’ll be good as good to him while he is here. I’ll be the best mother to him I can… Lots of love from Mama
Conflict: While Eva seems to genuinely care for Lawrence, Dola’s words appear to be quite cutting. She could have been teasing or joking, but it’s hard to tell. It might have been difficult to share a home with her…
May 18, 1921, Hello Honey, … I am not working yet and it may be about ten days or two weeks but I am almost sure I will have something by they time… there are a number of men out of work…
May 25, 1920, Hello Sweet Mama, Home once more but with no more information that I left with… I am sitting out in the back smoking and writing this and it is a little bit chilly… I have been to about every place that I know of and have heard of but have found nothing. I had my razor strap fixed up and it cost me 75¢ but he done a good job… With lots of love, Lawrence E. Hub. Take good care of yourself and I will see you Friday.
May 29, 1920, Hello Sweetie, how are you? Here it is Friday morning and still no job, but I may find something a little later on. It is raining pretty hard this AM and I have to go to Dr. Beech this AM at 11 o’clock so I won’t have much time to look… I was out looking until nine o’clock last night but did not find anything after all… I sure wish that you could come down but that costs money and we have only $10. 63 left in the bank here. I drew out two the other day and I still have a little more than one left… I don’t mind the week day it is not so lonesome then but what in the hell am I going to do on Sunday? I am glad that it is only one week until you can be with me for a short time as it is getting powerful lonesome for this kid even though he don’t have much time except in the the evening and then I cam completely lost. I can’t read or do anything. I am so restless I don’t know what to do with myself… with lots of love as ever yours, Lawrence E. (Come home!)
Conflict: It’s Lawrence against the world. Poor guy. I really feel for him: Out of work, pregnant, working wife, living with his in-laws who might or might not be happy to have him there.
The next envelope is postmarked Los Angeles, May 31, 1920:
Hello sweetie I GOT A JOB. do you get that. Arthur Rosman got me a job out to Watts in the warehouse. I am so happy that I can hardly write because I hardly know what to say… I will write and tell you all about my job tomorrow night when I get home. I will go now and mail this spec. so you will be sure and get it tomorrow. With lots of love, Lawrence E.
Well, YAY!!! Things look like they are turning around for him, finally.
In the same envelope was a letter to Vida from her mother, Eva:
Dear Daughter– While watching the supper will add a few lines to send along with Lawrence’s letter. This has been a beautiful day. Wash dried fine and ironed 1 sheet, 3 tablecloths, 7 napkins, 62 handkerchiefs, 3 bathroom hand towels, 3 flour sacks… Best of all Lawrence has work & we are so happy he & I just had a hugging jollification as you wasn’t here for him to hug. He is singing and dancing around like a child with a new toy trying to show how happy he is… Love, Mama
This is the last letter from 1921; the next letter in the box was sent in 1924 from Fresno. I sure hope that Lawrence was able to keep this job for a while, as my mom would be born just a few months later in August.
As I mentioned above, I will save the next batch of letters and their story for another day, another blog prompt. Conflicts, both spoken and unspoken, are found within. But, the letters also reveal a picture of a complicated man who appears to just want to provide for his family, but just can’t get a break.
In high school, I was on the track team my freshman year. I remember the moment I realized that I should concentrate on my brain: In a 100-yard dash at a track meet, I tripped and fell. I just laid on the track, looking up at the bleachers until a friend kindly pointed out that I needed to get up, as I was just making it worse by laying there. True story…
But, I did find that we are pretty good at alternate sports. Such as…
I had every intention of populating this post with stories of our visit to beautiful Quebec. Perhaps pictures of ten of my French-Canadian ancestors’ homes and villages. Maybe ten monuments or statues. At least ten stories; that should be easy, right?
Here I sit at home, nursing an awful cold, complete with stuffy head and a sexy smoker’s voice. Without the cancer risk. That’s a win, right?
All that to say that Québec, with a cold, in rain showers and snow flurries, didn’t sound like a very good idea.
Don’t you worry, though; I have a new plan!
How many ancestors can I name 10 generations back?
Beginning with me, ten generations into the past equals my 8x great-grandparents, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. In general, this brings us to the 1600s and to approximately 1,024 ancestors. Approximately, because, especially in small communities, as in New France, marriage between extended family members was quite common. This can result in pedigree collapse, decreasing the total number of ancestors.
Having ancestors from both New France and New England is an incredible leg-up for this family historian. Both cultures were fastidious record-keepers, and for the most part, those records have been very well preserved.
I won’t write about all the ancestors I know ten generations back, as I have a wealth of information. This post could turn into a book. A very long, and quite possibly boring, book.
Since this post began with my plan to write about my French-Canadian ancestors, that’s where I will stay. I have put in bold type the names of my 8x great-grandparents, those ten generations back. I have also separated with a line each couple from the next for easier reading.
André Bergeron was born February 6, 1642, in La Rochelle, France, to parents Pierre Bergeron and Catherine Marchand. A brother and three sisters were also born to the family while in France. He and his father immigrated to New France about 1665, and André was known to be working on the farm of Eustache Lambert in 1667. He died February 21, 1712, in St-Nicolas of Lévis, Québec.
Marguerite Demers married André July 9, 1673, in Lauson, Lévis, New France. She was born October 21, 1659, in Montréal, Québec, to parents Jean Demers and Jeanne Viody.
In 1681 census, André and Marguerite were noted as owning a farm with two cows. Eventually, the couple had 12 children, including my ancestor, Jean-Baptiste Bergeron.
Marguerite wrote her will on August 4, 1720, and her date of death is uncertain.
François Ferland was born in France to André Ferland and Marguerite Bariteau on September 9, 1633. He appears in the records of New France for the first time in 1676, and his occupation upon arrival was a servant. He died on September 25, 1713, at age 82. He was buried the following day at St-Pierre, Île-d’Orléans.
Jeanne-Françoise Miloy married François October 7, 1679 in St-Pierre, Île-d’Orléans. She was born January 19, 1652, in Québec. She passed away November 25, 1708 in St-Pierre, Île-d’Orléans. Her daughter Marie-Madeleine Ferland is my ancestor.
Guillaume Fournier was born sometime between 1620 and 1621, in Normandie, France. He was the son of Giles Fournier and Noëlle Gageut. He arrived in New France around the year 1651, based on the first record of him in Québec.
That record was his marriage, dated November 20, 1651. His bride was Marie-Françoise Hébert. He was 28; she was 13. Yikes!
Marie-Françoise was the daughter of Jean-Guillaume Hébert and Marie-Hélène Desportes. Marie-Françoise was baptized January 23, 1638 in Notre-Dame de Québec. Her father, Guillaume, was the son of the first French couple to settle New France, Louis-Gaston Hébert and Marie-Louise Rollet, my 10x great-grandparents.
Guillaume and Marie-Françoise had 14 children and were fairly prosperous farmers, according to census records. In the 1681 census, their property was listed as 3 rifles, 12 horned animals, and land worth 10 arpents, approximately 10 acres. I descend from their son, Simon.
November 21, 1703, Marie-Françoise was elected as a “wise woman” by the assembly of women in the St. Thomas parish. I find this remarkably touching. What an honor to be so highly esteemed. And how unusual for the women of this time to not only vote, but that their vote to be taken so seriously as to be recorded in the parish records.
Guillaume was one of the founders of the St. Thomas parish church. He died in 1669 and was interred in the churchyard. Marie-Françoise passed away March 16, 1716, at the age of 86, and was also buried at St. Thomas.
Thomas Rousseau was born in Poitou-Charentes, France in 1632, to Honoré Rousseau and Marie Boillerot. He emmigrated to New France in the summer or fall of 1663, approximately age 30. On March 22, 1664, he received Catholic confirmation in Québec. I wonder if he had been a Huguenot?
On October 5, 1667, he married Marie-Madeleine Olivier in Notre-Dame de Québec. He was about age 36; she was 30. Marie-Madeleine Olivier was born circa 1637, in Normandy, France, the daughter of Jean Olivier and Louise Prévost.
Marie-Madeleine arrived in New France September 25, 1667, on the ship Le St-Louis, which had departed from Dieppe, France. She married Thomas less than two weeks later.
By the time she emigrated, both of her parents had passed away. Which may give a reason for her decision to leave France. As an unmarried woman of 30 with no parents, her prospects in France were very dim. But, there was an opportunity for her to have a home and family in New France. Because Marie-Madeleine was part of the group of women known as Filles du Roi, or Daughters of the King.
At this time in New France, men outnumbered the women in the colony about ten-to-one. The king of France, Louis XIV, knew that without a healthy, growing population for defense, France was in danger of losing the territory to England. So, the Filles du Roi program was established, providing women with little prospects in France to have a opportunity for a new life in the New World.
Their ship’s passage was paid for by the government, and each woman was provided a small dowry. Upon arrival, they were most often housed in convents, under the supervision and protection of the nuns. But, the business of a Fille du Roi was to get married and have children. And, to that end, a sort of 17th century speed dating system was instituted. A meet-and-greet of sorts. At these events, introductions would be made, the men would plead their case, and the women could accept or deny any offer. The men who had a home ready and waiting would generally fare better than those who weren’t as prepared.
Thomas and Marie-Madeleine appear to have had a successful union, as they eventually had 12 children together. In the 1691 census, their property is recorded as being one rifle, four horned animals, and 15 arpents, approximately 15 acres, of land.
Marie-Madeleine passed away at the age of 53 on April 21, 1690 and was buried in Saint-Laurent, Île d’Orléans. I descend from their first child, Anne-Catherine.
Thomas married a second time in 1691, to Charlotte Bellanger, aged 41. They had one child together.
Thomas died at age 84, July 26, 1716, and was buried on the l’Île d’Orléans.
There is nothing especially remarkable in the lives of the men and women I have listed above. They were ordinary people, living lives that now, to me, from the comfort of my modern home, seem incredibly difficult and exhausting. Today, these men and women seem like super-heroes, able to cross vast oceans in tiny ships, endure minus 30-degree winters without central heating, and craft a home with their bare hands.
And, the women! If they survived all the above rigors of daily life, many, many of them lived long enough to have ten or more children. All without pre-natal vitamins, epidurals, jogging strollers, and disposable diapers.
I spent many happy summers on the dairy farm that my Great Aunt Mabel (Wells) and Uncle Paul Kurtz owned in Hamilton, Montana.
Mabel was a natural dairy farmer, as she was the daughter of a career creamery man.
Even though the farm I remember was Aunt Mabel’s and Uncle Paul’s, the story really begins with Mabel’s father, my great-grandfather, Willis C. Wells.
In Wisconsin where he was born in 1868, Willis had been in the dairy business, as a butter maker and a creamery worker. He had grown up on his father’s farm (my great-great-grandfather Matthias N. Wells), working there until 1891.
In 1895, he took a course in butter making at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and eventually taught that same course for two years. Who knew there was even such a thing?
In 1896, aged 27, he married my great-grandmother, Theoline Soland.
Willis worked for the Farmers Co-Operative Creamery at both Strum and Edmund, Wisconsin, where Mabel was born on December 14, 1898.
In 1901, while working for the same creamery cooperative in Corona, South Dakota, Mabel’s younger brother, my grandfather Lawrence E. Wells joined the family.
Willis and Theoline continued moving westward from Wisconsin, to South Dakota, and finally to Montana. In Kalispell, Montana, Willis bought a farm and worked it for six years. He left Montana to work as a creamery manager in Yakama, Washington, returning to Kalispell to manage the Farmers Co-operative Creamery there.
He eventually bought the Kalispell creamery, operated it for five and half years, and then returned it to the farmers.
In 1917, when Mabel was 19, the Wells family moved to Hamilton, Montana, and Willis worked at the Farmers Co-operative Creamery. After two years, he bought it.
In 1920, Mabel married Paul Gust Kurtz.
Paul was already a self-employed farmer in Hamilton, according to his 1917 WW1 draft registration card.
Soon, Paul and Mabel were on their own dairy farm, on Kurtz Lane, in Hamilton.
Meanwhile in 1924, Mabel’s father, Willis, opened Wells Creamery on South Second Street in Hamilton. According to the Montana Historical Society, Willis sold milk and cream, while Theoline sold flowers and household goods.
Mom tells me that Willis invented several new flavors of ice cream, including black licorice. I can’t even imagine how happy I’d be if the family business was an ice cream parlor…
On their farm, Mabel and Paul raised more than diary cows; they also grew alfalfa, raised pigs, and had chickens.
But, mostly, there were cows…
Mabel was the quintessential farm wife. And, I say farm wife intentionally, as that was the role in which she gloried. To be sure, she was a farmer just as her husband and a wonderful manager of the business, but she also worked tirelessly in the traditional duties of a woman of her time. And, she was darn good at it, too…
She grew vegetables, made amazing pies, canned fruits, churned butter, hand-cranked ice cream, and had a yard of glorious flowers.
Through the years, my grandparents, Vida and Lawrence, would take a road trip nearly every summer to Montana. When Mom had her own family, my parents continued the tradition.
(By the time of the photo above, my great-grandmother, Theoline, had abandoned the harsh winters of Montana for the sunshine of California. Willis and Theoline lived apart for years, although Willis would visit her at her home in Banning.)
Great-granddad Willis passed away July 26, 1960. I was only two then, so I don’t have any memories of him. Sadly, I also don’t have any photos of him with me.
I remember the farmhand, John. He would let us “help” him do the milking, but mainly he just would squirt milk from the cows directly into our mouths! We thought that was just the best thing ever. Paul was just a regular member of the family, and he shows up in quite a few photos.
The pasture where the cows would spend their days was across the little lane from the farm. Every morning, John would let them out, and every evening, he would bring them back to the barn for milking. But, he never had to round them up, as they would all be waiting eagerly by the fence to be led home.
My Nampie Wells, Lawrence, passed away two years after this photo was taken, September 24, 1963.
Uncle Paul passed away January 15, 1967. I was still a little girl of eight, so my memories of him are rather hazy.
My parents made the drive to Montana most summers, just like Nana and Nampie had done. I loved going. Well, not the drive, as my dad was a maniac behind the wheel…
Aunt Mabel’s kitchen always smelled of fresh cream and peach pies. I can still bring up the memory of that sweet aroma…. Since we visited in the summers, it was often canning season, too. We picked, peeled, and chopped. I can remember the heat and humidity as the canner did its job. I just wish I had a photo of her kitchen, as it seems that I spent a lot of time there.
Aunt Mabel passed away February 4, 1997, at the age of 98. I can’t remember exactly the last time I saw her. I wish now that I had paid more attention. I was busy having children and not noticing the passage of time until it was too late. That seems to be a recurring theme…
A while back on a visit to my mom’s, I found an man’s old, sweat-stained, leather wallet.
Inside, I found a name written on the leather: Matthias N. Wells, my great-great grandfather.
Under the name was written: I.O.O.F. Wildey Lodge, Neosho, Wis.
And, in a pocket, was a letter written by my great-great-great grandfather, Hawley Wells, to his children, dated April 18, 1860.
I write this rather dispassionately now, but believe you me, my heart was pounding when I realized what a treasure I had found.
I had to calm down before I could open the letter to read it. It was incredible to hold in my hand a piece of my family history that was nearly 160 years old.
The letter was obviously dear to Matthias, having been kept safe through the years.
Neosho April 18, 1860
My Dear Children, I write this to let you know that I am yet alive through the goodness of Him whose mercy endureth forever.
I am glad and thankful to hear that you are so well but still I fear for Cordelia. Tell her to be very careful. O how I wish I was able to keep you both at home but … for the present. Next winter I contemplate having you both and Alonzo at home and I hope to have a good time in ….
We have had a good visit with Roena and her boy. I suppose your mother has written all the news. This afternoon the celebrated Mr. Roena is going to blow up the Methodist Church or try.
We have heard nothing from Uncle Roswell’s folks since you were at home nor from any of our friends. Roena has gone home and we are sore lonesome but if I get too hard up I shall go up and see you.
Mary you must look after Cordelia and if she is unable to work have her come home.
Now girls be steady, store your minds with useful knowledge, remember Him who bore you sins on the Cross, give Him your hearts in your youthful days and He will guide you into all truth.
Write as soon as you get this. Tell Cordelia to write how her health is just as it is and come home and see us as soon as you can.
It’s ever your loving Father
Hawley Wells and Susan Harlow, my 3x great-grandparents, had six children. According to the 1850 US census their names (given as only initials) and ages were:
Rowena M., 16
Alonzo Hawley, 15
Cordelia D., 13
Mary C., 11
Matthias N., 4
Lydia Ann, 3 (Yes! Yet another Lydia Ann!)
Ten years later, 1860, the year Hawley wrote this letter, only the younger five children were listed in the Wells household.
In Hawley’s letter, dated April 1860, he writes how he and Susan are “sore lonesome.” Their children appear to be all away from home.
But, in June 1860, the date of the census, all five were now listed as living at home. If true, I think their parents must have been very happy with that.
So, what did I learn from this peek into the heart of a father? I learned that some things are timeless:
The love of a father for his children…
The yearning for them to be well in body and soul…
The ache of loneliness…
And, finally, the desire to blow up a church now and again.
I became an aunt at the ripe old age of five. To be more exact, I was aged five years and 364 days.
My niece, Marie, daughter of my oldest sister, Jeanne, was born the day before my birthday. I was told that she was my sixth birthday present. And, that was OK with me.
And, just now, at 60, I’m realizing that I’ve been saying all life that I became an aunt when I was six! I know, I know… it’s only one day, but do you say you are 60 when you are still only 59??? I didn’t think so!
My parents had six children, but in two sets of three. My oldest three siblings were born in the 1940s. Then there is a gap of 9 years, until the younger three came along. I’m the fifth-born, but the middle child of the younger set.
By the early half of 1964, both of my oldest siblings were married.
And, then, one day before my sixth birthday, along came Marie.
For quite a few years, Marie and I would have our birthday celebrations together.
More little nieces and nephews came along in rapid succession. They would become my playmates, as this new generation was closer in age to me and my young brother than we were to our older brother and sisters.
I always thought that it was a special thing, though, to be an aunt at six.
Like just about most people, my family members have had a wide variety of occupations through the years. We’ve made or worked on or with everything from shoes to ships. We been watchmen and watch repairmen. We been teachers of reading and writing. And more…
However varied the various occupations have been, there are certain family lines where a particular trade dominated.
Many of my ancestors on my father’s side of the family came from the coast of Massachusetts, mainly the towns of Marblehead, Salem, Lynn, and Boston. For those who lived in Marblehead, especially, shipping and fishing were the primary sources of income.
My 7x great-grandfather, John Doliber, (b. 1695, d. 1751) was a Marblehead mariner, fisherman, and landowner.
He owned the schooners, Mary and Friendship, and he was a partial owner of several more. One of his ships, the 80-ton schooner Mary, was captured by the cruel, barbarous pirate Ned Low. Low renamed the ship The Fancy, and it became his flagship.
I think that qualifies as a bad day at the office.
(Ned Low also captured a distant relative, Philip Ashton, who thankfully managed to escape after months of imprisonment and torture.)
My 5x and 4x great-grandfathers, Samuel Ashton, Sr. (b. 1750, d. ~1825), and Samuel Ashton, Jr. (1785, d. 1821), were both Marblehead mariners, as well. The were part owners of several ships, and from records at the Marblehead Museum, it seems that at least one of them were privateers, sharing in the booty of captured ships.
Samuel Sr.’s grandfather, Ephriam (b. 1700, d. 1792), was both a fisherman (1744-1748) and a school master (1772-1792), combining two our our family’s dominate professions.
And, yes, it seems that he did live to 92, working until he passed away.
Most of my Diamond ancestors in Marblehead were also mariners, shoremen, and fishermen, including my 7x great-grandfather, Edward, my 6x great-grandfather Aholiah, and my 5x great-grandfather Joseph, father, son, and grandson.
Typically, there’s not much mention of the women in Marblehead, except to note that one or two sold a lease of a cow. I believe that most of them were doing what needed to be done while the men of the family were at sea: caring for the home, children, garden, orchards, animals, etc.
It couldn’t have been easy.
My father’s father, Charles Keene, Sr., as I mentioned before, served in the Merchant Marine during WW2. For years before that, he was a chef aboard the Matson Line.
Lastly, my Uncle George, Dad’s brother, served in the Navy in WW2.
The Cobblers, Cutters, and Cordwainers
When my 4x great-grandfather, William Diamond Thompson, Sr., moved from Marblehead to Lynn, the family’s occupation changed with its location. Lynn, as I’ve mentioned before, was a major manufacturing center for shoes and boots.
In the 1850 census, William Sr., gave his occupation as a cordwainer, but by 1860, both he and his namesake son, my 3x great-grandfather, William, Jr., were listed as shoe cutters.
William D. Thompson, Jr. married Anna Jane Ashton in 1844. The marriage record lists their occupations as a clicker and a shoe binder, respectively. I believe this is the first time a woman’s occupation is found in my family records.
In the 1870 census, William, Jr.’s daughter, my great-great-grandmother, Lydia Ann Thompson, age 19, gave her occupation as a shoe trimmer.
The Jack of All Trades
Meanwhile, Lydia’s future husband, George A. Keene, was apparently trying to find what he wanted to do in life. In the 1850 census, age 17, he gave his occupation as carpenter, but by 1860 he had become an upholsterer. In 1870, he was a farmer.
When he and Lydia married in 1876, after the death of his first wife, Ellen, he had become a rubber manufacturer.
In the 1880, census, he gave his occupation as inventor. Which he was.
Below are a few of his many patented inventions: a bed for invalids, an improved carriage step, a feathering paddle wheel, a rosette for harnesses, and a window washing device. I will have to do an entire post on the story of him and his inventions one day.
While my dad’s side of the family had predominately mariners and shoe makers, on Mom’s side of the family, farmers and educators were more common occupations. This side of the family settled more in the Midwest, in states like Wisconsin, Kansas, and Indiana. Classic American farm country.
My Gard ancestors began as millers and iron workers in New Jersey, but soon moved west to Pennsylvania and Ohio, then further on to Indiana and Kansas.
The land grant below was awarded to my great-great grandfather, William Perry Gard, for volunteer militia service. It granted him 160 acres in Tipton, County, Indiana.
In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, he was still working as farmer; he also served as a postmaster in Groomsville, at least in 1861. Farming didn’t always pay the bills.
He, too, might have tinkered with inventions. Below is a 1882 patent under the name of W. P. Gard of Parson, Kansas, for a seed planter.
By the time of his death in 1900, he was considered to be a successful farmer, but he no longer lived on the same 160 acres in Tipton Co.
William Perry’s son, Willis D. Gard worked as a grocer and married Eva Kesterson in 1887. Eva’s father, George, and grandfather, Thomas, were also farmers. Thomas was given a land grant for 140 acres in 1856 in Tippacanoe, Co., Indiana.
The Wells line of my mom’s family moved from Wisconsin, to South Dakota, to Montana, most working in either dairy farming or production. There’s a blog post coming soon, so more about this later.
And, just like my dad’s family, a geographic move caused a change of occupation for the Gards. By 1896, Willis and Eva had moved to Los Angeles, which despite the legendary orange groves, isn’t a big farming center. Willis worked as a lumberman in 1900 and a foreman in 1910.
Their daughters, Vida, my Nanna Wells, and her sister, my Aunt Dola, both received their teaching credentials. They were strong, smart women, ahead of their time in their independence and level of education.
Nanna married Lawrence Wells, Nampie, whose mother was a teacher and father a dairyman. Nampie had a variety of jobs, at times a chauffeur, a guard at a power plant, and an auto mechanic.
Nampie eventually settled on watch and jewelry repair. He had a little shop right next to his and Nanna’s house on West Beverly Blvd.
And now, I think I’ve made this post quite long enough! If you’ve soldiered through until now, thank you. Sadly, I have left so much untold. I have more stories to tell than time to tell them!
I went to a tiny little grade school in my tiny little desert town.
Four of my five siblings went there, too; the staff knew all about the Keene kids. I think I got a fair shake regardless.
Here are a few random, scattered, in-no-particular-order memories:
My oldest sister, Jeanne, graduated eighth grade as the only girl in her class of seven students.
I am left-handed. I believe I was in second grade when my teacher tried to make me learn to write with my right hand. My mom told her to let me be. Thanks, Mom!
I grew up in the age of the Cold War. Because we lived so close to a weapons testing center, we were told that if the United States were to be bombed, we’d be one of the first to get hit. So, we did practice bomb drills for years, hiding under our desks at the teacher’s direction. I’m sure that would have saved us.
Mom worked at the school as an office assistant and a play ground monitor. It’s odd that I don’t remember this.
I chipped one of my front teeth on the teeter-totter bar. The thick bar in the middle that supports the teeter-totter boards, where they pivot. We were doing twirls around the bar, and I slipped. I wasn’t very good at twirls.
I loved to jump out of the swings at the high point in my arc. There was no rubber mat to land on in those days. Oh no, we had gravel. We were tough kids. I remember landing on my knees one day. Months later, I found a pebble still embedded in my leg and picked it out.
We loved playing jacks and Chinese jump rope when we weren’t burning the backs of our legs on the metal slides, getting smacked in the face with a tether ball, or hit in the head during a fierce game of dodge ball. Like I said, we were tough kids…
In sixth grade science class, one of the boys brought in a rattlesnake, cooked, for us all to taste. For the curious, it tastes like chicken, dark meat.
The classmate who gave me my first kiss (a sweet little peck on the cheek), Dennis Johnson, went missing in Yellowstone National Park in 1966, the summer after we finished second grade. He was never found. I had dreams about him for years, scary dreams about what might have happened. It still haunts me. We were a tight-knit little community, and this was traumatic.
I attended Inyokern elementary only through sixth grade. For junior high, mine was one of the first classes that had to go ten miles across the valley to Ridgecrest. After being in such a small school for so long, it was a difficult change. Most of the kids in my class had been my school mates since we were in kindergarten. The middle school, on the other hand, was filled with students I didn’t know, the bus ride there and back was even longer than it had already been, and I felt lost.
My best friend, Sarah, and I used to hide out during lunch in the library of James Monroe Middle School. It was safe, and the books afforded a nice escape from what felt overwhelming. I eventually adjusted, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for my little school in my little town.
I’m especially partial to Born flats, Land’s End boots, and Soft Walk work shoes. But, I also have Clark’s sandals, Land’s End wedges, and Keds tennies. I would have more if my wallet and conscience would let me.
I think it’s my ancestors who are to blame, though. My dad’s side of the family all came from Massachusetts, particularly Lynn, whose main industry for years once was the manufacture of shoes and boots.
Colonial Lynn was an early center of tannery and shoe-making, which began in 1635. The boots worn by Continental Army soldiers during the Revolutionary War were made in Lynn, and the shoe-making industry drove the city’s growth into the early nineteenth century. This legacy is reflected in the city’s seal, which features a colonial boot.
Most of my ancestors worked in one way or the other in the shoe manufacturing industry in Lynn: Generations of Keenes, Breeds, Newhalls, Allens, and Thompsons worked side by side in factories or workrooms across Lynn.
But, first, what exactly is a non-population schedule?
Briefly, it is a census of a particular section of society. There are non-population schedules for agriculture, manufacturing, people with disabilities, and war veterans and their widows. These schedules give additional, and very different, information that a regular census doesn’t.
So, let’s look at a few examples, shall we?
The above entry is for Amos Breed, Jr., a shirt-tail relative, from the 1870 manufacturing census for Lynn. The columns across, from right to left, detail:
Name of company or corporation doing business in excess of $550 per year
Name of the business, manufacture, or product
The capital, real and personal, invested in the business
Kind of power, steam, water, hand
If steam- or water-powered, what is the horsepower
Name or description of machines
Number of machines
How many male employees above 16 years
How many female employees above 15 years
How many employed children and youth
Total amount paid in wages during the year
Number of months in active operation
Kinds of materials
Quantities of materials
Value of those materials
Kinds of production
Quantities of production
And, finally, value of production
Wow! That’s a lot of information.
For Amos Breed in the above example, he was manufacturing shoes, had a capital investment of $40,000, ran his factory on 40 steam-powered machines with 50 HP, had 50 male workers over 16, 25 female workers over 15, no youth or children workers, worked with leathers and trimmings that had a value of $125,000, and the entire business was valued at $225,000.
It would appear that Amos was rather well-off.
This entry is for the same year, 1870, for Nathan Breed, a distant cousin. Again, he manufactured shoes, but wasn’t nearly as well off as Amos. His business was valued at $70,000. But, frankly, in 1870, that’s still doing quite well. I found the advertisement below in a box of family memorabilia from my Uncle George.
Then, we come to the Keene brothers, again in 1870. As far as I know, these two are not my Keene ancestors. (I’ve done some research, and it appears that one brother’s initials were W. G. S. Keene. Not my great-grandfather nor his brother; again some shirt-tail relative.) But, they were quite the prosperous duo, judging by a total valuation of their company of $403,322.
So, you can see that shoes were big in Lynn.
On our trip to Massachusetts last year, my husband and I visited the Lynn Historical Society. And, of course, there were many references to the shoe manufacturing history of the town.
The non-population schedules give a little glimpse into the industry and wealth that shoes provided my family for decades. For my part, I will continue to love them for entirely different reasons.