52 Ancestors Challenge – Different

Different, unique, outside the norm – we all have ancestors who can be classified as such.  Daniel and Mary V.(Peroni) Medi fill this category for me.  I don’t know much about them.  They are my only ancestors from France in my heavily English and German family. Little snippets of information dangle teasing me to spend more time finding them.  Little snippets – they were born in France in early 1820s.  Clues – Napoleon had just died; Young and Champollion had just broken the code of the Rosetta Stone. France was still in turmoil over who its true ruler should be.This is the world into which Daniel Medi and Mary Peroni were born.  Why did they immigrate to the United States?  What caused them to leave?  Where were they married?  Did they have siblings?  What was their backstory?

Daniel Medi's Death Certificate

Daniel Medi’s Death Certificate

Mary V. Peroni Medi's Death Certificate

Mary V. Peroni Medi’s Death Certificate

Somewhere along the line they were married and immigrated to the United States. Their first child – Mary Victoria Medi – was born in 1850 in France. Daughter #2 – Mary Margaret Medi followed in 1853 born in New Jersey.  Mary Augusta Medi followed the next year being born in New Jersey. Mary Rosa Medi and Mary Katherine Medi were both born prior to moving to Illinois.  Mary Louisa Medi was the first child born in Illinois. Mary Josephine was born in Jubilee Township, Peoria County, Illinois in 1866 as was the last daughter, Mary Caroline Medi.   Eight daughters – all named Mary XX.  Now that’s different and nearly a genealogist’s nightmare!

Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine

Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine – my great grandmother

These 2nd great grandparents are different in that I can find little about them save a tombstone in Peoria County, Illinois.  They appear in the 1860 and 1880 Census for the State of Illinois, but other than showing their nativity as France, no other clues exist.  Peoria County, Illinois is a heavy German immigrant area.  Did the Medi’s live near the border with Germanic areas?  Medi and Peroni don’t seem to be traditional French names.  They lack the sound of a French ancestry.

All together, they are just different – the odd branch sticking out on the family tree.   One would assume they were Roman Catholic with eight daughters named Mary.  Could there be parish papers for baptism to fill in blank spaces?

I’ll have to leave that mystery for a ….different day.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Close

We often think the bond between parent and child is the closest human connection there is.  By virtue of the relationship, a child cannot share their parents’ entire life.  Years passed before the child came into the relationship.  We’ve all struggled to think of our parents as children and to know what they were like.

The relationship of siblings, in my opinion, has to be the closest human connection there is.  In most cases, siblings share their childhood, their DNA, their awkward teenage years, adulthood and such.  They also share tragedies and life experiences that forge a relationship into the strongest bond possible.

My grandmother, Jessie Eleanor Smith Yess, and her siblings always appeared to have the closest of sibling connections. She had four brothers: Frank Matthew(nicknamed Jake) Smith, Robert Wallace (nicknamed Bing) Smith, Orville Edmund (nicknamed Mike) and Merle George Smith.  Poor Uncle Merle didn’t have a nickname!  She also had an older sister, Blanche Vera Smith.

The children of George and Emma Jane Harrison Smith.

The children of George and Emma Jane Harrison Smith.

Life wasn’t easy for George Edward and Amelia Jane Harrison Smith’s children. Grandma used to share stories about how her alcoholic father would take the egg money from her mother and go to town to drink.  She remembers one time when her dad chased her mom through the house with a pair of scissors trying to stab her.  When the door to a room slammed shut, the scissors ended up in the wood of the door.

My great grandparents.

My great grandparents. Amelia Jane Harrison and George Edward Smith

But, Grandma also said her dad was a very nice person when he wasn’t drunk.  The kids used to stay up and play cards with their dad late into the night sometimes.  He had either asthma or emphysema and couldn’t breathe well. If he was sitting upright in a chair, he was fine, so card games with the kids seemed to pass the time.

The close sibling relationships seemed to help the family get through these tough times on the farm in Peoria county.  The siblings remained close throughout their lives.

A July 2006 Time magazine article entitled “The New Science of Siblings” said,

“…Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us. Our siblings may be the only people we’ll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.  ‘Siblings,’ says family sociologist Katherine Conger of the University of California – Davis, ‘are with us for the whole journey.”

The Smith children were a perfect example of that.  They played cards with each other, told stories about each other, went to church together, family reunions together, spent holidays and weekends together.  They were close despite the challenging childhood they faced.  They were close unto death.  That family bond continues on.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Luck of the Irish

I’ve always loved storytellers.  If you could weave a yarn, I could sit and listen. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t interested in hearing stories about my family – truly.  Storytelling and genealogy go hand in hand and I learned from these stories of my family early on I was mostly of hardy English and German stock with a stray 2nd great grandfather and grandmother of French lineage.  (This might explain why I sometimes dream I’m speaking in French and even though I don’t know how, I seem to understand the conversations completely!)  I even have many, many ancestors I would deem as Colonials.  A great deal of my ancestors were born in the American Colonies prior to 1700.  I find that simply amazing.

My one shortfall, in my estimation, was that I never had found an Irish immigrant ancestor…never.   Americans with Irish ancestry ranked third in the population in 2011 behind 1) German ancestry and 2) African-American ancestry.  I had the German ancestry, but no Irish in my tree? Seemed statistically impossible.

Silly as it may seem, I felt alienated during St. Patrick’s Day.  Wearing green on that day was more a ploy of a 3rd grade girl to avoid being pinched by some boy in class.   I was a pretender to the throne of all things Irish. We didn’t celebrate German holidays. No St. Bertha of Bingen Day to offset St. Paddy’s Day. (Yes, there is a St. Bertha of Bingen.  Even though part of my family is from near Bingen, we can’t claim any ancestry to Bertha.)

Prospecting through two of my family lines earlier this winter brought the revelation that I am indeed of Irish descent!  Holy Four Leaf Clover!  Could it be?  There was the first two – John Sprowls of Enniskillen, Fermanagh, Ireland born in 1749 and his wife, appropriately named Elizabeth Love of Ireland.   Then Andrew Hendrick Logan of Ulster, Ireland born in 1707.  Rosanne Jane Murray born in Ireland in 1780, my 4th great grandmother, popped up soon after.   John Riley born in the 1760’s in Ireland came to the forefront.  FIVE different ancestors were of Irish descent…F I V E!

By the time you go back to your 6th great grandfather or grandmother, you have had 256 people contribute to your DNA.  If my calculations are correct, around 1/3 of 1% of your genetic material comes from any one of those people.  Not a large slice of the pie by any imagination, but finding FIVE Irish immigrants who contributed to my DNA means a lot.  It means that I can truly proclaim Happy St. Paddy’s Day this year and feel an ownership to the day.  It also means I may have a small sliver of the Luck of the Irish in me.

“Eiriin Go Brach” as they say in Gaelic.  So raise a glass of green beer to the Sprowls, the Loves, the Logans, the Murrays and Rileys on March 17. You’re never too old to find out you are Irish.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Stormy Weather

Life on the prairie in the late 1800’s was hard…just darn hard.  You’d better be lucky or you better be packing to move back east.  Folks have a tendency to remember the extremes of life, the hardships or the ecstasy of everyday.  Those peaks and valleys were often shared with family in the form of letters back home or memories written in a diary for later reading.    There is something about reading memories about a terrible situation survived from a distance of decades that allows us to appreciate and savor how lucky we were.  Sarah Alice Salmans Abbott was the oldest of 11 children and she was a wonderful writer and archivist of family memories.  I share some of those experiences from her writing.

The Levi Franklin Salmans family of Larned, Kansas.

The Levi Franklin Salmans family of Larned, Kansas.

“There were hardships then, real ones, although now they seem very laughable.  I remember one night in the old soddy house, when the carpenters were working on our frame house, the floors of both rooms were turned into beds at night.  We five girls had our bed in the kitchen. It rained and rained, and the sod roof leaked an leaked. Our bed got wet so we had to get up on the table, and there we slept that night with water standing all over the kitchen floor.  Mother Rose had put pans up over the table bed to keep the rain off of us.

Cold weather came before the house was finished but Pa Levi and the carpenters worked against time to get it done before the storm came.  Just as soon as the roof was on and enough work done on the house, so we could live comfortably, we moved in, with carpenters still working all about us.  Pa was in a hurry to get the house up so most of the trips to Larned (KS) that fall were to get only lumber. Plans were all made to go into town for coal and provisions, the day after we moved in.  But that night the great blizzard came, and it was a very long time after that, that Pat got into Larned for the supplies of any kind. There was, you remember, twelve of our own family and three of the carpenters to be fed, as they were stranded there. Mother Rose was very worried, but luckily we had plenty of flour, that is, it lasted until we could get some more, Mother made it last.  It was the fuel that was so scarce, that worried Pa, that was the worst hardship of all.  We had burned all the waste lumber left from the house, and after the men and boys could get out of the house, they pulled sunflower and corn stalks, these were dried under the kitchen stove, for fuel.

We had no stable or shelter for the stock, the horses were tied to one wagon and the cattle to the other wagon.  At Kingman we had kept the milk cows on picket ropes, so with these ropes they made guide lines out to the well. Pa was afraid the boys couldn’t find their way back to the house, so he would tie a rope to the door and the boys would carry the other end of the rope with them, when they went out to see about the stock, then it was tied to the wagon so they could follow it back to the house. The other rope was tied from the door to the well.  The blowing snow would form ice on the mouth and nostrils of the cattle and horses, so the men would have to go out every so often and melt it off with their hands so they could eat and breathe. Not one head of cattle or one horse was lost in the blizzard, which was the worst one every recorded in that country.”

Cows in the heavy snow of February 2015.

Cows in the heavy snow of February 2015.

Aunt Ally was writing about a winter in Kansas in the late 1880’s or early 1890’s.  She didn’t write down the date.

It is interesting she chose to say that the hardships “seemed laughable now”.  Difficult blizzards and working hard to save animals while feeding 15 people doesn’t seem that humorous, but in light of the death of her mother and baby brother, these were probably considered minor.  It is all about perspective.

When you see the beautiful dark clouds of a storm, you often admire the vivid colors of dark blue, black and gray in the clouds contrasted against the deep green of the grass and red of the barn.  From a distance, it is much more beautiful, but when you are in the middle of the lightning and downpour, it seems pretty bleak.

Summer storm coming in.

Summer storm coming in.

Perhaps writing about our hardships is the same.  When we write about them, they are pretty bleak, but when read those memories later from the distance, we appreciate the beauty of the picture.  I certainly makes me appreciate the hardy stock I come from.