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: So Far Away

August and Theresa

August and Theresa Yess

“Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  This would have been a fair statement to have been attached to the photo my mom found in Grandma’s things. Mom and her only sibling, her brother Jerry, had the task most children do of cleaning out the family home in preparation for a sale to settle the estate.  There were photos…lots of photos and none filled with very much information, save a few.  “August and Theresa Yess” is what the handwriting said on the back of the yellowed image.

August and Theresa Yess – my 2nd great grandfather and great grandmother had kind smiles, wrinkles from a lifetime of adventures living and mystery behind them.  The first mystery was that name, “Yess“.  The whole family pretty much knew that wasn’t the correct name.  August had immigrated from Germany according to family tales and we’d never met any other “Yess” family in the United States that was related to us that weren’t of direct lineage from August and Teresa.  He’d married Teresa in Peoria county, Illinois in the 1850’s, bug what was THAT name?

Mystery #2: Why did he immigrate from what was to become Germany?  Was it the lure of family or friends who had previously come to Peoria, IL?  Was it some other decision that caused the journey?  Was he perhaps the second son, one who was required a lifetime of military service back in the mid 1800’s?

Mystery #3: Where were they buried?  Somehow we had lost them?  Few clues were in the papers to indicate where their mortal remains were.  Maybe there was more information on the tombstones that would help us to put “clothes on their tombstones” as my Mom puts it.

Mystery #4:  What happened to their daughter, Amanda?  She was fourth out of six children.  In some papers it appears she was married to a mysterious Mr. Bontz.  In other papers, I found her committed to a mental hospital in Bartonville, IL.  What was her story?

These people seemed closer than they really appeared because it has taken many years to unravel the stitches in the fabric of their lives.  Family stories, genealogical study, tramping around in cemeteries, and talking, YES TALKING to my ancestors has helped to bring them closer.

As for Mystery #1, our best guess and study of documents seem to point to August’s last name as being Gess.  It would be an easy error made by some English-speaking form filler.  Couldn’t understand the Bavarian?  Well, it sounded like he was saying Yes and it would be too confusing to spell it “Yes”, so add another S and be done with it.

Mystery #2 was not as easy to solve. Asking fellow researchers and studying more about church documents from the area that would become Germany will eventually solve the why of the immigration. Most likely that lifetime military service caused him to take a ship to the United States.

As to Mystery #3, I had finally narrowed down a very large cemetery in Peoria, IL where August and Teresa were buried.  I stopped by one spring day when I was in town for a meeting….little time to spare in a true search for their tombstones.  I had some help in pointing me in the general direction and as time continued to tick down, I finally said out loud to them, “If you want me to find you, I’m going to need some help.”  Lo and behold, a beam of spring sunshine came down to light a gravestone over near the trees in the ravine.  I chuckled to myself thinking, “Oh sure…yeah, right,…I BET that’s their stone.”  And as I walked over toward it, there was YESS on the canopy of the stone with “August Yess – Born: Jan. 24, 1829 Died: Oct. 6, 1905″ “Theresa his wife, Born: Apr. 23, 1824  Died: Mar. 1, 1910” on it.

All life’s mysteries shouldn’t be easily solved. The journey of our lives is piecing together what happened to our ancestors, sharing their stories, admiring their tenacity and bravery.  Sometimes the people appear much closer to us than they actually are.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge: Love

For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary.  It is all.  It is undying. And it is enough.

Diana Gabaldon

Salmans, Lena Belle Salmans France WestlakeLena Belle Salmans France Westlake 

She would see a lifetime of loving – more than many would experience.  Ten siblings who lived to adulthood; an infant brother who died at birth which led to her own mother’s untimely death within the year.  Two husbands, five children, step children, grandchildren and love and admiration from friends and neighbors filled her life.  Her love was romantic, self-sacrificing, heart-wrenching, late-blooming, but Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake, who was my great grandmother, wasn’t one to talk about her love, for as Diana Gabaldon says, “the speaking in unnecessary”.

She was born on a farm in Ohio in 1870, the third of 11 children.  How difficult for a farmer and his wife to have three daughters as their oldest children back in the late 1800s.  Boys were needed for labor on the farm.  The girls would have to learn to work like men to help with the farming.  They learned not only the physical labors of the farm, but the knowledge of running that farm as well and four boys, including twins, followed the three girls. Grandpa Levi and Grandma Rosa Jane Salmans had their labor.

Salmans, Levi Franklin Family adults

Levi Franklin and Rosa Jane (Brown) Salmans family

No doubt there was an overflowing bin of love on that farm.  Ten children and two parents in a small farmhouse in the late 1800’s led to intimacy not known by today’s modern families.  The yearning love of seeing wide open prairies without the hint of smoke from the neighbor’s chimney called to my 2nd great grandfather to keep moving his family west – eventually to the middle of Kansas.  The death of the eleventh sibling and her mother caused Lena to take jobs doing laundry and baking bread to help make ends meet.  It would also lead to her next love, my great grandfather, Thomas Edward France.

France, Thomas Edward

Thomas Edward France

Ed bought bread and brought wash for Lena to do since his bachelor skills were found wanting.  Love bloomed and two daughters and a son were born before fate took them back to Ed’s home farm in Illinois.  Ed’s mother had died and his father asked Ed and Lena to stay on and run the Illinois farm for him.  Lena’s love for Ed must have given her the strength to leave her close-knit family in Kansas and move back to Illinois.

Two more daughters followed in Illinois and the daily living of a marriage  kept the family going.  The death of her only son, Lee at age 14, wrenched her heart and she put her love into the remaining children she had left.

Lee France

Lee France

In four short years Ed would be gone to pneumonia, leaving Lena with the girls to run the farm.  A widower down the road, Milt Westlake, worked the farm with Lena. Her strong will, savvy farm business mind she had learned from her father and love helped her persevere through the troubled times.

Westlake, Milt & Lena Belle Salmans France

Milton A. and Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake 

Six years later, Milt and Lena married.  She had once again found love at age 46.  They ran the farm together.  She and Milt were able to make a few trips back to Kansas to see her family and nieces and nephews.  The love of her family never left her.   She and Milt would be married 32 years before his death.

Many years after having baked bread in Kansas, she was still known for her baking. Her grandchildren loved her cookies.  Grandma Westlake’s cookies were prized above all sweets. They loved her upstairs bathtub too!  Running hot water in the upstairs bathroom led to baths at Grandma’s house on Saturday nights.

Love letters didn’t survive her.  Most likely the love was hidden in the day-to-day details of life on the farm and family doings.  Admiration of her family, love of her grandchildren, love of the children and husband she had lost likely never left her, but love persevered and shown through.  It was undying and it was enough.