In the wake of Halloween and All Saints Day, I want to begin a tour of cemeteries and family gravesites. Cemeteries are places for respect and reflection. Gravestones and memorial markers are the only public symbols of the lives and passing of most of our ancestors.
I will start this series of articles with visits to family graves for my Grandpa Sovereign and Grandpa Olsen, the grandfathers I knew.
Sheridan Cemetery, Sovereign Family
After Mom’s father Coyne Monroe Kidder died at the age of 32, her mother, born Marie Idell Fisher, married Harold John Sovereign. Harold had lost his first wife Bessie Holmden to death in 1934. Harold’s son with Bessie was raised by Harold’s brother Bill and sister-in-law Grace. Harold and Marie were married on 24 February 1936 in St. Joseph County, Indiana. They raised Mom and two more children of their own marriage.
Harold died on 14 September 1983 in Hillsborough County, Florida. Marie died on 6 November 1989 in Hillsborough County. Grandma and Grandpa Sovereign’s cremains are in the Sheridan Cemetery in Bushnell Township, Montcalm County, Michigan.
Horton Cemetery, Sovereign Family
Grandpa Sovereign and his siblings lived on a farm near Harvard, Kent County, Michigan with their parents James and Alvena Sovereign. James Albert Sovereign was born in Halton County, Canada West (now Ontario) on 13 April 1858. Alvena Sophia Krüger was born on 17 September 1869 in Mecklenburg-Schwerin in northern Germany. James and Alvena were married on 16 March 1889 in Pine Township, Montcalm County, Michigan.
James and Alvena’s children:
Dora A Sovereign (1890-1986), married Andrew A Woolever (1886-1928) and Charles A Chester (1873-1962)
William Albert Sovereign (1892-1971), married Grace E Skinner (1896-1973)
Edwin Philip Sovereign (1893-1984), married Dora Fern DeGraw (1898-1972)
Claud Ernest Sovereign (1896-1954), married Alice M Morgan (1901-?)
Ethel M Sovereign (1899-1981), married Roy L Frank (1892-1978)
Harold John Sovereign (1901-1983), married Bessie E Holmden (1905-1934) and Marie Idell Fisher (1908-1989)
Herbert C Sovereign (1903-1977), married Eunice Helen Streeter (1908-2006)
Albert James Sovereign (1905-1983), married Dorothy Marie Graves (1911-1995)
Leroy “Roy” Sovereign (1908-1995), married Frieda Hagborn (1908-2002)
James Albert Sovereign died on 3 July 1926 in Spencer Township, Kent County, Michigan. Alvena Sophia Sovereign died on 4 December 1937 in Grand Rapids, Kent County. James and Alvena were buried in the Horton Cemetery at the corner of 14-Mile Road (state highway M-57) and Lappley Avenue in Oakfield Township, Kent County, Michigan.
As I mentioned in a recent article about maternal kin, Dee and Mom and I met cousins in June who we had found through DNA testing. In August we visited Diane and Janet in Ohio, meeting their mother Betty and their brother Jim. Mom was delighted to meet Betty, who is Mom’s age but is a first cousin of Mom’s mother. Betty’s mother Grace Dennis Abell was my Grandma Sovereign’s mother Idell Dennis Fisher’s youngest sister. While enjoying the company of our new-found cousins, we shared information about our Dennis and Powell ancestors.
Rachel was born in Mill Creek Township near West Unity, Williams County, Ohio on 11 February 1854. She entered the world in a family of strong religious ties. Her mother, Amy Cliffton, was raised in a large extended family of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. Clifftons, Bortons, Townes and other Quaker families were interconnected for generations. When Amy Powell died shortly after her daughter Rachel’s birth, a Borton cousin reportedly served as Rachel’s nurse. Rachel’s father, Joseph Powell, was a farmer and Methodist preacher.
Rachel and John Dennis
Rachel married John Samuel Dennis, ten years her senior, in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan on 13 October 1872. John was a veteran of the Civil War, having served in the 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry for about three years. John’s obituary stated that he was born in Mansfield, Richland County, Ohio on 3 April 1844 shortly after his family’s arrival from England. His family lived in Mill Creek Township, Williams County by 1850.
In 1880 John and Rachel lived across the state line in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan with their children Joseph Clinton, Mary Amy, and Hannah as well as John’s mother Mary Dennis.
In 1890, John was listed in the Veterans Schedule for Ransom Township, Hillsdale County. Nearly all of the Population Schedules listing residents for the 1890 census have been destroyed so we have no record of the rest of the family in that census.
In 1894, the Michigan state census records John and Rachel in Ransom Township with Hannah, Charlotte, Clara May, Florence Idell, Anna Lucille, Arthur John and Ellen Grace.
John and Rachel’s relationship was apparently somewhat tenuous. John filed for divorce from Rachel in the Circuit Court of Hillsdale County, Michigan on 27 April 1897. Their oldest son, Clinton, died later in 1897 after suffering interstitial nephritis for perhaps three years. Their youngest child, Grace, had been born in 1894.
In 1900 Rachel was listed by the census enumerator in Morenci, Seneca Township, Lenawee County, Michigan with Charlotte, Idell, Anna, John, and Grace. Morenci borders the Ohio state line a few miles east of Williams County. Rachel was reported as married, but her husband John was not in the household. I have not yet located John S. Dennis in 1900 census records.
In 1910 John Dennis was listed in the household of his son-in-law and daughter Olla and Charlotte Moyer in Hudson Township, Lenawee County, Michigan. John was identified as divorced in this census enumeration. I have not located Rachel Dennis in the 1910 census.
On 21 June 1915 the Circuit Court of Lenawee County granted a divorce to John dissolving his marriage with Rachel on grounds of desertion. John married Sarah Russell Keefer on 9 July 1915 in Morenci. Her first husband had died in 1912.
In 1920 Rachel was recorded as a divorced woman in Hillsdale, Hillsdale County. Her occupation was reported as evangelist. John was recorded in Morenci, Seneca Township, Lenawee County, married to Sarah Dennis, age 43. Their household included children from Sarah’s previous marriage.
John died 5 July 1926 in Morenci, Lenawee County, Michigan. He was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery at Morenci, apparently in a family plot associated with his second wife Sarah. John was buried next to Sarah’s third husband Cyrus Bowersox and near one of her children from her first marriage, Earl Keefer.
In 1930 Rachel was recorded in the census enumeration as widowed, living in Hillsdale, Hillsdale County. She was reported as a seamstress. On 16 June 1930 Rachel was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel by the Assembly of God at The Gospel School, Findlay, Ohio. This school, described in an article about T.K. Leonard, was part of his work in the founding of the Assemblies of God. This was the final year of the school’s operation. Rachel apparently served in home mission work before she was ordained. She used a tambourine to accompany her music and message.
Rachel died 11 April 1937 in Medina Township, Lenawee County, Michigan. An index of her obituary provides more information about her family. Rachel was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery at Morenci in a plot with her son Clinton, daughter Anna, and great-grandson Harold Apger.
Betty’s research notes indicate that her mother, Grace, was about a year and a half old when her parents separated. Without uncovering first-hand evidence or knowledge of causes leading to the dissolution of John and Rachel’s marriage, we can only speculate about some potential factors.
Was the strain of Clinton’s decline that eventually led to death a factor?
Was Rachel, mindful of her own mother’s death from childbirth, withholding her affections? Large families, including her father’s, were quite common. She might have been concerned about that prospect.
Was Rachel beginning to focus on gospel work outside of the home that might not have met John’s approval? John was described by his daughter as having died a Christian, suggesting that he had not always appreciated efforts in faith.
Was John convinced that Rachel had been unfaithful? He is reported to have had some doubt of Grace’s paternity, but I have seen no evidence suggesting infidelity on Rachel’s part.
DNA testing, while not yet offering the proof of shared DNA with descendants of John’s siblings or cousins, strongly supports the case for John as Grace’s father. Betty and Mom, as first cousins once removed, share 8.95% of their DNA. This is well above the average amount shared by first cousins once removed (6.25%), let alone the amount (3.125%) for half first cousins once removed, which they would be if John wasn’t Grace’s father.
If Rachel left John, as was the claimed basis for divorce, what prompted her departure? Something seems to have pushed or pulled her away, but we don’t know what that was. Rachel certainly didn’t abandon her children, but kept them in her care.
A daughter’s perspective
John and Rachel’s daughter Clara wrote brief accounts of her parents and her paternal grandmother that our Findlay cousins have shared with us. Here is Clara’s perspective on Rachel’s life:
Mrs. Rachel Powell Dennis
Her mother was French with just a little Welch mixed in some way. Her father was a Methodist evangelist-was Scotch and English
Mother was called by the Lord to be a minister of the Gospel. She was ordained in the Assembly of God Church in Findlay, Ohio years ago. Later she went to Hillsdale, Michigan, organized a little Mission church, was head of this Mission for 20 years. She believed much in prayer for all things. She was called to come and pray for the sick. When the terrible epidemic of the flu was raging all over America, she was kept busy praying for the sick and she said not one died whom she prayed for.
I lived in Hillsdale. After Mother was called to glory, I was in a neighbors house one day. Another neighbor came in telling of another neighbor being awful sick, and this one said to the other-I used to know of an elderly lady that went and prayed for the sick and they always got well right away but I don’t know if she is here any more. I haven’t seen her for some time. I (Clara) spoke up and said would you mind telling me her name. She said Mrs. Dennis. I said that was my mother. The Bible says when we leave here our works follow us.
She was a home Missionary. Went from slum to slum telling people about Jesus and He loved them so much He gave his blood for their salvation and gave His body to be beaten, marred, torn, spit upon. He did all this for the healing of their bodies. He said it is finished for body, soul and mind. Many accepted Christ thru her teaching.
A missionary was coming to North Morenci, when Mother lived in Morenci. The Lord told Mother to hire a livery rig and go to North Morenci for the lady. Mother did not have the money to pay for the rig, so she said to the Lord on the way over there, “Lord you told me to do this, now you will have to furnish the money.” Something right away told her to water her horse. There was a watering trough to water him and there in the mud lay a big silver dollar just enough to pay for the rig. Mother was a beautiful young lady with short curly hair, like it’s worn today.
Mother was a quiet person. I always described her as like a feather. She could put aside a lot of work, with no fuss nor bother. I could talk all day about my mother’s kind and loving ways.
I thank God for a mother like Rachel Dennis.
A life lived for others.
A saint if there ever was one on earth.
This transcribed account is from a document about the Powell and Dennis families. A note at the end of this document says
Recopied from a carbon of the original by Clara Dennis Schoonover-
On a 1977 August morning.
Handwriting after the dash says ‘date to be inserted.’ Clara would have produced the original sometime between her mother’s death in 1937 and her own death in 1957.
Mom and Betty were around eight years old when Rachel Dennis died. Mom remembers her Great-grandma Dennis scolding people who referred to children as kids. Betty probably saw more of her Grandma Dennis than Mom did. Betty has done quite a bit of research on her family, an interest that she has passed on to her daughters. Until Betty’s mother Grace died in 1988, she would have been a good source of information about her mother Rachel. Betty’s notes, of which I here include a few, indicate that Rachel had considerable education for a woman of her time.
Two things I know about Rachel Dennis-she gives me much to live up to and I have much more to learn.
When we think of family lines our surname ancestry is often the first thing that comes to mind. Our initial interest in genealogy and the broader topic of family history is likely to be curiosity about our father’s male ancestors. We might then expand our interest to explore our mother’s male ancestors and, more broadly, each of our grandparents and the families they grew up in. But what about our chain of maternal ancestors? They might not get the attention they deserve because they don’t typically carry a surname from generation to generation. In fact, that is one of the factors that makes our discovery of their identities and lives a greater challenge.
Finding our maternal ancestors
We don’t have to delve back many generations in our ancestry to find a mother referred to as Mrs. John Smith. If we are in fact dealing with such a common name, sorting out the right John Smith from others of the same name can be quite a challenge. But Mrs. John Smith, or even Mrs. Clyde Fisher can present a whole new level of difficulty. If we don’t know from personal family acquaintance that Clyde’s wife’s name was Idell we need to find records, letters, pictures, or something else that relates them as husband and wife and provides her given name. Further research might be required to learn that her given name was actually Florence Idell. We still might not have discovered that her surname at birth was Dennis. If a woman was married more than once we encounter further challenges in finding evidence of her life.
A corollary puzzle comes when we try to find married daughters. Why would we bother with that? Well, they were an integral part of their family, important in the lives of our direct ancestors. We might want to identify their descendants who show up as DNA testing matches. But even for strictly genealogical research, finding the families of our ancestors’ brothers and sisters can lead to information about their parents. A sister’s death certificate might reveal their mother’s maiden name. Although this is secondary information in regard to proving her name, it is a vital clue in the search for her identity before marriage.
DNA and our family lines
Most of the DNA in each of our cells resides in 23 pairs of chromosomes. Autosomal DNA, in Chromosomes 1-22, shapes personal characteristics aside from gender. Our autosomal DNA comes in segments that have been passed to us from any of our ancestral lines. By contrast, Y DNA (for males only) comes only from our all-male line of fathers.
X and Y chromosomes, which are paired on Chromosome 23, determine our gender. Mothers always provide an X chromosome to their children. If the father also provides an X chromosome, the child’s gender is female. If the father provides a Y chromosome, the child is genetically male. Most of us understand that Y DNA is passed down from fathers to sons. Because that DNA seldom changes in its passage through generations, it provides a very good map for common male-line ancestry among men.
So then, X DNA maps our all-female line, right? Well, no. Females receive an X chromosome from each parent, not just from their mother. My X chromosomes are a mix of the X chromosomes that Mom received from her mother and her father. Mom’s father’s X chromosomes came from his mother, but Mom’s mother’s X chromosomes are a mix of the X chromosomes she received from her mother and father. X DNA comes from a subset of our family lines, never from father to son.
A small portion of the DNA in our cells is in mitochondria, not in chromosomes. Mitochondrial DNA is passed by a mother to each of her children, male and female. Fathers do not pass on their mitochondrial DNA. Thus our mitochondrial DNA comes only from our all-female line of mothers. I received my mitochondrial DNA from Mom, but my son and daughter received theirs from my wife Dee, their mother.
Rachel Powell Dennis’s family
Lois Kidder, Marie Fisher, Idell Dennis and Rachel Powell are the most recent in my line of maternal ancestors. Rachel’s mother Amy Clifton and Amy’s mother Ann Borton extend that known lineage two more generations. I’ve seen a tree on Ancestry that identifies Ann’s mother as Sarah Peacock, Sarah’s mother as Susannah Ballinger, and Susannah’s mother as Mary Elizabeth Elkington in colonial New Jersey but I haven’t attempted yet to verify that information.
Rachel Powell was born in Mill Creek Township, Williams County, Ohio on March 11, 1854. She was the daughter of Joseph Powell and Amy Clifton, who were born and married in Gloucester County, New Jersey, near Philadelphia. Rachel’s parents were married at Gloucester Point, now in Camden County, New Jersey, on November 4, 1840. Rachel was apparently the seventh child of Joseph and Amy Powell.
Rachel’s mother Amy died on March 5, 1854 shortly after Rachel’s birth. Newly-met cousins of mine have seen information suggesting that Rachel might have been nursed by a Borton cousin. Rachel’s father Joseph Powell married Louisa Goss about 1855 so Rachel would have been raised by Joseph and Louisa, who had eight children born of their marriage.
Rachel’s husband John Dennis was one of my Civil War veteran ancestors. He served in the 111th Ohio Infantry regiment. I remember my granduncle Waldo Fisher, Marie Fisher’s younger brother, telling me when I was a teenager about John “Bull” Dennis’s valor as a soldier. I think the only bull was Waldo’s. Mom’s memory of her great-grandmother Rachel Dennis was her gruff assertion that “kids are goats!” Rachel apparently didn’t think it appropriate to call children kids.
Rachel married John Samuel Dennis on October 13, 1872 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. Their marriage produced nine children:
Joseph Clinton Dennis was born on July 20, 1873 in Michigan. He died in Morenci, Lenawee County, Michigan on November 2, 1897.
Mary Amy Dennis was born on December 24, 1875 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. She married William Silas Bailey on December 25, 1897 in Morenci, Lenawee County, Michigan. Will and Amy had a son and a daughter. Amy died on June 15, 1968 in or near Morenci, Lenawee County, Michigan.
Hannah Dennis was born on October 13, 1878 in Hillsdale County, Michigan. She married Kelso George Blackford in Hillsdale, Hillsdale County, Michigan on October 28, 1908. I’m guessing that her sister Idell didn’t attend the wedding because Idell gave birth to my grandmother, Marie Fisher that same day. Kelly and Hannah had four sons and two daughters. Hannah died on June 26, 1951 in either Marion, Hancock County, Ohio or Knox County, Ohio.
Charlotte Dennis was born on November 25, 1880 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. She married Olla Leroy Moyer on April 29, 1903 in Sandusky County, Ohio. Ollie and Lottie had five sons and four daughters. Lottie died on September 16, 1978 at Spring Arbor, Jackson County, Michigan.
Clara May Dennis was born on April 19, 1883 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. She married Charles Lesley Schoonover on September 30, 1899 at Morenci, Lenawee County, Michigan. Charles and Clara had three sons and a daughter. Clara died in 1957, probably in Colorado where she lived in 1940 and where she was buried.
Florence Idell Dennis, my great-grandmother, was born on December 23, 1885 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. She married Clyde Myron Fisher on December 23, 1903 in Jasper Township, Lenawee County, Michigan. Clyde and Idell had three sons and two daughters. Idell died December 1, 1934 in Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan.
Anna Lucille Dennis was born on March 31, 1888 or 1889 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. She died on August 3, 1953 in Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio.
Arthur John Dennis was born on September 12, 1891 in Michigan. He married Josie Charlotte Wilkinson on October 7, 1914 in Stillwater, Montana. Arthur and Josie had one son and two daughters. A. J., as he was apparently known, died on October 9, 1957 in Twin Falls, Twin Falls County, Idaho.
Grace Ellen Dennis, whose name might have been Ellen Grace, was born on April 16, 1894 in Michigan. She married Charles Dewey Abell on June 22, 1914 in Monroe, Monroe County, Michigan. Charles and Grace had six sons and one daughter. Grace died on July 1, 1988 in Findlay, Hancock County, Ohio.
Rachel Dennis’s daughters passed her mitochondrial DNA to their children and on through their daughters’ daughters.
John and Rachel Dennis divorced on June 21, 1915 and had apparently lived apart for some time. Rachel Dennis, of Hillsdale, Michigan, was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel by the Assembly of God at The Gospel School in Findlay, Ohio on June 16, 1930. Rachel died on April 11, 1937 in Medina Township, Lenawee County, Michigan.
Meeting new cousins
Mom, Dee and I recently met maternal family cousins that I learned of after testing DNA with 23andMe. Almost as soon as my results were posted, Janet McCall contacted me to share DNA segment information and to ask about family lines. We quickly found our common ancestry in John and Rachel Dennis. Janet and her sister Diane, who are very interested in family history and genealogy, came out of their way to see us. Their visit was a real blessing for Mom, Dee and me.
Idell Dennis was Mom’s grandmother and Grace Dennis was Diane and Janet’s grandmother. Because Janet’s and Diane’s mother and Mom’s mother were first cousins, Mom is their second cousin. Janet and Diane are my second cousins once removed. While they were here, we shared some of the information we have about our ancestors. Mom enjoyed showing Diane and Janet a quilt that was made by Amy Dennis Bailey, Idell’s and Grace’s oldest sister.
What about our common DNA with Diane and Janet? Not only do Mom and I share quite a bit of our autosomal DNA with the McCalls, we carry the same mitochondrial DNA, passed down through Ann Borton, Amy Clifton, and Rachel Powell. That DNA represents an unbroken line of female ancestors reaching far back in time. My siblings have that same mitochondrial DNA, as does my sister’s niece.
Dee’s maternal ancestry
For a number of reasons, my wife’s ancestors are harder to track down than many of mine. Her maternal line is, of course, a bit of a challenge. When I met Dee her close family consisted of her mother and her grandmother living in eastern European ethnic suburbs of Chicago. Dee’s grandmother grew up in a household where Czech was spoken.
Dee’s mother, Dorothy Lorraine Dlouhy, was born on December 30, 1922 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. She married Louis Peter Van Zandt on October 16, 1943 in Cicero, Cook County, Illinois. Louis and Dorothy had one child, Dedra Van Zandt. Dee’s parents divorced on Jan 4, 1960 in Cook County, Illinois. Dorothy died on August 22, 2012 in Greenville, Montcalm County, Michigan.
Dorothy’s mother, Rose Karel, was born on April 3, 1902 in Chicago. She married Joseph Dlouhy on December 3, 1921 at her parents’ home in Chicago. Dorothy was their only child. Rose died on August 28, 1996 in Cicero.
Rose’s mother, Frantiska Macak, was apparently born around 1860 in Bohemia, which was then part of the Austrian Empire. One of Frances’s granddaughters, Marie Bouquet Cook, recorded her place of birth as Praha (Prague) on a family chart she drew in the late 1970s. Frances married Anton Karel in 1880, probably shortly before they sailed for America.
Anton and Frances had at least seven sons and five daughters:
James Karel was born around 1881 and died young.
Louis Karel was born on September 10, 1884 in Illinois. Louis married Julia O’Connor on June 28, 1905 in Cook County, Illinois. Louis and Julia had one son, who died young, and one daughter. Louis died on January 7, 1931 in Cook County, Illinois.
Mary Karel was born on March 8, 1885 in Illinois. Mollie, as she was known, married John Edward Bouquet on August 27, 1908 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. John and Mollie had one son and two daughters. Mollie died on December 16, 1980 in Homewood, Cook County, Illinois.
Ruzena Karel was born on January 4, 1887 and died young.
Anna Karel was born on September 28, 1888 in Illinois. Anna married Antonin Vyzral on August 27, 1910 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Antonin and Anna had two sons and two daughters. Anna married George Edward Metzger on March 28, 1941 in Rochester, Fulton County, Indiana. Anna died on October 29, 1976 in Rochester.
Anton Karel was born on August 16, 1890 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. He died on October 13, 1895 in Cook County, Illinois.
Emily Karel was born on March 26, 1892 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Emma, as she was known, married George Edward Metzger on February 29, 1932 in Fulton County, Indiana. Emma died on September 25, 1941 in Richland Township, Fulton County, Indiana.
Edward Karel was born on March 29, 1894 in Cook County, Illinois. He married Jane Scott about 1927. Edward died in 1959 and was buried in Dekorra, Columbia County, Wisconsin.
Frank Karel was born on August 16, 1895 in Cook County, Illinois. He married Anna Kubal on December 14, 1914 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Frank and Anna had three sons. Frank died on October 18, 1932 in Proviso Township, Cook County, Illinois.
Anton Karel was born on November 21, 1898 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. He married Julia Vetrovec on July 11, 1923 in Cook County, Illinois, Tony and Julia had one son. Tony married Genevieve Tanner on September 16, 1964 in Itasca County, Minnesota. Tony died on October 27, 1987 at Deer River, Itasca County, Minnesota.
Rose Karel was born on April 3, 1902 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. She married Joseph Dlouhy on Dec 3, 1921 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. Joe and Rose had one daughter. Rose died on August 28, 1996 in Cicero, Cook County, Illinois.
James Karel was born about 1904 in Illinois. He married Mildred Riedl on September 14, 1943 in Cook County, Illinois. James and Mildred had one daughter. James, or Uncle Jimmy as I remember him, died on April 15, 1988 in Fairfax, Virginia.
Frances Karel died on May 9, 1943, which was Mother’s Day. Frances’s son Edward, who provided personal information for his mother’s death certificate, reported her date of birth as October 28, 1868. While I remember some family talk of a fuss about Anton leaving the old country with the family servant, this would have made Frances barely twelve years old on arrival in New York on November 12, 1880. Rose told me that she thought her mother had worked for her father’s parents.
The mitochondrial DNA that Frantiska Macak inherited from her unknown line of mothers has been passed in my family through Rose Karel and Dorothy Dlouhy to my wife Dee and our son and daughter who carry it today.
Our heritage is given to us in genetic blueprints and in the rich experience of history from the many branches of our family trees. Yet there is something unique about our all-male and all-female lineages. Our mothers in every family line have given birth to each new generation. They have cared for and shaped their children and passed on their own inheritance of life as they knew how. We are indebted to them, perhaps uniquely in our unbroken female connection to time beyond memory.
‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ That’s an admonition we should all take to heart, that it may be well with us and with those who have given us life in so many ways. I know very well that some parents show no desire to care about their offspring. Some are intentionally harmful to their children. Yet most parents do care, whether they demonstrate it well or not. We honor our parents not because they deserve it but because we should. Alas, babies still don’t come with instruction manuals and our best intentions are too easily misplaced in the fray of life.
I remember listening to the lyrics of ‘Easy to be Hard’ as a young man concerned about people and social injustice. I believed, and still do, that we should live for a better purpose than self indulgence. Yet I wondered how anyone who really cared about people could fail to show how much they care about those dearest to them. Let me tell you, it’s apparently all too easy.
I am writing this article on the 69th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. They didn’t have much, but what they had they committed to each other and to their family. I have been blessed with good, decent, honorable parents. They have faced challenges in life, as we all do, including the loss of a son. In recent years they have been dealing with the limiting effects of Parkinson’s disease. Yet they have known a good life, and they have shared it.
Sometimes parenthood isn’t about biology but about responsibility and choice. Both of my parents lost their father when they were young, Mom at age six and Dad at sixteen. Their mothers’ second marriages were to good men who took on step-families as their own. However we come by our parents, they bequeath a heritage that is ours to carry on.
My investigation of our heritage is a search for people living everyday lives in extended families and communities. I am not particularly interested in a list of names that lay a claim to ancient ancestry. I want to understand as much as I can about ancestors’ lives as they dealt with opportunities and difficulties not as unlike our own as we might think. This puts a personal face on history. It might even bring lessons of history to our own lives.
Here are a few pictures from my maternal and paternal families.
My mother, Lois Kidder, was the daughter of Marie Idell Fisher, who was the daughter of Florence Idell Dennis, who was the daughter of Rachel Powell.
Mom’s grandmother Florence Idell (Dennis) Fisher’s sister Mary Amy (Dennis) Bailey provided special care and attention for Mom while my grandfather Coyne Kidder was hospitalized with tuberculosis.
Aden and Verda Springsteen raised their family on a farm just south of Sheridan, Michigan. Aden Loyal Springsteen was the son of Loyal Davis “L.D.” Springsteen, who was the son of John S. Springsteen. Aden died from injuries sustained as a passenger in a car-train accident in 1941. This family picture was taken sometime between Loretta’s birth in 1931 and Johnnie’s death in 1934.
John S. Springsteen died around 1867 when L.D. would have been two years old. I wonder if John’s middle name might been Staats. John’s father Jacob was the oldest known son of Staats and Anna Springsteen.
This is also an anniversary of another sort. I launched Our Heritage five years ago today on my old web site. Here’s the initial post from the archives:
From the archives—Happy Anniversary!
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
My parents, Ed and Lois Springsteen, were married on this day in 1947. This seems a most appropriate day to launch Our Heritage. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for more than I can say.
Rachel Dennis was my my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, my 2nd-great grandmother. She was born as Rachel Powell on 11 February 1854 in Mill Creek Township near West Unity, Williams County, Ohio. Williams County is in the northwestern corner of Ohio on the border of Michigan and Indiana. Rachel was the seventh known child of Joseph Powell and Amy F. Clifton, who were both born in New Jersey. Amy died on 5 March 1854, less than a month after Rachel’s birth. Joseph and Amy apparently moved to Ohio between the birth of their daughter Mary in New Jersey about 1844 and the birth of their son Arthur in Ohio about February 1846. After Amy’s death, Joseph remarried and had eight additional children with his wife Louisa. Joseph and his wives raised a farm family that was undoubtedly kept quite busy.
Rachel married one of my Civil War ancestors, John Samuel Dennis, on 13 October 1872 in Ransom Township, Hillsdale County, Michigan. At the time of their marriage John was a resident of Ransom and Rachel lived in Mill Creek, Ohio where John had previously lived. John served in the 111th Ohio Infantry from August 1862 to June 1865. An earlier post reviewed his service.
John and Rachel were the parents of two sons and seven daughters:
Joseph Clinton Dennis (1873-1897)
Mary Amy Dennis (1875-1968) married William Silas Bailey
Hannah Dennis (1878-1951) married Kelso George Blackford
Charlotte Dennis (1880-1978) married Olla Leroy Moyer
Clara May Dennis (1883-1957) married Charles Lesley Schoonover
Florence Idell Dennis (1885-1934) married Clyde Myron Fisher
Anna L. Dennis (1888-1953)
Arthur John Dennis (1891-1951) married Josie Charlotte Wilkinson
Grace Ellen Dennis (1894-1988) married Charles Dewey Abell
John Dennis filed for divorce from Rachel in the Circuit Court of Hillsdale County, Michigan on 27 September 1897. A 1900 U.S. Census enumerator recorded Rachel living in Seneca Township, Lenawee County, Michigan with five of her children. She was listed as married but John was not present in the household. At the time of the 1910 U.S. Census John was living with his son-in-law and daughter Olla and Charlotte Moyer in Hudson Township, Lenawee County where he was listed as divorced. Apparently John and Rachel’s divorce had not been finalized, as John filed again for divorce in the Circuit Court of Lenawee County on 21 December 1914 on grounds of desertion. A divorce decree was granted on 21 Jun 1915.
John married Sarah Aminda “Minnie” Russell Keefer on 9 July 1915 in Morenci, Lenawee County, which is near the Ohio state line. John died on 9 July 1926 at Morenci. His wife at the time of death was identified as Mary Dennis.
In the 1920 U.S. Census enumeration of Hillsdale, Hillsdale County Rachel was listed as an evangelist. She was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel by the Assembly of God at the Gospel School in Findlay, Ohio on 16 June 1930.
Rachel died at Morenci, Medina Township, Lenawee County on 11 April 1937. The informant for personal information, William Bailey, identified her mother as Mary Borton. Who was she?
I hope to learn much more about Rachel. She grew up in a large family and never really knew the mother who gave birth to her. She raised a large family of her own and apparently remained close to her daughters after separation from her husband. Why did John and Rachel part ways?
The Dennis family held well-attended reunions for many years, which I am guessing was a reflection of Rachel’s daughters’ dedication to their family. I attended the Dennis reunion with my family at least once when I was young. My grand-uncle Waldo Fisher was an active participant in these reunions. I think that Dennis descendants still gather on the same day as the annual reunion of my father’s family.
DNA gives each cell in our bodies instructions for its function (hair, eye, lung) and characteristics (brown, blue). Most of the DNA in each cell resides in 23 pairs of chromosomes. Chromosome 23 determines our genetic gender. We all get an X Chromosome 23 from our mother. If we get an X Chromosome 23 from our father, we have an XX pair and are female. If we get a Y from our father, we have an XY pair and are male.
Chromosomes 1-22 are called autosomes. Our autosomal DNA is inherited in equal proportions from each of our biological parents. Conversely, we only inherit half of each parent’s autosomal DNA, meaning that half of what they inherited from their parents is passed on to us and half is not. With the exception of some multiple births, each sibling receives a different mix of DNA segments from each parent.
A tiny percentage of our DNA, called mitochondrial DNA, is separate from our chromosomes. Whether sons or daughters, we all have it, but only daughters pass it on to their children.
Aside from our autosomal DNA being divvied up and passed out to children in different combinations with each generation, pieces of DNA are subject to minor changes from time to time through the generations. These mutations help us define different subfamilies in genetic genealogy and human history. Because Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA are less prone to change than autosomal DNA is, they provide a strong map for all-male and all-female ancestry.
So what kinds of tests are available for DNA?
Autosomal tests reveal DNA information from all of our ancestral lines, not just our all-female or all-male lines. DNA analysis tools for autosomal tests can show us, by comparing our DNA with the DNA of our matches, what segments of DNA came from different ancestors. The segments can be from Chromosomes 1-22 and I think also from X chromosomes in the Chromosome 23 pair. Autosomal DNA testing is generally useful for common ancestry within the last two centuries or so. DNA test results can be used hand-in-hand with traditional genealogical research to find or confirm what neither alone might be able to determine.
Mitochondrial DNA tests identify people who share common ancestors on their all-female lines, that is our mothers, their mothers, their mothers, and so on. Because mutations occur only rarely in mitochondrial DNA, these common ancestors might be hundreds or even thousands of years back.
Y-DNA tests identify people who share common ancestors on their all-male lines. Y-DNA mutations occur seldom enough that these common ancestors can be much further back in time than is likely with autosomal DNA matches.
At the beginning of this year Dee and I tested our DNA with 23andMe. Later in the spring Mom and Dad tested with 23andMe as well. I have previously talked a bit about some resulting discoveries and confirmations. Later in the year, Dee and I tested with AncestryDNA and recently with Family Tree DNA. Each of these companies offers something different.
23andMe provides useful DNA tools and has a history of genetic health reports that the FDA suspended for a time but are again permitting.
Ancestry DNA doesn’t offer DNA analysis tools, but their DNA results are tied into family trees from a very large customer base.
Family Tree DNA provides DNA tools and offers additional DNA tests for all-male and all-female ancestry.
In general, mitochondrial and Y-DNA tests are more expensive than autosomal tests, but 23andMe recently doubled their price for autosomal testing in conjunction with the inclusion of health-related genetic reports.
With 23andMe’s renewed provision of genetic health reports, they have overhauled their website, consolidating and at least temporarily dropping some of their genealogy-related functions. I have been able to communicate with other testers who share DNA with me and my parents. Some of the DNA shared between one of my parents and other testers was not passed on to me but might well have been passed on to one or more of my siblings.
Dad’s family hasn’t had many close relatives test with 23andMe. One unknown tester shares enough DNA with Dad to be estimated as a first or second cousin. Dad has hundreds of other DNA matches, many of whose identities are known, but they all share less than 1% of their DNA with Dad. Nevertheless, comparing matching DNA segments with others who know something about their ancestry can provide clues for finding common ancestors.
Taking a look at my closest matches, you will notice a few McCalls near the top of the list. Janet McCall manages the testing profiles for several members of her family including two more not shown here. My Grandma Sovereign, born as Marie Fisher, was Betty (Abell) McCall’s first cousin. However, I never knew anything about the McCall family until we connected through 23andMe. Betty’s mother Grace (Dennis) Abell was Marie’s mother Idell’s youngest sister. Mom and Betty are about the same age, but Betty’s grandparents John Dennis and Rachel (Powell) Dennis were Mom’s great grandparents.
You might also notice that Dad’s closest DNA match appears in my list of matches but not all of the DNA shared between Dad and our anonymous cousin was passed to me. Dad shares 6.99% of his DNA with Mr. Anonymous in 17 segments. I received a 4.08% share of common DNA in 12 segments.
I have posted previously about Dad’s fifth cousin, found through 23andMe, who shares a small amount of DNA that came down the line to Dad through Staats Springsteen. That DNA was not passed on to me.
AncestryDNA provides tools to associate people with shared DNA. They don’t reveal the shared DNA segments but they do indicate how much is shared. AncestryDNA also maps the matching testers to their family trees in Ancestry, a definite genealogical benefit. They have also introduced DNA Circles, which shows clusters of people who share common DNA and suggest their common ancestor. I have been assigned to three DNA Circles so far, the John Samuel Dennis Circle, the Rachel Powell Circle, and the James Kidder Circle. The first two circles have four members and consist, of course, of the same members. The James Kidder Circle currently has ten members assigned to it.
AncestryDNA maps out the relationship between DNA matches when they can identify the connection based on our Ancestry family trees. I learned the identity of J.M. from one of his first cousins at a recent visitation for his aunt Merilyn Fisher.
Like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA offers autosomal DNA testing that is useful in finding distant cousins who share DNA in any of our chromosomes. Family Tree DNA’s autosomal test is aptly called Family Finder, casting its net wide to find cousins. We found a second cousin from Dee’s Czech family in Family Finder who could then be identified as a recent tester with 23andMe.
In addition to autosomal tests, Family Tree DNA offers mitochondrial and Y-DNA tests. As indicated earlier, these tests are suitable for finding people who share female-line or male-line ancestry far back in history. Our results from these tests have just been reported in the last few days, so I don’t have a good handle on using the resulting information yet.
Dee and I have both been tested at an intermediate level for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). She has 1000 matches at that level and I have 830. Again, these matches are people who almost certainly share common ancestors with us somewhere up our all-female ancestral lines. By contrast, autosomal DNA matches can be coincidental by virtue of repeated recombination of segments through the generations.
My Y-DNA results were quite surprising. I have only one match among those who have invested in Y-DNA testing:
Did you notice the next surprise? My sole Y-DNA match is not named Springsteen. Yet we come from the same male line. I imagine that Mr. DePew has been waiting for a Y-DNA match to show up and might be just as surprised as I was.
I am fairly sure that my paper trail for male-line ancestry is valid back at least to Staats Springsteen based on the small amount of DNA Dad apparently inherited from him, so I changed the base line for percentage calculation to five generations. With 93% chance of a common ancestor within twelve generations, that could reach back to a time before surnames were used in our male line. Dutch families on both sides of the Atlantic were commonly known by patronymics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In my line, Symon Casparse was the son of Caspar Melcherse, who was the son of Melchior Casparse. The surname Springsteen was associated with these families in the new world, but not everyone in those times used a surname at all. Another obvious explanation is that someone in either my family or Mr. DePew’s might not have been the daddy. Nevertheless, we have a big fat question mark. I wish more Springsteen men, preferably in other lines, would have their Y-DNA tested.
This exploration of family history just keeps getting more interesting.
I am reposting this entry from my old web site on the occasion of Waldo’s 102nd birthday.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Waldo Vaughn Fisher, generally known as Red Fisher, passed from this life on 15 February 2013 at age 99. Waldo composed a short account of his life several years ago that provides insights into his life, experiences, and the times in which he lived. Waldo’s son Lannie provided a printed copy of this account that I have transcribed and lightly edited for clarity. I am sharing this story with Lannie’s permission.
It appears that Waldo’s account was substantially written or revised around 2004-2005. I recall Waldo telling me that someone helped him record this at Masonic Pathways in Alma, Michigan. His obituary states that he and his wife Dorothy moved there in 2004. Waldo’s reference to his sister-in-law and himself being the oldest family members currently attending family reunions suggests that the account was written before Hazen Fisher’s wife Malva Wallace died in March 2005.
Lannie believes that the reunions Waldo referred to were Dennis family reunions. Waldo’s mother, Idell Fisher, was born Florence Idell Dennis.
Waldo V. (Red) Fisher
I was the fourth child of Florence Idell and Clyde M. Fisher. After they returned from Idaho, I was born in the morning of November 24, 1913, in Morenci, Michigan. That is near the border of Ohio, about thirty miles west of Toledo. I was two or three years old when we moved north to Mansiding, in Clare County. We lived on a farm for a few years, in a log cabin that was built in 1870. It is still there. My memories of the area are sandy roads, only stumps all over, not trees or forest. There was an apple orchard and few small wood lots. I could see a long ways.
I remember the hardships of WWI when we had to go easy on the white flour and eat lots of Johnny cake, which I didn’t care for. We lived a long ways from school and I was small and frequently sick with ears and eye trouble. That kept me home a lot. One winter, when the flu hit the area very hard, Mom took most of us kids to Harrison to live, so we could go to school there. The weather was really bad so Dad and one brother stayed on the farm to care for the geese, cattle, pigs, horses, and our dog Happy. After school was out, in the spring, at the end of 2nd grade for me, we left the farm and moved to Clare. I started the 3rd grade in a new school. Dad worked with horses on road construction and Mom operated a big machine at the elevator. It was like a huge sewing machine and had a six-inch-wide belt that carried beans. Mom picked out the bad culls, any dirt and stones, and bad beans, so the good beans could be sold in the stores. Four of us 3rd grade boys sang at the Clare Cemetery for the Memorial Day celebration.
A family from Sheridan started a bakery in town. Their oldest son was about my oldest sister’s age. They eventually married and moved back to Sheridan, somewhere in the mid-1920s. Coyne Kidder suffered a lot from TB and went to a sanitarium in Howell. He died at the University of Michigan Hospital on July 1, 1935 [note: he died on July 3]. I hitch-hiked from the CCC in Newberry, Michigan with a four-day leave. I was off for the 4th of July but it allowed me to attend the funeral. I was back in time for roll call four days later.
In the fall of 1927 we moved to Lansing from Clare. I went to West Jr. High School. Then we moved across town, I graduated from Eastern High School in January of 1934.
I had a chance to see some really hard times then. There were long lines at factory employment offices. War veterans of WWI sold apples on street corners. I saw so many families lose everything they owned. There were no jobs or food under Hoover’s times. Things changed when President Roosevelt came in. The CCC, WPA, and other projects started a recovery for the country.
I couldn’t get a job so I joined the CCC and went to Camp Newberry in 1935, and later I went to Camp Lake Superior. When I went to the CCC it was the first time I had ever been away from home. Under military supervision, I worked on KP, buzzed timber for firewood, was an ax man and cleared timber for roads to be built, planted pine trees, cleared streams, built fish shelters, worked on fish survey crews, was on lake and stream crews, fought forest fires, drove trucks, and built the road to Tahquamenon Falls. All the while we wore army WWI uniforms with army shoes and overall fatigues. We were fed good nourishing food and got plenty of sleep. It all built our minds and bodies so we could take a place in society in the labor movement. My brother Hazen Fisher got me a job at the Olds factory in Lansing, Michigan. My CCC experience was a big help when I started to work with others.
During WWII factories made war materials. I had been schooled in machine repair so I was started on the die-making machines. We made guns, cannons, shells and etc., to supply our troops in WWII. I was living in Sheridan then and took turns driving with three other people. We worked in Lansing. The speed limit was 35 mph. Gas, tires, food and many things were rationed. Our autos were getting older but we made do with what we had. All surpluses went to our troops.
I met Marguerite Taylor in 1937. Later we were married on June 8th, 1940 in Ionia, Michigan. We had two children, one girl and one boy. We lived next door to my mother- and father-in-law in Sheridan. I figured they could look after my family if and when I was called up. Olds factory granted eleven deferments and I was granted one of them so I was not called up.
When the war ended we were very busy changing the machinery over from war material to the plant’s original assembly for building automobiles. After our uniformed veterans returned to the plant, things were in full swing. There was much less demand for repairmen by then.
I moved on to work at the Greenville Gibson Refrigeration plant. When I moved to Sheridan in 1943 I joined the volunteer fire department and later was elected to the Sheridan Village Council.
In 1952 I took a job as village engineer in Sheridan, Michigan. John Kidder was being replaced. He was [the village] marshall and took care of water lines, streets, the parks, the cemetery, the swim beach, dock, wells, sewers, and the dump. Elton Sampson became our [Montcalm County] sheriff and hired me as a deputy. We made a three-way move in housing. I moved to the village house, Kidder moved out of the village house to his house that he had rented to Bill Mastkal [Maskill], and Bill moved into our house.
My duties were to sweep the Main Street (by hand), plus sweep in front of the local stores two times a week. When it need it, I painted the cross walks and the parking areas. Each school day I set out the school signs in the middle of Main Street. The Lions Club bought the Uptigrove [Uptegrove] farm and had it plotted out for a subdivision. The village bought an old galleon [Galion] grader. I dug the trenches and put in the water lines. Then I built the streets and graveled the area. Next was installing water mains and hooking it all up to the houses plus the fire hydrants. Roads had to graded to each home too. I was made the building inspector and handed out permits. The village had a 12-inch water well drilled to 160 feet deep. I hooked up the water pipes and installed the gas motor as a backup. The treatment plant used chlorine, Kalgan [Calgon], and fluoride equipment. I was also a member of the water works association. I went to the University of Michigan and Michigan State for my courses in water treatment and maintenance to get a certificate in water treatment plants. Later I set up the water treatment systems and testing it all for the City of Stanton.
Twice a year the water tower had to be cleaned with disinfectant, by me. I installed and read water meters and upgraded the water mains. More water lines and hydrants had to be installed over the years and maps revised for these changes. Most of those streets were graded and salt-brined in the summer but plowed in the winter. Eventually I poured sidewalks when a more progressive town council and mayor ordered it. Soon the main streets were blacktop. The mower had a cycle bar cutter to make wide cuts on the right side of the tractor. The local catch basis for the water runoff had to be cleaned out two time a year. I also patched the holes in the blacktop roads. Some of the cemetery lots needed wall repairs or improvements plus I dug the graves, put in foundations, and upkeep on the grave sites. Our Memorial Day was a big affair for the community. Services were held in the cemetery. I also mowed the cemetery and belonged to the Michigan Cemetery Association. Meetings for the Cemetery Association were held in Traverse City.
Our lake always had a swimming dock until recently. It was mounted on barrels. I would put it in each spring. I made sure the springboard worked OK, and in the fall I took it out. In the winter I cleared the roads and made an ice rink for ice skaters. Roadside picnic tables were cleaned, trash barrels dumped, and outside toilets cared for each summer. At the dump I tried a number of things including only burning when the wind blew out of the east away from the homes. I had to limit the days it was opened and used a front blade on the tractor to cover the trash with sand. A dump truck was used too. Eventually the Health Department closed our dump.
As a deputy sheriff, my duties were writing tickets for reckless driving, speeding, etc. I also policed accidents, family disputes, robberies, and any disturbances. We had no speed limit in the country or even in the state then. I was on call 24 hours a day and rode with a patrolman some of the nights. I was paid $2.00 for each call I reported to, including fires and accidents. At the end of each month I turned a bill in to the county supervisors. One month in 1955 there were eleven fatals in one mile section. Three people were killed near Vestaburg and in Montcalm [apparently west of the Gratiot County line]. If a prisoner escaped from anywhere, including Ionia County, or a bank robbery or murder took place, I was called out. It happened to work out that I was generally working alone then. Roadblocks had to be set up after serious incidences and arrests. It was six miles north to our county jail. One prisoner jumped out of the car one time on the way to the jail. Two deputies were required to transport a patient to the State Home in Traverse City or prisoners to Jackson Prison. I made sure I took another female along when a female prisoner was transported. It prevented any problems with being accused of something. Later I issued drivers licenses, kept the jail records, and was a radio dispatcher. After many years I switched work to the County School Attendances Officer. I was a member of the Michigan Sheriffs Association and the National Sheriffs Association.
One fire I discovered while on a night patrol. It was so big I called three other departments in to help us. When the blaze moved close to the bank, I and another deputy took all the money to the Stanton Bank for safekeeping. After that fire, we organized the Montcalm County Fireman’s Association. It’s still active today. This was before I became fire chief.
On one occasion, in Stanton, a woman was in the street with a shotgun. Her intentions were to shoot the judge. The Sheriff and the Undersheriff were on the lawn, standing behind trees, while trying to talk her into putting down the gun. Just then the courthouse doors opened and out walked Dorothy Webb, the Abstract Officer, on her way to lunch. She didn’t realize what was taking place. Dorothy got right in the middle of this ruckus. She kept a cool head and just kept walking till she was out of danger. At this time, Dorothy’s husband Ken was the Stanton Fire Chief. Stanton was just six miles north of Sheridan. My wife Marguerite and I, Dorothy and Ken were members of the Eastern Star in our own towns but got together socially once in a while. Marguerite and Ken both passed away just a month apart in 1994. The following year Dorothy and I married.
I retired from my police work after 33 years and 40 years on the Fire Department. Back in the ‘50s I helped my four aunts start our family reunions. Now my sister-in-law and I are the oldest members to attend. How time changes everything.
I have been to the National CCC Headquarters in Jefferson Barracks twice. I have attended the Michigan CCC Reunion every year since the late 1980s. In 1990 my wife Marguerite and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary at the reunion in North Higgins Lake State Park and memorial.
In 2002 I helped dedicate the CCC Monument at the Lumberman Memorial in Newberry, Michigan. Which is just down the road a few miles from where I was in a CCC camp. I was the only one there from Camp Newberry.
Yesterday I met some second cousins from my maternal grandmother’s Fisher family. As I get older, it seems that family reunions increasingly occur in connection with the passing of our elders. Mom’s cousin Merilyn Fisher departed this life on Monday, the 16th of November 2015. Merilyn’s father Hazen Fisher was my Grandma Sovereign’s oldest brother. Their family is shown in this picture before Grandma’s younger sister Marge was born. Waldo, on his mother’s lap, was born in November 1913 so this picture was probably taken in about 1914. My grandmother, Marie, would have been about five years old. Arthur and Hazen would have been about seven and nine.
Hazen’s children were Mom’s first cousins. Two daughters, Pat and Donna, are still alive and well. Hazen’s grandchildren are my second cousins.
If you’re scratching your head at this point, it’s probably because you were raised reckoning cousins the same way I was: my mother’s first cousins were my second cousins, and their children were my third cousins. That system works well enough when you’re used to it, but it gets confusing in a hurry when you’re accounting for various cousins of your grandparents and more distant ancestors. It also doesn’t give any hint of what generations these various cousins are in.
So what’s the alternative? The system understood by most genealogists requires some rethinking, but it is actually quite simple and clear:
The children of siblings are first cousins.
The children of first cousins are second cousins.
The children of second cousins are third cousins.
and so on.
Wait a minute. Then what is my mother’s first cousin Merilyn to me? She was my first cousin once removed, and I was her first cousin once removed.
Removed? What’s that all about? It (one, two, three, four times removed, and so on) tells how many generations apart we are. Mom and her first cousin are in the same generation. I am one generation removed from their generation.
Another way to figure out cousin relationships is to go back to your nearest common ancestors. The number of qualifiers (great and grand) you have in front of the word parents provides a clue. If you and a cousin share grandparents (one qualifier), you are first cousins. If you and your cousin share great-great-grandparents, you are third cousins. If your great-grandparents are your cousin’s great-great-great grandparents, you are second cousins two times (or twice) removed. The lowest number of qualifiers tells whether you are first, second, third or whatever cousins. The difference in the number of qualifiers tells how many generations apart you are.
For Hazen Fisher’s family and me, our nearest common ancestors were Hazen’s parents, Clyde and Idell Fisher. Merilyn Fisher’s daughters’ great-grandparents Clyde and Idell Fisher were also my great-grandparents, making Merilyn’s daughters and me second cousins.
My new-found second cousins, by the way, seemed to be a pretty nice lot. I’m glad some of us finally met. I look forward to getting to know this part of my extended family.
In our families we might not always get along with each other, but for most of us our families are our home. Whether received by birth, adoption, or marriage, our families are people we share a great deal with in everyday life, in accomplishment, and in trial. Family experiences are often felt for generations. Yet, even with such an impact, we all too easily take them for granted.
My Mom, Lois Springsteen, lost her father, Coyne Kidder, to tuberculosis when she was six years old. My Dad, Ed Springsteen, was sixteen when his father, Aden Springsteen, died from injuries sustained as a passenger in a car-train accident. I have heard Mom say many times that she and Dad earnestly hoped in their early years together to both live to see their children reach adulthood.
I have seen undocumented claims that both of Staats Springsteen’s parents died before he was five years old. If that is true, it must have had a significant impact on him. Who raised him? Johannes and Maria Seger, who were witnesses for Staats’s baptism on January 5, 1755, might have assumed that responsibility. They were presumably Staats’s mother Maria’s brother Johannes and his wife Maria Bradt Seger. Staats was associated with Segers/Sagers and Bradts during and after the American Revolution. Were Staats and his brothers and sisters split up?
Heartache also comes with the loss of sons and daughters, whether as children or adults. Mom never knew her two older sisters. Coyne and Marie Kidder lost daughters Phyllis Marie and Betty Lou as infants before Mom was born. Dad’s oldest brother Johnnie died at age 14 as the result of a farm accident. My brother Eddie died in a car accident in 1997, leaving his young daughters and wife without their truly lovable and devoted father and husband, and bringing sadness to Mom and Dad even though they had lived to see their children grown. Our extended family has experienced early death for too many loved ones.
When I met and married Dedra Van Zandt, I gained her small immediate family—Dee, her mother Dorothy Van Zandt, and her grandmother Rose Dlouhy. Dee’s father Louis Van Zandt had not been part of her life for many years. Dee was raised an only child of an only child in a predominantly Czech suburb of Chicago. Dee’s aunts and uncles were actually her mother’s cousins. Her extended maternal family gathered for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals featuring food from their Bohemian heritage. When I came into the picture during our college years, I was introduced to family experience and food that were new to this country boy.
The impacts of the Great Depression do not need to be explained to the older generations still with us today. Dad’s family lived on a farm in Fairplain Township just south of Sheridan, Michigan, my hometown. Aden Springsteen farmed with a team of horses, not a tractor. He fed the horses hay produced on the farm. Aden had a car, but it was put on blocks during the Depression because it was too costly to run. Still, they had food on the table and were able to barter with merchants in town.
Dee’s grandfather Joseph Dlouhy, a carpenter and contractor, reached a point during the Depression when there was no work of any kind to be found. Dee’s Grandma Dlouhy was able to get work as a tester in a perfume factory, but it was very hard to make ends meet. Dee’s Mom remembered being sent down the street to get two apples from the store for a pie but being sent home with one apple because their credit was already thin. They had a small garden on their lot that helped feed them. Nevertheless, when Dee’s grandmother appeared outdoors after one long winter, her neighbors didn’t recognize her due to the pronounced effects of malnutrition. Their life might have been even more difficult had they not chosen to limit their family to one child after growing up in large families.
The world changed for Mom’s, Dad’s, and Dee’s Mom’s families after the Depression and the Second World War.
Marie Kidder married Harold Sovereign in 1935. They gave Mom a brother and sister, Don and Nancy. Following Aden’s death, Verda Springsteen sold the farm, moved to Lansing for a few years, then moved back to Fairplain Township when she married Fred Olsen in 1945. Even though both of my parents had lost their fathers, I had grandfathers from the day I was born.
Joe Dlouhy found plenty of work in the post-war housing boom. Hard work, Rose’s careful management of resources, and Joe’s genuine concern for others in need marked their fulfillment as first-generation Americans. Joe doted on his granddaughter. I wish I had met him. He died after a heart attack in 1966, a year before I met Dee. Rose lived for another thirty years, looking after her family with great care.
Dee’s father Louis Van Zandt’s family has been a challenge to discover. I never met him and didn’t know much about his family. I did know that Louis experienced significant family instability as a child. The ‘Grandma and Grandpa Van’ that Dee knew as a girl were actually her father’s aunt and uncle. Dee’s Mom informed me that sometime during the Depression years Louis’s father Richard Van Zandt left Louis’s mother Emma with six children and no means of support. The children were placed in an orphanage. At some point the three oldest children were taken in by Richard’s older brother Louis Van Zandt and his wife Lena, who had no children of their own. Dee’s father Louis, along with his brother Richard and his sister Evelyn, were raised to adulthood by Louis and Lena. Dee thinks that one of the younger sisters, Jeanette, Dorothy, or Elizabeth, was eventually adopted.
How did Dee’s father’s childhood experience influence his life? Dee remembers a family story about teaching children not to trust anyone, even family members. After a contentious divorce, Louis remarried and had another daughter and a son. Hopefully the rest of his journey in this life brought a greater sense of assurance and trust.
Dee’s Mom saw Louis’s father Richard Van Zandt just once. Louis had taken her to a baseball game, probably at Wrigley Field. As Louis was leading her to their seats, he spotted his father, turned abruptly, and they left the ball park.
How did Louis’s father Richard Van Zandt get started in life? His 1917 draft registration card stated that he was born in Brussels, Belgium on October 14, 1890. It also reported that he was a Belgian citizen and that he was working as a teamster for the Lashaw Teaming Company in Chicago. The earliest record I have found that is definitely for Richard is a Cook County index entry for his marriage to Emma Robash (Hrobar) on September 23, 1916.
I found some clues to Richard Van Zandt’s earlier life by tracking his siblings. I discovered Louis (Dee’s ‘Grandpa Van’), Charles, and Emma Van Zandt, but not Richard, in the 1900 US Federal Census. They were listed at the ages of 22, 18, and 16 as boarders in the household of Alfred and Mary Verest of Chicago, who had younger children of their own. Other records identify them as Alfonse and Marie Verest. Who and where were the Van Zandts’ parents, and what had happened to them? Who were the Verests, and why were the Van Zandts living with them? Were the Van Zandts related to the Verests?
Searching online for earlier records of Van Zandts or Vanzandts in Chicago, I found records for Willie Van Zandt, who was born on July 19, 1892 and died less than two months later on September 9. His parents were reported as Louis Van Zandt and Monica Meert. Louis was reported to be 40 years old and Monica 29 when Willie was born. Further investigation revealed that Louis Van Zandt, born in Belgium in 1852, had died on February 3, 1892 before Willie was born. I remember seeing information somewhere indicating that Louis Van Zandt had arrived in Chicago only a short time before his death. Monica had lost her husband, then given birth to a son only to lose him.
Was there a connection between Louis and Monica Van Zandt and the young Van Zandts found in the Verest household? Emma Van Zandt, sister of Louis, Charles, and Richard, married Fred Wille in 1906. Emma Wille’s death index record in 1922 identifies her parents as Louis Van Zandt and Frances Annaert, both born in Belgium. Were Monica Meert and Frances Annaert the same person? Whoever reported Emma Wille’s death might never have known her mother. In the Verest family, Marie’s death certificate reports her father’s name as Maart. Further evidence is needed, but it seems likely that Monica Meert Van Zandt and Marie Maart Verest were sisters.
If Louis and Monica were Richard Van Zandt’s parents, he would have been just fifteen months old when his father died. Richard might have remained with his mother Monica Van Zandt when his siblings Louis, Charles, and Emma were taken in by the Verests, but what happened to her after the events of 1892? I couldn’t find a record of either remarriage or death.
Since I started working on this message, DNA testing has finally begun to shed some light on Dee’s paternal ancestry. Although Ancestry.com doesn’t provide tools for analysis and comparison of DNA segments shared with other people, they have revealed distant cousins with ancestors I had not yet discovered.
One DNA-identified cousin, Ronald Barrett, is descended from Jeanette Van Zandt, born in Belgium in 1881. Jeanette is shown in the Barrett family tree as the daughter of Bruno Van Hecke and an unknown mother. Armed with this information, I found records revealing that Monica Van Zands married Bruno Van Hecke on April 16, 1893 in Chicago.
The 1900 census listed five children in the Bruno and Monica Van Nack household. All are surnamed Van Nack, but the oldest three were identified as Bruno’s step-children. Jennie (Jeanette), age 20, Josephine, age 15, and Charles, age 11, all born in Belgium, were apparently children of Louis and Monica Van Zandt. Where was Dee’s grandfather Richard? Was Charles, born in October 1888, our missing Richard? An 1899 ship passenger list shows Monica Van Hecke returning from Belgium with Karl, age 8, Marie, age 4, and Frank, age 2. Charles, Richard, and Karl might be the same person.
The Cook County death index reports that Monica Van Hacke died on January 14, 1901, when Richard Van Zandt was still a youth. Dee’s father Louis’s family appears to have endured considerable upheaval through several generations.
Family exploration is not just about the past. I learned this summer that Dee’s father’s sister-in-law Rosalie Van Zandt had passed on earlier this year. In the course of learning more about Rosalie’s family, I found and contacted Dee’s first cousin Dick who she hasn’t seen since she was a young girl. Dick’s response was encouraging for Dee because her relationship with her father and separation from his family had been difficult.
Dee and I recently took a research trip to the Rochester, New York area. My third-great grandparents Jacob and Margaret Smith Springsteen met there after their parents’ families moved to Scottsville. We were pleased to meet several very helpful and kind people during our stay in Scottsville. Barbara Chapman, Historian for the Town of Wheatland, put in extra time and effort to find and share material and to guide us through a historic house in Scottsville that has been restored by the Wheatland Historical Association.
Barbara Chapman also put us in touch with Elaine Massena, a niece of Frank Van Rensselaer Phelps. Frank extensively researched the Smith and Springsteen families of Scottsville back in the 1960s and 70s. I had received a copy of Frank’s research report in the early 1970s and had exchanged information with him in 1981. Frank died in 2010, but Elaine has all of his research files and has generously shared more information with me. John and Nancy Smith were Elaine’s fourth great grandparents and mine as well, making us fifth cousins. Elaine and her family welcomed us into their home for dinner and produced a small cake with candles when they learned it was our anniversary. They were a joy to meet and claim as cousins.
How does our family history influence family relationships? Do we need healing from hidden scars? The actions and beliefs of our ancestors might still be with us, whether rejected or embraced. Our forebears were people dealing with life in their times and circumstances as best they could, just as we are today. Learning about their lives sheds light on the stream of family experience that has much to do with who we are. We are people with personal responsibility to our own families and communities in our own time. While I will not preach from this platform, I will openly claim my Christian faith. I pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be a help and not a hindrance to our family.
We should be mindful of the past so we can benefit from family lessons, seek healing from unfinished trials, and carry on the gifts our families have given us. We didn’t come to our lives in a vacuum. If we care for our loved ones with compassion helped by some understanding of where we came from, our families can be a good home.