Friday, February 22, 2013

The Two Wives of Thomas Garver

My husband’s great-grandfather Charles Garver had a brother, Thomas, who married two sisters—Mary Ann and Ellen Heilman.

Thomas Garver (1850-1902) was farmer in Defiance County, Ohio. According to notes taken by his great-granddaughter Ruth Marie Burkhart in 1943 for a school project, he had a sideline as well. She wrote, “He was a preacher of the United Brethren Church located at Ridgeville, a small town a few miles from Napoleon [Ohio]. He lived on a small farm near the church. He farmed and did odd jobs through the week and then on Sunday he gave his sermon.”

In 1873 Thomas married Mary Ann Heilman, a local German girl, and soon they had three sons named John, Ulysses, and William. None of the three boys survived long, however, Ulysses dying shortly after birth in 1876 and the other two boys in 1878; a typhoid epidemic that year may have been the cause. But soon afterwards daughter Amelia was born, followed by Ellen in 1882.

By 1884 their life together was drawing to a close. Mary Ann passed away at the age of 31, leaving two little girls without a mother. Son Floyd later remarked to one genealogist in the family that Thomas had a hand in his first wife’s death—but there is no evidence to support that claim, and family members say that Floyd was known for his tall tales. Mary Ann’s obituary says “consumption” [tuberculosis]—that we know for sure.

The grieving widower soon found comfort, however, in the arms of Mary Ann’s younger sister Ellen, and Thomas married Ellen in 1885. I wonder what Mary Ann’s parents thought? And what were their other sisters’ feelings about it? Did they think it was romantic, or just disturbing? Were they happy for their brother-in-law, or did they feel like Ellen was betraying her sister’s memory? Did young Ellen have a secret crush on her brother-in-law all those years? (She was eleven when her sister married him.) Or did she have a sisterly bond that blossomed into love as she comforted the grieving widower? Or did she marry Thomas because she felt sorry for the two little girls, who were her nieces?

At any rate, in the sixteen years they were married, Thomas and Ellen Garver had four daughters—Nettie, Mary, Bessie, and Ruth—and a son, Floyd. Think about that for a moment—Thomas and Mary had a daughter named Ellen—and Thomas and Ellen had a daughter named Mary! 

Ellen outlived Thomas, who died at age 52 from heart trouble, and she relocated to Michigan. But all three are buried together at Independence Cemetery in Defiance County, Ohio—Thomas and Ellen together, with her sister Mary Ann nearby.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Fourteen Garvers of Clare County, Michigan

I grew up with one brother and one sister—a typical 50s family.  My mother-in-law, however, grew up in a different world—she shared her childhood with five sisters and eight brothers.   

Walter Garver and Hazel Alwood were married in Clare County, Michigan in 1914.  Over the next 25 years, they had fifteen children—in order, they were Doris, Charles, Wayne, Forest, Lester, Fern, Donna, Walter, Virginia, Max, Robert, Rex, Betty, Marlyn, and William.  All survived to adulthood except the last, William, who died from congenital heart disease at only five days old. 

The family grew up in a small farmhouse on Adams Road in Clare County without much money, but with a determination to make the best of what they had.  Hazel managed to keep her ever-increasing brood fed; my mother-in-law Donna says, “We always had enough to eat—but it was a lot of beans and potatoes.”  She once told me that her mother’s attitude about the new babies was, “One more won’t make that much difference!”  (One of Hazel’s sisters, Floy Dell Garver Haring, had a brood of sixteen.)  Donna says that “Mom had one baby mid-bread-making—Fern stepped in and finished the bread.”  Walter was a farmer, raising hogs and milking cows on 40 acres, and in the 1930s, he did WPA work helping to build Route M61—by hand, with shovels. 
The Garvers in 1948 - Hazel and Walter front and center
The sisters were close, sharing everything.  In another story I told of Donna and Virginia writing to a sailor boy in WWII, who ended up as Donna’s future husband.  Two of the boys, Wayne and Forest, were in WWII on the Japanese island of Okinawa at the same time—and  one of them managed to slip away from his unit to see his brother—a story I should tell another time.

The fourteen surviving Garvers all grew up to marry and have children; my husband has 47 first cousins!  They all got along well through the years and as far as I can see, they still do.  Since 1948 the siblings have had a family reunion in Clare County every Labor Day weekend.  The group gets smaller every year, but no less close.  Last September there were only five of them still living—Forest, Donna, Virginia, Betty, and Marlyn—sister Fern being the most recent to leave this world.  This photo is from the 1982 reunion, when all fourteen were still alive.

Two of the brothers came to a tragic end…  In 2007 Max and his wife were killed in a fire in their house trailer, and that same year, Rex—who took over the family farm in the 1970s—was gored to death by a bull.  But through all the years and all the tragedies, the Garver siblings have stuck together, supporting each other in good times and bad, helping each other whenever they could, and meeting together on Labor Day to remember those who have passed and celebrate their strong family bond.  It’s a family I’m proud to have married into.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Double Wedding Ring

Last year I spent some time researching the family history of my sister-in-law Susie.  Along the way we discovered some memorable stories, including that of Rhoda Wyatt (1830-1910).

Susie’s great-great-great-grandfather was William Wyatt (1799-1867), a landowner in Somerset, England in the 1800s.  He had seven children with his first wife, most of whom ended up in America.  One child was Susie’s great-great-grandfather Philip Wyatt (1821-1892), a real character who married three women named Elizabeth—the first for love, the second on the rebound, and the third for her money. 

Besides those seven, they raised another child named Rhoda Wyatt—an orphan who was adopted by her aunt and uncle and raised as a member of the family. 

Rhoda had a happy childhood.  But when her adoptive mother died, Philip brought a new wife into the house, who soon ruled the roost her own way.  Then one of Rhoda’s sisters married the man Rhoda was in love with—the local butcher, George Salter—and they moved to America.  Rhoda must have thought her life was over.

She was soon given an unexpected second chance.  Her sister died shortly after having (and losing) George’s second son.  The grieving widower wrote a letter to Rhoda’s father, asking if one of his other daughters would like to come to America and take her dead sister’s place—marrying George and raising their surviving son!  Rhoda quickly accepted, and before long, she was a new bride in America.

But sixteen years and three more children later, she found herself widowed in Chicago, shortly after the Great Fire of 1871.  She longed for the farm life she’d loved as a child—so she decided to pack up her things and buy a dairy farm in Brown County, Wisconsin.   

A Civil War veteran named James Black lived nearby—a prosperous farmer who’d never married.  Rhoda’s daughter, a young matchmaker if ever there was one, managed to talk her mother into making a quilt for a church fund-raiser, for an anonymous bidder.  She suggested to her mother that “Double Wedding Ring” would be a lovely quilt pattern.  When the quilt was done, and the bachelor neighbor received his quilt, there was much blushing all around at the name of the pattern… but that was followed shortly by a wedding.  Rhoda and James lived happily ever after.

Rhoda left a diary, which was discovered many years later and made into a novel called Double Wedding Ring—now out of print—written by Patricia Wendorf.  (The author changed “Wyatt” to “Graypaull” in her book.)  I picked up a used copy on last summer.  It’s a wonderful story—all the more so because it’s true.

More posts on the Wyatts:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Anna Peterson Genoways - Love Found Late

I recently wrote about my great aunt Therese.  Her oldest sister was Anna Peterson Genoways (1887-1928).  She was a schoolteacher, like me; and she married later in life, like I did.  I call this story "Love Found Late."  
Anna was the oldest of eight children, born to Swedish immigrants who farmed on the plains of Nebraska near the Platte River.  Her childhood and youth were happy, as far as I can tell.  She traveled to Sweden in 1905 with her mother and younger sister Therese.  Anna was a typical oldest child—mature and responsible—and she, like two or three of her sisters, became a schoolteacher.      

Her life was first marred by tragedy in 1917.  Her father Charles, by all accounts a wonderful man, died of cancer in a hospital in Chicago.  Not long after, her dear brother Ted, an engineering student at the University of Nebraska, died in an army camp during WWI—like so many others, not in combat, but in the Great Influenza Epidemic.  

Anna was now needed to help run the family farm.  By the 1920 census, she is 32 years old and is no longer listed as a schoolteacher as she was in 1910; now she is a “farm manager” with a mother and three younger sisters to support.

But her life took a happy turn in 1925, when she married Edwin Genoways at age 37.  They took a year-long honeymoon, traveling all over the west in their brand-new Model T.  They even drove it to the top of Pike’s Peak!  Their daughter-in-law told me that Edwin said years later that at times they had to drive it up the mountain in reverse, and at other times they had to push it—but they made it.  A number of photos have survived, including this one of the happy couple standing in front of their car:

Back home in Nebraska, Edwin and Anna soon had a joyful event—the birth of their son Charles in 1927.  This was followed a year later by the birth of another son, Bruce. 

But their time together was now running out…  Two weeks after the birth of Bruce, Anna died at age 40.  My father remembers his little cousin Charles tearfully asking for his mother, being too young to realize that she lay dying.

Edwin was now a grieving widower with two young sons.  This picture of the three of them sitting outdoors, Edwin holding little Bruce, always tugs at my heartstrings:

Edwin managed to raise both boys on his own—and they both turned out well.  But he never remarried…  Anna, the wife he loved for so brief and happy a time, was evidently never replaced in his heart.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Norman & Donna - A Love Story

My father- and mother-in-law met in an unusual way—through letters.  Their story began in 1944... 

War had been declared, and Norman Mosey, a farm boy from Michigan,  was newly drafted into the U.S. Navy.  A reporter for Michigan Farmer magazine did a story about "our boys in the service” and when he asked Norman, “What can we at home do for our servicemen?” Norman answered, “Write us letters.”  Norman had no mother or sisters or girlfriend to write to him, so mail call was probably not his best time of the day.

Donna Garver, working at a factory in Ypsilanti, saw the article. She and her sister Virginia decided to write to Norman. Donna told me, “Our theory was, let’s both write to this guy and see if he tells both of us the same story!”

I have a copy of the first letter that Norman wrote to Donna—it was found in his desk drawer after his death. He wrote, “Dear Donna, I received your letter today and was glad to hear from you. I too am a former farmer. I lived on a farm near Bad Axe in Huron County… I am 19 years old, have hazel eyes, brown hair, am 5’7” tall and weigh 170. I have been in the naval reserve since February 21, 1944... I have three brothers. One is at home on the farm with Father, as my mother died when I was four years old. Well, I guess I’ll close now. Hope to hear from you soon.”

Over time, Norman’s correspondence with Donna had staying power.  Soon he was writing to her nearly every day.  Near the end of the war he was sent home on a 30-day leave, due to the death of his father.  So Norman went home to Bad Axe in February 1946, borrowed a car from his brother, and drove to Ypsilanti to meet Donna.  They got to know each other in person at last—and by the time he went back to finish his stint in the Navy, they had decided they belonged together.  They were married in November of 1946.  Norman was a hard-working and faithful husband to Donna for the rest of his life.

When Norman died in November 2008, he and Donna were just two days short of their 62nd anniversary.  In a quiet moment that week, Donna asked us, “Do you think Norman loved me?  He didn’t say so, not in words…”  And all of us answered without hesitation, “Yes, Donna, we know he loved you—there can be no doubt of that.”  Norman was of that generation of men who didn’t believe in talking about their feelings.  But he lived them out every day—his love for God, for his country, and for Donna.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Black Sheep Sunday: Alonzo Brant inflicts a "badly damaged face"

"...thereupon, according to the complainant, Brant proceeded to beat his [the complainant's] face."  The aforementioned Brant being Alonzo Mason Brant, my husband's great-granduncle; the year, 1910; the place, Nebraska.  You never know what you're going to find when you start digging around in old newspapers!