Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Nostalgia

[The Happy Brood c. 1930]

This is the only picture I have of the lot of them, my father and his parents and all his brothers and sisters (at least the ones that lived) together for a portrait. I actually have quite a few of my father's pictures from around 1902 to 1919, but after that, there are none until shortly after my advent. And they stop in 1952 or so.

I have no pictures at all of my mother's family, and darned few of her. I tend to share her general dislike of the camera -- though I love taking pictures, I don't like being in them, and there are very few pictures of me anywhere (well, except maybe in my FBI file) after about the age of 4.

Raymond James ("Raymond J" as he was known) was my father; William Henry ("WH")was his father. As is apparent from the picture, it was a fairly prosperous household. Well, at that time, there were several households. The only ones who lived with WH and Elizabeth were Marion and Eleanor. Eugene and William were going to U of Iowa. Kathrine lived in San Francisco. My father lived in his own house down the street from the pater familias but wasn't yet married. Vincent was married and lived in another house down the street from his parents. Alice was married and lived across the street from her parents.

I'm not sure what Geraldine was doing at the time this picture was taken, but she would join Katherine in San Francisco by 1935, and they would both live there as spinster sisters until they died, Geraldine some time in the 1950's, Katherine in the late '60's.

Alice was the longest lived of this group, dying in 1996 at the age of 94. Her parents both died in 1944 within a few weeks of each other. My father died in 1969; his older brother Vincent passed away in 1960. Youngest sister Eleanor died in 1962. William and Eugene were still alive in the early 1990's (last I heard of them) but I have no idea what happened to them. William was living in Los Angeles. Eugene was in Virginia. Marion died in a freak accident in the snow in the winter of 1932 when she was 14. She was knocked down by a sled piloted by some spirited youths. Got a skull fracture from which she did not recover.

The prosperity of the family was based on land and law. They owned farms in the Davenport area, many houses in town, building lots in town and across the river, and they were partners in office buildings and apartment houses. All the family males of William Henry's generation were attorneys, as were my father and his brother Vincent.

They were prosperous but not rich. They had a large Victorian house something like this one:

(in fact, I think they owned this one but didn't live here)

They drove Packards. They had a "man" to take care of the cars. They had a "girl" to help with the housework. They were Democrats, Big Democrats -- in highly Republican Eastern Iowa. My grandfather was county Democratic Party chair for many years, and my father ran for office. He lost, but it was considered a symbolic gesture in any case.

Vincent wound up in a bit of trouble a few years before I was born.

He was charged with and tried for murder most foul. His wife, it seems, was found in her tub, bludgeoned to death with some 54 blows from a hammer. Vincent was deemed the most likely suspect by the county DA. They were political enemies and possibly rivals for mistresses, but I don't know anything about that.

My father got leave from the military (where he was an attorney) to go defend Vincent.

It was a sensational trial in the area at the time, cause for much speculation and revelation. Ultimately, Vincent was acquitted but ruined. He was seen by all to be a philanderer and a drunk, and even if he didn't kill his wife (he didn't), he was never again considered to be a fine upstanding gentleman. Eventually, he drank himself to death so they say.

I was brought up with quite a bit of lore about my supposed ancestors, a number of whom were alleged to have had a prominent role in the American Revolution and afterwards.


Yes, I share a last name with them, but I was never able to quite trace the lineage that was supposed to be. There was a gap which I was unable to fill. The story I was told was that the family had been dispossessed in Ireland in the 1600's, went briefly to England, and thence to Maryland starting in the late 1600's, establishing themselves there as minor -- or perhaps major -- potentates under the Calverts.

All well and good. I was supposedly descended from a branch of the family that was prominent in Colonial and Revolutionary affairs but not quite as prominent as the "famous" ones. A second son of a second son, that kind of thing. And in the early 1800's, I was told, there was a migratory trek from Maryland, through what is now West Virginia, and on to Ohio, by some time around 1850. From there the ancestors went to Iowa in 1857.

I could reach back to 1857 and find evidence of arrival; I even found some sketchy stuff in Ohio c. 1850, but between that point and Maryland in the early 1800's nothing. The names didn't match up, for one thing. Instead of Anthony, it was Alexander, for example. And instead of Daniel and Charles, it was James and Edward.

There is no history of a trek by that branch into the wilderness of [West] Virginia and Ohio. None.

So I decided the stories had probably been made up. But I didn't have any proof of that, either.

Then I found Census and other records from the era and made discoveries.

I couldn't find a direct connection with Revolutionary ancestors because there was none. What I found showed that Alexander brought his sons James and Edward to America from Ireland in 1850 -- when famine still ravaged the land. They farmed briefly in Ohio and then moved on to Iowa where they continued to farm. Alexander [pater] died in 1860. James was my great grandfather, and he arrived in the USA when he was 17; he married Alice O'Brien in 1863; Alice emigrated from Ireland in 1860; my grandfather, William Henry, James's and Alice's third child, was born in 1869.

William Henry married Elizabeth Veronica in 1899; their first son, Vincent, was born in 1900; their second son, Raymond (my father) was born in 1901. Alice, the next child, was born in 1902. And so on...

Elizabeth Veronica's parents were from Germany. I had been told that her father was a banker, but I found that apparently wasn't true, either. From what I was able to discover, he was a carpenter. One of his sons, however, did become a banker -- which may be the source of the fiction that his father had been a banker as well.

I was told that Elizabeth Veronica's parents came to America in 1848 as refugees from the Revolutions that swept the continent that year -- and which had particularly unfortunate repercussions in Germany. But I was also told that Reinhard, Elizabeth Veronica's father, was from Bavaria; from what I was able to find out, he was actually from Prussia. Reinhard's wife, Veronica, was possibly from Hesse, though I'm not completely sure about that (the only certain reference I have found says "Germany," but her maiden name, Cosman, is apparently fairly common in Hesse.)

So far as I've been able to learn, Reinhard did arrive in the USA in 1848, but I'm not sure about Veronica. Reinhard apparently went directly to the Frontier -- Iowa was still pretty rugged at the time. Given the lumber industry as it was in those days, I have little doubt that he prospered. And that prosperity may have led to informal banking. But I have no evidence of it.

Both Reinhard and Veronica died before 1900.

At the moment, so far as I know, the only living blood relatives I have are three nieces (my sister's children) and their children. I had a brother and a sister; both died. My grandparents were dead well before I was born, and my parents are both dead. I don't know the details of my uncles William and Eugene, whether they are still alive and whether they had children, but my father is the only one of those pictured above who I'm certain had "issue" (as they say) of his own. Vincent and Alice did not. Geraldine and Kathrine did not. Marion and Eleanor did not. William and Eugene may have, but I don't know.

My father was in the military in both WWI and WWII. He was only 17 when he was first commissioned an officer, but times were different then. His commission in WWI only lasted till the Armistice; he was drafted (!) to serve during WWII; he did basic training as a private and then was commissioned an officer again. My parents met at Wright Patterson Field in Ohio in 1944 where they were both serving in the Army Air Corps. She as a WAAC medical corps(wo)man, he as a JAG officer (later assigned to War Reconversion and contract termination.) They were married in 1947.

There is a whole long story about them that I may get into in another post, but suffice it to say... it's a long story!

No comments:

Post a Comment