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Who Are Your Family Role Models and Inspiration?

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I honor my grandmothers and my aunts who have inspired me  and served as significant role models.

Schoolhouse, Old West, Plains

 

Years ago, one of my favorite aunts came for a visit when I was in my mid-thirties experiencing a low point in my life. She gave a life-long gift by reminding me of the role models I had in the strong women in my family. It was from them, I could always find inspiration and direction.

Both of my grandmothers had been school teachers. My paternal grandmother, Ellen, also became a school superintendent. Ellen was a great cheerleader and encouraged me to succeed in school, get good grades and go to college. My maternal grandmother, Grace, was disappointed that she had to give up teaching school to become a farmer’s wife. But she continued to read the Atlantic Monthly and other books and periodicals. She wrote letters about what she read and shared her opinions about the news and politics in letters to her daughters.

My aunt pointed out that both Ellen and Grace had significant challenges in their lives: Grace, reluctantly left school teaching which she loved to manage her husband’s family farm which she resented. She worked hard to survive the depression and the dust bowl. Ellen was left a widow when her youngest of five children was a few months old.

Ellen Scott, grandmother,

Ellen Scott, my grandmother, a teacher, and a strong role model.

Ellen, in particular has been an inspiration to me. I am currently writing a fictionalized story of her life. As a widow without a means of support, Ellen applied for widows benefits. The Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview her in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report (which I recovered from the National Archives). She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim. He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

This was the occasion when she learned that her husband had a former wife and family. The agent describes,

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife. Her grief and tears were convincing of the truth. She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

This helps explain why no one in the family knew about a prior family. Ellen shared no information about him with her children. Despite her crippling rheumatoid arthritis, she pulled herself together; returned to teaching school; became a school superintendent; and raised her family. See my blog series, “A Journey to Fiction” on my genealogical journey to learn about my paternal grandparents.

Both Grace and Ellen were also models of strength, resilience and accomplishment for their daughters. All five of my aunts completed college educations at a time when the lack of financial resources and societies’ cultural norms were major deterrents. Yet, they were persistent and resourceful. They found work to pay their way. Between the first wave of feminism and the second, during my young adulthood, all these women had successful careers and raised a family. They worked hard and overcame many obstacles. To me they were pillars of strength and fortitude. They were role models of how to meet challenges and find a satisfying life.

These seven women have been my inspiration and my role models. I honor and pay tribute to them on International Women’s Day.

Who are the women role models in your family? How have they influenced and inspired you? Are there other strong women who have served as role models and inspired you?

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6 Dec
2015

Imagining Thanksgiving on the American Prairie

Photos ThanksgivingI think about my grandmother often since I am working on the revisions of my novel, a fictionalized version of her life and the life of my grandfather. As I did the genealogical research on my grandparents, I was reminded that she was born one 145 years ago just before Thanksgiving. So this a time for me to honor her birth as well as to be grateful for her inspiration.

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving in Ireland where a dear friend cooked us a delicious traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Ireland is a country that doesn’t celebrate this most American of holidays. Thinking of my grandmother, I wondered how she might have celebrated Thanksgiving and her birthday which would have often fallen on Thanksgiving Day. I have no clues from my own family traditions. My curiosity led me to explore some of the history of one of the most favorite of American holidays. Thanksgiving combines the ancient traditions of harvest festivals and the religious observances of the Puritans grateful and giving thanks for their survival after a year of sickness and scarcity.

We learn as children in school about the Pilgrim story of Thanksgiving. But I had no idea that earlier ceremonies by other British Colonists and Spanish explorers in North America occurred before the Plymouth celebration of 1621. Although Thanksgiving in the colonies became a regular event by the middle of the 17th century, the first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1777 by the Continental Congress. The early Presidents continued to proclaim a national day of Thanksgivings but it was not an official holiday. In fact, by the middle of the 19th century Thanksgiving was limited to individual state observances and had evolved from the religious and civil day of commemoration and giving thanks to a family holiday of feasting. President Lincoln was convinced to declare a national holiday in 1863 in an effort to unite the war-torn country. Lincoln’s successors proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day each year. It became a fixed annual celebration in 1941 when Congress established the fourth Thursday of the month of November as Thanksgiving.

Imagining Thanksgiving

Old Thanksgiving images

Without any family stories or traditions, I turned to my imagination about how my grandparents might have celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Since it was not a firm national holiday and observed differently by state, my grandparents, as struggling homesteaders, might not have even celebrated Thanksgiving. Certainly after my grandfather died leaving my grandmother in dire and impoverished circumstances, her ability to provide an extravagant feast would have been very limited. Yet, the tradition of acknowledging God’s blessings and giving thanks would have been important to my grandmother as I remember her. I imagine that when the President of the United States did declare a day of Thanksgiving, which may or may not have been in November, that she probably commemorated the day. She may have cooked something special and I am convinced that she would ensure that she and her children offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives. I also imagine that she ignored or discounted any celebration of her November birthday as too frivolous and extravagant.

What are Your Traditions?

Do you have inherited family traditions on Thanksgiving? What do you imagine your grandparents or great grandparents did to celebrate a day of family feasting or to express gratitude and give thanks in their faith on Thanksgiving Day? Please post your comments and share your stories below.

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10 Jun
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 2

This is the second in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

In my journey to uncover the family secrets about my grandfather, John Howard Scott, aka Harvey Depew Scott, I had discovered a trove of documents in the National Archives that confirmed the stories of another family. I had found information in Indiana searching in County records, libraries and cemeteries about John Howard’s parents, his birth, his Uncle Bill Swan and marriage to his first wife, Harriet. (see May 20 Blog) But, the National Archive documents indicated that the family had moved to Texas. In fact, a deposition from a Civil War soldier confirmed that his sister, Harriet, had married John Howard and that she lived at the time in Fort Worth, Texas. I wondered if I could find more information and learn when and why John and Harriet and their children moved to Texas. That led me on another leg of this journey.

Weatherford 3I began by exploring the census records. I discovered that in 1870 John and his family had moved to Illinois; but, in the 1880 census, John was not listed. Instead, Harriet is listed with six children living in Parker County, Texas. What happened to John and why was Harriet in Texas?

I turned back to the depositions. The government agents had tracked Harriet down in Fort Worth, thanks to her brother. In her deposition, she reported that the family moved to Weatherford, Texas, a small rural community in Parker County west of Fort Worth, but no hints as to why they moved to Texas. In November, 1879, John Howard had gone into town for a load of corn and never returned. Harriet said she was left destitute with five children and a sixth on the way. She looked for John tracking him to Fort Worth but ultimately lost the trail and assumed that he was dead. Five years later she had re-married and was running a boarding house in Fort Worth.Archives Document

Following the census records also revealed three more generations of John Scott’s in Fort Worth, Texas, but no John Howard Scott. I wanted to know what had happened to him when he left Weatherford in 1879. Since I had found interesting information in libraries and historical societies in my search in Indiana and Nebraska, I decided the next stop in my journey was a visit to Texas.

I had no better luck than Harriet. I could find no trace of John Howard in Weatherford or in Fort Worth. He got out of town and left no trace. I did find in the Scott family plot in the Fort Worth cemetery and two of the three generations of John Paul Scotts. In the library, I found the obituary for John Howard’s son, J.P. Scott Sr., a “Pioneer in Business” who died in 1959 at age 92. It is Interesting that the obituary reports he moved to Fort Worth from Weatherford after his father died. J.P. founded his company in 1892, just three years after his father left the family. Originally the company served as a wagon yard selling firewood and awnings and shoeing horses. When he retired in 1938, his sons took over the business which then consisted of the Scott Awning Company and the Scott Rug Cleaning Company.

Historical Fiction Page - Scott GravesiteWhere did John Howard go when he left Weatherford? When did he change his name to Harvey Depew Scott? What did he do between 1879 and 1892 when he married my grandmother? My journey and my search weren’t over yet. I still had many questions.

I would love to hear your stories researching your family.

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20 May
2014

Journey to Fiction- Part 1

This is the first in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

National Archives“Very few Civil War veterans have thick files like this,” the staff person at the National Archives said as he handed me two thick folders in response to my request for information about my paternal grandfather. Excitedly I began to read the forms and letters, yellow with age, which documented my grandfather’s lengthy pursuit of Veterans Benefits. At first my only goal was to search for the truth of the whispered story, that he had another family. It was true! It was documented in these files. That was why my grandmother never received her widow’s benefits.

Reading these old documents, depositions and letters was intriguing. I learned details about Harvey Depew Scott, the man my grandmother married; but who was born John Howard Scott. He was born in 1840 and reported his father had died when he was four so he was raised by his uncle. He claimed his name was wrongly recorded when he enlisted a second time in the Civil War. He swore his only wife was my grandmother, Ellen; yet his first wife, Harriet, reported in her sworn deposition that he abandoned her in Texas with five children and a sixth on the way. I wanted to know more. Who were his parents? Were there other relatives that had similar names? When did he marry his first wife? When and why did they go to Texas? Could I find an explanation behind these details? Like many other Americans, I began a journey of genealogical research to see what I could find out about this mysterious man that my grandmother never mentioned to her family after he died.

Bev in Spangler Cemetery - 1I had learned from the Archive files that he was born in Vermillion County, Indiana. I already knew that my grandmother’s family also came from Indiana so I made a trip to Indiana to visit cemeteries, libraries and county court house records. I learned the names of his parents, Paul and Rebecca Scott, when they married, stories about the uncle, Bill Swan who was a river boat captain, and when John and Harriet were married. I found the cemetery with the grave of Captain Bill Swan and a record of John’s mother, Rebecca, who was also Bill’s sister, dying in the poor house. Her body was given to Captain Swan but there was no record of her grave. I found minimal information about John’s father, Paul. I wanted to know who his parents were, did he have other relatives, where he lived before he came to Indiana, when he died and where he was buried.

Bev in Spangler Cemetery - 2I was more successful in tracking down information about my grandmother, Ellen’s family. I visited a cemetery, now an overgrown in a cow pasture, in Putnam County, Indiana with her ancestor’s graves. I found family marriage and birth records back three generations. I later visited the small Nebraska town where her parents homesteaded and learned stories of her family and her siblings. I uncovered the marriage records listing my grandmother’s name as Eva Ellen Russell marrying Harvey Depew Scott in 1892. She was 22; he was 52. There were records of their homestead land claims made right after they married as well as land claims filed by Eva Ellen in the years after Harvey Depew died.

Later I found the newspaper report of Harvey Depew Scott’s death in 1911 in Hanley, New Mexico a small community outside of Tucumcari. Why were they in New Mexico? How long had they been there before Harvey Depew died? How long did my grandmother stay in New Mexico? My next trip was to New Mexico to see what else I could uncover about Harvey Depew Scott.

Have you begun a genealogical search to learn about your ancestors? What first got you interested?

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