Yesterday, I was messing around with genealogy. It’s a thing I’ve had an interest in for quite awhile now, ever since I was young. I remember my Uncle Roy Farmer setting me down with charts and helping me fill them out. I knew my dad and mom; I could go from there. Dad had a mom and dad. Mom had a momma and daddy. Before I knew it, I was exploring the vastness that is my family tree. I got lots of information when I was a kid, mostly because I was diligent, and because I knew several of my great grandparents.
My first real hit was with the Spurgeon family. My Grandpa’s sister, aunt Adelaide, had a lot of information about that line of the family. She sent me 10 handwritten pages on a yellow legal pad, going back to John Spurgin, who was my 4th great grandfather, and born in 1801. She also sent me information about his children, and his children’s children.
That’s something I never suspected–I had dozens of cousins out there, some living quite near, that I never knew about.
Over the years, I’ve kept up with it. Every once in awhile I fill out a family tree, backtrack a little, and find a bit more. More censuses, newspapers, and tax records are being digitized every year. This helps an armchair genealogist immensely.
Yesterday, I discovered something fantastic. It was about my Great Great Grandmother, Blanche Jones and her husband, Deforrest J Barnes. I knew her. She was already almost a hundred years old. She’d taught me to play Klondike solitaire… It’s is ironic because of something I will say in a little while. Eventually she went into a rest home, and I remember when she died. I didn’t go to the funeral or anything, but I remember my granny and mother were pretty broken up about it.
At the turn of the last century, in the northwestern corner of Oregon (between Portland and Astoria) a lot of Joneses and Barneses had lived. The area is Clatskanie / Stephens Creek / Deer Island. It’s just a couple miles south of the Columbia River. Looking over the census rosters, they were practically the only English speaking Americans to inhabit the ares. There were loads of Finns and Norwegians at the time so, I’m supposing, the Joneses and Barneses spent a lot of time in communion. There is no 1890 US census (the vast majority of it burned up in a Washington DC fire), but I can say with certainty that the not-so-happy couple married in 1891.
I knew from chats with my grandmother that Great Grandpa Deforrest was kind of a deadbeat and a ne’er-do-well. He would run off to mine gold, always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme. He followed the Klondike gold rush northward to Alaska. His gold-getting schemes never “panned” out. Ha! See? History can be funny!
What I didn’t know was the bit I discovered in an obscure Oregon newspaper. It hadn’t been published since the 1910s and University of Oregon has digitized and scanned it. In Febrary 1900, Blanche Barnes secured an attorney. He published a note to her husband that said, essentially, “show your face to my attorney by April 13, 1900, or we’re officially divorced, on grounds of abandonment.”
Her only son Forrest, my great grandpa, was born 7 months before.
I guess what shocked me was how ephemeral *I* am. If it weren’t for timing–if the estrangement happened a year before–great great Grandma would never have been free to roam. My Great Papa never would have never met my grandmother in Pistol River Oregon, then a remote outpost of maybe 75 people. If not for timing, Great Papa would never have been *born*.
And–you see the chain of events–Granny Spurgeon wouldn’t have been born. My mom wouldn’t have been born. Neither would have I.
I guess that’s the shocking takeaway. My existence is inextricably tied to the actions of others, born centuries earlier. I can’t possibly make my day better because some sleazy husband abandons his wife and kids for gold. But I owe my existence to those very actions, or in this case, her waiting, just a little bit longer.
It happens over and over again. Eight of my great grandparents lived in and around Sacramento. They all knew each other; Farmers and Barneses were best friends. Of the eight , none of them was actually *from* there. The nearest were the Spurgeons, who lived in Lincoln (out in the foothills east of Sacramento) and relocated during the Second War. The rest were from Oregon, Idaho, Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky.
How disperse our families are. It’s not like the 1600s where you are born in a village, marry there at 15, live there for 40 years, bear 11 children, and die without ever visiting the village a few miles down the road.
A moth could have wrecked the spiderweb at any time. But It didn’t. Here I am, typing gloriously away, drinking coffee, and wondering what employees at Home Depot would think if I didn’t wear pants when I went to buy a replacement toilet seat.
I mean, what are the chances of *that* happening? Pretty good, I say. Makes a guy believe in providence. Also, pants.