When I asked my son, kfp_rawr, to describe me, he said I was very nice and that I often give him what he wants. Wise words, because we don't always get what we want. Ask more than half of the American electorate right now.
Escaping from the public streets fights on Facebook, I have been focusing on learning more about my family at Ancestry.com. Descendant of both Quakers and Civil War soldiers (in the same line, no less), I have been cyber stalking my ancestors.
My current obsession, tracking down my paternal great-grandfather, a sordid tale of intrigue and lumber.
At Thanksgiving last year, two days after we buried my mother, my Dad revealed a family secret. Our grandfather's father was not, in fact, William S. Wilson but a logger with the last name Eutsler. He told us he learned this information when he was in college, working on a project about family history. My grandma, a genealogist, told him this story.
My great-grandmother, Fannie Weaver Wilson, ran a boarding house after her husband died, leaving her to raise a young daughter. A logger stayed there and had a romance with Fannie, and she discovered she was pregnant. He asked her to marry him, but she refused, saying, "I'm not worthy." She raised him herself, giving him her married surname. Eutsler went on to own a lumber mill. End of story.
My brother and I, drunk on wine and glad for something to laugh about in our time of grief, suggested she simply hadn't wanted to change her name to Eutsler. We also teased Dad for waiting until we were in our 40s to tell us a secret he'd learned in college.
Turns out there was more to the story.
A simple check of my grandfather's vitals revealed he was, indeed, born three years after the man listed as his father on all legal forms had died. In the days before the technology existed for freezing sperm or IVF, their familial relationship was physically impossible.
Then I started searching for someone named Eutsler who lived in Grottoes, Virginia, and had a birthdate within 10 years, plus or minus, of Fannie's. I also plugged "lumber" into the search terms.
That's how I found out about Marvin Beard Eutsler, who was born and raised in Grottoes and later owned a lumber company. But I couldn't confirm exactly where he was living near the time my great-grandfather was conceived (1882-83), because the 1890 census was almost entirely destroyed by fire.
Marvin may have been living in Fannie's boarding house, or he my have still been living with his parents. You see, he was only 16 when my great-grandfather was conceived and only 17 when he was born. Fannie was in her 30s.
"Ohhhh!" I gasped. The story suddenly made sense. Why else would a widow struggling to support a child decline a marriage proposal in those days when women's choices were limited? She knew accepting would only lead to further problems: public scrutiny for both her and her children. While teenagers routinely married and started families, their age difference would have been the source of gossip. Perhaps she also worried about limiting Marvin's future potential, saddled with responsibility so young. Or perhaps she feared reprisal from his parents.
Whatever her reasons, she quietly raised my great-grandfather with his half-sister, her secrets remaining hidden until I, her curious descendant, unearthed them.
Far from judgung my great-grandmother, I admire her for her strength. I hope in some ways I am like her, doing what I feel is right, no matter how hard.
According to my sleuthing, Marvin enlisted in the Army when my grandfather was only 3 and fought in the Spanish-American War. Returning to Grottoes, he married a girl his age a few years later, and had one child, a daughter. He relocated the family further south at about the same time my great-grandmother moved her family to Washington, D.C. Marvin became a prominent figure in the lumber industry, calling himself M.B. Eutsler. Dying in Tennessee, he was buried in a family plot in Grottoes. My grandfather was also buried in Grottoes -- though in a different cemetery -- when he died of a heart attack at age 48, while my grandmother was pregnant with my father. Like his father before him, my Dad would grow up fatherless, raised by an amazingly strong woman.