Our Ancestors: We Know We Can Make It Through Because We Know They Did

It’s been a weird few weeks, I think we all can agree. In all my born days, I never could have predicted something like coronavirus could scour the world as it has.

That’s not quite true. I’ve predicted a pandemic for years. I just never believed it would happen.

I find it hard to believe even now, even though I know it’s gone way beyond weird to tragic.

So many people are sick and dying, while so many more are unable to work.

Meanwhile, our so-called leaders can’t even manage to pass a bill to help those who need it most.

My answer: Do something now to help our country’s citizens. Argue about how to the big corporations later. And be sure to factor in more accountability than the last bailout.

But, this is not a political diatribe.

It’s a reminder.

We can get through this.

I know this because I study the genealogy of my family, and I know my ancestors made it through their own horrors.

There was Sarah Jane Daugherty Feathers Scott who married at nineteen, only to lose her husband in the Civil War shortly after the birth of their first child. Her three brothers fought in the same war, one for the Confederacy and two for the Union. All came home safely, but one died before the age of 20 from an accidental gun shot. Sarah later remarried and had seven more children, with four of them dying before she did. And yet, she and her second husband, Amos, took in and were raising three of his siblings the year before her death. Sarah was the sister of one of my 2x great grandmother, and her first husband was the brother of one of my other 2x great grandmothers.

Sarah’s brother Jacob was the one who fought for the Confederacy. He and his wife Julia lost two children within eighteen days of each other at a time when their home counties were in the process of seceding from the Confederacy to become what is now West Virginia.

On the other side of the family, there was John Garman and his many children. And you already know about Montcalm. 

And I can’t forget about my Great-grandfather Lang, who was an RFD mail carrier, carrying out his rounds on a mule in West Virginia. If you’ve ever been to the hollers of that state, you can imagine what that must have been like, especially in the winter.

There was my Grandpa Byrd, who dug ditches for one of the Federal works projects during the Great Depression so he could feed his family.

His father, Andrew Warren Bird (the spelling varies) and mother, Clara Olive Summers (one of my favorite names ever!) lost a child, Mary A Bird, in 1898. She was only twenty months old, and I came across her by accident when I was looking for the death record for another Byrd/Bird. It says “caught fire from open grate, never rallied.”

Every time I read that phrase, I get tears in my eyes.

00138

Mary’s Death Registration

Still, Clara and Andrew soldiered on until Clara’s death at age 66 in 1938. Andrew lived to the age of 96, remarrying a woman 41 years his junior when he was 78, although — and I find this detail amusing — he claimed to be a sprightly 72 to Alice’s 37.

Alice’s life was a difficult one. She was first married at 15, to a fifty-two-year-old man, with whom she had nine children.

Writing that makes me cringe, though the nine children and the fact that Andrew bequeathed his land to her on his death makes me think theirs was a marriage of economical necessity.

She died at seventy-five, having married a third time, this time to someone closer to her age (only six years older).

Although she isn’t my direct ancestor, I find myself hoping her life with Andrew was a pleasant one, and that the acreage she inherited enabled her to achieve some independence after what sounds like a life of drudgery.

My parents also knew challenges, growing up in the Depression, and that experience was reflected in how my siblings and I were raised, with a big garden and two large cupboards in the basement, filled with home-canned food.

Grandma and Grandpa Byrd would come to stay for a few days in the late summer or fall to help, but we were all expected to contribute, by lugging water to the garden, stringing beans, pushing apples through a ricer to make applesauce, or washing dishes.

The first time I made and canned jelly, I was so proud of myself, feeling like I was maintaining a connection with my parents and grandparents.

Then I realized if Grandma could look down from heaven, she would be laughing at me — so smug about over a few jars of jelly.  She, along with Grandpa and my parents, would churn out seemingly endless jars of multiple varieties of jelly every year, along with applesauce, green beans, tomatoes, tomato juice, grape juice, peaches, pears, plums, and more.

So, here’s the thing: I come from a long line of resilient people. They suffered the deaths of spouses, siblings, and children, lived through wars and the Depression, and raised their children. Every generation has had its challenges, and yet, we persevere.

Your family’s story is probably similar, though you may not know its “narrative.” This might be a good time to learn some of it because research shows that such knowledge makes a person more resilient. (If you’d like to read more about this study, there’s a good artice in the New York Times. )

It makes sense. If a person knows their family’s stories, they know that there have always been difficult times, and that people — not all of them, obviously, but many — manage to find a way to survive. When we know that, it makes us more confident we will find a way through our own hardships.

We can do that best, I believe, by learning to depend more on ourselves and on each other, even though right now that interdependence with others must, of necessity, be from a distance.

Though we may not be able to deal with difficulties in the same way as our ancestors, we too will find our way through.

Also, I take heart from two of my favorite quotations.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Ghandi

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

We don’t have to do everything to fix things. We just have to do something, preferably something that takes us out of ourselves and helps others.

So, be kind. Check in with friends and neighbors.

And, for heaven’s sake, quit hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer!

 

Sarah Jane, Jacob, and Julia

I started climbing the family tree again last night and found myself back on the branch of Sarah Jane Daugherty Feather(s) Scott. (Click through for background on her story.)

Somehow I had stumbled across the Ritchie County (WV) page of the USGenWeb Project. Most the project’s sites are hosted on RootsWeb, long offline, but now coming back up.

Browsing through the Scott Cemetery transcriptions, I came across the following:

Amos M. Scott
Born Aug. 28, 1845
Died Dec. 11, 1918

Sarah J., wife of Amos M. Scott
Born Nov. 1842
Died Oct. 7, 1901

Charles E., son of  A.M. & S. J. Scott
Born Dec. 3, 1883
Died Aug. 4, 1884

? W., son of A.M. & S.J. Scott
Born Dec. 30, 1881
Died July 26, 1882

Alfred G., Son of A.M. & S.J Scott
Born Mar. 10, 1876
Died July 20, 1877

Look at the dates of the children’s deaths, born over a period of six years and dead before any of them reached their first birthday.

Above these dates are two others, who proved to be Sarah’s grandchildren through her eldest son Aldine (whose father, Cornelius, was killed in the Civil War).

Willie I. Feather
Feb. 10, 1898
May 8, 1906

Edna Feather
Aug. 3, 1893
Apr. 18, 1900

I moved on to the Reeves Cemetery transcriptions, and discovered Jacob — Sarah’s brother who fought for the Confederacy — and his wife Julia suffered their own share of sorrow.

Julia wife of Jacob Daugherty  Aug 30, 1832  Aug 27, 1891
Jacob Daugherty  June 27, 1892  May 15, 1908
Children of J. & J. Daugherty
E. U. Wm  Aug 18, 1857  Sept 20, 1861
Mary C.  May 10, 1853  Oct 8, 1861
Allis L.  Jul 21, 1864  Aug 11, 1868

Two children dead within eighteen days of each other at a time when Jacob and Julia’s home counties were in the process of seceding from Virginia. The secession could only have added to the emotional turmoil Julia and Jacob were feeling at the death of their children, especially since we know, in the end, Jacob decided to fight on the opposite side of his brothers.

Thinking perhaps the Butchers (Julia’s family) were Confederates and had influenced this decision, I had a look at one of her brothers (Valentine) and learned he fought for the Union. Of course, there may have been others in both families (Daugherty and Butcher) who favored the Confederacy, and we can never truly know why another person makes any decision.

Yet when I think of these families, I don’t think about the men and their big decisions about who to fight for. I think of the women and how they paid for living in a time where the death of a child was the possible price of having them.

Having seen how quickly a child could be taken, did they cling more tightly to ones that remained or followed? Maybe the knowledge of how easily their heart could be broken made them more reluctant to let a new baby into that heart. Perhaps these losses were accepted as part of the sorrows of living.  Life was hard. Children died. And I’m sure the war magnified the hardship exponentially. Yet each of these couples had other children that survived to have children of their own.

As I discover this type of hardship in my family history, I am forced to recall that these same hardships — child mortality and civil war — are a daily reality for others, and I hope that this realization continues to spur me toward a more charitable way of living.

 

 

Genealogy Fact #2: Family Tree Branches Rarely Grow Straight — Sarah Jane’s Story

These are the facts:

  • Sarah Jane Daugherty/Dougherty married Cornelius W./C.W. Feather(s) in Ritchie County, Virginia on 12 December 1861. She was nineteen.
  • On 25 November the following year, she bore a son, Aldine.
  • C.W. fought and died in the Civil War, leaving Sarah a widow with a child before she hit thirty.  From the record below, you can see Cornelius/C.W. registered for the draft in 1863. His gravestone conflicts with this, saying he died in 1861, but the date on the original stone is illegible. C.W. lived and registered for the draft in Ritchie County, and both the grave markers and place of the skirmish where he is supposed to have died are in Calhoun County, which borders Ritchie, so the idiosyncrasies don’t bother me. Also, the stone with the 1861 date is clearly modern, which makes its date suspect.

Feather(s)CorneliusDraftReg

  • Sarah Jane’s brothers also fought in the war — George and John Wesley for the Union side, and Jacob for the Confederacy.* All three returned safely.
  • Tragedy struck again in 1866 when Sarah Jane’s younger brother, John Wesley, was killed by an accidental gunshot to the head.
  • Also in 1866, her older brother, George, married Matilda Scott, the sister of the man who would become Sarah’s second husband. (The wedding registers for both marriages confirm this, listing parents’ names.)
  • In 1869, Sarah Jane married her second husband, Amos M. Scott. The 1880 census shows them living with Aldine and four more children in Murphy, Ritchie County, West Virginia.  If we believe findagrave.com, they had three more children who didn’t live past their second birthday. The 1900 census backs this up. Actually, it says Sarah Jane was the mother of eight children, with only four living.
  • Sarah Jane died of cancer in 1901. She was 59.

Hers was a short life filled with much tragedy, and I share it for several reasons.

The first is to show that it takes very little imagination to see how seemingly dry historical records — the census, birth and death records, grave markers — can document both joy or — as was more often the case for Sarah Jane — sorrow.

That census record alone is enough sadness for a single life. Eight children, four living — add in the rest, and well, there are no words for such sadness.

The second reason I chose to write about this particular story to illustrate how tangled a family tree can become as you climb its branches.

I caught Sarah Jane’s branch while searching for information on one of my 2x great grandmothers — her sister Elizabeth. I’d run out of clues on Elizabeth and so turned my attention to her siblings, hoping their records might garner additional information on their shared parents.

When I found the registry of Sarah Jane’s first marriage, I also recognized her groom’s name. Cornelius/C.W. is the brother of one of my other 2x great grandmothers, Ida Francis Feather(s). This would make Sarah Jane something like my double 2x grand aunt.

You can practically hear those tree branches tapping against each other.

But the main reason I’m telling you about Sarah Jane is because to me, these records say she didn’t give up.

After being left a young widow with a small child, she lived through the strife of having brothers on opposite sides in a terrible war, then lost one to a horrible accident.

Still, she forged forward, marrying again and beginning a new family.

She birthed eight more children, burying four before they reached the age of two. A husband, a brother, and four children — for many people, these losses would cause a self-protective hardening of the heart. And yet, fifteen years later — just a year before she died — Sarah Jane and Amos had taken in his younger brother and two sisters to raise (documented in 1900 census).

So, maybe Sarah Jane Daugherty/Dougherty Feather(s) Scott wasn’t famous. My guess is even she probably would have said she was just a girl from rural West Virginia.

I disagree.

And that, my friends, is why I wrote this post.

Some documentation for Sarah Jane’s story

Sarah Jane Daugherty/Cornelius W. Feather wedding register

Sarah Jane Daugherty Feather/Amos Scott wedding register

Aldine Feather/Luna Cunningham wedding register

Aldine Feather death certificate

C.W.Feathers findagrave.com

John Wesley Daugherty findagrave.com

Sarah Jane death registry

Sarah Jane findagrave.com

*History of Ritchie County: With Biographical Sketches of its Pioneers and Their Ancestors, and with Interesting Reminiscences of Revolutionary and Indian Times, c. 1911, Lowther, Minnie Kendall, p. 268