Mapping My Ancestors: The Kings of Rhode Island

“Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.”
― Alexander McCall SmithLove Over Scotland

My Sayles ancestors did not leave a trace of their personal maps; only clues left in letter heads or the handwriting of a census enumerator reveal the location of family at a given point in time.  It is left to my imagination to draw smiles, hear wails, to listen for laughter or argument.  I found this map of Wallum Pond, Rhode Island while searching for brain-twizzling information on the King family. *  The book chronicled the history of a 20th century sanatorium and included the early landowners of the area.  Identified in the map’s key was the location of the James King farm, at points 16 and 17, at the southern  tip of Wallum Pond.

Wallum Pond, Burrillville, Rhode Island

I can read all sorts of information from these squiggles – the lay of the land influenced the establishment of waterways, transportation networks, farms, mills, communities.  My imagination has to supply the “at the top of this hill James and Rhobe discussed what road to take west,” or “here is where Sarah cried after learning that her parents were moving to Pennsylvania.”  This map marks the spot where James King learned to farm from his father, James, during the late 1790s.  It marks the spot  where James and Rhobe reared a family and raised their stock, drained the bog and grew their corn, and where they packed their belongings and loaded up the youngest members of their brood as they headed out to the wilderness of Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1822.

I have to supply the imagination that weaves the tapestry of their life.

*Ira Sayles is my great-great-grandfather on my father’s side, and the impetus to my participation in the Family History Writing Challenge, February 2013.  His father, Christopher Sayles, was the son of Burrillville, Rhode Island residents, Christopher and Martha Brown Sayles; Ira’s mother, Sarah, was  the daughter of James and Merrobe Howland King of Wallum Pond, Rhode Island.

Surname Saturday: Preparing for the Family History Writing Challenge

Your ancestor sits amid the details, seemingly solitary, independent, like a mushroom poking through tangled blades. 

Upon further investigation, you discover others by his side: parents, aunts and uncles, children, cousins, neighbors, bosses, friends, enemies – a figurative forest of ‘srooms.

A forest of 'shrooms

The simple family history narrative that the Family History Writing Challenge beckoned you to write has become a convoluted mess of story lines and mysteries and brick walls.  This predicament is exactly what thwarted my previous attempts to compose the story of Ira Sayles, my paternal great-great-grandfather.  But this year is going to be different.  This year I have committed to writing 500 words a day about this perplexing gentleman.  As Lynn Palermo prompts in her Family History Writing Challenge, these syllables don’t have to be great prose, and the 14,000 words don’t have to produce a finished book.  I just have to remain committed to writing 500 words a day. By the end of February, I will have a start on the reconstruction of Ira Sayles, if nothing else, and I will have a habit of writing, which is infinitely more important than any resolution.

Today’s Surname Saturday prompt from Geneabloggers will be a preparation step for this February project.  Instead of being thwarted by the forest of relations, I WILL be inspired.

AHEM.

Ira Sayles was born to two long-time residents of Glocester, Providence County, Rhode Island in 1817.  In fact, the families of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King had been in the northwestern corner of Glocester – Burrillville – for generations. In 1825, Christopher and Sarah took their young family and went to Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  They left behind Christopher’s dad, Christopher Sayles, who died shortly thereafter; his mom, Martha Brown Sayles had died in 1813.

Tioga County, situated along the north central Pennsylvania-New York border, was a land of fertile soil, hard wood forests and plentiful water.  It was also a land of Sarah King’s family.  Her parents, James IV and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King, had emigrated from Rhode Island to the Westfield area in about 1815.  Those two souls had joined Rhobe’s Quaker parents, John and Lois Eddy Howland, who had pioneered the Cowanesque River Valley in 1803-04 with their son, Dr. Eddy Howland and family.

By the time Christopher and Sarah brought young Ira to be a “codenizen with bears, wolves and panthers”¹, there was an extensive network of extended family – like filamentous fungi connecting brilliant ‘srhooms.

Sayles, Kings, Howlands.  As I begin his story, I gaze on all the colorful characters in his life, and happily imagine what remains hidden underneath my genealogical meadow of facts.

Fall color in Amanita muscaria

¹ Sayles, Ira. Letter to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; 1880. Archived in Houghton Library, Harvard University.Copy received 5 April 2010.