May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat. What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby. Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted. May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades. Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800. Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love. Life would hold some very hard lessons.
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.
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.
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.
¹ Sayles, Ira. Letter to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; 1880. Archived in Houghton Library, Harvard University.Copy received 5 April 2010.