Everything’s Relative December 2003

Everything’s Relative December 2003

The lighter side of family history.

Family Fortune

My mother had romantic notions about her family tree. As a child, I wriggled with embarrassment when she talked about her “very wealthy” grandfather Alex Stewart, who came from County Down in what is now Northern Ireland. “He walked the streets of Verona with gold jingling in his pockets,” she’d say.

When we were visiting Mom’s first cousin once removed one Sunday in 1933, Mom brought up the subject of her wealthy grandfather. “Uncle Alex? Rich?” Joe snorted. “Not that I ever heard of. Worked as a policeman over in Sharpshurg. Tried growing tobacco in West Virginia someplace. Came back and worked awhile on a steamboat called the Nellie Hudson.” He paused, then went on. “Worked in the mill up Plum Creek until he broke his leg. Then, he sold ironing boards door to door.”

“Ironing boards? Door to door?” Mother suddenly remembered she had left a roast in the oven. Before retreating, Mother said, “I made a mistake. It was Alex’s father, Archie, who was wealthy. Grandfather must have inherited his money.”

Twenty years later, I still remembered that scene, so I hunted down Mom’s grandparents’ graves. In a Pittsburgh cemetery, next to the plots of Archibald Stewart and his wife, Martha Cherry, I found a stone for “James Cherry, gentleman, a native of Killyleagh, Ireland, 1804-1843.”

Further research revealed that James Cherry, an innkeeper in Pittsburgh, made a fortune investing in real estate. When he died intestate, his estate was divided among his parents and siblings in Ireland. Many of them used the inheritance to settle in the United States. Among them were James’ sister Martha Cherry; her husband, Archibald Stewart; and their little boy, Alexander.

Providentially rescued just before the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 to 1849, the family must have said reverently, “We are rich indeed.” Or perhaps old Archie just bought himself a new suit, a high top hat and a pair of fancy gloves, and strutted the streets of Verona with gold pieces rattling in his pocket.

Martha Banks, New Wilmington, Pa.

Crossing the Line

When I first got interested in genealogy, I remembered my grandmother saying her family had gone to Virginia, but didn’t like it there, so they came to Maryland, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t like Virginia — such a beautiful state.

When I looked up the area’s early history, I discovered that Grandma’s family had been Puritans who were persecuted in Virginia by Anglican church members. Maryland Gov. William Stone, who was appointed by Lord Baltimore, a Catholic, had been told to populate the colony. When Stone heard about the suffering Puritans, he invited them to Maryland. Two hundred families settled in Anne Arundel County, between the Severn and Magothy rivers on Chesapeake Bay.

When I did further research, I found that my husband’s ancestor Thomas Sparrow had been one of those Puritans, and told my husband that he and I might be related. He answered, “No, we certainly are not related!”

Come to find out that we are: Thomas Sparrow married Ann West. When he died, Ann married William Sellman, my ancestor. Therefore, my husband and I are 10th half-cousins once removed!

Margaret Sparrow, Baltimore, Md.

Kill ‘Em with Kindness

This story was told to Lawrence Edward Becker by his father, Edward Frederick Becker, about his grandfather — my great grandfather — John H. Becker (1843-1900), who emigrated from Germany to Illinois.

Grandfather had been missing corn from the corncrib in the barn for some time. So he devised a plan to see who had been stealing his corn. The outside door on the barn had a round hole sawed in it, so you could reach through to the inside and lift the latch, thus gaining entry into the barn.

Grandfather took a steel trap, the kind used to catch animals, and set it just inside the hole in the door, so when Mr. Thief would stick his hand through the door to lift the latch, his hand would get caught in the trap. Sure enough, the next morning, there stood Mr. Thief. The person Grandfather thought to be his best neighbor was trapped.

Grandfather let him stand there, hand in the trap, while he went about doing his morning chores. (I am sure it must have been very painful by this time.) After Grandfather had finished caring for the animals, he released his neighbor and said he would not press charges on one condition: Mr. Thief (although his name is known, it is better to leave it unstated) had to come into Grandfather’s home, sit down at his table and eat breakfast before returning home. Swallowing must have been difficult. Grandfather did not have any more corn disappear from his corncrib. My father said that Mr. Thief then became the good neighbor that Grandfather had thought him to be.

Willia Becker, Rocklin, Calif.

 From the December 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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