Gone But Not Forgotten
All of us have ancestors whose stories are compelling, poignant, or downright fascinating. In this section, we present some interesting stories about a couple of the webmaster's ancestors and about an eleven-year-old Civil War Union soldier.
We begin with this Gone but Not Forgotten section and two others all written by our webmaster.
Saints and Strangers is about his ancestors, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, two of the Mayflower passengers who were part of the founding of Plymouth Colony in 1620.
The Eleven-Year-Old Union Soldier is about John Lincoln Clem (1851-1937) who, in 1861, yet 9 years old, ran away from home to enlist in the 3rd Ohio Infantry which rejected him because of age and stature. Undaunted, he tried the 22d Michigan which finally allowed him at age 11 to enlist officially. He fought in six major Civil War battles, was captured and exchanged, was wounded twice, and was medaled by Salmon P. Chase, then Secretary of the Treasury and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1915, at age 64, John retired from military service as a brigadier general, the only surviving Civil War veteran then in active service.
We like these stories by our webmaster. We hope he will write a few more. We also hope that you will send us stories about some of your ancestors. We solicit from you true stories similar to the ones presented here about your interesting ancestor(s), well-known or unknown. We look for sad or amusing stories indicative of an era gone by.
For example, this is Mary Elizabeth (Keister) Thompson (1855-1924), the webmaster's maternal grandfather's mother, perhaps age 30-35 ca. 1885-1890, in front of her family home in Sack Co. Iowa.
When she was a young girl, her father, Ludwig Keister, was thrown from a wagon, cracked his head on the ice, and died. Her mother Catherine was left bereft, with a passel of young children to feed. Catherine had no husband, but she had Ludwig's farm with which to support herself and her children. She never remarried.
Mary Elizabeth was married in 1877, at age 22, to George David Thompson. This is their home ca. 1885-1890. It doesn't look like much. It looks lonely, bleak, and uninviting in windswept Iowa. But, it was theirs, and they were proud of it.
This is James Arthur Alexander (1913-1981), the webmaster's father. He is caught here, at about age 10, in northeastern Texas in 1923. This was an uncommon, happy moment in an otherwise difficult, harsh childhood.
That year, his father took him out of the third grade and put him to work in the family livery stable. Help was needed but his father couldn't afford to hire a hand.
At 13 he, along with his older brother, was told that he had to leave home because the family could no longer afford to feed him.
In the sixteen years between then and World War II, he was, among other things, a wrangler on Texas cattle drives, a North-Dakota railroad man, a dealer in Reno, and a California forestry ranger.
In San Francisco in 1942, at age 29, just a month after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. His fellow marines, all 18 and 19, called him Pops. On training runs, after about a mile, he would take a shortcut to a point about a mile from the finish and wait for the rest of the company to catch up. Then, he rejoined the troop and finished the run. His drill instructor knew of that tactic but took pity on the "old man" and said nothing.
He saw combat on every beach in every single major battle of the Pacific war. Amazingly, though his comrades fell by the dozens around him, he was never wounded. His only scar from the War was on his right thigh from where a fellow soldier accidentally spilled hot coffee on him. He did not get a Purple Heart for that.
The only remark he ever made about the War was that he had no respect for the Japanese because they "made me kill all of them."
In 1945, he left the Marine Corps as a Master Sergeant and married Rozetta Elizabeth Thompson in Los Angeles.
He tried his hand at construction in the company of his father-in-law, the webmaster's maternal grandfather, in western Kansas. His sister-in-law's father was embezzling from the company. The family knew about it, but, for the sake of harmony, did nothing. He, however, could not tolerate the situation
In partnership with his father-in-law, he tried his hand at farming, putting to the plow a thousand acres of virgin soil in eastern Colorado, land that theretofore had been trodden by none but buffalo and antelope. It took him a year to bring the soil to heal and another to plant and raise a wheat crop. A few days before harvest, a cruel, egregious hail storm flattened every spear of wheat on that thousand acres. It sorely aggrieved him. He farmed a couple more years but was disenchanted and unhappy.
In 1954, he took his family to a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC, where his older brother and older sister then lived. He became a brick mason. In winter, when it was too cold to lay brick, he gave driving lessons, except when bedridden by depression.
He and Rozetta, who went to work, provided for eighteen years for a family of five, raising three children to adulthood.
His hands grew gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis. He retired.
Rozetta divorced him. He returned to his childhood town, Paris, in Lamar Co., northeast Texas, where he drank and played pool and poker with his new friends, some good-ole-Texas bubbas. He quietly drank away the few years left him and died in 1981, aged 68, of cirrhosis of the liver.
You too have ancestors with stories.
We ask you to write an ancestor's story and send it to us. If you do send us one, be certain to include many illustrative photographs -- photographs of the ancestors themselves, of their tombstones, of their Revolutionary War or Civil War pension application, of letters home to their grandmother, of their Nebraska homestead covered in ten feet of snow, of the old General Store where they bought necessities, or of the wagon train they rode west in. The Web is an image-driven visual medium. The more images you send the more we will have from which to choose, the more inviting your story will be, and the more widely read.
Please, make your submissions by email to the webmaster. Include photographs as attachments. in either .jpg or .png format. We may have to edit your submission for length, clarity, phraseology, or flow, but we will remain true to your intent and to the essence of your ancestor's story. If you want us to copyright your submission in your name, please say so; we will do it.
© 2015 Steve Alexander