52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 9: Where There Is A Will…

William Henry Stevens, Sailor in Civil War

William Henry Stevens 1843-1926

“So that is who he is,” I told myself as the mental clues gelled in my head.  Throughout my childhood, I had heard my grandmother say, “Oh, she/he is related on the Stevens side.” At that age, I had no idea what those words meant nor was I curious. As I fast forward to my “genealogy years”, I was finally able to grasp an understanding and make an introduction.

I first met William when I started grafting branches to my family tree. He was a name with attached dates and places. He had a wife and nine children. He was born in England and died in Kansas. Was that the beginning and end of his story, or was there a crucial middle to his life’s tale? As writers and readers, we know that the middle of a narrative piece holds and embraces the details…genealogists learn that, too.

As I fast forward again, I was to meet live, now-to-me cousins on Ancestry. Here were gals who were related to me on the Stevens side. They held the keys to the middle part  of Will’s life story along with the glorious details. They had portrait photos, wedding photos, letters, family photos of Will and his family. Through them, I met the flesh and blood William Henry Stevens, my second great grandfather.

Where there is a will would certainly be a motivational cry for young Will Stevens. He came to America in 1864 while the Civil War was still waging…an immigrant at the age of twenty-one.  He had been in the British Navy. After being in New York City for six months, he joined the Union Navy. He was assigned to three different ships which were often engaged in blockading Confederate harbors. He spent much time in the crows nest and reported on what he saw. As a result of that job and being close to cannon blasts, he became deaf in one ear. He also sported alligator and cross tattoos…a fun fact for me. After the war, he made his way back to Manhattan, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey. He worked as a laborer for the American Gas Company.

Isabella Anna Couchman 1860's   Where there is a will…a year after the war, he married his sweetheart, Isabella Anna Couchman. She, too, was an English emigrant; she was a seamstress. They lived for a time in New Jersey as their family grew. Whatever the calling and attraction, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Again, he chose work with a gas company. After the war, Memphis was a place of unrest and Reconstruction change. Did Will and his family feel that? Is that one of the factors that led him to the next family move?

Where there is a will…President Lincoln and Congress’ Homestead Act enabled settlers to gain free land in the Midwest. Will accepted that invitation when he claimed land in Kill Creek Township, Osborne County, Kansas, in 1872. I wonder what he knew about farming…an English emigrant, sailor, former resident of four major cities, gas company employee. He came to Kansas by himself and settled in a dugout on his property. A year later, the rest of his family followed. Besides a strong will, what other virtues guided and strengthened him? Did his family feel isolated out on the farm? How did he learn to plow and sweat under the harsh plains’ sun? Did he hunt and fish to feed this family? Buffalo were hunted by early Kansas settlers…were he and his sons hunters…city boys? A family story revolves around Indians coming to their farm and stealing baby clothes from a trunk…clothes surely made by seamstress Isabella’s hands. Strong willed people often possess resiliency and perseverance; surely, Will carried these qualities in his soul, mind, and heart. Were these passed along to his children…and to me? The value of hard work flowed through his veins. Family talk has it that he was a man of few words. But was he a man of many thoughts and feelings?

Harvest on Stevens homestead

Where there is a will…Will lived 83 years which is lengthy for a Civil War veteran. In 1916, he and his beloved Isabella celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. One of the treasures shared by my new cousins is this picture taken at that party. What joy the couple must have experienced when surrounded by their children and grandchildren! Where there is a will, a man wraps strength and serenity in his familial arms.

sepia 50th wedding anniversary of William and Isabella Stevens

Post Script: My grandmother, Isabella Mary Boultinghouse (named after her grandmother), is to the right of the woman in the striped dress in the center of the photograph. Yes, she is the one with the flowery hairdo.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 8: Heirloom

 

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Edward Ralph Boultinghouse (1896-1943)

Sometimes, Kansas farm boys hear the call of wayward wind voices directing them to new horizons. At the beginning of the last century, my great uncle Edward “Jack” Ralph Boultinghouse heard those voices.  He followed them to the vastness of Wyoming cattle ranches and to booming oil fields where purple mountain majesties embraced him. He has been introduced to this land when he came with his father on a hunting trip in 1916. His father returned to Kansas…Jack stayed. He became a real cowboy who could wrangle and rope. Eventually, he became a roustabout on those oil fields.

Along that journey, he joined the Wyoming National Guard. The United States was drawn into World War I in 1917 despite all of President Wilson’s actions to maintain our neutrality. Suddenly, Jack the bronco buster became Jack the wagoner. His military unit was the 116th Ammunition Train, 41st Division. He lead mules and horses that pulled wagonloads of artillery rounds to cannons in battle zones.

His unit was formed from men from Wyoming and Oregon. These men were chosen to be wagoners because of their experiences with handling horses and mules. The Brits and the French were quite happy to have these Yanks join them in the fight. World War I would be the last war to use horses and mules…the Yanks had lots of these animals to lend to the fight.

Jack and his company left for France on December 12, 1917, aboard the commercial steamer Antigone. How did it feel to be crowded on a ship with a vast ocean before him…how did he compare that ocean to his beloved Grand Tetons? Did he suffer both seasickness and homesickness?

wagoner

Once in France, he was responsible for caring for his team of mules and driving a wagonload of ammunition. What did that sound like as caravans of teams moved forward through dirt and mud? How did the soldiers’ voices boom out with commands for the animals? When were the days most frightful as the distant thunder of battle filled the air? Did Jack write letters home to reassure his family that he was safe…his hometown paper carried little news of the war?

After the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, Jack and his unit remained in France until 24 June 1919. How did his unit spend their days after the war? Was there a somber mood or a celebratory air as they sailed home? How did he envision his future?

After his return, Jack did go back to Kansas for a brief time. Those wayward wind voices called him to return to his beloved Wyoming. Throughout the remainder of his life, he would also live in Nebraska and Colorado…working as a wildlife preserve manager and as an Army consultant for Remington Arms.

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My grandmother, Isabella Mary Boultinghouse,  was Jack’s little sister as he was seven years older. How she came to receive his World War I dog tags I do not know. Did he give them to her when he returned from war? How they were passed onto me I do not remember. This little aluminum disk is a precious heirloom to me…it once hugged the neck of my real cowboy and soldier Uncle Jack.

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 7: Valentine

Background Music: “Unforgettable” as recorded by Nat King Cole in October 1951   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXjdMV7SOfE

He was the first man with whom I fell in love. He loved me at first sight and knew I would always be his. He nicknamed me “Punkie” and enjoyed making me laugh and smile. He was also totally in love with my mother so all three of us formed a family until my two brothers would complete that circle. He was my first Valentine…my dad, Edward Joseph Slabik (1924-2007).

My father would pass many interests, talents, and gifts along to me. He filled our home with music, and the stereo would boost the stylings of Frank Sinatra, Joni James, and our favorite Nat King Cole. He would sing along in a rich voice that added to the magic of enjoying the songs. I learned to sing along, too. I became a lifelong music lover. Also, he introduced me to the joys of reading…reading everything from detective novels to road maps to almanacs. Getting my first library card was pure joy to me…I became a lifelong reader. Because my dad read five or more newspapers a day, he would often write letters to the editor to give his slant, opinion, or support to the issues. I learned that writing can be a powerful outlet. I became a lifelong writer.

I miss my father greatly. There is so much more to tell about our father-daughter relationship. Those memories I chose to treasure alone in the recesses of my heart and spirit. One time, my mother told me that I was my daddy’s little girl who grew to be his daughter…a supreme compliment to me and my precious dad.9906463d-2f01-4502-bd96-cce212540337

Exit music/lyrics: “That’s why, darling, it’s incredible that someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable, too.”

 

 

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, Week 6: Favorite Name

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Lafayette Edward Boultinghouse & Family

During our weekly genealogy get-together, Amy turned to me and said, “So…which of your ancestors bears your favorite name? Whom do you pick and why?”

Without hesitation, I responded, “My great grandfather, Lafayette Edward Boultinghouse. I never met him, but I was introduced to him by my mother. If I silence myself, I can hear his name whispered in the wind as it rustles the shafts of wheat across a Kansas prairie. I can see his face up in the stars of night…just as God had told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as those stars. He used to be a mystery to me, but I sought out his company in old photographs and family history. Now I can pass on his story to you.”

Smiling and nodding, Amy prompted me to continue. “Tell me about the grandfather you met.”

“Lafe’s story…his family’s nickname for him…begins as the end of an adventure. In 1871, his parents, Amos and Mary, had gathered up their youngest children and come by wagon train across Illinois and into Kansas to settle in Osborne County. Mary was pregnant with her 10th child so the trip must have been a challenge for her. When they arrived at their Homestead Act property, a tent was pitched to shelter them. Inside the tent, Mary gave birth to Lafayette. He was the first white male born in that county. Why he was named Lafayette is only my guess. Amos the father came from a patriotic family. Mary the mother came from a French emigrant family. In American and French histories, the Marquis de Lafayette was a hero to both American and French peoples. Was the name a way to celebrate both family origins? Having the middle name of Edward is a puzzle…no Edwards in either family existed. And so, Lafe grew in age and wisdom,” I said with a smile.

Encouraging me to continue, Amy asked, “Who did Lafe become? What makes him special to you?”

“Young Lafe learned to hunt and fish from his father, who had lived on the Midwest prairies and survived the Civil War. The Kansas farmland gave them buffalo to hunt, and the river and streams to fish. Lafe learned what it takes to feed a family. Throughout his life, hunting and fishing became his passion. He really did not fall in love with farming. At one time, he obtained 14 acres of farmland through the Homestead Act. A few years later, he sold off the land and farm equipment. He and his wife Naomi opened a general store and cafe in the little town of Bloomington. He did discover another love…carpentry. He could build anything. He added tourist cabins to an area by the store-cafe. He would pass on his love of hunting to his son Edward while his daughters, Pearl, Helen, and Isabella, learned flower gardening from mother Naomi. When grandchildren blessed his life, they called him Grand B,” I responded.

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Lafe & His Catch

Amy asked her final question, “How does his name endear him to you?”

“I envision him as a person with a distinguished name who led an ordinary life in an ordinary town. He sought no greatness other than to serve his family, friends, and community. I wish as his great granddaughter, I could have sat at his knee and savored his stories and, perhaps, tall tales. I wish…”

 

 

 

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