By Shamus Posted Sunday Nov 16, 2014

Filed under: Personal 75 comments

At some point I mentioned that Gilbert Hiltman, the protagonist of my novel The Witch Watch – was named after my great-grandfather. I’ve always been fascinated by grandpa Gilbert. I’ve recently obtained some photos of himMom got some photos and she’s been posting them on Facebook. so I thought I’d share. I never even knew these existed until now.

It turns out I’ve got some English ancestry in my family tree. The running joke in the USAActually, I think the joke is over now, but when I was a kid people still obsessed over this. is that everyone claims to be English colonists that overthrew the British but we’re actually mostly Europeans that immigrated at the turn of the twentieth century. I assumed this was true of me as well. Not that I care one way or the other. I was just betting on the averages. I assumed “Heginbotham” was some horrible Anglican butchery of a German name. I figured some Hanz Hegunchbachataluntz arrived on Ellis Island and “Higenbotham” was the best the immigration officer could manage.

But no. William Heginbotham immigrated from Jolly old England in the early 1800’s. I don’t know why he left home, why he came here, or what he did to earn a living.

(You’ll notice the name spelled “Higenbotham” and “Heginbotham” here. I can find examples of both spellings in my notes and I don’t know if it’s a typo or an official change somewhere along the line. For the record, “Higenbotham” is how it’s spelled in newsclippings and “Heginbotham” is how everyone pronounces it. This is less confusing than other immigrant names, which would often fragment a single name into multiple spellings. The same family of immigrants might end up named Baer, Burr, and Barr, depending on numerous factors such as handwriting, immigration, mail delivery, and feuds.)

Eventually William had a son, who he named after himself…

Taken during the Great Mustache Uprisings of the 1800’s.

…and who looks kind of Sam Elliot-ish to me. William II got stuck in the same naming rut his father was in and added yet another William to the bloodline. But then in 1886For reference, The Witch Watch takes place in 1885. he broke out of the naming rut and had a son named Gilbert. This is Gilbert:

Emma and Gilbert in 1909. That same year, Carmen Miranda, U Thant, and Hugh Beaumont were born. Emma would outlive them all.
Emma and Gilbert in 1909. That same year, Carmen Miranda, U Thant, and Hugh Beaumont were born. Emma would outlive them all.

This was taken in 1909, when Gilbert was just 24 years old. He lived in SaxonburgMaybe that’s one of the reasons I assumed he was of German descent. People in New York are new Yorkers, so obviously people in Saxonburg MUST be Saxons, right?. That’s his wife Emma. As crazy as it sounds, I actually met her. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Gilbert had five children. The first was his son Regis. The next four were daughters, who I’ll get to in a minute. Here is my great-uncle Regis with his mother:

This was taken in 1914. I think hats like this are what inspired the invention of the automobile tire. They might also have inspired not wearing hats anymore.
This was taken in 1914. I think hats like this are what inspired the invention of the automobile tire. They might also have inspired not wearing hats anymore.

Gilbert started out learning tinning from his older brother William. But when the automobile showed up he started his own business and ran a bus between Saxonburg and Butler. Automobiles were not yet ubiquitous and the road system was still rudimentary, which means lots of people depended on Gilbert’s bus for school and work. This is where most of the “you kids don’t know how good you have it” stories came from in our family.

Brutally cold winters and nascent automobile technology made this work a lot more challenging than simply driving between towns. Antifreeze was either not available or not very good at the time, because Emma would have to drain the radiator when Gilbert got home and refill it again before he left for work the next morning. The road was gravel, which – when combined with the narrow tires of the day – made it prone to forming ruts in the rainy seasons. Snowplow infrastructure didn’t exist yet, which meant that Gilbert sort of did that too. Not on purpose mind you, but shoving the snow with his car and digging himself out when the drifts got too deep was the closest the road came to being plowed.

True story: Sometimes the passengers had to get out and push. Think about that the next time you complain about the inconvenience of public transit.

According to Google, the trip is just short of ten miles and can be done in about twenty minutes today. But it could take hours in the snow back then. Sure, a horse could probably have made the trip faster. But a horse can’t carry a half dozen passengers. I’m telling you, these automobile things are amazing.

In 1925, Emma was pregnant with their final child when this happened:

I see the name William is still popular in the family.

So Regis died by sledding down main street and slamming head-first into a car. That sounds like a Jackass-level crazy stunt, but the truth is that it wasn’t normally seen as a particularly risky thing to do. Cars were still rare, and people were still getting used to them. Today we have a healthy respect for their danger, but back then word of new dangers spread at the speed of newspapers and gossip. This probably needed to happen a couple of times in every town for people to get the idea.

The tragedy here is that Regis could have lived a nice long life if he hadn’t been taken out by this bad luck. The Heginbothams are ridiculously long-livedActually, I’m willing to bet the best of the long-life genes come from Emma’s side. and there’s no reason to think Regis couldn’t have lived well into his 80’s. I could have met him. He was born at just the right time where he would have been too young to get dragged into World War I and too old for World War II.

In the 30’s, Gilbert sold the bus line and went back to metal smithing. You know, just as cars were getting good and the roads were getting paved. Maybe he was worried that the job would make him soft if it no longer required him to occasionally push a bus from town to town. (Actually, I’m sure he sold it because travel was getting easier and cars were getting more common. It was smart to get out of the business while the business was still worth something.)

I would pay really good money to have been a fly on the wall at this dinner. What did these folks talk about?

1949. In the center are Gilbert and Emma. It’s strange to see Gilbert standing below his daughters like thisMan, that modern food and medicine is amazing, you know?, because in my mind he was always ten feet tall.

The young ladies are their daughters. (Left-to-right: Polly, Margaret, VirginaMy grandmother., and Evelyn.) The young men are Gilbert’s sons-in-law. This picture looks very strange to me, because it looks exactly like the Thanksgivings I remember in my youth, except everyone is unaccountably young. I knew these women as charming old ladies, not vivacious young mothers.

The thing was, all of these women survived well into their 70’s and 80’s. Emma made it all the way to 99 years old, passing away in 1987. Polly is actually still alive in 2014. She’s over 90, but is still busy and still has her wits.

The Heginbotham house was the family meeting place for most of the twentieth century. Gilbert and Emma formed a strong family that made a point of coming together as often as they could. They didn’t have any big feuds, and everyone liked everyone else. Now they’re mostly gone. When I was a kid, eight out of ten people in that picture were still alive. By the time I started my own family it was down to three. Today, it’s just Polly.

But the one guy I most want to talk to in this picture is Gilbert, and (statistically speaking) I just missed him. He died six months before I was born. I’d love to have an hour with the guy and see what kind of stories I could wring out of him.

My advice: When you’re young, sit still for as many stories as your elders are willing to tell. They offer context that you will treasure later on. When you’re old, tell all the stories that young people are willing to endure. There are a lot of details of life that don’t show up in photographs, and if we don’t tell our stories those details will be lost.



[1] Mom got some photos and she’s been posting them on Facebook.

[2] Actually, I think the joke is over now, but when I was a kid people still obsessed over this.

[3] For reference, The Witch Watch takes place in 1885.

[4] Maybe that’s one of the reasons I assumed he was of German descent. People in New York are new Yorkers, so obviously people in Saxonburg MUST be Saxons, right?

[5] Actually, I’m willing to bet the best of the long-life genes come from Emma’s side.

[6] Man, that modern food and medicine is amazing, you know?

[7] My grandmother.

From The Archives:

75 thoughts on “Gilbert

  1. Durendal says:

    I really love the story. As a second generation American, I really envy your ability to talk to your grandparents. Mine are on the other side of the world.

    1. The Specktre says:

      Dude, fantastic internet handle… just wanted to throw that out there.

      So you’re second generation American? I’d love to hear whatever stories your family has to tell. :)

      1. Durendal says:

        Hey thanks, right back atcha!
        And yes, they do have some pretty interesting stories. Unfortunately my grandfather passed away last year so I’m not going to here all of them. :[

  2. Galad says:

    That was refreshing and surprisingly insightful concerning an era well before your, or my time. If only my parents or grandparents had stories to enlighten me with, it is always just health worries or concerns about my job. Only my father tries but he has long since told every interesting story there is about himself

  3. Yerushalmi says:

    I want to say something profound here, but damn is that a good mustache.

    1. Mephane says:

      In my mind, “good mustache” is an oxymoron. :P

      1. mom says:

        Gilbert’s wife would agree. Gilbert was always clean shaven and when beards made their comeback in the 70’s she was horrified.

        1. Mephane says:

          Oh bears in and of themselves are not a problem. I wear one, too, on the chin. But moustaches, oh my. It’s not even a specific style that I detest – all of them are horrible, each in their own way.

          It doesn’t help that there is this weird cultural phenomenon where they are statistically beneficial for the wearer in multiple ways, making me wonder just how many men have them in a conscious or subconscious attempt to gain social standing and a better probability of finding a mate.

          1. Mephane says:

            While bears by themselves are indeed not necessarily a problem, either, what I wanted to write was beards, of course. Which also means I do not wear a bear on the chin. Too dangerous.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              I’ve been on the internet so long, on the first read I automatically assumed you didn’t know the proper spelling of “bare”. It took three re-reads before it sank in, “Oh, that’s a typo and not usual internet illiteracy.”

              1. Guthie says:

                I just assumed it was some slang for “facial hair” that I’d never heard before. Thought it was kind of macho, TBH, in a bestial sort of way.

                1. Purple Library Guy says:

                  Well, “bear” is in fact, or used to be, slang for a particular sort of hairy macho-ish, generally older, homosexual male in the gay swinging subculture. Such people would generally have facial hair. As prejudice erodes that subculture has apparently been waning so I don’t know if that’s still a thing.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “Maybe that’s one of the reasons I assumed he was of German descent. People in New York are new Yorkers, so obviously people in Saxonburg MUST be Saxons, right?”

    Shouldnt they be burgers?

    Also,for anyone who didnt notice:
    Shamus has rollover text only on many of those photos.Hover your mouse and read if you dont see the yellow text bellow.He is sneaky like that to mix the two.

    1. Thomas says:

      It was only when Shamus said that I realised the Anglo-Saxons presumably came out of Saxony.

      1. Felblood says:

        Actually, nobody can really agree on where the anglo-saxons came from.

        It’s pretty obvious that the local Romanized Bretons intermarried with large influx of Saxon immigrants, after Rome pulled out of the British Isles, but once you try to figure out anything more detailed than that, its kind of a mess.

        We don’t know things like: Which Saxon tribe contributed the immigrants? Why were they immigrating across the English channel in such numbers? Exactly (or even just approximately) what is the ratio of Anglo-to-Saxon in the final mixture? Are the Bretons or the Saxons more to blame for the total collapse of the remaining post-Roman infrastructure and education?

        The Anglo nobility was still bilingual in proper Latin and the local Common Anglish when the first wave of immigrants arrived. A few generations later it becomes rare to find a king who can read and write, and the state of city roads and water systems make it abundantly clear that the country is not employing any more civil engineers. It’s one of these unfortunate holes in history that develop around areas of limited education.

        We call them the Dark Ages, because there were no writings left behind to illuminate them, not because the plumbing in most of Europe was broken and there were no physicians.

        1. Neil W says:

          Yep. It seems likely that the Saxons that Saxony is named after were related to the Saxons who came over to what was then Brittania (with the Angles, Jutes etc.) But there’s even disagreement on that. They were all Germanic tribes, but since that includes the Franks (after whom France is named) and the Lombards (Lombardy in Italy) it doesn’t help specify them really.

        2. Purple Library Guy says:

          “The Anglo nobility was still bilingual in proper Latin and the local Common Anglish when the first wave of immigrants arrived.”
          You mean the Breton nobility? The Angles were another bunch of Germanic types who came along with the Saxons, were they not?

          It’s doubtless that we don’t know some of those things, but I feel like we can make a shrewd guess or two. Like for instance, who’s more to blame for the total collapse of the remaining post-Roman infrastructure and education? Just off the top of my head, I’d be banking on that being the non-Roman-infrastructure-using invaders rather than the Latin-speaking locals. Maybe that’s just me.

          And we don’t know in detail why they came. Knowing some of those Germanic types there was probably a certain amount of “Warriors get the glory!” stuff. But if they were like so many other people around that time, it’s because there was bad craziness happening at home. Huns, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, yadda yadda yadda, all fighting for room because someone way out East had pushed hard, seem to have had something to do with Goths and Vandals heading south and Vandalizing Rome and presumably also with various other people going in different directions.

      2. Purple Library Guy says:

        Well, maybe the Saxons but perhaps not the Angles, who are the other half of Anglo-Saxon and are presumably the reason there are bits of England (Angle-land) called things like East Anglia.

        1. Shamus says:


          My mind is blown. How have I never realized / heard this before?

          This is so perfect. It’s just the right mix of clever, stupid, and completely obvious. It suits our language so well.

          1. Bryan says:

            Yeah, I remember the first time I realized that too.

            Also Angle-ish. :-)

            (But why does no one remember the Jutes? …Oh, up above Neil W did. Still.)

    2. mom says:

      Saxonburg was founded by and designed by non other than the engineer John Roebling,immigrant from Saxony, inventor of “wire rope”, suspension bridges and he and his son designed and oversaw the building of the Brooklyn bridge. His first cables were made in Saxonburg though he later moved to New Jersey. John Roebling died of an injury he recieved while working on the Brooklyn bridge but his son completed the work. Every child in Saxonburg (Such as the four women in Shamus’ story) learned of John Roebling the way they learned of George Washington. Plays were performed and ballads were written. His home is a museum there. It is still a charming historical small hamlet with a main street with historic original buildings and two old churches. I have pictures :-)

      1. Felblood says:

        That’s cool.

        You gotta pass this kind of knowledge on, or it dies with you.

        If anything historically or culturally significant (or even jut potentially interesting to your great grandchildren) has ever happened to you, get a blog and write it down. That goes double if it was a cool war story.

        I seriously wish my dad and my grandfather had gotten around to writing down all Grandpa’s adventure stories, like they intended to, but never found time for. Alzheimer’s Disease had wracked his memory, by the time I was old enough to remember. So I manly know him by those fragments of his stories that my dad could remember well enough to pass on.

      2. It was also designed in a traditional German town layout, with the church at the tip of main street. and houses on both side, with farmland behind. I went to school there and so of course one of our classes was “History of Saxonburg, taught by the resident local historian and religious crazy guy, who fully believed the world was going to end one of the years I was still in school, so we heard all about that too.

        1. mom says:

          Main Street is laid out directly East/west. So German. So engineer.

  5. Aaron says:

    wow, quite the story, I’ve always found it amazing how our generation was just one away from something so different, it really shouldn’t i suppose but it does

    As for listening to stories i get them from my surviving grandfather and later mention them to my father, who is interested because he never was told these stories, maybe its retirement that brings on a desire to tell tales of youth

  6. cavalier says:

    I’m grateful that I did genealogy research while my grandparents were still around. I collected a lot of information that records would never give. Too many people don’t care until late in life, when most everyone has pasted away.

    Also, they loved the chance to talk about their life. We all do, but later in life we get less chance.

  7. Kalil says:

    My grandmother is 102 years old. Unfortunately, she’s kind of evil, so it’s pretty hard to get stories out of her. When she was younger, she’d always lie because she was running a few dozen simultaneous con games. Now, she always lies because she’s 102 years old, and she doesn’t want people to know how bad her memory has gotten.

    She’s actually shockingly good at it.

    1. Purple Library Guy says:

      If you’re gonna have a black sheep, it’s nice to have one with style.

  8. guy says:

    My family actually was in the US for the revolution. Then the black sheep of the family signed the Declaration of Independence and the rest of them were driven to Canada by the terrorist group calling itself the Sons Of Liberty.

    1. Purple Library Guy says:

      As a Canadian, I commend your family’s loyalty to the crown and their refusal, unlike certain elements, to take part in treachery against their motherland.

  9. MerryVulture says:

    I have always enjoyed listening to the stories older people would tell. Yet I still missed so many from my grand parents. I really wish I had a few hours to listen to them talk again.

  10. Chamomile says:

    Further advice: Keep a diary. Historians love diaries.

    1. Thomas says:

      It will also help if they ever turn your life into a videogame

      1. DGM says:

        Shamus: The Videogame? Hmm… I’m picturing a game about Shamus playing a bunch of games-within-the-game and complaining. You score points not by playing the minigames well, but by nitpicking the hell out of them.

        Anyway, speaking of making games… Shamus, were you still planning to write about Jon Blow’s new programming language? I just watched his demo last night and was interested in hearing your critique.

        1. DGM says:

          No, scratch that. I’m picturing a game in which Shamus watches Josh play the minigames and bitches about both the games themselves AND Josh’s play style.

          1. DGM says:

            I don’t think I’m ever going to be a PewDiePie fan.

            But as for Shamus: The Videogame, I’m thinking we build the game around QTEs. Press X to feel sick thanks to Josh’s bunny hopping! Press Y to complain about the economically unsustainable behavior of your enemies! For bonus points, hold left to weep tears of blood!

            And now Shamus will press whichever button bans me. :P

    2. Torsten says:

      Diary as in writing on a book. While we have more information available than ever before thanks to digitalisation, individual works written in the traditional paper can still outlive webpages.

  11. Cyranor says:

    I wonder if people 50 years from now will pull up old blogs like this one to get context on the era. The internet is so paradigm shifting that we are still trying to get used to the new ways things can be done. To relate it back to your post is almost like when cars first cropped up. At first they were a novelty and few people had them. Now they are so ubiquitous that we hardly can imagine life with out it. I imagine that 50 years from now the internet will be much the same.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Kids these days think they’re smart when they know what a floppy is. Then I tell them about way back when we used cassette tapes and that blows their mind.

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        I was working in a university library 12 years ago and had to show the undergrads what microfilm was. I told them it was, “the DVD-ROM of the 1950s,” but most of them didn’t find that very amusing.

        1. Purple Library Guy says:

          Don’t forget fiche! We’ve still got a bunch of microfiche readers in our library somewhere.
          (For those who may wonder: Microfiche is like microfilm on a flat piece of acetate instead of on a roll)

          1. I was just thinking about microfiche and wondering if my kids have ever experienced it or even know what it is. I remember using it in highschool and college (and hating the stupid things because they induce migraines in me when scrolling).

  12. Cerapa says:

    I don’t know anything about my great-grandparents, not even their names. Genealogy hasn’t really ever been an interest of mine, and people talking about their relatives is kinda making me regret that.

    My oldest living relative is my grandmother. I should actually ask her to tell me about her life. She spent her childhood in Siberia(Soviet deportation, was allowed back home after Stalin died), and I’ve heard a few snippets of her life from that time, about how they would make bricks, pick berries in the forest and go to other villages to buy a pig and stuff like that. It’s really weird to hear her talk about baking their own bricks and living in a house made of clay and dung. It’s like she was living a couple of centuries behind the rest of the world.

    1. mom says:

      Don’t wait. Do it soon. Maybe let us know:-) That is a interesting life.

  13. Gravebound says:

    I see a lot of Shamus in Gilbert’s looks. :D

    I can recall my great-grandmother, vaguely. I don’t recall her first name, because I always just called her ‘Nana’. She was born in 1898 and lived until 1997. The decor of her old house was a mishmash of styles from 20’s art deco to 60’s mod. And she had a large collection of little fuzzy bear figurines with removable clothing items and minor articulation. That is my most vivid memory, because I would end up playing with the bears whenever we’d visit.

    And now I want to know what they were called so I can look them up for nostalgia. :/

    1. Humanoid says:

      Very much so, to the point I can picture him with the same voice complaining about raiders in Pittsburgh. Whereas William the Younger looks more like a Cuftbert.

      I sort of envy people who were both close to their grandparents and have access to this sort of stuff. I’m in pretty much the opposite situation. I’d lost three of my grandparents by the time I was eight, and while my paternal grandmother was around until my early twenties, she was overseas and passed away with me not having seen her since I was in my early teens.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Of course, in those days there really were raiders in Pittsburgh, and he was just complaining about the commute.

    2. krellen says:

      Were the bears Paddington Bears?

      1. Gravebound says:

        Nope. They were little 2 1/2″, maybe 3″, plastic bears, with dark brown fuzz, arms and legs that swiveled front-to-back (I actually don’t remember if the legs moved, or not), and clothes with Velcro in the back to make it easier to change them out. They had shoes that were plastic that fit over the feet. There were all kinds of different outfits for different jobs. This was in the 80’s so it was a ‘late 70’s-mid 80’s’ thing.

        I hadn’t thought about those bears in probably fifteen years, and now I can’t remember what they were called…it’s gonna’ drive me nuts, too… :P

        1. Gravebound says:

          After much fruitless image searching, I think I found, if not the actual figures, then something very close: “Bear Family” Bärenwald from Simba Toys (who you can’t search for without 90% Lion King results).

          Image 1
          Image 2

          But none of the images or pages I found show any with shoes, or dressed as a policeman or baseball player (I was really into baseball as a child, so it was my favorite). But that is the type of figure.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            Oh wow, I remember those! Of course, I remember them about a decade and a half later, with most of the felt worn off and bears mostly naked except for a few handmade replacements…

            Funny thing, it never occurred to me that the velcro was for clothes. I always thought it was there so you could stick the bears into poses on the carpet or on a piece of cloth you were making a scene in. All these years later, and I’m going “So THAT’S what the velcro on the back was for…”

  14. My family also managed to tap-dance its way out of our US skirmishes abroad. My dad was right in the sweet spot to avoid the Vietnam draft and both my grandpa ended up in the navy after all the fighting was pretty much done. Then I found out there was a distant relative who actually ended up neck deep in Europe with honest-to-God Nazi shit he brought back with him. Fascinating talk with the guy.

    1. Bryan says:

      Grandpa was a cook in the army somewhere in Germany, and brought back a bunch of stuff, from pictures to some kinds of trinkets and such. But he died when I was like six, so I never got a chance to talk to him about anything, and then many years later (but before I knew any of this stuff existed, let alone got a chance to see any of it), Grandma destroyed all of it, as well as his WWII official government paperwork (entrance papers, discharge papers, etc.).

      On the one hand, the destruction is understandable, as (I hear from relatives on that side) it was pretty disturbing. But on the other hand, it’s also so sad what gets lost. :-(

      1. Purple Library Guy says:

        My grandfer drove supply trucks in WW II, mostly. He told us how when the British bombers flew overhead, they’d cheer and stuff. And how when the American bombers flew overhead, they’d dive for cover. Apparently the Americans bombed everything that moved even back then.

        Also how he survived one thing due to dumb luck and an odd generosity–my grandfer was a night owl, so one night when they were driving all night my grandfer relieved the other guy, who was sleepy, early. So he’s in the driver’s seat and the other guy has crawled back into the cot behind. Then they come under attack from the air and Grandfer dove out of the truck and it exploded behind him; if he hadn’t taken the other guy’s shift he’d have been dead instead. I believe he may have felt weirdly guilty about it. Stuff like that was probably part of the reason he (like so many WW II vets) was an alcoholic.

        Mostly though grandfer didn’t talk about the past much, he talked about Chinese history. Gloriously odd man, my grandfer–learned, scholarly, read constantly, had taught himself Chinese and had scrapbook after scrapbook of things like Chinese poetry he had translated and notes about Chinese history and art. Also never finished high school, rarely held down a steady job and tended to drink what little money there was, resulting in my mother growing up in severe poverty as my grandmother held the household together with stern pride and desperation.

  15. nerdpride says:

    I met an older gentleman a couple nights ago at a Startup Weekend. Wish I had talked to him more, he was an astrophysicist working on the precursor to GPS and protecting satellites from solar flares. An entertaining guy and he made me feel like I was pretty smart, too.

  16. Dave B. says:

    I believe I only ever met one of my great-grandparents (my great-grandmother Katherina), and I only remember meeting her once, at a family reunion.

    My grandfather (on my mother’s side) is quite fond of telling stories about his life, and I often hear the one about how he was drafted during WWII and, as a conscientious objector, spent several years as part of the Civilian Public Service. He keeps a scrapbook of his draft notice, discharge notice, and letters from the woman who later became my grandmother.

  17. Smejki says:

    I just remembered my teacher from elementary. Unlike you with Gilbert she met her (great?)grandfather but just like you she regrets to have never asked him to tell his stories as he fought in WWI. When she grew to be smart enough to realize the importance he was long gone and his stories with him.

    So yeah. I heard her saying this when I was 13 or so. Ever since I tried to collect the stories of my ancestors. As they are tied to the soon-would-be communist post-WWII Central Europe it’s pretty full of some serious shit.

  18. Michael says:

    You know, I’m meeting my great aunt(born in 1921!) next week. Although, the trouble with her isn’t getting her to talk, it’s to get her to stop!

  19. swenson says:

    Coincidentally, I’ve always regretted missing my great-grandfather too–good old Grandpa Flood. I’ve heard so many stories about the ridiculous things that man got up to, seen all the pictures, and I regret it terribly that I never had the chance to actually meet the legend in person.

    I’ll share one minor story… while most people in their old age like to settle down and take up knitting or something, my dear great-grandfather continued to ride his bicycle around town right up to the ripe old age of ninety. Unfortunately, he was hit by a car and that ended his bicycle-riding career… but he stuck around for another four or five years all the same! Not an easy man to get rid of. :)

    (oh, and for the record, I totally do have ancestors who were here during the Revolution, and I’m pretty sure we have record of at least one of my ancestors who fought in it… and we’re pretty sure we’re descended from Martha Ford, who immigrated to Plymouth Colony on the Fortune, the ship after the Mayflower. Everybody else showed up in the 1800s at the earliest, though. :P)

    1. Bryan says:

      That’s an awesome story. But did your great-grandfather set up a still in the basement during Prohibition … with the county sheriff?

      Because mine reportedly did. :-) (On the other side of the family from my comment above, not that anyone is paying attention.)

      1. mom says:

        THAT is a great story. Those are both great family stories. They are in your hands now, pass them along somehow.

  20. The Rocketeer says:

    Being descended from Andrew Jackson on my grandmother’s side, technically all the crazy stuff he did counts as “family stories.” But my favorite story from her was one she told of her father’s parents.

    In the 1870’s, while they were still courting, Mr. King (who was always called ‘Mister King’ by his wife even after they married) was taking her down the road on their horse-drawn cart, which was on a Sunday just after leaving church, like the well-to-do folk they were. So they pass a field of watermelons, and since they were on their way home to have lunch, Mr. King tells her, “I own a half-share in this field, wait a moment and I’ll take a watermelon for our the meal today.” So she holds the horses, and he walks out in the field in his Sunday clothing, takes a look around finding the best-looking melon.

    He finally settles on one, and brings it back to the cart for her to hold on the way home. They go down the road in silence for a bit, and he asks, “No one else on this road, is there?” She replies, “Not that I’ve seen, Mister King.”

    “Good,” he laughs. “I owned nothing of that field, and I just stole this watermelon.”

  21. Tintenseher says:

    I usually lurk, but I just had to come up for air and say I love this post. I dunno why, this was just…really fun and interesting.

  22. General Karthos says:

    Interestingly enough, my family ARE English Immigrants who came to America in 1640 for religious reasons. We fought for the British in the French-Indian War. We fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. We fought for the U.S. in the Mexican-American War. We fought for the Union in the Civil War. We fought for the U.S. in the Spanish-American War. We fought for the U.S. in both World Wars and in Korea. The first War we weren’t involved in was the Vietnam War. We haven’t been involved in a war since.

    But we actually DID fight for all y’alls freedom, and we’ve got the diaries and the memoirs to prove it. I’m not really sure why we haven’t had them published…. And I had a lot of snarky reasons up and I keep editing them. Point is, they aren’t published, but they exist.

  23. Shawn says:

    Love stories like this. Probably why I was a history major before I do what I do. Anyways, yes. I sometimes wish I would have sat still more for my grandparents. They had alot to tell and I remember most of what they told, but I know prying was a sure way to get all of them to talk, and now when I would appreciate it even more, they aren’t here to talk to. Funny how you appreciate old people more when you get older….

  24. Kathryn says:

    I never met any of my great-grandparents, and my last surviving grandparent just died. She was 85; the other three died in their 60s. I did ask them about WWII when I had the chance. One of my grandfathers was in the Army Air Corps and flew bombing missions in the European theater. The other was in the Navy and held an supply island in the Pacific theater. Not much combat, but he never ate coconut again.

    I have been trying to write things down for my son’s future benefit. But the problem with diaries is that I’m an extremely private person. Whenever I pick up my notebook and a pen, if I think of someone else reading, I can’t write about anything except trivial stuff like what books I’m reading or what happened at work that day. So it ends up being very bloodless. “Vendor drilled a hole through in the first enclosure. Returning for rework. Schedule impact is minimum two months. Was going to reread Emma, but once you see the squick you can’t unsee it. Went for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall instead.” Luckily for historians, I am no one of note!

  25. djw says:

    Non-english immigrants may have outnumbered (pre-revolutionary) english immigrants, BUT, the english were here first and families were huge…

    When you factor in exponential growth and first mover advantage it is likely that the average European American has at least some English ancestry (and many of us have a lot).

    Just asking people where their ancestors are from underestimates English ancestry because most people claim they are (some tiny exotic fraction)-european. English just sounds boring, for some reason.

  26. The Specktre says:

    Stuff like this resonates with me, thanks for sharing. Also a fun bit of Witch Watch trivia!

  27. Stomponator says:

    My grandfather died when I was about ten years old. He never talked about WW2 until he got cancer, only then telling his sons-in-law about how he got drafted, aged 17, and how he spend nearly ten years in a syberian gulag.

    My father recounted some of his stories as I got older, but I would very much like to hear his life’s tale firsthand.

    My mother still remembers the old man, riding out on his bicycle into the steppes of kazachstan, a couple of wine bottles in is backpack, to visit cossack shepherds.

  28. Abnaxis says:

    The running joke in the USA is that everyone claims to be English colonists that overthrew the British but we're actually mostly Europeans that immigrated at the turn of the twentieth century

    Funny story, I was raised thinking the latter was the case for my family, when the actual situation was closer to the former.

    I have a really badly mangled German-language last name. Family legend always held that it was either a German-ified Polish word, or a Polish-ified German word, based purely on the etymology of it.

    One day, I was looking up genealogy for some random reason, and I came across my whole family tree all the way back to the guy who “immigrated” to he states. Apparently, some seventh cousin who I’ve never heard of was curious about our collective origins, so her husband compiled this huge family tree and put it on the internet.

    I put “immigrated” in quotes because apparently, the first “American” in my family was here from the start, but he wasn’t a colonist. He was a Hessian mercenary working for the British, one who surrendered at the Battle of Trenton. He then defected.

    Records show about seven different spellings of my last name over the course of the first ancestor’s life in the States, in differing locations all over America. My name is badly mangled, but it’s not because of turn of the century persecution or some beleaguered immigration agent’s poor spelling, but rather because my ancestor was a tax-evader and a military-deserter evading justice.

    In all this my biggest burning question is, I don’t know how in the world the name changes he made would have even worked back then. “Oh, you’re looking for ‘Klinginpeil,’ Mr. Bounty Hunter/Tax Collector? That’s not me, my name is ‘Clingeinpeil.’ Klinginpeil lives on the other side of town.” It’s not like they had Google…

  29. The Right Trousers says:

    Yes, tell the stories!

    My parents told me stories about my grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents that I tell to my children. Every one of them – from my great-great grandfather’s generous donation that left him poor to my grandfather giving mouth-to-mouth to the family dog – puts our lives in a greater context. More to the point, the stories all say *this is who you are*.

  30. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Surprised that Im the first to ask:

    Shamus,was one of your other great-grandfathers named sullivan?Because that would mean you are genetically predisposed to liking mordin.

  31. Paul Spooner says:

    The impatience of the young, and the curiosity of the old, is a perfect reason for people to record things. Whether by writing books, blogs, or even just making recordings, telling stories doesn’t have to be chronologically synchronized any more. My great grandmother took the time to write a big thick book titled “The things I remember.” and we’re fortunate enough to have a copy. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m still young and impatient. I’m guessing in about fifteen years I’ll sit down and have a good time finding out one of the corners of my origins.

  32. Gilbert diamond says:

    It’s gilbert here. And btw, my name really is Gilbert. I’m Gilbert’s grandson, I think. Shamus, am I?

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