Relatives

January 16, 2021
  

Relatives

 

            Let me try to explain something about my family that I have never been able to make any of my kids understand.   I’m fairly sure that my wife of 42 years doesn’t understand this, because if you explain it verbally it is quite confusing. 

            The question people often ask about my family is, "Are you related to Jesse James?"  As a kid we never really knew, but we would usually answer "Yes" because our older relatives told us that we were probably related, although no one knew for sure how, and, if you don’t know how, then you don’t know "if".  There was, however, good reason to believe that we were.  My great-great grandfather and my great-grandfather ran a Trading Post called James Crossing from the 1840s, when there were few white people in Kansas, into the 1880s.  The James Family Cemetery, at James Crossing, was the first white cemetery in Jackson County, Kansas; nobody has been buried there for a good deal more than 100 years now.  Anyway, From James Crossing to the Jesse James home farm in Missouri is only 60 miles, and there is evidence that Jesse and Frank James did hide out at James Crossing on occasion.  Also, my great-grandfather and Jesse James looked so much alike that if you put pictures of them against one another, one would assume that they were brothers.  There are a lot of other connections—the same names being used, people coming west from the same counties in Kentucky, etc. 

            Genealogy is much more organized now than it was 60 years ago, however, so the family genealogist (my cousin Joan) finally figured it out.  We are, in fact, related to Jesse James, but not through the Jameses.  We are related to Jesse James through his mother, Zarelda.  I believe, although I am not sure of this, that HER mother's maiden name was James, although it was an entirely different family. 

 

            That’s not really what I wanted to talk about.   I have an unusual series of relationships from which I am descended.  My grandfather, Isaac Burks, had an identical twin brother named Frank. 

 

 

 

 

 

            Isaac Burks               Frank Burks              Identical Twins

 

            My grandmother was Willa Mae Yates; she was called "Bill", which is why I am called Bill; I was named after my father, but called "Bill" after my grandmother.   Willa Mae had a sister named Mary, who we called "Mollie". . . for all I know her name may actually have been Mollie, but I believe that "Mary" is what is on her tombstone.   Aunt Mollie lived just three houses down from us and would babysit us sometimes, although she was quite old. Willa Mae and Mollie were the children of Abner Yates, who founded Yates Center, Kansas, or at least we were always told that they were, I don’t know.   Abner had something like 14 children.  One time for a class the teacher asked us to diagram all of our first and second cousins.  I had to explain that this would be completely impossible for me.   My grandfather, George W. James, had only one half-brother and a half-sister or something like that; I was never clear on that, but my grandmother, Jenny McCool, was one of 10 children, my other grandfather, Isaac, was one of twelve, and my other grandmother was one of 14.   God only knows how many second cousins I have.  In another generation genealogy will be so organized that somebody will be able to straighten all of this out in 10 minutes.   Also, I was never REALLY clear on who had 9 brothers and sisters and who had 11 and who had 13, but I’m telling you all this as best I can remember it.

 

Anyway, Willa Mae married Isaac, of course, but also her sister, Mollie, married Isaac’s twin, Frank. 

 

Isaac Burks

Frank Burks

Identical Twins

Willa Mae Yates

Mollie Yates

Sisters

           

           

 

            All of these people were probably born in the late 1870s, I would guess.  The offspring of these marriages were then "Double Cousins", double cousins being cousins who are related both through their mother and through their father.  That’s not THAT unusual, but we’re just getting started.  

            Mollie and Frank Burks had several daughters, two of whom were named Jewel and Iola, whom we called Aunt Jewel and Aunt Ole (Owe-Lee).  Aunt Ole (Iola) was about 80 years old by the time she met my wife, but Susie and Ole just loved one another.  For some reason, they just clicked.  The first time they met I was walking Susie around Mayetta, where I grew up, and we walked past Aunt Ole sitting outside her house, in her driveway, in an old lawn chair.  She was nearly blind and I had not seen her in a couple of years, but I said "Aunt Ole", and she cocked her head as if she was not quite sure and said "Billy?"  She had recognized my voice.  She was a very dignified person, as my wife is, which, to be honest, is not something one could say about ALL of my old relatives. 

            Anyway, getting off the subject here.   Mollie and Frank had several daughters; they had Jewel, Iola, Opal, Violet, and Frankie; if they had any sons, I can’t remember that now.  All of these people lived around Mayetta and we called them all "Aunt".  I didn’t know Aunt Frankie well; she was the cutup in the group, the character.  Anyway, all of these girls were double-cousins to the children of Isaac and Willa Mae. 

            Now we get to the Jameses.  George James, born about 1865, married Jennie McCool.  He went to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush, probably in 1897.  On his way up there he met Jennie in Bellevue, Washington.  On his way back he stopped in Bellevue to propose to her, and they married, I believe in 1898.  I have a copy of their marriage license around here somewhere.  

            Anyway, George and Jenny had four sons and a daughter, Nell being the daughter.   The sons were Preston, Edward (who we called "Eddard"), George (who was called "Junior") and Ivan.  

 

            All of these kids were born between 1899 and 1912. As it happened, Preston James married Iola Burks, Aunt Ole:

 

Mollie Yates

 

Jennie McCool

Frank Burks

 

George James

 

 

 

Iola Burks

 

Preston James

 

 

            And then Edward James, Uncle Eddard, married Jewel Burks, Aunt Jewel:

 

Mollie Yates

 

Jennie McCool

Frank Burks

 

George James

 

 

 

Iola Burks

 

Preston James

Jewel Burks

 

Edward James

 

 

 

            So the children of Edward and Jewel were Double Cousins, again, to the children of Preston and Ole. 

            Now, you may be thinking that this kind of thing is common in small towns, but I promise you, it is not.  There was no one else in Mayetta who had any kind of Double-Cousin in their family, let along anyone else who had TWO sets of double cousins in their family.   I’ve never heard of that happening anywhere else.  But we’re not finished yet. 

            My father was George James, the one who was known as "Junior" until he was 30 years old.  He married Mildred May Burks, who was a double cousin of Ole and Jewel. 

 

Isaac Burks

Frank Burks

Identical Twins

 

Jenny McCool

 

Willa Mae Yates

Mollie Yates

Sisters

 

George James

 
           

Lena Burks

Iola Burks

 

 

Preston James

 

Frank Burks

Jewel Burks

 

 

Edward James

 

Isaac Burks

Opal Burks

 

 

Nell James

Lori Burks

Violet Burks

   

George James Jr.

Mildred Burks

Frankie Burks

   

Ivan James

 

 

 

            Other than the generic term "cousin", there is no word for my relationship to the many children of Ole and Preston and Edward and Jewel, since I’ve never heard of anyone else who had that kind of a relationship.  What my father would always stress, in trying to explain this, is that there was no "intermarriage", since no one married anyone to whom they were related by blood.  But there was a large field of children who had different parents and some different grandparents, but who had exactly the same set of eight great-grandparents.   I didn’t know any of those great-grandparents: they were all dead before I was born, so I could never remember who was who in that generation.   We named my son "Isaac" because my wife and I both liked the name, and my Uncle Eddard was pleased that I had named him after my Grandfather, but I actually did not know until Edward said that whether my Grandfather was Frank or Isaac; I could never keep them straight. 

            Of those many children who had the same eight great-grandparents, I was the youngest, born in 1949.   Most of these cousins were men.   We had a million Franks and Isaacs in the family, which was bewildering.  My mother had two brothers named Frank and Isaac, who I just met once or twice and had difficulty sorting out.   Her sister Lori (or Lory or Laurie or Lorie or whatever it was). . .she had two sons, Frank and Isaac, who were severely mentally handicapped as a result of having scarlet fever when they were toddlers; I knew them well.  The oldest members of my generation around Mayetta were two boys named Bert (or Burt) and the other one was either named Frank or Isaac, but I could never remember which; they left Mayetta to join the war about 1942 and I didn’t know them well.  One of them became a career military officer and the other one became a well-known journalist who broke the news to the nation that fighting had broken out in Korea.  When he died NPR ran an obituary of him; he was rather a pompous sort.   All of these generally were successful people, except the boys who had scarlet fever.  My mother’s brothers, who I did not know; one of them was an executive in the oil industry, and there was something of a scandal in the mid-1960s when he divorced his wife of many years to marry his secretary, but I didn’t know him and he lived in Texas, so I wasn’t really up on the details.  It was kind of like a story cycle from "Mad Men."   The other one worked in the automobile industry and would claim that he drove back to Kansas from Detroit in 9½ hours or something.  Several of the women in that generation were school teachers, and they also were quite dignified women.  My Aunt Jewel and Uncle Edward had a boy named Frank James who became a Veterinarian in Michigan; he was younger and I knew him well, and my wife got to know him fairly well.  My family fell apart after my mother’s death; we were just scraping to stay alive, not able to afford much dignity, but I was always proud of my cousins. 

            There is a reason why I have told you all of this; it relates to an article I will publish later.  Appreciate your patience.   There will be a test on this material. 

 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (27 Comments, most recent shown first)

CHIP72
Bill - your story of your family genealogy is somewhat reminiscent of the various intermarriages between members of the various European royal families. Probably my favorite example of those intertwined relationships is that Prince Philip was fairly closely related to the Russian royal family (the Romanovs) through each of his four grandparents and that all four pairs of Nicholas II's great-grandparents are among Prince Philip's great-great-grandparents. Additionally, Nicholas II's children were Philip's first cousins once removed through Nicholas II's wife Alexandra, who was the sister of Philip's maternal grandmother Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine.

As it relates to your family, it appears the children of your Aunt Ole (your first cousin once removed on your mother's side) and Uncle Preston (your uncle on your father's side) and the children of your Aunt Jewel (first cousin once removed through your mother) and Uncle Eddard (uncle through your father) would be/have been both your paternal first cousins and double maternal second cousins. I may be wrong; the interconnections make identifying and naming these cousin relationships confusing.
11:27 AM Jan 24th
 
bhalbleib
To add to the last comment, according to Wikipedia:

"Zerelda Amanda Mimms was the daughter of Pastor John Wilson Mimms and Mary Elizabeth James. Her mother was sister to Jesse James' father, Robert S. James."

Also, descendants of Jesse still live in Kearney. One of my classmates was a direct descendant.
1:13 PM Jan 19th
 
bhalbleib
Bill, I am from Kearney, MO, where the James Farm is located. We were always told that Jesse and Zerelda were first cousins (and her father was NOT happy when his daughter married his nephew). I believe she nursed him back to health at her house one of the times he was shot and soon after they were married.
1:09 PM Jan 19th
 
SteveH
Re: Warren, there is also this:
https://www.factcheck.org/2018/10/the-facts-on-elizabeth-warrens-dna-test/​
1:40 AM Jan 19th
 
tkoegel
Bill,

Re your comments on Elizabeth Warren. I have always found it disturbing that she took the "family story" about having Native American ancestry and then indicated it publicly (in applying to the Texas State Bar, where it gave her no advantage) or in a directory of law school teachers (where it might). It certainly seems possible that she was trying to benefit from a heritage that seems dubious at best. You printed below, though, several things I have either never seen stated before or that have been proven to be unsupported and contrary to the facts we do know:

1. That Elizabeth Warren started claiming to be Native American in order to take advantage of minority-hiring practices in the 1970s. The Washington Post did a lengthy fact check in 2012, when Warren's opponent for the Senate post she ultimately won raised these allegations. The Post concluded that there was no evidence that either Harvard or Penn (where she got teaching jobs) ever heard of her claimed diversity or hired her as a result of it. They in fact were recruiting her as a result of her brilliant scholarship on our bankruptcy system while at the University of Texas. Will reprint the Post conclusion below. The URL is here:

www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-controversy​-over-elizabeth-warrens-claimed-native-american-heritage/2012/09/27/d0b7f568-08a5-11e2-a10c-fa5a255a​9258_blog.html

2. You say she dressed like a Native American. What is your basis for that statement? I did a little Google searching and couldn't come up with anything that even made that accusation.

3. You say that she was hired at Harvard in a chair specifically set aside for a Native American. What is your basis for that statement? Her Harvard bio lists two endowed positions, neither of which looks to have anything to do with Native Americans. https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10935/Warren The article announcing her acceptance of the "Leo Gottlieb Chair" mentions nothing about Native American ancestry. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1995/2/15/woman-tenured-at-law-school-puniversity/

I go to the trouble of posting all this because, otherwise, all of this would end up in this little corner of the internet . . . and possibly pick up by Google where someone might actually believe it was well sourced.

Here is the conclusion from the 2012 Post article:

Brown said that Warren “checked the box claiming she was Native American” when she applied to Harvard and Penn, suggesting the Democratic candidate somehow gained an unfair advantage because of an iffy ethnic background. But there is no proof that she ever marked a form to tell the schools about her heritage, nor is there any public evidence that the universities knew about her lineage before hiring her.

The senator’s debate comments also suggest Warren actively applied for positions with Harvard and Penn, but the evidence suggests the schools recruited her because of her groundbreaking research and writings on bankruptcy. Harvard, in fact, did not give up on her after she first turned down a tenured position with the university.

Some might assume that Warren listed herself as a minority in the law school directories to attract offers from top schools, which would be a pro-active measure. The explanation that she was reaching out to other Native Americans — when she was merely listed as a “minority” — certainly appears suspicious, but there is no conclusive evidence that she used her status in the listing to land a job.


5:19 PM Jan 18th
 
FrankD
Interesting on genealogy. Ancestry.com has made it much easier to build family tree than is was in the past. As toward family 'stories': my experience has been that some of those from my family are very accurate. My dad wrote up his experiences in WWII and is accurate as far as I can research. Of course, a few anecdotes are untraceable. I also had an ancestor who lived into his late 90s and he wrote a family history. He recalled traveling by covered wagon from Wisconsin to Minnesota in 1866. He also mentioned relatives that fought in the Revolutionary War. I have not found anything in his family history that was untrue. But, this relative also wrote a lot of articles for the Minnesota Historical Society, so he was use to at least trying to tell the truth. I love his family history, most of it is an autobiography of growing up and living on the prairie in Minnesota from just after Civil War to WW1. Interesting that his experiences are very close to the times of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books. And they lived within 30 miles of each other, sometimes seeing the same doctor.
1:05 PM Jan 18th
 
malbuff
We call them "double first cousins" in the South, and in my Larkin and Stephens branches we had quite a few of them in pioneer days (ca. 1780-1820). They would travel in groups of 10-20 families and settle the same area, and those families totally trusted and depended on one another. The first generation of children born in the wilderness didn't have a lot of choice in their marriage plans, and so we had several cases of two brothers marrying two sisters; I think there actually may have been a set of three at one point.

Since football season is winding down, I'll note that Tony and Vic Morabito, the brothers who founded the 49ers, married two sisters from Italy. Their children would have been double first cousins. And after Tony and Vic both died young, the widowed sisters continued to own the team for 15 years.
12:44 PM Jan 18th
 
bjames
bewareofdow
This article explains why I think Elizabeth Warren has taken far too much grief for her belief she had Native American ancestry.

******

Don't want to get into politics; this is personal, not political. But I think she didn't take nearly enough crap for pretending to be something that she knew damn well that she was not.

I SHOULD like Elizabeth Warren, and I should have been able to support her. We were both born the same year, 1949, and graduated from high school the same year, 1967. When I see pictures of her as a young woman I think, "Oh, yeah; I remember that hair style." She looks like any number of people that I knew.

I am from Kansas; she is from a neighboring state, Oklahoma. I grew up among Native Americans, just as she did. My father was a school janitor; she has claimed that her father was a school janitor although, since very little of what she says about herself is true, who knows? She wound up in Boston; I spent a lot of time in Boston, lived there for a couple of years. We were always told as children that we had some native American blood, just as she was. I should like her; we have lived parallel lives. (We were always told, as kids, that we were 1/32nd native American, although no one ever explained where this came from. When my son got his DNA tested, it told him that HE was 3% Native American, which would mean that I was likely 1/16th, not 1/32nd. But again, I don't know where that comes from.) I'm about 4 times more Indian than she is.

But this is why it irritates me. There are, I suppose in every generation but certainly in mine, government programs created to help people build better lives for themselves. I took advantage of some of those programs, as many of you did, but I always made very limited and appropriate use of them. But there were kids in my generation who tried to slide through life by taking advantage of every loophole in the government benefits system that you could find. I have no respect for that kind of person.

When the minority-hiring practices of the 1970s took hold, Elizabeth Warren started claiming to be Native American and dressing in a manner to make her look like a Native American in order to take advantage of those opportunities, thus elbowing aside some ACTUAL Native American who was entitled to the benefit. That's disgusting. It's theoretically criminal, although no one is every prosecuted for it. She was hired at Harvard in a chair specifically set aside for a Native American. She should have been fired the moment it was discovered that she was there on a fraudulent basis. I just have no respect for people who play those kind of games.
11:15 AM Jan 18th
 
bjames
Regarding raincheck's comment:


I am the genealogist in my family. My wife is the genealogist in her family. We both have found that the stories that come down in families are incredibly unlikely to be true, they don’t stand up to actual research. They are like the “tracers” from The Glory of Their Times.

That was a big problem in regard to The Man from the Train. Many of the relatives of the victims later published stories about what had happened, but these family accounts are just fantastically inaccurate. And they mostly take the tack that if Grandma said it then it HAS to be true, and I'm not going to insult my grandma by checking contemporary sources. ​
10:55 AM Jan 18th
 
MarisFan61
to 'bewareofdow': A lot of us have had that happen.

For anyone who's had it, which I think is a lot of us: Here's how to avoid doubling or tripling your post, if you're interested:

If you think you clicked "Post" but you're not sure if it went through, open a new window, put the article on it, and just look to see if your post is there. I'm pretty sure that invariably if your post did go through, you'll see it right away in the new window, and you'll know not to re-click "Post."

I now do this routinely when I'm not sure if a post went through, and while I still make as many mistakes as I ever did :-) ....I don't get any double or triple posting.​
3:01 AM Jan 18th
 
bewareofdow
Oops. My iPad froze and I couldn’t tell that my post went through. Sorry about that.
10:13 PM Jan 17th
 
bewareofdow
This article explains why I think Elizabeth Warren has taken far too much grief for her belief she had Native American ancestry.
My great grandmother’s maiden name was Agatha Bach. Our family lore is that she was descended from Johann Sebastian Bach’s brother (he had seven brothers and sisters). My brother and cousin both played in bar bands and a second cousin is a concert pianist. When their musical interests came up, my mom and aunts would nod knowlingly and say, “that’s the Bach side of the family”. No-one’s done a family tree that ties my family to JSB and all I have is my mom’s assertion what my grandfather told her that his mother (who died 100 years ago in Bavaria) told him.
In my experience, everyone’s family has its own lore about their ancestry. Some are correct, many are not.
10:08 PM Jan 17th
 
bewareofdow
This article explains why I think Elizabeth Warren has taken far too much grief for her belief she had Native American ancestry.
My great grandmother’s maiden name was Agatha Bach. Our family lore is that she was descended from Johann Sebastian Bach’s brother (he had seven brothers and sisters). My brother and cousin both played in bar bands and a second cousin is a concert pianist. When their musical interests came up, my mom and aunts would nod knowlingly and say, “that’s the Bach side of the family”. No-one’s done a family tree that ties my family to JSB and all I have is my mom’s assertion what my grandfather told her that his mother (who died 100 years ago in Bavaria) told him.
In my experience, everyone’s family has its own lore about their ancestry. Some are correct, many are not.
10:08 PM Jan 17th
 
bewareofdow
This article explains why I think Elizabeth Warren has taken far too much grief for her belief she had Native American ancestry.
My great grandmother’s maiden name was Agatha Bach. Our family lore is that she was descended from Johann Sebastian Bach’s brother (he had seven brothers and sisters). My brother and cousin both played in bar bands and a second cousin is a concert pianist. When their musical interests came up, my mom and aunts would nod knowlingly and say, “that’s the Bach side of the family”. No-one’s done a family tree that ties my family to JSB and all I have is my mom’s assertion what my grandfather told her that his mother (who died 100 years ago in Bavaria) told him.
In my experience, everyone’s family has its own lore about their ancestry. Some are correct, many are not.
10:06 PM Jan 17th
 
bearbyz
My Dad's brother and my Mom's brother married sisters. The sister that married to my Dad's brother introduced my parent's to each other. So all the kids are cousins but we have 3 different pairs of Grandparents. However, at some events all three families would get together.
9:50 PM Jan 17th
 
shthar
I stopped paying any attention to geneology when I realised everyone is related.

Everyone is your cousin.

Jesse James is my cousin too. And he's yours.


6:57 PM Jan 17th
 
trn6229
Nice article. I am related to Eddie Jeremiah, he was the coach of Dartmouth Hockey from around 1939 to 1967 when the died. He also coached the US Olympic Hockey team in 1964. I was five when he died so I don't remember him but I met his brother once and I remember his sister very well. Eddie was my grandfather's nephew. Eddie is in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in Minnesota. My mom's grandfather from her mother was named Gustave Anthony Hugger. He was born in 1869, the same year as Connie Mack. Gustave died in 1951. He was a wonderful painter. We have many of his paintings in her family home. My mom remembers him painting. He worked as a lithographer. You can read his biography on askart.com Take Care, Tom Nahigian
4:34 PM Jan 17th
 
raincheck
Thanks, Bill.

I am the genealogist in my family. My wife is the genealogist in her family. We both have found that the stories that come down in families are incredibly unlikely to be true, they don’t stand up to actual research. They are like the “tracers” from The Glory of Their Times.

But these untrue stories do usually point to some truth. They are passed down over time, with the usual forgetting and embellishments, but they don’t come from nowhere. At some point the research will take you somewhere where you say, “Oh! This is where the story about great-grandpa in a wagon train during the Indian wars comes from.” Even thought he went west on a locomotive train years later.
4:26 PM Jan 17th
 
bjames
337

Thanks for the link to the discussion of James Crossing. I am not a geneaologist (obviously, or I would know how to spell the word.) The link (a) seems mostly composed of speculation unrelated to facts, and (b) seems to have started and ended in 2006, but I am very glad to be aware of it, all the same. Thank you very much.
1:18 PM Jan 17th
 
StatsGuru
I recently realized that "I Am The Walrus" is a song about identical triplets.
7:17 AM Jan 17th
 
DJ_Man
I never thought about it before, but if indeed one’s father had an identical twin brother, this uncle’s genetics (i.e., DNA) would be the same as his father’s. Thus he’d be a doubly-close uncle, and his kids would be as closely related to him (in terms of genetics) as his own siblings, e.g., not first cousins, but rather zeroeth cousins. Fascinating!
11:10 PM Jan 16th
 
MarkBernstein
I have no idea where you're going with this, but this is wonderful, wonderful writing.
10:40 PM Jan 16th
 
MarisFan61
Love it.

.....including the evident great effort to keep it all straight, which we can see takes great effort because it's impossible to get straight, which you evidently know full well and therefore evidently you don't worry about it too much and therefore don't wrench too much effort from yourself into the great effort to get it all straight.

I think I got that about right -- right? :-)

BTW, a special prize should go to anyone who was able to read it straight through without several backtrackings to keep it straight!

Appreciate the account. Very interesting, and unusual.
At first I thought this was going to be about you and Jesse James, but that's the least of it.

Most of what I ever knew about Jesse James, or supposedly knew, was from a Topps card set in the late '50's. Since I was addicted to baseball cards, in the winter I would suffer withdrawal because of no baseball cards and so I'd get into whatever Topps cards were around. At various times, there were Zorro cards, actor and singer cards, military airplane cards, and a set of frontiersmen cards, several of which were about Jesse.
Here's an image of one of them:
scottsdalecards.com/productimage.php?product_id=16730
(if doesn't work as a link, should work by copy/paste into address bar)
10:29 PM Jan 16th
 
bjames
Baseball bat, I meant.
9:30 PM Jan 16th
 
bjames

I’ll add a few notes here which will not be on the test. My mother also had a brother who was named “Garland”, who I forgot to list; he died before I was born. He was called “Turk”, and I have told this story before, but he was called Turk because, when he was 3 or 4 years old, there was a big turkey on the farm that would give him hell. A turkey is a large bird, probably weighed more than Uncle Turk did at that time, and they can be aggressive. This turkey was terrifying Garland, so his dad (Isaac) told him to pick up a baseball and whack hell out of that turkey. He did—and he killed him. And he was known as “Turk” until the day he died.

But I got back on here, actually, to talk a little more about Uncle Preston and Aunt Ole. I think Preston, like Uncle Turk, was generally known by some other name. I think he wasn’t usually called “Preston”, but I can’t remember now what the other name was. Anyway, the first time Susie met Aunt Ole, she asked her if she had been upset when Preston went into the Army at the start of World War I, and she said that they weren’t together before that; she said that when he was leaving school Preston came to tell her that he was leaving for the Army, and she hoped that he would write to her. She said—that is, she told us, 60-some years later—that that was the first time she knew that Preston was, in her words “kinda sweet on me.” I had known Ole all of my life and I had never heard that story, so that was when I realized that Susie and Ole had connected. That moment, when you think back about it, was the beginning of the Jameses and the Burkses, as Preston’s younger brother and Ole’s younger sister later got married, and then my father married Ole’s Double Cousin.

Anyway, Preston got gassed in the Army; he breathed mustard gas in a training experiment, which ruined his lungs and eventually killed him, thirty-some years later. He came back to Mayetta and started the Cream Station, which my father took over when Preston passed away. The Cream Station had been a good business in its day, but it paved the way into poverty for us; the business was dying. My father told me many years later that he knew the knew business was dying when he took it over, although I don’t know whether I believe that. He was not forward-looking in regard to economic matters.
Anyway, in 1955 Aunt Ole had a tree in her yard that was dying. All my Dad’s brothers gathered to take down the tree; she was a widow, of course, so the brothers tried to take care of her. My Dad. . . he says that he didn’t EXACTLY saw off the branch that was sitting on, but he sawed off a branch that broke the branch he was sitting on, sending him sprawling to the ground with a chain saw in his hand. He threw the chain saw clear, but he was terribly injured, almost killed, his back broken. He was hospitalized I believe for a couple of months. His health never really recovered; he had terrible headaches the rest of his life and constant back pain, and he was never as strong as he had been before.
Ole and Preston had a girl, Marge, who was very tall, very pretty, extremely intelligent. She graduated from college, I don’t know where, and was a music teacher. She married Stewart Robb. I knew Stewart and Marge as well as I knew anyone in town; they had kids my age, and I saw them and was at their house many times—but I never knew, until I was 30-some years old, that Stewart had been a Navigator on an airplane in World War II. On his first mission, just out of flight school, he was shot down over Germany, captured by the Nazis, and spent three years in a Nazi prison camp. He never talked about it—ever. But man, did that branch of the family ever pay the price for service to the country.
Marge got early-onset Alzheimers, died about the age of 50. She had had some job in which she flew frequently to Saudi Arabia, connected somehow with the oil business; not sure of the details. But Marge and Stewart both lived to see my success as a writer, and they both told me, at different times, how proud they were of me.

9:29 PM Jan 16th
 
rgonnelli
Bill - great article - I'm fascinated by genealogy, but haven't put the time in to go very far back. My father's father (Ofero), his twin (Omero) and their other brother (Oscar) married three sisters, then there is something similar on my Mom's side, but I think it may have been cousins instead of siblings. Always figured it happened because even though it wasn't a small town (Newark, NJ), they were first generation and limited who they socialized with.

Anyway thanks for reminding me to pick this back up.


9:12 PM Jan 16th
 
Manushfan
There was this really Large French American family that lived at the end of the road I grew up on in Northern Maine. It was on a big hill, most of these guys were farmers or loggers or ran the sawmill. Their family tree is kinda like this-unfathomable. They're related to themselves and most of the other families on that road one way or another. You can tell them pretty easy too. Big feet, some are cross eyed and a real distinctive way of walking and talking.

And my ex wife from the Caribbean-her family was like this--something like 18 siblings with assorted halves, weird cousins off to the side and strangeness. I was never able to sort that out either.

So I enjoyed reading this one.
8:41 PM Jan 16th
 
 
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