The Watchman

The Watchman

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scandal

I have been raised on stories of my ancestors. Every Memorial Day when I was a child, our family would gather together and assemble bouquets of flowers cut from our gardens. It seemed like we would do hundreds, but I am sure it wasn't that many. After the production, we would then travel from cemetary to cemetary to place these flowers on the graves of our deceased. At each stop, we would be regaled with stories of the various individuals and the role they played in our history.

This is still a tradition my family continues, only with mums purchased at the store. But the important thing is that my children have been able to hear the stories that I enjoyed as a child. They have a great heritage.

I remember as a young girl being told of my cousin Geral. She was the only daughter of my grandma's sister and her husband, but had died as a young girl and brought back to Utah to be buried with her family. My grandma always made a point of making a special arrangement for this niece and it was an honor to be selected to place the bouquet by her headstone.

I also remember stories of my grandfather Levi Roberts who served in the Mormon Battallion and then went on to Sutter's Mill during the gold rush. Then there is my grandfather Henderikus Dijkema who sold everything in his native Holland, brought his whole family to America and upon reaching Ellis Island had his name changed to Henry Dickamore in order to enter this country. This is the name my own father also bears. I have ancestors who came to America in its infancy, while on my father's side, I am the third generation to be born here.

The stories of how lives become intertwined is also fascinating to me. When Rick was in the military, we were always able to find a connection with someone. One such experience was when we living in El Paso, Texas. At that time our LDS Bishop was a man named John Smith. He was an incredible man who showed a great love not only for the Lord, but also for every member of his ward. We looked forward to the monthly ward pot-lucks and other activities. Rick's next duty station took us to Colorado Springs, Colorado. One night we were at dinner with another couple from the neighborhood. They were asking us the normal questions you ask when getting to know someone. As the conversation progressed it was discovered that they knew our friends the Smiths. This connection was not made in Texas though, or even in the United States. It was made in Switzerland where they had lived for a brief time. How small the world can be.

As I grew up, I learned that the stories shared with us at graveside were at times a censored or highly edited version of the whole story. There were many stories told then, that as I have studied my ancestors in my adulthood, I hear the voice say "And now for the rest of the story...." I understand that it is in our nature to romanticize or idolize an individual and in doing that we only look to the good or the positive as we perceive it. But to me, the struggles of these ancestors and how they persevered make them real. The examples of how they fell, but got back up again are the truly inspiring stories to me.

When I met Rick, I was amazed to learn that he had a very limited knowledge of his ancestors. Something that had been such and integral part of my life was relegated to the periphery of his. One of our first dates was to the annual Memorial Day Family Reunion with the descendents of my great-grandparents, Walton Anthony and Olive Corbridge Roberts, my maternal grandmother's family. Rick has said that he knew then that he wanted to be a part of this family.
I think the interaction with my family inspired Rick to learn more about his family. At subsequent family gatherings of his relatives, he would listen and ask questions. One of the first stories I remember hearing involved his great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wixom. Solomon was a peer of the early Mormon leaders and was involved in the early history of the Mormon Church. As such, he had at times multiple wives. When the Mormon pioneers left their beloved City of Nauvoo was one of these times. During this period in history, Solomon had two wives, Sarah and Harriet. When the Saints headed West, Sarah was too ill to travel. Solomon needed to stay behind and care for his wife and their children. Harriet made the decision to take their son and travel with her parents and the main body of pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Following Sarah's death, Solomon travelled West with his and Sarah's sons with the idea of reuniting with Harriet and his son.

Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, Solomon was dismayed to learn that not only had Harriet obtained a divorce, but she had remarried and changed their son's name to that of her new husband. This boy was in his 70s before he was reunited with his Wixom relatives. For a family that traces its lineage to the Mayflower and on to England, the willful discarding of the name and accompanying heritage was a true scandal.

Recently, I started reading the journal of my great-great-....grandmother, Patty Bartlett Sessions. Prior to reading this book, the most that I knew about her was that she had been a midwife in the early days of the Mormon church who delivered over 400 babies during her career. She was also an independent woman who left a sizeable fortune to her family upon her death. I have since learned that she started a school to educate her grandchildren and children whose parents could not afford to send them to school. This school was funded solely by her. I also learned that she was the midwife who delivered many of my ancestors and Rick's ancestors. How intertwined our lives can be!

But there was one name in the journals that jumped out at me - Harriet Teeples Wixom. Yes, the same Harriet that had divorced Rick's grandfather. Why was she mentioned in my grandmother's journal? Yes, my grandmother had delivered Solomon and Harriet's son. But the connection was found to be even greater - the man Harriet married, who adopted her son and changed his name, was none other than Patty's husband, David Sessions, my great-great-...grandfather.

At the next Wixom family get-together, I am going to have my own "Rest of the Story" moment. I hope the part that my ancestors played in the scandal doesn't get me disowned.

3 comments:

  1. Oh! I love a good family scandal! My Great-Great Grandfather was Danish and had the last name of Nielsen (en spelling is Danish). He wanted to marry a young woman whose Father HATED Danes. So he changed the spelling of his last name to Nielson (I think the 'on' spelling is Swedish) so her Father wouldn't know he was Danish. I don't think the Father ever knew.

    I am like you- I love hearing the WHOLE story. It makes these people and their lives real, dimensional and complex. No one can relate to a saint who never fell short. Hearing the good, bad and ugly has done more to draw my 'heart to the Fathers' than the milktoast edited versions ever could.

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  2. Oh- and there are some WAY awesome scandals on Greg's side of the family- including a number of members having a falling out with Brigham Young over various issues.

    Supposedly, Greg's Great Great Grandpa once held up BY's party as they were headed to St. George. He made Brigham throw his hat in the air then shot a hole through it. Stephen had little respect for Brigham after they'd had a failed business dealing. As near as I can figure, they agreed upon a price for a job but when it came time for Brigham to pay, he took off 10% of the owed funds and told Stephen it was the 'tithing'. Of course if Stephen had known in advance Brigham would do this, he would have upped his price by 10%. Thus began a long and ugly stand off.

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  3. I have a relative that came from Holland and his name was Jan Jennsen Von Osterhout which meant Jan Jennsen from the town of Osterhout. when they came to America, his name got shorten to Jan Osterhout. so anytime we hear that name, we know the people are related to us. Other day mom was at the Cache County Fair and saw a girl wearing a Declo High School Shirt. The O in Declo is for Osterhout. so Mom asked Do you know any Osterhouts and the Girl said I am one! LOL talk about a small world! Mom then asked WHO ARE YOUR PARENTS? and the girl told mom and Mom knew who they were and told the girl tell them hi from us.
    My Mother's grandma was a midwife in the Declo area (Burley,Idaho area) and she had a very ugly short nose horse that she road to the deliveries. Don't know that we have any scandal in our family but it does add to the interest of the family reunions.

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