My mother, Edna LaVon (Bonnie) Martin Mattice Kreps, worked for years to trace both her mother’s and her father’s family genealogy to early 1630s settlers on the North American continent. She was persistent and determined, and overcame obstacles which had prevented others in her family from attaining her genealogical success.
Ultimately successful after trips across the country and down blind alleys, Mother became a member of The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), later questioning her judgment since the DAR political position veers way toward the right and hers inclined decidedly leftward.
While my own interest in knowing my family history is keen and I’m proud of my more than 375 year background of pilgrim, and, yes, Puritan history and ethics, I made a conscious decision not to become a member of the DAR as that organization doesn’t accept adopted children as part of their recognized “family.” All my children are adopted and they are mine in every sense, except concerning the DAR. What with my own leftward leanings and my occasional suffering from the renowned “foot-in-mouth” syndrome, I decided it would be prudent to keep my distance.
Mother’s genealogy research was hard work. She bravely traveled alone to New York state, North and South Dakota and, of course, to Iowa where she was born. I remember one time when she called me from somewhere in the Midwest, upset and teary because she didn’t know what to do next. She had driven two or three states from the airport of her planned departure for home to locate a tiny rural church where she would find and photograph the records of our ancestor, Smith Martin. On close inspection, the handwriting on several of the man’s records showed the name to be Smith, (comma) Martin – or, the right way around, Martin Smith. Although there are Smiths on my grandmother’s side, Martin Smith was no ancestor of ours.
The resulting research dead-end threw Mother for quite a loop. Defeated and exhausted, she phoned me, convinced all her previous research had been for nothing. I calmed her down, got her to focus on finding a place to stay the night, then encouraged her to go the next day to the nearest airport and have them change her transport straight home from wherever she was. Then when she got home, I assured her, she could best determine the damage and plan her next steps. Tearfully and willing to grasp at any positive thought, she agreed.
After the call ended, I climbed back up the ladder and worked double time to finish painting the living room, relieved her bedroom was completed. Without her knowledge, I planned to paint the two rooms while she was away. I had to. She was the messiest painter I ever knew. Always looking for shortcuts and believing she was neat as a pin when she painted, she never covered anything before she began, and when she finished, there were drip dabs and drizzle streaks all over.
I worked well into the night until everything was finished, cleaned up and the furniture arranged. The next day, Mitzi (our standard poodle) and I went to the airport to pick her up.
Before she died, my highly competitive mother shared her work with no one in her immediate family. However, she instructed me to send, after her death, all her research papers to my cousin, Jan. As a dutiful daughter, I carried out her every wish.
Jan, I’m sure, has since shared mother’s files with another cousin, Ruby, who had pestered Mother for her sources and her research. Due to some major family rifts, our volatile family is full of these, Mother would not reveal any of her research information. She was fully expecting that Jan would share the files with Ruby, and told me she would be long gone by then and wouldn’t care.
Really? I didn’t buy that. Of course Mother wanted Ruby to see her successful research. It would be tantamount to thumbing her nose posthumously at all those who had been trying unsuccessfully for so long to complete the same task. That old lady was extremely smart and proud of being smart – and, at the end, glad to have others know it, too.
Although, I didn’t spend much time with Mother’s data, here are some things I can remember about our ancestors:
The Martins. My grandfather was Howard LaRue Martin. As a young man, he sailed on, as he put it, “one of the last full sail vessels to sail around the horn.”
The Benedicts. My grandmother was Lily Rosina Smith Martin. Much younger than my grandfather, she was petite and had very dark eyes and hair. He liked to say he found her in his youthful travels and that she came from the Fiji Islands. (Which, of course, was not true.) When we asked her where she came from, she said, “A crow chit me on a stump, and the sun hatched me out.”
Grandma’s shoe size was 5, the smallest adult size. She often bought salesman’s display shoes, all of which were that size. And she got them at very affordable prices. Her shapely legs looked grand above those tiny shoes. With this in my background, I was destined to have a closet crammed with shoes, all of which were four sizes larger.
The Martin and Benedict families came from England and both arrived in the New York area in the early 1630s. I believe it was around 1634. They did not arrive on the Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria, nor on the Mayflower, so anyone who cites those connections is incorrect.
Revolutionary War. At least one person from Mother’s mother’s side (the Benedicts) and her father’s side (the Martins) fought in the Revolutionary War on the American side. There was at least one Martin who fought for the British. Some early census records were lost in fire-flood-or other disaster, and I believe Mother found only one connection to the Revolutionary War on the Martin side.
The DAR requires two sources of documentation for membership. Eventually Mother had the requisite number for her mother’s side of the family, but a missing record on her Fathers side continued to elude her, so she was denied the distinction of membership through both sides of her family.
Others in the Family Researched. Mother used to tell a story about one of her elder sisters (in the 1920s when Mother was a young child) researching the family history in order to be admitted into the DAR. My grandfather gave the sister the name of an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. The sister diligently did the research, spending money on a professional researcher, only to find that the ancestor fought on the side of the British. Ever after, the sister was furious with her dad who thought his joke was hilarious and never did tell her about the family member(s) who fought on the side of the Americans.
Of course, the sister did not get into the DAR since she was convinced all her ancestors fought for the British. My grandmother knew my grandfather’s secret, but kept mum about it. Also, for some reason unknown to me, she did not find it necessary to reveal her own family connections to that war. In her later years, Mother thought the reason was because her parents were very close and her mother enjoyed her father’s joke so would do nothing to give it away.
Pioneer Travels. The pioneer families of both my grandmother and grandfather gravitated to and settled in northeastern New York State. After a couple hundred years passed, the two families moved by wagon train to North Dakota. Grandma Martin remembered this trip and told me about it when I was quite young and impressionable. According to my calculations, she was somewhere between 9 and 11, She was born in 1877, so that would make this trip somewhere around 1887. She told about walking beside the wagon, the dusty conditions along the way, meeting Native Americans in North Dakota, and living in a “house” dug into the side of a hill. I always was amazed they survived. I’d have to look up how long they were in North Dakota, but eventually, they moved to South Dakota, and then to Iowa where my grandfather had a ranch and raised and trained percheron horses. He liked to match teams for both abilities and looks.
A further note: My Aunt Alice, Grandma Martin’s eldest child, was born in the late 1890s, and Mother, her last child, was born in December 1919.
Child bearing years then covered a span of far too many years. But Mother’s late birth (she had nieces and nephews older than herself) essentially puts us a generation closer to our early history than most. I like to think about that. After my mother and father married in the late 1930s, they moved west to Northern California.
In 1939,I was born in Willows. My sister Sari was born in 1941 in Orland. My brother Sonny was born in 1943 in Eureka. Toward the end of WWII, my grandfather lay on his death bead and most of us went to Iowa so Mother could be with him. My sister Lillie Joyce was born in Iowa in July 1945 just about a month before the end of that war. My sister Ruth was born in California in 1948.
You can read more about my family history in the article, “Dim, Dim, Dimity” which you will find on my “The Artful Weaver” page. The link is https://judithstclaire.wordpress.com/
Thanks for reading.