There are people in my family who are fascinated with genealogy. For me, seeing the family tree laid out is interesting, but what really fascinates me are the stories that are found along the way by the family researchers. My brother loaned me some information on my mother’s branch of the family while I was visiting last week. I’ve only looked through one of the stapled stack of papers tracing different branches of the Daniel tree. Some of the stories about Civil War conscription and battles fought near the family homestead are similar to stories I’ve heard or read about the Mount branch on the other side of my family tree.
The Daniel stories tell of my great-great grandfather Peter who was conscripted by the Confederacy, but refused to fire into the ranks of the Union army because his brother was fighting on that side and he was afraid he’d accidentally shoot him. As soon as the opportunity arose, he became an ambulance driver.
Other family members fled from Arkansas to Missouri to escape the fighting, hiding under piles of quilts in the back of a wagon.
On the Mount side of the family, my great-great grandfather, William Ozro, was a giant of a man for the time. He’d be considered quite tall even today. He was nine years old and six feet tall when the Union army marched across the family farm in Kansas and tried to conscript him. His mother would have none of it and for the remaining years of the war, Oz had to disguise himself as a woman whenever he stepped outside the family home.
Nellie & William Ozro Mount, 1888
Some of the stories are horrifying. Women on both sides of the family suffered miscarriages and hemorrhaged for days until they bled out and died. Peter accidentally knocked a mole off his forehead. According to family lore, that was the beginning of a growth that eventually killed him. The cancerous tumor destroyed both of his eyes and his daughter recounted that the night his second eye was dislodged, his screams could be heard a mile away.
The same daughter had been born prematurely in 1877. I had heard a family story long ago about a baby girl born early, placed in a shoebox “bed” and kept alive in the days before incubators on the back of a wood burning stove. I had thought the story was about my great-grandmother Cleopatra Ann, but from the family history I’m reading, I’m sure now it was Cleo’s sister-in-law, Nancy Matilda Daniel.
Nancy Matilda's older brother John (my great-grandfather) and his wife Cleo Daniel.
Nancy Matilda was born two months prematurely. She was tiny, blind, and not expected to live but her father, Peter, had other ideas. This story makes no mention of the shoebox and the woodstove, but it tells of a determined father who sat up night after night watching his baby girl and feeding her whisky when she began to turn blue. Nancy Matilda lived to be 83 years old.
One story tells of a gap in the genealogical record caused by the misspelling of a name by a census taker (apparently a common problem encountered by genealogists). There’s a story about an accidental amputation while chopping wood, a funny story about a frightened man with diarrhea, stories of home remedies, long-winded relatives, wars, births, deaths, and even murder. And this is just in the first packet of family history. There are six more packets in the envelope, and this is just one small branch of the family.
Reading these stories makes me wonder what tales will be told about me a hundred years from now, and whether family historians will be able to figure out that Mimi, Ninny Kay, Vi, and Melinda are all the same person.
How do you think you’ll be remembered in your family lore?