Finding John Humphreys Covey

I wasn’t looking for him when I found him. That’s the way it is many times with genealogy, you find an ancestor or relative in the least likely place or when you least expect. I was filling in some information on my 4th Great-grandmother Rebecca Covey b. about 1825 in Virginia and died sometime after 1870 most likely in Missouri. Rebecca was married to George W Graham, a grandson of James Whitecotton. While looking at my notes and the information I had for Rebecca’s siblings I could see that I was missing death dates for a number of them. So I set out tracking that information.

Census records for 1850 and 1860 show John Humphreys Covey b. 1812 in Virginia and married to Susannah Petty and living in Missouri.1850 Census John Humphreys Covey1860 John H Covey MO

Pretty cut and dried, don’t you think? There he is in black and white, children being born right along, so obviously he is in Missouri. In the 1870 census, still in Missouri, John has a new wife and some step-children. Not uncommon. After 1870 though, there are no more records of John and his 2nd wife Jane in Missouri. All of the online trees I consulted showed both John and Jane as dying in Missouri sometime after 1870.1870 John H Covey MO

I left the dates blank and went on to the next sibling, Benjamin Covey. Benjamin was born in 1817 in Virginia and is in the 1850 Federal Census living in District 75, Ray County, Missouri, near his other siblings, just where I expected to find him. However, in 1860, Benjamin is living in Consumes, Sacramento County, California. California? Sometime earlier, I found a John H Covey in the 1852 California Census but discounted him because I found it difficult to believe he went from Missouri to California and back again in just a matter of 2 years. I thought it was most likely another man named John H Covey.

But armed with this information on Benjamin I took a closer look. My goodness! John is on page 42 of the 1852 census and his sister’s brother-in-law, Axton Graham is on page 49 of the same census. No mistake. 1852 John H Covey CAJohn traveled the Oregon Trail (about a 3 month trip one way) sometime about 1851 and was in the goldfields of California in 1852, then he took the Oregon Trail back to Missouri about 1853. John however, must not have been content to stay in Missouri after his second marriage, because armed with this new California link, I looked for him again and found John and Jane living in Shasta County, California in 1880. 1880 Census John H CoveySo once more, John traveled the Oregon Trail, this time about 1871, now with a wife and small children in tow. They settled in the Millville/Whitmore area, a small mining and logging community in the foothills above Redding in Northern California. John died in 1883 and is supposed to be buried in the Whitmore/Josephine Cemetery. Jane died in 1925.

Maps show the cemetery as just a 50 minute drive from where I live, so I asked my sister how she would feel about celebrating her birthday with a picnic lunch while searching out a cemetery in the foothills. She thought it was a grand idea, so we packed up the car, picked up our mother and set off for an adventure. And adventure it was. We found the cemetery, sadly disappointed to find it decayed and almost forgotten, a victim of vandals.   Whitmore CemeteryThe community of Whitmore (population 160) has surrounded it with a fence for protection, but they don’t have the funds for restoration. I couldn’t locate John’s grave but am confident he is indeed buried in Whitmore. There are descendants still living in the area but I haven’t connected with them yet, hopefully sometime in the future.

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A Volcano Among Us

Featured image                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Last week, our county had a 100th remembrance of an event that very few other places in the world can share. The eruption of a volcano. On May 22, 1915, Mount Lassen, the volcano that sits quietly overlooking our town erupted with vengeance, wiping out settlements, farms, and animals. Were you aware that a volcano erupted in California just a hundred years ago? Neither was I. What a surprise it was to learn that the gentle mountain looking down at me held such a secret.

I grew up in the neighboring state of Nevada and I remember being told in school that volcanos in the continental U.S. were extinct. That the only active volcanos were in Hawaii. Not true, I know now. When Mount Lassen began its long 48 hour eruption it was night. The mountain began rumbling but the people took little notice. It was the giant mud-slide that got their attention. The Red Bluff Daily News has a wonderful pull-out section on the Anniversary, giving the history and actual news accounts of the day at www.redbluffdailynews.com under Special Publications.

What could have been a disaster for the people of Tehama and Shasta Counties was avoided because people cared about each other. They warned one another of the coming danger and helped others escape the path of mud heading down the mountain. This episode made me curious about the dangers we face in our towns and counties today. Do you rely on your local government to help you face the onslaughts heading your way or do you turn to friends, neighbors and family when you see floods, fires, and volcanoes?

Remembering the 100th Anniversary also caused me to wonder about other disasters that might have happened in areas in which my family lived in the past. If I didn’t know about a volcanic eruption what other disasters have I missed in my research? It isn’t always very easy to find out about those local disasters if they didn’t make the national or international news. Sometimes though, you might see clusters of information that help you decipher what really happened. If you see family members moving suddenly from one area to another, look at county histories and try to learn what caused people to move in or out of the area. Was it a flood, a famine, or disease? Did a new opportunity spring up in a new area, like gold being discovered in California? Or maybe land was now available in an area that previously belonged to another country?

To understand our family and our past we have to understand what drove those original settlers. Knowing what circumstances made them into the people they were can only better help us to understand the person we are today. Learn more about that volcano sitting in your backyard.                                             Featured image

Interruptions of Life

Yes, I know I’ve been gone a while, life interrupts. I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom life intrudes on plans and goals and at times makes complete changes to pathways and roads on which we travel. As I travel to my job out of town, I drive down an old highway that meanders over to the coast of California. I don’t get to travel that far, my stop is just forty miles from home. But in that forty miles, I travel from a populated, wi-fi, cell phone enabled area to an area that modern time has not yet found.

I see animals that still make their homes in Northern California, I see mountain creeks and trees that have grown in odd places. And I see wilderness. The wildness around me helps me to better picture how my ancestors lived in this same area 150 years earlier. I think of Marietta Henshaw Merritt. I think of Eujane and Roswell Graves. I think of those others I have yet to write about.

On my daily drive to work I see abundant game animals such as turkeys, geese, ducks, and deer. The water is plentiful. Eagles flying overhead tell me there are even more animals that I don’t see. In all that beauty I also see the hardships. Disease and hunger. Loneliness. Cemeteries.

I drive down this road that has twists and turns, hills and valleys. Times in which I don’t know what might be around that corner or over that hill, but I take the chance. The road on which I travel led men to seek out gold, and to create logging camps, to build cities and states. To build families and legacies. Today, I think of all those who came before me, sacrificing so much, working in conditions we will never truly understand, so that I have the freedom and luxury to choose where to live and where to work. And how to worship.

I think of my family tree and what it means to be just one small part of such a large group. Today, stop and look around, feel what life must have been like for your ancestors. And think on them.

The Hammer

Growing up, I knew absolutely nothing about my paternal grandfather. I was told he died, which was true. What I didn’t know was that in 1941 he abandoned his wife and 5 children (with one on the way), left them in Idaho and went off to start a new life in California. His name was Carrol Raymond Messler and he died years later in 1959.

I knew very little about Carrol, in fact, I had never even seen a photo of him. I didn’t know what kind of work he did, I didn’t know about the events that led to his leaving. I didn’t even know what he looked like.

I grew up calling my grandmother Mildred’s second husband Percy “grandpa”. They married in 1956, long before I was born, so he is the one who I remember. Percy died in 1993 at the age of 91. I traveled back to Idaho for Percy’s funeral. Understandably, my grandmother was having a difficult day and it happened that for a short time, it was just the two of us in her house.

She sat on the sofa and pulled out an old cigar box that held photos and pulled one out and handing it to me she said, “That’s Carrol”. Oh my goodness, it was like looking at a photo of my own father. As I looked at the photo, grandma began telling me stories. Stories that I had never heard before. She talked about the difficulty of caring for six children, feeding them and clothing them during the 1940s. She shared memories of situations she faced.

And then she walked into the kitchen and sat at the old Formica table. Grandma’s kitchen was the center-piece of the house. Only guests used the front door, friends and family always came in through the back straight into the kitchen. Even now, as I write this, I can still picture the kitchen. As we sat at the table, drinking our Cokes, Grandma pointed over to the wall next to the basement door. “See that hammer? Hand it to me will you?” I reached over for the hammer and gave it to her.

She looked down at it as she turned it over in her hands and told me the story of how the hammer came to be.

“I was over at my folk’s house one day, out in the barn with my father, when Ramon found this old hammer head in the dirt.”

“Mommy, mommy,” he said, “I’m going to take this home and Daddy can make me…”

“He stopped talking and threw the hammer head down. After he left the barn I picked the hammer head up and stuck it in my pocket. Years later, Percy made this handle for me and put it together.”

I looked at the hammer. A normal, every-day hammer that was always leaning in the corner behind the basement door. But it held secrets. The secrets to a little boy’s pain at knowing his father was never coming home again. The secrets to a mother’s pain. And it held understanding for me.

I think about the secrets that families have. As researchers secrets are our goal. We dig into newspaper articles and birth, marriage, and death records looking for the secrets. How much easier our jobs would be if people didn’t keep secrets. Life is painful, life is beautiful and messy. Must secrets play such a big part?                                                                                     Featured image

Loyalist daughter and Patriot son

Eugenia Clapp was born September 27, 1833 in Milford, Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.  Her father was Hiram Clapp and her mother was Rhoda Striker. Eugenia’s grandfather Sampson Striker was a Loyalist who strongly supported the British monarchy during the American Revolution serving as a Sergeant in Delaney’s Corp, he moved to Canada with his family after the war’s end. Eugenia, or Jane as she was commonly known, moved with her parents to Wisconsin sometime before 1854. It was in Wisconsin that Jane married Roswell Graves on August 18, 1857 in Wyocena, Columbia County, Wisconsin, she was 23 and he was 20 years old.

Roswell was born in Pennsylvania to Roswell Graves and Mary Ann Betts, the Graves family were Patriots during the Revolutionary War. Roswell’s paternal great-grandfather (also named Roswell Graves) died in the Old Sugar House British Prison in New York City in 1776, having been taken prisoner in the Battle of Long Island. His maternal great-grandfather Andrew Betts served as a Corporal in the Pennsylvania Militia. Two families who stood on opposite sides of the War of Independence melding with the marriage of Jane and Roswell. It must have made for interesting discussions around their family table.

Two years after they were married, Roswell was ordained a Methodist Preacher and served in local churches in Wisconsin and Iowa. In 1864 Jane and Roswell moved with their three young children to California. We don’t know what prompted this move from Iowa to wild, unsettled, wide-open California. They settled first in Solano County and it was here their 4th child was born in 1865. Two years later they moved from Solano County to Walnut Grove in Sacramento County where their 5th child was born in 1867, at this time Roswell changed from Methodism to Congregationalism. A year later they were in Contra Costa County where their 6th child was born in 1868, and in 1872 they were in Battle Creek in Tehama County where their 7th and final child was born.

Tehama County was sparsely populated, ranching country at this time. An article in the Sacramento Daily Union in November 1872 mentioned the north winds in Tehama County saying, “Those winds are the curse of this country. They make war against all living things. They blow the life out of the weak and the evil spirit into the strong”. It was in this country that Jane would make a home for her family on the South side of Battle Creek.

There were a few other families and ranches nearby, but the area in and around Battle Creek had experienced some troubles with the local Indians and was still a very wild and unsettled area. In 1866 Marie Dersch was killed by Indians a few miles north of Battle Creek on the Nobles Immigrant Trail and not long after that, the home of Simon and Arzilla Darrah was burned down at what is now the Darrah Springs Fish Hatchery. Jane’s knowledge of this recent history must have added to her discomfort of living in a small shack along the creek.

Just a short time after Jane’s daughter Bertha May was born in Battle Creek on August 24, 1872, the entire family came down with ague, pronounced āʹgyo͞o, it is an illness related to malaria with chills and fevers. The isolation and illness proved to be too much for Jane and their time in Tehama County was short-lived, within six months Jane and Roswell moved their family to Redding in Shasta County.

During this time in Redding, Roswell Graves performed the first wedding ceremony in Shasta County in June 1873 for a couple who traveled down from Weaverville (near the area mentioned in Cemetery Addict). Jane and Roswell spent the remainder of their time in Shasta County, serving at The Little Shasta Church near present-day Yreka. After Roswell’s death in 1883 Jane moved with her daughter Ella to Washington State where she died in 1912 at the age of 78.

Eugenia is one of the forgotten pioneers of California, moving with her husband and children across Northern California, she supported her husband as he brought the Gospel to the miners, loggers, and ranchers in the wilderness areas. Jane lived in Solano, Sacramento, Alameda, San Francisco, Tehama, Shasta, and Siskiyou Counties. She lived in areas where there were floods, earthquakes, Indian attacks, and disease. She lived at a time when women had very little resources to fall back on and in places where she had very little support from friends and no family to lean against. Through it all she kept her family together and provided for her children in the best way she could. Roswell was my 1st cousin 4x removed.

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Roswell and Eugenia Graves
Photo and some information from the website of Faye West
http://www.fayewest.ca