Saturday, June 3, 2017

Never ignore childless siblings, part 2

My wife's grandfather had two older sisters, Bonnie and Nellie, who never married and had no descendants. Both had professional careers in the first half of the 20th century, but we never learned much about them, partly because they had decamped to California by the mid-1920s. I've been working on their mother's family for publication(s) and found that I pretty much had to reconstruct their professional lives by wide searching and judicious use of on-line newspapers and directories. It made me feel that perhaps they had not been taken seriously enough by other family members.

In the course of this searching I came upon a contribution Bonnie made in 1927 to a folk music collection, and that ended up on a folk-music site, Bluegrass Messengers. It was the lyrics to a folk song that their grandfather William was said to have brought with him from England to Wisconsin in the late 1840s, and that his son Sam, their father, now a Wisconsin blacksmith, sang for them. (If you know any ballad tunes at all, you will see how the rhythm fits; I haven't got hold of an audio version yet.)

My hair, what there is of it, stood right up on end. Of all the things I might have expected, a chance to eavesdrop on Sam and Harriet and their three children by the fireside, most likely in the 1880s when the children were growing up, was the last thing on my mind. What a gift, one their grand-nephew-in-law only opened by accident 90 years later.

It's a cliche because it's true. You really never know what you will find. By the same token, we never know how some small act of preservation now may reverberate in future generations.


Geolover said...

This is a great discovery.

Old-time music singers not listed in the music site's sidebar include Doc Watson and the Carter Family (of whom best known, Mother Maybelle and June Carter Cash, who married Johnny Cash as second wife). Carleton Hayney hosted bluegrass festivals and published Muleskinner Blues. You never know what got passed around at obscure festivals.

Geolover said...

Further delving into that site turned up different sidebar lists on different pages.

An extensive sketch of the Carter family gives flavor of the folk / bluegrass music environment ca. 1920s-1940s.