Tuesday, January 03, 2023



Ever since my aunt gave me a few family portraits that had survived the onslaught of years of neglect, I have been kind of obsessed with my great-great- grandfather on my mother's side. I've written about him before. 

Not that I know that much about him other than he was born around 1830 in Ohio, spent some time in a lunatic asylum, made chairs for a living and then became a farmer. He married my great great grandmother (20 years younger than him) five years after he fought in the civil war on the side of the Union. I say fought, but I don't know whether he ever saw any action. He enlisted ten months before the war ended. He applied for a pension in the late 1880s and lists he suffered from chronic diarrhea as a result of his service.

So I don't think he led many charges while he served in the war.

He did manage to father six children including my great grandmother. He and his wife also ended up raising my grandmother after her mother died giving birth to her second child who died at birth. 

There is very little other information about my great-great grandfather other than the sterile census documents that tell me what he was like. I am more than curious as to why he spent time in a lunatic asylum when he was 20. And I wonder why he enlisted in the Union Army when he was 35. What brought he and my much younger great great grandmother together? Why did they end up moving to Boise? How did he and my great great grandmother lose all of their ranch land and leave his many children and grand children with squat?

I mean, there is nothing. My great great grandmother got written up in an early history of Idaho as this great pioneer. He is barely mentioned. All I have are a couple of portraits and photographs where he stares stoically at the camera with this distant look.

Yet still I am fascinated. His blood is in me. He was a civil war veteran even if he spent most of his time squatting in a latrine. He is the reason I grew up in Idaho. He is basically the only patriarch I have. My father was adopted and that part of the family tree is pretty much empty. My great great grandfather is the only one who stands out who wasn't crazy (other than that stint in the asylum) and a wife beater. My mother grew up hating her father for beating his wife and kids on a whim. To his credit, his father was a few checkers shy of a board, too. My mother told me stories of him hiding in the root cellar of my great grandmother's house, tying his underwear in knots so they would be difficult to wash, all because he was jealous of her answering the door to traveling salesmen.

I don't have any portraits of him. I do have a couple of photos of my mother's abusive father, including some of him in his army uniform at the end of World War I. The war ended before he even made it out of basic training.

I don't come from a long line of military heroes. Even my own father never saw action during his stint in the Navy in World War II. His torpedo tender did pass through the Panama Canal at one point and he saw Washington D.C. 

A couple of my uncles did end up in the South Pacific, but they were mainly assigned to clean up duties behind the lines. One of them had the unpleasant job of picking up the bodies of dead troops. 

I heard most of these stories from my aunt. All of my uncles are dead. I don't ever remember any of them talking to me when I was growing up anyway. I was just one of many nieces and nephews that they were too weary to take note of. 

I suppose I could reach out to my great great grandfathers line of relatives. They scattered to California near as I can tell. But I'm not sure what they could tell me. 

Too bad they didn't have blogs in my great great grandfather's time. Not sure he'd have kept one if they did. He doesn't look the type.

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