Overlapping generations

Margaret Steward
Margaret Steward (1888-1975) in 1961.

When I was born, I had two living great-grandmothers. The elder was my matrilineal great-grandmother, Pauline (Boucher) Glidden (1875–1964), whom I never had the chance to meet; the other was my paternal grandmother’s stepmother, Annabelle May (Phillips) (Ayer) Whistler (1906–2000), who outlived my great-grandfather by more than forty years and died when I was an adult. I met her only once, but I still think of her often, as I have the dining room set from her house in Florida!

My approach to research, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is to look at collateral relatives as much as I look at my direct ancestry. In doing so, I’ve found a host of ancestral aunts and uncles who were alive throughout my childhood. In some cases, the relationships seem quite remote and, yet, because members of my family were often long-lived, married more than once, and sometimes had children later in life, such longevity isn’t entirely surprising.

Theo Randolph and Pauline Bell
Theodora Ayer Randolph (1905-1996) and Pauline Glidden Bell (1903-1968): my paternal great-aunt and maternal grandmother in 1959.

My paternal grandmother’s sister died at 90, when I was in my thirties, so I knew her quite well. There is a picture somewhere of me with my paternal grandfather’s sister – she was the Steward family genealogist before me, and it’s nice to have that connection documented. I also knew my maternal grandfather’s sister, from occasional visits; she died as recently as 1997. My maternal grandmother’s sister is the one I never met in person; Aunt Miriam was also the member of my mother’s mother’s family who had the most interest in the history of the Gliddens and the Bouchers.

Going further back, my great-great-aunt Edna (Marston) (Burke) (Beeckman) Thatcher is someone I might have met, although I suspect my grandfather – who as a young man in 1923 was an usher at her wedding to Uncle Livy Beeckman – did not keep in touch with her. My great-grandfather’s youngest half-sister, Mary Katharine (Ayer) Merrill (1890–1981), died almost 160 years after the birth of her father, my great-great-grandfather Frederick Ayer (1822–1918); I met Aunt Kay once, when my cousin Ruth Ellen and I visited her in Beverly to discuss the Ayer family’s history. Aunt Kay’s brother Fred died in 1969, but I met Uncle Fred’s wife, Aunt Hilda, in my teens.

Receiving Bronze Star
Captain Frederick Jackson Bell (1903-1994) receiving the Bronze Star from Assistant Secretary of the Navy Artemus Gates, with my grandmother looking on.

It is on my mother’s side, though, that the generations really extend. My maternal grandfather, Frederick Jackson Bell, was born in 1903; his mother, Minnie Estelle (Jackson) Bell, was born in 1876. Her father was Oliver Dodridge Jackson (1848–1915), the son of Mary Virginia (Bean) Jackson (1826–1909). The latter’s brother, my great-great-great-great-uncle William Oliver Bean (1836–1914), married Nan Gilpin as his third wife in 1905. Aunt Nan, born in 1881, died in 1968 – needless to say, I never met her, and I suspect her Bell kinsmen were unaware of her existence!

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

6 thoughts on “Overlapping generations

  1. Our family has a series of four generation photos. The youngest photo has my grandchildren, my child, me, and my father. In the oldest photo, it is my father’s father (my grandfather) who is the youngest with his father, his grandmother and his great grandmother. It was not a planned series but it has made us feel connected to generations we did not know.

  2. Without drawing family trees, I confess it’s a bit difficult to follow all the convolutions of yours. But I suspect many of us have similar convolutions of our own. For instance, my paternal grandparents died fairly young, before my birth, but I knew well virtually all their long-lived siblings. Sticking just to his mother’s side, I knew all but Clyde Willard McGrew, who drowned at age two and a half in an irrigation ditch on the outskirts of Walla Walla, WA, in 1904, while his mother was pregnant with her eighth and final child. This great grandmother died in 1945, the year after I was born, so while we overlapped, I didn’t know Aldorah Susan Yockey McGrew. “Grandpa McGrew” as her husband Mansfield Cromwell was known to several generations, died in 1952, when I was eight, and I’ve many clear memories of him. My grandmother, Grace Elba, known as Elba, was the oldest; the others were Portia, Beulah, Veva, Merton, Joy, and Twila. Their father was of a classical bent of mind–even Joy’s full name was Nolia Joy, but she had an aunt Nolia with whom the family didn’t want to confuse her. This large family all lived in WA when I was growing up, and had huge annual family reunions. I remember all of them vividly, both as a group, and individually. The “McGrew Girls” were wonderful cooks and great talkers. Mert was tall, thin, and a great listener. All lived into their nineties except Veva, who was 101 1/2, and still beating my parents at Scrabble (if a little more slowly, as my father put it). Twila suddenly had her only child at 45. She’d been lying about her age for years, as her husband was quite a bit younger, so refused to tell her daughter how old she was. Finally, one of her sisters took pity on the child and told her. It wasn’t a big deal to her! What I remember most about this first cousin-once removed was that she was a year or two younger than my youngest sister. I must have been an incipient genealogist already, as I got the connection. But my sister had a hard time as a young child understanding the concept that this girl she played with at family reunions was our father’s first cousin, just like the rest of the grownups.

    Thanks for the memories!

  3. How lucky you are to have known so many of your “collaterals”! Being a late-in-life baby, by the time I came along my maternal grandmother was the only “grand” still alive. She was so intent that none of the younger generations would learn of several family secrets on her side that our gatherings were limited to her children and their children. I wouldn’t learn until I was in my 30s and caught the genie bug that our little town was home to dozens of her cousins of one degree or another. In fact, I calculated that I was related to half the kids I went to school with, and never knew it! Once I began poking around in the family tree, of course, I unearthed “Grandma’s secrets”, most of which weren’t the scandals she must’ve imagined them to be. I did this by exploring every collateral line I could find.

    It was a different story on my dad’s side. He actually tried to stay in touch with aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom I met as a child. Alas, their relationships to Daddy weren’t fully explained, so I missed many opportunities to ask questions about that side, and again had to resort to exploring collateral lines to figure out where they fit on the family tree. As a consequence of so many “bare branches” while I was growing up, I’ve bombarded my own children with family history. What they do with the information is up to them, but at least they can’t say I kept the family secrets secret!

  4. Great idea Scott !!! After reading your article I had a hunch and went looking. I found three gentlemen in my ancestry whose lives span the years of 1755 to the present, all years included. My great-great-great-great grandfather 1755-1840 Rev War, my great grandfather 1840-1923 Civil War, and my father 1917-present, WW II. Three men for 260 years of the history of this great country. Yes, we did take a four generation pic with my father 98, myself, my son, and his son 2. Eagerly awaiting more Vita !!!!

  5. The most interesting collateral in the above lineage for me, Scott, is that my father’s oldest sister (by five years) lived to be 100 yrs and 9 mos. I’m sure that he has her longevity in mind,as they were best friends and she was a very interesting and accomplished person.

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