In pursuit of my family history project, I checked the major databases, hoping to establish whether or not the new William Lewis could be “my” William Lewis. I do not know yet. Part of the problem is certainly the commonness of his name. There were thousands of guys with this name. The chances of my finding the right guy among them are slim.
But there is another problem. He is one of the Midwesterners, you see.
Among my American ancestors, there are two groups. There are the folks who arrived in the colonies, some in the North and some in the South. The Northerners moved south after a bit, and then all of them became pioneers when that became the trendy thing to do, and they moved west. They were all farmers. Occasionally someone would hook up with an artisan of some kind, but generally they just grew stuff. They left land records and built churches and sent their children back east for college, and generally behaved in predictable ways, strewing letters and records and papers hither and yon. I know all about them.
The other group was the Midwesterners. They moved around. Up and down rivers, you know, and back and forth from Ohio to Illinois and Missouri. They mentioned trips to Oregon in passing. They up and headed west and were never heard from again. I don’t know what they were thinking. One described his occupation as “gentleman.” Another worked “on the bank.” Another went to piano-tuning school, and another ran a “gypsy camp.” They claimed different states and years of birth on different censuses. They lived with men not their husbands and fought on both sides of the Civil War.
Now part of this is probably my lack of knowledge about the local history. I don’t know what they were up to in Ohio. I am not at all sure what the bank in question might have been, or what a gypsy camp would be, although it appears that ice featured in the entertainment. If I were less ignorant, if I understood the history of that region, if I knew the patterns of migration, I would probably be able to make sense of it.
I don’t believe in speculation in family history projects. But if I did, I could come up with a good story about William Lewis. The first record we have for him is that of his marriage to a lady named Mary Ann. This is the house she grew up in. The current owners kindly sent me this picture of it. Mary Ann was the daughter of one of the early settlers in the county, a man named Noble. In the house next to this there was a family with a live-in servant named Elizabeth Lewis.
If it were a novel instead of history, we could imagine that Elizabeth Lewis had a son named William who visited her, possibly helping with the outdoor work. We can imagine Miss Mary Ann seeing the young man pruning a hedge and taking a glass of lemonade to him. We can imagine Noble seeing this and deciding to see his daughter safely married to someone more suitable.
Because we know that Mary Ann married a man from another prominent family. The Southerners who owned thousands of acres of land and dozens of slaves described themselves as “farmers,” but Mary Ann’s husband said he was a gentleman. I’ve always assumed that was swank, but let’s take him at his word for the sake of the story. We can imagine him as a cultured man, and we know that he and Mary Ann had a bunch of children. We could give him a pale countenance and a slightly hollow chest. We could make her reasonably happy with him, but give her an occasional thought of the healthy young man she had taken lemonade to, and laughed with amid the — hm… I think that LikeWowMom lives in Ohio, and she has lilies of the valley, so let’s give them lilies of the valley to laugh amid. The scent could remind her of him during the years that they were apart. Mary Ann’s first husband can be a decent man, and she can be a good wife to him, and we can have her sometimes grow thoughtful when the lilies of the valley bloom, and him look at her then with a tightness around his mouth, but say nothing to her about it.
But after his death, she was a prosperous widow. She could please herself. And she married William Lewis, himself by that time a widower with a son. They left almost immediately for Missouri. For the sake of the story, let’s say that they were leaving behind the disapproval of her relatives, who could never forget that William was the son of a servant.
That would make a good story, wouldn’t it?