Surprise: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

As always, there are many possible directions to go with this one. Part of me really wants to write about finding out that my paternal grandfather had 14 siblings, or that he was Protestant…

Since some of the surprises on my mother’s side are big enough that my cousins are still trying to absorb them, I’m going to go in that direction instead.

My mother grew up in West Virginia and she was raised to be proud of her deep Virginia and West Virginia roots. Given that, I was surprised as I worked backwards in her family tree to quickly find that her Kahle grandfather was born in Pennsylvania. I shouldn’t have been, since one of the major German settlement routes is Germany (well, what would eventually become Germany, as Germany is pretty young) to Pennsylvania to Virginia. Still, all we’d ever been told was that the family had been in Virginia for such a long time, so it was an adjustment.

We all knew that my grandmother Anna Katherine Kahle Jarrell was raised in the Church of the Brethren and two of her brothers had been ministers in the church. Since the roots of the Brethren faith are Swiss and German and the roots of the Kahles are German, we assumed that the Kahles had been Brethren since before they arrived in this country.

One of the things that did not fit with the Kahle family being part of the Brethren faith for a long time was that many of my Kahle relatives served in the Civil War. The Brethren are one of the better known pacifist faiths, just behind the Quakers and the Amish and Mennonites faiths that have the same Anabaptist roots as the Brethren. If the Kahles had been Brethren, one or two might have served, especially in Virginia where many who didn’t enlist voluntarily were coerced into doing so. I found military records for considerably more than one or two Kahle relatives. Then I found an obituary for my great-grandfather William T. Kahle that stated that he had joined the Brethren faith when he married my great-grandmother.

We knew that my great-grandmother, Cynthia Hutchison Kahle, had raised the money to build the building that is still Smith Chapel Church of the Brethren. The land was donated but they needed money to build the church. She rode her horse around the area collecting contributions of pennies and nickels until they had enough money. I though this was just a story that my family knew, until I read it in published histories of the Brethren church in Virginia. As I worked my way back, I found out that one of Cynthia’s brothers was a minister.

Cynthia Hutchison Kahle’s parents were Lydia McDaniel and Alexander Hutchison. Alexander’s estate was appraised and his carpentry tools were sold in 1865 so I knew he was dead by then, but there was no definite date and there were no official records. He just appeared to vanish. During the Civil War, in Virginia, he was far from the only male to vanish, but it was still frustrating. Recently I had a stroke of luck and was contacted by McDaniel cousins. Well, hard work on their part, but luck for me. I thought, and even said to one of them, that I’d been beating my head against the Hutchison wall for long enough and it would be good to work on the McDaniels. Then they found me the key to several major Hutchison questions. Once again, their hard work, my luck.

They were able to contact the historian for the Brethren congregation in Monroe County to which at least one or two earlier generations of Hutchisons and McDaniels had belonged . My McDaniel cousin sent me a copy of a letter that answered the huge question. This letter gave a date for Alexander’s death, a cause of death, and some description of his final days. Alexander didn’t disappear any more. Now we know. I still had more questions about Alexander Hutchison. In searching early Mercer County marriage registers for other branches of my mother’s family I’d run across a few times where the minister was listed as Alexander Hutchison, but I wasn’t certain that my great-grandfather had been in Mercer County at that time and for a few years that was my only indication that he might have been a minister. My own research had indicated that in addition to Alexander’s father being a minister, one of his brother’s was a well-known Brethren minister. Then an article about that brother indicated that all but one of his brothers had also been ministers. One of the brothers had died at 14, so there was no question as to which brother hadn’t been a minister. Still, I didn’t have any proof.

Then the church historian for the Monroe County congregation told me about a Brethren congregation in Mercer County that doesn’t appear in the books I’d been reading about the history of the church in Virginia. The congregation for which she maintains the history was one of the parent congregations for this church I hadn’t known existed, so they have quite a bit of information. The historian told me that my great-grandparents had moved from Monroe County to Mercer County so that my great-grandfather could be the minister to this congregation. So now I know not just how and when Alexander died. I know that he was a minister, and that his father and all of his brothers who lived to adulthood were as well.

Then the church historian answered my biggest unanswered question – how and when the Hutchison family became Brethren. After all, they were not German or Swiss and belonged to a historically German and Swiss faith. I learned from various records that Alexander’s father and grandfather had both been named Samuel Hutchison. I’d experienced all of the complications that come with those name repetitions and had struggled to distinguish the records of the father from the records of the son. I thought that the father had died about 1850 and the son about 1880. She told me that I was wrong. The father died in 1807, and the son was born in 1807. The senior Samuel died before his namesake was born. Margaret Calloway Hutchison, the widow of the elder Samuel and mother of the younger Samuel, remarried about two years after her first husband’s death. Her second husband was very involved in helping her to raise her sons. He was also Brethren. Samuel, who would have only known this man as a father figure, became a Brethren minister and elder.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: I’d like to Meet

I’ve been putting this one off to see what bubbled up, but there was really only one choice. The ancestor I’d like to meet is one I’ve already met, but I can’t remember him.

My maternal grandfather, Frank Hereford Jarrell, died in July 1963, when I was not quite 2 1/2 years old. We lived in southeastern Pennsylvania and they lived in southwestern West Virginia, so we didn’t see them often, but we did visit at least once a year for Easter so I know we’d have met at least a couple of times.

They came to visit soon after I was born, though that I had been born was a surprise. My mother had several miscarriages and my parents had one child who only lived 3 days. My grandparents married late. My grandmother was 35 and my grandfather was 38. My parents were 18 and 25 when they married, but their struggles to have children meant that by the time my brother Bobby died my mother’s parents were in their 70s. I think my mother was concerned about the effect it had on them and any more losses would have on them. So, when my mom was pregnant with the younger of my sisters and with me, the ones who came after Bobby, they weren’t told we were on the way.

My sister was born in February, so that year when it was time for the Easter trip my parents took her. My dad played football in high school and college and I’ve been told that he had the habit when we were small of carrying us tucked under his arm, like a football. (I really wish I could see a photo of this) When he walked in carrying my sister, completely bundled up in a blanket, my grandfather thought she was a ham and offered to put her in the refrigerator.

I arrived in March, so it was too close to Easter to make that trip. Instead my grandparents were told that my mother’s varicose veins were bothering her and she couldn’t travel, so they came to visit. When they asked how she felt, I was produced as the reason she was feeling better.

My mother told me stories about her father, but not a lot of them. It wasn’t until I started researching my family history, less than a decade ago, that I learned how much she and her siblings knew of their family and about their family history. At a gathering of many of my cousins, who are 8-17 years older than I am, I learned that both of our grandparents had told the older cousins stories about their family history, both his Jarrells and her Kahles, and the younger ones had been told stories by an uncle. Each cousin told me something that they remembered being told as a child, and I began to feel that I knew my grandfather.

After that trip, my sisters and I visited my mother to help her rearrange some things. As we were sorting, everything that pertained to our family was put in a pile for me. In that pile were letters that distant cousins of my grandfather’s had written to him. The oldest letter was written in 1936, the last of them was written in 1961, not long before both that cousin and my grandfather both passed away. One of those cousins explained that he had written to the DAR near where their great-grandfathers had both married, who recommended that they contact my grandfather. So, at least one DAR chapter knew my grandfather as an authority on his family’s history.

Apparently his research did not survive, except in the memories of his children and grandchildren. Probably because of the gap between our siblings and cousins and us, no one told my sister and I stories about our family history when we were children. I was 8 when my grandmother died in 1969, and at that point we stopped going to West Virginia for Easter.

Various members of my family went back for the reunions my grandmother’s family held every year, but the first time I went back after my grandmother died was in 2013. When my cousins and I visited the family cemetery on the farm our grandfather’s family owned for roughly 160 years and where members of four different generations of his family are buried, I was glad that now I know my grandfather and his family.