Sunday, June 24, 2012

Who Do I Think I Am?

See the woman on the left, the only one looking at the camera? 

She is my great, great grandmother, Martha S. Flowers

I found her (and this picture) in my quest to know more about my mother, my mother's family and myself.  But more about her later...

A short-lived television show, Who Do You Think You Are? and a father-in-law who at 80 has never heard the stories of his ancestry inspired me to begin a search of my own.  Some of my Dad's family history I knew.  Mom's was mostly a mystery.  Until now...

Without waxing too dramatic,  ancestors are the very architects of our existence.  Their challenges and struggles, their decisions about where to settle make up the fabric of  America and echo in the faraway places they left behind. Their children, their choices, how they lived, worked and  died has been passed along in this beautiful mix of DNA and destiny.

I started my search with what I knew: 

Shumways are practically royalty in Utah history.  As a scout and leader for the band of pioneers trekking west for freedom from religious persecution, my great, great, great Grandfather Charles Shumway most likely discovered and approved the Salt Lake Valley long before Brigham Young uttered "this is the place."  His 21 children and 201 grandchildren would colonize much of the west.

 What I didn't know:  

Religious persecution had already played a part in the  Shumway line 200 years earlier. In St Maxient Lecole, Deux-Sevres, Poitou-Charents France (about 4 hours from Paris) Pierre Chamois was one of 200,000 Huguenots driven from his home because of his beliefs.  In approximately 1660, he boarded a ship in England and crossed the Atlantic to settle in Massachusetts. He, or someone registering his immigration, changed his name to Peter, and the American version of "Chamois" became Shumway.

Every Shumway in America descends from him.  

And now I know how the Shumway line runs from him to me...and from France to Salt Lake City: Jacob Chamois, his son Pierre/Peter, Jeremiah (pic below), Peter (who fought in the Revolutionary War), Parley, Charles (the Mormon scout), Andrew Purley, Charles, Quentin, and Dante (my father).

Jeremiah Shumway  1703-1801

I knew less about my mother's family.

My mother was a Peacock.  Proud and elegant, she dreamed of someday completing her family's genealogy. When her health began to fail, she told me that she couldn't die yet; she still had work to do.  She felt compelled to trace her ancestors and perhaps introduce her children to the  genteel ways of the South.  Mom loved the beginning to this 1939 movie classic:

"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. 
 Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. 
Here was the last ever to be seen of 
Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. 
Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered,
 a Civilization gone with the wind.."

On her mother Katie Mae's side, she came from two distinguished Southern families; the Tarts and the Flowers. When I found her great-grandfather, Samuel A. Tart, I discovered our family's connection to the Civil War.  Why had it never occurred to me before that these folks were Confederates?  

Samuel enlisted and was assigned to the 6th Alabama Infantry Regiment in 1862.  He was among those who marched for days to within two miles of Gettysburg in the sweltering heat of July 1863 to fend off Union troops trying to join the battle.  He was captured in 1864.  Here's what his great grandson Woody Clark remembered:

Woody heard his parents discuss a letter that Sam Tart sent home during the War for Southern Independence. Sam would send home Confederate money. In this particular letter, he told the family, "Spend the Confederate money now, because we are losing this war."

Woody also relates that after Sam was captured during the war, he was placed in a prison camp "up north". After the war, Sam was released and given no money or supplies for his journey home. After months of travel, mostly by foot, Sam made it home barefooted to his family.

Also, the Cope family lived nearby Sam Tart's place. A Cope man from that house fought in the War on the side of the NORTH.  Sam Tart would never go near that land again, often walking out of his way to avoid it.

Back to the woman in the picture...Martha S. Flowers was a mystery.  I could find records showing her as the wife of Benjamin Flowers, but without her maiden name, my search back to her origins would hit a brick wall.   I knew Martha was born in 1827.  As of the 1910 census, she was still alive at 83, widowed and living in Florida. 

I was getting discouraged when I found another family tree that mentioned her name.  Imagine my delight when I clicked on the link to see her looking back at me.  It was thrilling, humbling and more emotional than I ever imagined.  

The picture was taken in 1904 when she was 77.  And now, I also know her maiden was Sims.

The search goes on.  It is exciting and satisfying.   I do it for Mom; to discover the family stories I believe she wanted me to know...and share.


  1. Uderstanding history is not always about the big events and dates, but an understanding of the people who lived and loved. Perhaps the greatest gift our ancestors gave us is the example of the human spirits faith of, and desire for a better life.
    I can say it is fun to see your excitment with each new discovery into your history.

  2. This is so cool - thanks for doing this important work. Didn't we always know somewhere deep inside that we were French? I mean, come on. :) I'll look forward to hearing more.