Pages from the Past

Last month I attended a family history and genealogy conference in Salt Lake City as part of my job for one of the companies I work for. With 22,000 paid attendees, it was definitely the largest conference I had ever gone to, and it was really interesting to observe the wide range of personalities, genealogical interests, and clothing styles of people who attended. (A “cultural event” Friday night resulted in period costumes of all types, as well as a bagpipe marching band.)

Anyway, the whole experience reminded me of how much I actually enjoy family history and finding out more about my ancestors. I’ve already shared about my great grandpa who lived to be 100 years old, but today, I thought I would share several short stories from my family’s past. In return, I would love to hear your favorite fireside story that has been passed down through the generations in your family!

Uncle Shaddy & Uncle Shacky: Way back in the family, there was a pair of brothers named Shadrack and Meshack whom the family nicknamed Shaddy and Shacky. Word is there may have been a young Abednego also, who died in infancy. Shaddy and Shacky’s older brother was my great-great-great-great grandfather, David Marshall II, who emigrated from England to America in 1849.

I just love these names…I feel like anyone who would let you call him Uncle Shacky had to be a fun person to be around.

David Marshall II and family

David Marshall II and Family

James Patterson: James Patterson has been a figure of fascination to me for many years because of the many handwritten journals he kept throughout his life. I still remember being nine or ten years old, holding a photocopied journal page in my lap and squinting through a large, black magnifying glass to read the straightforward entries about weather, farming, etc. The saddest entries were the ones where James wrote in brief, succinct sentences about the deaths of four of his children.

“26th, Sabbath, Margaret breathes her last, this is a day of trouble here.”

“11, …Jessie was very sick…she said she was glad to see us but she soon tired of speaking & sought to rest. & she spoke no more. Died in less than 2 hours. It was about 9 P.M. on the 30th of August, 1896.”

James Patterson...gotta love the beard!

James Patterson…gotta love the beard!

John Marshall: John Marshall was the son of David Marshall II, and he married the daughter of James Patterson. I really don’t know anything about him, except what was written in a newspaper article after his death:

“Mr. Marshall was a man of exceeding strength of character. He seemed to be obsessed with the idea that a duty is no sooner divined than it becomes imperative upon one to perform it. Carrying that mental attitude, he drove himself to his duties with an intensity equaled by few men. He saw his world about him burdened with things to be accomplished and he could not rest until he had performed his full measure. Rather abrupt in speech and gesture, he sometimes gave an impression of hardness and unappreciativeness that was, in fact, foreign to his nature…. He was a man who bore acquaintance, for the more one knew him, the more one liked him, and the deeper grew your respect.”

We don’t write like this anymore, and we rarely give this depth of consideration to someone’s character…but I wish we did.

John Marshall and Family

John Marshall and Family

Thomas Hutcheson: Thomas Hutcheson has long been the ancestor I’m most fascinated with. After being born in Ireland, he moved to America as either a child or a teenager and became a farmer in Ohio. That in and of itself wouldn’t be very interesting, but later in his life, he moved to Kansas in order to vote against Kansas becoming a slave state. (You can read about “Bleeding Kansas” and the vote against slavery here.) Family tradition says that Thomas Hutcheson and his family were also involved in the Underground Railroad. For years, I’ve wanted to write a book about the Hutcheson family from the point of view of their oldest daughter, Maggie…maybe someday I still will!

Thomas Hutcheson

Thomas Hutcheson

Emma Sterrett: Emma was Maggie Hutcheson’s oldest daughter, but when Maggie died at age 30, her husband and Emma’s father remarried. As a result, Emma grew up taking care of many younger brothers and sisters, stepbrothers, and stepsisters. When she wasn’t quite 16, Sam Tippin asked to call on her, and Emma’s stepmother protested, not wanting to lose her built-in babysitter. But Joseph Sterrett allowed the courtship, and Emma and Sam eventually married. I always picture this as being my family’s own Cinderella story.

Sam and Emma Tippin, 1939, three years before Sam's death

Sam and Emma Tippin, 1939, three years before Sam’s death

Well, those are a few of my favorite family stories – simple, not particularly earth-shattering, but each with its own share of love and hardship. I think that’s part of the reason I love family history. It transforms the past from a distant, unknowable thing into living, breathing, very human people.

Do you have any of your own family stories to share?


  1. Joyce Vandeventer......Angela Kinght's Mom.

    I love your blogs. Thanks so much, Ruthie, for sharing.

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