Thursday, December 15, 2011

What I know - What I think I know? - Pt 1


Sometimes it is difficult to fill in the narrative in genealogy research.  There is a difference in what you know and what you think you know.  For example, I know the birth and death dates of my great grandmother, her parents, her marriages and her children.  I know where she lived in 10 year increments from the census…but what do I really know about her.

Shirlie with her first husband, Charles White.
According to some in the Johnson side of the family, Shirlie Louisa Pope was considered to be a bit slow.  There is no story of any kind like this on the Pope branch.  So, I have to look a bit closer at what I really know about Shirlie.  She married a Charles White in 1903 when she was 22 and had two children with him until he died after fighting a prairie fire in 1907.  She married Ulpian Johnson two years later in 1909 and together they had 5 children, 4 who survived to adulthood.  She died in 1927 as the result of pneumonia.
So…I know that Shirlie was born in Burke, Caledonia Co., VT – she was in Dunn Co., ND in 1910 and in 1925.  The family wasn’t counted in the 1920 census – Dad thinks this was the case because they were living down on the Missouri River breaks.  They had to move when a damn was put in and the area flooded.   I’ve never located her in the 1900 census although I am sure she was probably in North Dakota at the time and she was born too late for the 1880 census…and to the eternal horror of any genealogist the 1890 census was destroyed.   Despite the gaps, I have a pretty good understanding of where she lived and when – so I am confident in the facts of her life.

The stories that I have heard of her intelligence don’t quite mesh with what I know about her life.  I don’t think I can take too seriously one side of the family who said that she was slow and the other side who was angry to lose a beloved member so young.  Shirlie’s sister, Verna, was quite angry at Shirlie’s husband, Ulpian aka George at not getting a doctor to her sooner.  I’m not sure in 1927, that would even have helped as there wasn’t much medicine available to help her.  I doubt the stories about her intelligence.  Her husband, Ulpian, pretty much fell apart after her death and Aunt Nan and my grandfather, Frank, quit school and got jobs to support the family.  Ulpian had been injured as a young man in either a farming or rail accident.  I’ve been told both stories.  To the day he died, Ulpian, was unable to talk about Shirlie without crying, so his children didn’t talk about their mother.  I find this to be a tragic circumstance.  It is one thing to have lose your mother so young but to not be able to talk about her to your father had to be an extra hard blow.  The family stories are what keep a loved one alive long after they have gone.

This is where I get to to what I think I know!  I believe that Shirlie was intellectually much smarter than she was given credit for with her husband’s family.  From the stories that I have heard – my impression is that she was the strong one in the family and the one who kept “things” together.  She was so beloved by my grandfather that he named his oldest daughter after her.  I think she was somewhat unfairly labeled by Ulpian’s brother and sister in-law as being slow.  Shirlie’s father was a very vibrant and seemingly intelligent man.  It might be said that her older two sons with her first husband weren’t too intelligent.  Mary, Shirlie’s oldest daughter with Ulpian, was handicapped and was never quite right.  So, it might be said that she was either mentally slow or it was a result of her handicap.  While Shirlie was alive, her children were in school and getting an education.  After her death, they left school to go to work and support the family.  Their father didn’t have the strength to maintain the family unit without his wife…so the question to me is why was Shirlie labeled as slow by Ulpian’s family.  As far as I can see, the label was unfair and I think untrue.