There has been a family story that for years I have hesitated to write down because I didn’t want to hurt some family members. It wasn’t that they didn’t know the story, I just don’t think they wanted it publizied. It is as my Grandma Cappy used to say “You don’t air your dirty laundry in public!” I have been asked by multiple people to tell this story…so I guess it is time.
Many years ago, my mother and I were enjoying a visit with one of my uncles. He had a bit of a “salty” sense of humor and he began regaling us with the story of my great grandmother’s father. This wasn’t something that my mother and I had ever heard. So we were both astounded that we had never heard the story and asked my grandmother about it. Her comment was that he was a “good man” and not to say anything around my great grandmother who was in her early 90’s at the time. It was something that she was embarrased about and didn’t like to think about it. Fast forward to today, and as far as I know, there are only a few people who knew him personally still alive –so here it is!
George Christian Shawver aka Chris Shawver was born at Fowler’s Knob, Nicholas Co., WV on 6 Aug 1867 to George William Shawver and Elizabeth Matilda Legg. Chris was the ninth of eleven children. As the story goes, he married Sarah Emaline Pitzenbarger on 26 Aug 1883 when he was 16 years of age and she was 22. As my grandmother told me, it was an arranged marriage with a neighbor and he wanted to marry her younger sister. On the surface, this might make sense – but the facts don’t quite support the story. The marriage actually occurred six days after Sarah Emaline gave birth to their first son, Harvey. There are a few items about this these events that don’t quite mesh for me. Harvey was born in Sioux City, IA according to just about every piece of documentation that I have been able to find. Sarah Emaline and Chris were married in Nicholas Co., WV. So…this pushes me to ask a few questions. Is the birthdate for Harvey incorrect or the birth location? If the data is correct – does it make sense that Sarah Emaline traveled from Iowa to West Virginia so soon after childbirth or is the year possibly wrong? I don’t think there is a question in my mind that Harvey is closely related to Chris because he looks too much like him not to be. Having said that – could Harvey be one of Chris’s siblings sons. I don’t think that is a question that can be answered.
So back to Chris and Sarah Emaline – they have two daughters in fairly quick succession with Ethel Leota born on 28 May 1885 in Nicholas Co., WV and Mary M. born on 27 Jul 1886 in Hungington, Cabell Co., WV. Sometime between 1886 and March 1890, Chris and Sarah Emaline move to Sioux City, IA. This is where the story really gets interesting. When they made the move from West Virginia to Iowa, they brought along Sarah Emaline’s younger sister, Rebecca Jane “Frankie” to help with the children. Chris and Sarah Emaline’s fourth child, Marvin Ross was born on 20 Mar 1890 in Sioux City, IA. Sometime afte the birth of Marvin in March – Chris and Frankie took off and left Sarah Emaline in Iowa with those four children and pregnant with a fifth child.
Sarah Emaline was in a very difficult position – far from where her parents lived and any other person who could help her. Her family was not wealthy and she certainly must have had little to know money. I would guess that her parents must have sent her money in order to come back to West Virginia. I know that I was told by one of Mary’s grandchidlren that those children remembered that trip back to West Virginia well. Their mother was heavily pregnant and I am sure they were scared and unsure of everything. It must have been a cold fall, because the girls remember sleeping on the floor of hotel with the cold wind blowing under the doors and through the walls. Not only that, they also remembered rats and mice scurrying across the floor. Harvey would have been about eight years old, Ethel probably six and Mary about five and Marvin a young baby.
Once they arrived back in West Virginia, life was not easy for the Sarah Emaline and her children. Sarah Emaline was born on 19 Aug 1861 in Nicholas Co., WV to William Pitsenbarger and Mary Amick. By the time, Sarah Emaline came back to West Virigina, only one of her siblgins was still living at home and her children ended up spending a lot of their time doing a lot of work around the farm which is probably the reason that Harvey left home fairly young and joined the Army. I find all of the children living with their grandparents in the 1900 census with only brother Jacob living with them and Sarah Emmaline is living somewhere else. I would guess she was working somewhere else and sending money back.
I know from family stories that William Pitsenbarger died in October of 1901. He was working out in the barn and was pinned against the side of the barn and crushed and died a short time later. Sarah Emaline ended up marrying a widower named Jacob Clark Sevy on 6 May 1912. I don’t think a divorce ever occurred between her and Chris Shawer so doubtful it was a legal marriage. Jacob Sevy died on 26 Dec 1916. In the 1920 census, Sarah Emaline is with her daughter Mary Shawver Booker whose husband had husband had died in 1918 and her sons Marvin and Samuel. In the 1930 census, she is living with her son Sam and his wife in West Virginia and by 1940, she is living with her daughter in Montgomery Co., IN. It is interesting to note that Mary is listed with the last name of Whittington but I think that it is a mistake by the census taker.
In about 1930, Chris Shawver went back to West Virginia to visit family. We have a photo album full of photos from this visit. I was told by one of Marvin Ross Shawver’s sons that his father remembered one afternoon while working at a bank that a man came in and never came to the window but stood near the back and stared at him for quite a long time. He realized that the man was his father. Marvin made no effort to say anything to him and neither did Chris Shawver.
On 13 Apr 1931, Chris was found hung in a barn. He had committed suicide. No one knows the exact reason – whether it was being found out about the first family or if it was because of financial difficulties. His oldest five children probably knew about some of their other siblings – but the younger children knew nothing about the first family.
Sarah Emaline lived the rest of her life with her daughter Mary Shawver Booker and died on 17 Aug 1947 in Linden, Montgomery Co., IN. She had outlived both her husband and her sister and died at the age of 85.
|Left to Right: Ethel, Mary, Harvey, Marvin & Sam|
Here is a list of the children of George Christian Shawver and Sarah Emaline Pitsenbarger:
|Back Left - Unknown, Unknown, Toni (Harvey's stepdaughter)|
2nd Row - Left - Nona McVey Shawver, Ethel Shawver Boone, Jessie Shawver Bacon, Mary Shawver Booker
Front - Sarah Emaline Pitsenbarger Shawver Sevy (Taken abt 1942)
- Harvey Shawver b. 20 Aug 1883 in Sioux City, IA d. 26 Jun 1971 in San Francisco, CA m. Mary E. Brady – 1 step daughter
- Ethel Leota Shawver b. 28 May 1885 Nicholas Co., WV d. 17 Sept 1948 Selma, Alleghany Co., VA m. ? Jones – 2 children m. Charles Amos Boone 27 Oct 1909 – 8 children
- Mary M. Shawver b. 27 July 1886 Huntington, Cabell Co., WV d. 6 Apr 1978 Montgomery Co., IN m. James Vernie Booker 28 Dec 1904 – 3 children
- Marvin Ross Shawver b. 20 Mar 1890 Sioux City, Woodbury Co., IA, d. 11 Sep 1968 Huntington, Cabell Co., WV m. Nona Willie McVey abt 1920 – 3 children
- Samuel Tony Shawver b. 12 Oct 1891 Huntington, Cabell Co., WV d. 23 Nov 1974 Lewisburg, Greenbrier Co., WV m. abt 1926 Elsie Enola Shields - no children