Every family has legends which have been passed
from one generation to the next. Most families take these legends as truth
without ever questioning them. I have heard a few stories about my family
that have been disproved with research.
I want to share something that just recently
pulled some bricks out of my wall. It's a bit long, but has a point.
I have been quizzing my grandmother (85 years
old) about her family and my grandfather's family for about a year. This
is a compiled version of what she has told me about her husband's family:
"Your papaw's grandfather was a German.
The Kaiser burned them out so he immigrated to New York and got married
and had three daughters. His wife died and his sisters helped raise the
girls. Then he was in a prison in New York during the Civil War. He met
your g-g-grandfather Wills in the prison. I can't remember his name, but
he was a Southern Gentleman (she capitalized it - not me). When the war
was over, they let them out of prison and Senn decided to go home with
Wills. His daughters were already grown.
"Wills took your Grandpa Senn to his
home, but it had been burned during the war. Wills and his brother and
Senn decided to go to Texas. Wills was married and already had a little
baby. They came to Texas and Senn went up north to Wichita Falls (TX) and
got him a wife. But she had Huntington's disease.
"When Grandpa Senn found out his wife
was sick, he carried her to the Mayo Clinic. His brother was a doctor there.
They found out what was wrong with her, but they didn't know how to treat
it. They had two children - your papaw's father, Fred, and Aunt Annie.
His wife died when the kids were very small. Frederick never remarried."
Now let me tell you what I have found:
G-G-Grandpa Frederick Senn came to America in
about 1846 when he was 7 years old. There are tons of Senns in Switzerland
compared to Germany, but Switzerland is a Germanic nation. If he served
in the Civil War, I have never been able to prove it. (It's possible that
he was in prison for refusing to fight). His obituary states that he came
to Texas in about 1886. Fred was born in 1875 (out of the family Bible).
The Mayo Clinic was born in 1889 in Minnesota as Saint Marys Hospital,
but was not actually called the Mayo Clinic until about 1914. Either way,
the (unknown) g-g-grandmother could not have been diagnosed there, she
was already dead. Frederick had five children from his first marriage -
Clara, Julia, Martha, John and Henry.
G-G-Grandpa George Alexander "Alex" Wills was
born in Texas in 1841 just after his parents moved to Texas. He was probably
born in Harris County. He served in Company D 18th Texas Cavalry from February
of 1862 to the end of the war. If he spent time in prison, he makes no
mention of it. His first child was born about 1871, well after the war.
However, his parents moved from Tennessee to Missouri just after their
first child was born in 1817. Alex inherited all of his father's estate.
This is the part that loosened the bricks:
I was wondering why Frederick would have gone
all the way to Wichita Falls to get a wife. Wichita Falls is an extremely
long way from Holland - over 250 miles. So I asked Mamaw if she was sure
it was Wichita Falls and not Marble Falls (80 miles) or Falls County (40
miles) which are a lot closer to Holland. Her reply was something like,
"No.... I'm pretty sure it was way up north."
Frederick's obituary says that his children
are: Mrs. Julia Tuebbs of Buffalo, NY; Mrs. Clara Colby of Corfu,
NY; Mrs. M. Geese of Albany, NY; Miss Annie Senn of Robinson (TX); Henry
Senn of Buffalo (NY?); and Fred Senn of Austin (TX). Annie is still unmarried
and living at her father's newest home. Fred is in a sanitarium in Austin
with Huntington's Disease. Henry was a complete surprise to me, but Mamaw
says he had to be from the first wife and live in Buffalo, New York (not
Texas). I looked at a map of New York. Buffalo and Corfu are close to (20
and 45 miles)......NIAGARA FALLS "way up north" and a tourist attraction.
I did research on doctors named Senn and came
up with NICHOLAS SENN (1844-1908), one of the most famous and respected
physicians of the Northern states. I don't necessarily think Nicholas is
Frederick's brother, but it would make sense that others might think so.
Nicholas practiced at the old Milwaukee Hospital (now the Samaritan Campus)
then settled in Elmore, IL in 1879 and began a practice in Chicago at Rush
Medical College. It's possible that either of these clinics could be mistaken
as the Mayo in a rustic central Texas community.
So let me re-write the family story:
Frederick Senn immigrated to America as a small
child. He arrived in New York with his well-to-do parents and siblings
in 1846. He grew up in northwest New York and met and married a pretty
local girl. The couple had five children and the wife died. Almost immediately,
Frederick remarried - this time to a pretty girl he met at Niagara Falls.
Frederick fathered two more children and, as a result of the births, the
wife's health deteriorated. She began to twitch and stutter and Frederick
grew concerned. He'd heard of a clinic in Chicago where a young doctor
was turning medical ideas upside down, so he carried his wife to this medical
Dr. Senn told Frederick that his wife had a
neurological disease that could not be cured and all they could do was
make her comfortable. Frederick carried his wife home and kept her drugged
and comfortable until she died.
Frederick decided to move. He'd heard that there
were wide open spaces in Texas where a man could truly get lost and forget
his troubles. His older girls are now mostly grown and one is married,
they choose to remain in New York. Frederick packs up his youngest son
and daughter and moves them to a remote community called Holland, Texas.
In Holland, Frederick is known as a respectable
widower with youngsters who work hard around the ranch. His son, Fred,
meets a young lady from another respectable family. Fred falls in love
with Beatrice Wills, daughter of Alex and Sarah Wills. In the summer of
1899, they marry. Frederick has become quite successful and moves to Robinson
Community near Waco, Texas. Within a few years, Fred begins to twitch and
stutter. The couple now has four children. Frederick becomes concerned.
He sends Fred to Austin to another medical school. They confirm that Fred
has the disease which killed his mother.
Fred and Beatrice find out they are about to
have their fifth and final child. A year after J.J. is born, Fred admits
himself to the state sanitarium in Austin. He is able to make brief visits
to his family for the next two years, but the visits stop in 1913. Beatrice
also visits Fred and has taken up medical studies. She has decided to become
a nurse. She is afraid her children will also have Huntington's Disease.
[Fred died in the sanitarium in Austin in either
1928 (the Bible) or 1930 (the state). His oldest and youngest sons also
die in the sanitarium from Huntington's disease, and the youngest daughter
suffers from it for about 50 years. The older daughter died at age 26,
we will never know if she had Huntington's.]
The first story is better, but the second is
closer to the truth. Most of it is supposition, but now I know I have been
looking in the wrong place for Fred's mother. I'm sure that at the end
of the Civil War, Alex spent some time in a holding facility until the
Union Forces sent him home. It's possible that Frederick spoke of being
in a prison during the war and his two surviving grandchildren assumed
that Grandpa Wills and Grandpa Senn were in prison together.
Since I wrote this article, I have found the
names of Frederick's older children. Julia F. Senn was born in 1862 and
married Frank D. Tubbs. They died in 1947 and 1915 respectively. Clara
was born in 1864 and married Garrett Colby, they died in 1942 and 1915.
Henry C. was born about 1866 and married Clara Ashley. they died in 1939
and 1933. M. is Martha. She was born in 1867 and married Emil T. Gesse.
They died in 1933 and 1929. All four of these siblings and their spouses
are buried in Evergreen Hill Cemetery in Corfu, Genesee County, New York.
John was killed fighting in WWI, probably in France. His body was not recovered
but there is a memorial to him at Evergreen Hill. I also found an 1880
census which lists Frederick's new wife as Barbara - in Genesee Co, NY.
I have also heard that I am related to Quanah
Parker because one grandmother was named Anetta Parker. I have not yet
found Anetta in any documents. I have heard that my husband is related
to Jim Bowie but can find nothing to prove it. Dad insists that we are
related to Walt Disney but, if we are, it is VERY far back. He also insists
that Tex Ritter and son Jack are our cousins, but our only Ritter is Minerva
who married a distant Armstrong cousin and her family would not be related
to us. Take family legends with a grain of salt and you will be much happier.