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Friday, November 12, 2010


I wrote the other day about my great-great-grandmother Mary Rowe, who got involved in a stupid mid-1800s hoax which encouraged people to believe they were entitled to a share of downtown Manhattan property if they could prove their descent from a woman named Anneke Jans Bogardus (sort of the 19th-century equivalent of Nigerian lottery emails). Mary Rowe, according to the family records, died insane.

I'm lucky to have such a well-documented family. Some of my relatives – especially my aunt Louise Williams Ingraham – have been very good about collecting and documenting everything. And my grandmother Minnie Bromley Williams was very scrupulous about writing down everything she could think of: her own family history, her husband's family history, stories, the lot.

This is my grandmother talking about her father, Herrick Bromley:

My father was twenty-one years old when he ventured west in 1848 to make his fortune. He came west with a partner. Herrick drove a span of mules. San Francisco was just a small mining town. Herrick and his partner made it good in gold dust. Herrick bought sheep and lost about all he made from the wolves killing them.”

I love that turn of phrase: “made it good in gold dust.” She was a smart cookie, my grandma.

Later, she tells the story of her father and his two kids coming north to Washington Territory in the 1880s:

Herrick told the two younger children, Albert and Etta, that they were headed for the North Pole. When they got to Bickleton [Washington Territory], they saw a tree stripped of its bark by the Indians so it resembled a barber pole. The children shouted for joy. Weary and tired of traveling, they shouted they had finally reached their destination because there was the North Pole. Herrick was willing to be convinced . . .”

My other paternal great-grandfather, Harrison Williams, was known (no kidding) as “The Traveling Man.” He was a salesman, and a charmer; he did a little bit of everything. The earlier pictures of him remind me of Harold Hill from “The Music Man.” He looks plausible, if you see what I mean. He had a tough little wife – my great-grandmother Nora – who took care of things at home. The above photo, probably taken around 1920, shows both of them leaning on a tire in front of the gas station / general store they owned and operated. My great-grandfather Harrison looks scrawny but spry; my great-grandmother Nora looks murderous.

You just remember that, you city folk. I may look like a regular citified daffodil on the outside, but inside I'm pure Yosemite Sam.

Now get out of here, you varmints!

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