Saturday, January 31, 2015

#8 John William Ryan (1867-Unknown)

Great-Grandfather, John Ryan

I would venture to guess that every genealogist and family historian has encountered at least one “brick wall”…that is, a complete gap of information that prevents you from digging further into an ancestor’s background.  One of mine is my husband’s great-grandfather, John William Ryan. 

What we do know is that he was born in June 1867 in Ohio.  However, not knowing which county in Ohio makes tracking down his family a bit difficult.  Perhaps not surprisingly,  there are several infant boys named “John Ryan” born in Ohio in 1867.  I have not given up hope, but until I can corroborate or verify which one is my husband’s ancestor, I don’t want to guess.

Somehow, John made his way west to Northern California as he was married in November 1895 in San Mateo to Margaret Weir Bewick.  We have one picture which came from John and Margaret’s daughter, Helen, that we believe to be John Ryan.  If it is John, it would appear he arrived in Southern California (Los Angeles) before heading to Northern California.

Believed to be John William Ryan, photographed in Los Angeles

We also know that he was a carpenter and we were fortunate enough to obtain a picture from John's daugther, date unknown, of a construction crew that was marked on the back as "John Ryan, middle row, with mustache, holding hammer". 

Construction Crew:  John Ryan, middle row (with mustache) holding hammer

We don’t know much about him, but hoping genealogy DNA tests help identify relatives someday in the future.  The stories that came down through the family was that John left the family, being a bit of a womanizer.  

The 1910 US Federal Census has him in San Mateo, CA, and the 1900-1912 Voter’s Registration has him in San Mateo, age 43, Carpenter, Democrat.  By 1920, he was not in the same household as his wife Margaret and she lists herself as a widow.  We have not been able to verify John’s death records to date.  It would have been helpful if his name was a little more unique … there are a handful of “John Ryans” who died between 1910 and 1920; however, none of them included information which would have made it easy to confirm it was our John Ryan. 

John’s parents, siblings and other relatives remain a mystery for now.   I won’t give up…someday, I will break through this brick wall named John William Ryan.

UPDATE:  See posting #16 in 2017 -- We broke down the brick wall!

#7 Margaret Weir Bewick (1874-1947)

Great Grandmother (Bewick) Ryan

My husband’s great-grandmother is our most direct connection to his Scottish roots.  Her name is Margaret Weir Bewick, daughter of George Bewick and Jane Young Bewick.  Margaret was named after her paternal Grandmother, Margaret Weir.   

George and Jane were both born in Dunfermline, Scotland and moved to the United States with relatives before getting married in Gold Hill, Nevada on January 5, 1870 (an interesting connection to my husband and myself as we also were married on January 5th).  The Bewick family has a long mining history in Dunfermline as well as in Houghton-le-Street, Durham, England.
Jane Young Bewick
George Bewick

Margaret and her older siblings, Emma Simpson Bewick and William Young Bewick, were all born in Gold Hill, Nevada, the silver mining town in the height of the Comstock Lode.  Gold Hill and Virginia City were the principal towns of the Comstock Lode.  In the late 1850’s prospectors discovered the rich lode of silver ore in the area and a great volume of individuals and families moved into the area.  George arrived in the U.S. in May 1863 with older brothers William and John, a few years after silver ore was discovered; as far as I can tell, they went straight to Nevada (tax records have them in Gold Hill in 1865).  

"Gold Hill" 1870’s  by Carleton Watkins.

Margaret grew up in Gold Hill, Nevada during an exciting part of Nevada’s mining history.  Gold Hill was incorporated in 1862, the height of its prosperity between 1868 and 1888 during Margaret’s childhood.

Today, Gold Hill is considered largely “inactive” and somewhat considered a ghost town, one of several that cover California and Nevada as a result of the silver and gold rush.

William, Emma, and Margaret Bewick, early to mid 1880s
Margaret was born in July 1874 (her siblings having been born in 1871 and 1872).  Her mother, Jane, died when Margaret was 5 in October 1879.  

One of my favorite finds was a photo album with an inscription to Margaret on her 9th birthday from her father, George.  It spoke to a father sharing a positive and happy message with his young daughter,  a message we can all be reminded of...."Always look above whatever betide, and choose with heart of love, life's sunny side"

With 3 small children at home, her father remarried, and she became an older (half) sister to three siblings born between 1886 and 1892.  Her father was a prominent member of the Gold Hill community, active in the Gold Hill Miner’s Union and, at one point, he was the local Constable. George died in March 1894 and is buried with her mother, Jane, in the Gold Hill cemetery.   

By the mid 1890’s, Margaret’s older siblings had moved to Northern California (San Mateo).  By November 1895, Margaret had met and married a carpenter named John W. Ryan, a native of Ohio.

Margaret and John had six children (although, there is some date confusion on the birth of the first two children who seemed to be born 3 months apart  - giving rise to speculation on the maternal heritage of the oldest child, Evelin).   The documented and traceable details are less clear, but it appears that John left the family between 1910 and 1920 (US Federal Census records).   Family stories have him leaving with another woman; by 1920, Margaret lists herself as a widow in the US Federal Census.  Death records for John Ryan have not yet been verified. 

The Ryan Children (Left to Right):  Elmer John, Jenny, Walter (front), Thomas (back), Helen, circa 1913

Margaret was a strong, independent woman. Her grandson has memories of a loving, but firm, grandma…and that he recalls that she would stand her ground and was not one to be taken advantaged of, recalling her arguing with the local butcher about how much fat he left on cuts of meat.  She lost her oldest son, Elmer John, to the Spanish Flu in 1918 and her eldest daughter (assumed to be a step daughter), Evelin, who died in childbirth in 1925.  She remained in the San Mateo area of Northern California, attending the St. Matthew’s Church regularly, along with her remaining 4 children and multiple grandchildren.

She remained close to her siblings, Emma and William. It is unclear how much interaction she had with her stepmother May Julia Bewick and her half-siblings, George, Jessie and David who, by 1900, lived somewhat nearby in Palo Alto, CA.   

Siblings:  Margaret Weir (Bewick) Ryan, William Young Bewick, Emma Simpson (Bewick) Hague
Margaret died on March 9, 1947 at the age of 72; she died of cancer and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma, CA.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

#6 Blacksmiths - Merklin Family


I first discovered the family connection to the blacksmith profession when it was listed as the occupation in a 1910 census for my great great-uncle and newspaper articles from 1903 and 1905 show my great-grandfather as having joined a blacksmith partnership.   They had become blacksmiths in the small towns in rural Iowa when it was as critical to have a local blacksmith as it was to have a local mercantile or a bank, particularly the blacksmiths that fit shoes for the horses.  Called farriers, these blacksmiths developed the horse shoeing expertise needed to enable/support the horse in pulling farm equipment and wagons. The advent of the automobile dramatically impacted the presence of a blacksmith shop in small town America.  

My great-grandfather, Edward Merklin, had a particular expertise as a horse shoer.  My great-uncle told me that his father (Edward) loved working with the horses.  Several local newspaper articles chronicled some of his career: 

April 27, 1903, Boyden Reporter, Boyden, Iowa:  Ed Merklin has accepted a position in Lew Peterson’s blacksmith shop at Sheldon for the coming year."
Lew Peterson's Blacksmith Shop in Sheldon, Iowa

A January 17, 1905 article in the LeMars (Iowa) Globe Post announced he had formed a partnership and that he was considered an expert horse shoer…

Five years later, on September 16, 1910, the LeMars (Iowa) Semi Weekly Sentinel identified he was still in the LeMars area working as a blacksmith and horse shoer…

Edward’s brothers Gus and George also worked in the blacksmith field with Gus opening up his own shop in the Wallingford, Iowa area in the early 1900’s.

Gus Merklin, Blacksmith Shop, Wallingford, IA

Gus, George and Edward continued to work in the field into the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The 1920 US Federal Census showed that Gus had relocated to Iowa Falls and opened up a new blacksmith shop.

Left to Right, Edward and Gus Merklin

Iowa Falls, IA Blacksmith Shop

The Great Depression impacted the families, with Edward moving around Iowa and Southern Minnesota to find work.  On April 1, 1932, the LeMars Semi Weekly Sentinel announced, Ed Merklin, who has been working in the Belau wagon and blacksmith shop, has purchased a half interest in the Union shop conducted by Ray Hart.”  

Edward eventually moved to South Dakota and continued to work on shoeing horses. Gus remained in Iowa Falls the remainder of his life.  He and his brother George sold the blacksmith business to Edward’s son, Jim.

The blacksmith shops that were able to maintain a viable local presence were those businesses that advanced with the industrial and commercial growth, into machining, welding, and iron works.

You can still find visual impressions of the 1900s in those businesses today…in the Merklin Blacksmith shop, the original anvil still sits as an active part of the shop, tools that were handmade by those who came before still hang on the walls in memory, ....


and if you look a little higher, you can see a lucky horseshoe nailed to the wall…little windows to the past.