14 August 2012

Theophilus and Ralph: III

Grandfather Theophilus seems to have been a restless man who never really settled anywhere. He was born in 1803 Pittsylvania, Virginia, the son of another Thomas W. By the age of 27 he had married and moved to Kentucky, which at the time was still considered the West. He may have migrated to Indiana and back. In 1870 he was part of the younger Thomas W.’s home in Texas, but by 1880 was back in Kentucky with a new wife. He died in 1888. 

The younger Thomas W. moved from Kentucky to Texas by 1860 and stayed there. His descendants stayed in the Plano-Dallas area for the new few generations. His son, Robert Thomas, was a lawyer and judge in Plano. My grandfather was his youngest son. I have no photos or portraits of anyone in this family except my grandfather. I have no idea what they were like. 

I did find out that my silent grandfather was—astonishingly, unbelievably—in the debate club in Plano High School. His father must have been a capable, likely eloquent, speaker in his career. My grandfather may have been trying to live up to his father’s example. There is no way to know what my grandfather wanted to do, or be, before WWI and the shadows it brought over him.

Robert Thomas was giving my grandfather a long-established family name when he named him Ralph. Ralph Sheltons go back at least to 1200, with titles. I count 15 of them in the family history so far. It’s one of the most-often encountered Shelton men’s first names in my search so far. The least-often encountered in my work is Theophilus. Had it not been for the uniqueness of that name, I might not have made this connection. Given the uncertainty of this field, that connection may not be correct.

We know so little about my grandfather, and less about his family. We do know that PTSD, or shell shock, or soldier’s heart, or whatever every generation calls the toll of war on the survivors, is devastating even now. I cannot imagine what it was like at a time when such things were not discussed. My grandfather did not, perhaps could not, tell us his own story. Theophilus may help me put it together.

13 August 2012

Theophilus and Ralph: II

Shelton sign

So I wanted to get at something of the history of my grandfather, who almost undoubtedly had untreated PTSD, who could not make himself whole again and had no one whom he trusted to talk to except a quiet grandson. I wanted to do this as part of working with my father to put his family history together for what is perhaps the first time.

My grandmother Shelton’s family tree, the Keese and Summers line, is huge. They married young and often, had lots of children, intermarried distant and not-so-distant cousins, and in general would keep a professional genealogist busy for a long time. (Six Hardeman boys married six Keese girls over the years. And some of their kids married some other of their kids. It looks less like a tree than like kudzu.)

My grandfather Shelton’s line hit a brick wall very early on. I could take it back two generations, no more. We went from Ralph Sr. to Robert Thomas Shelton to Thomas W. Shelton, then the rest was silence. Thomas W. was born in Virginia and died in Plano, Texas. There are lots and lots of Sheltons in Virginia, and the men have a limited set of first names: they tend to be Thomas, William, Ralph, Robert, and Richard. Lather, rinse, repeat. The ur-Sheltons are English and in some instances come from Shelton, Norfolk, UK. They connect to the Boleyns, to Patrick Henry, to Meriwether Lewis. Not all of them were nice, or even sane, but they have an interesting history.

Which Thomas W. could not be connected to in any of the information I was collecting.
I’ve told several people that, in my amateur experience with it, online genealogy ranges from pinpoint accuracy to speculative fiction. People write down the wrong information. Boys lie about their ages to get into the military. Parentage is misrepresented to descendants. Some people want desperately to be descended from Charlemagne rather than from Charlie Smith. Look at the consternation over the acceptance of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sallie Hemings.

Still, I wanted to know if my small Shelton line connected to the bigger one, so I collected data on all of them I could find, especially the ones in Virginia. Oddly enough, I was related to them through other lines (those Hintons are everywhere!), just not directly.
Until I checked the 1870 census for Thomas W.

And there, in addition to his wife and children, were two older people in his household, both in their late 60s: Elizabeth and Theophilus Shelton.

I had a Theophilus in the Shelton lines. There was only one. The dates matched. If, as I assume, this was Thomas W.’s father, the lines connected.

That ticking noise you hear was the sound of a row of hundreds of dominoes falling over and landing in place.

Theophilus Quincy Shelton, meet your descendants. Hopefully. If I did this right. 

Next: Ralph. 

12 August 2012

Theophilus and Ralph: I

Ralph Moore Shelton Sr.'s military-issue New Testament

A note from a friend reminded me that this blog has not been updated in approximately forever.  It’s been one of those assignments subjected to a rigorous program of deferred maintenance. In 10 words: travel, life, work, nothing wrong, everything hectic, deadlines whooshing by. In a few more: drought, fires, good friends in town, good friends across the country. We put 4000 miles on the van during the first two weeks of June, an adventure that still needs to be documented once the statute of limitations elapses....

There has been a breakthrough (maybe) on the family history front. That’s as good a place as any to start for a catch-up post.

When I started this project, it was for my father as much as anything. I’ve gone through my whole life to date telling people that, no, I don’t know any Shelton relatives outside my immediate family of origin and my father’s parents.

My mother’s family and my paternal grandmother’s family were people I could understand. They talked to children, usually nicely. They were involved in the world. The relatives I knew and grew up with were a hugely varied lot, from the last gasps of the Deep South/East Texas would-be aristocracy to hard-scrabble homesteaders and half-dugout dwellers.  

My paternal grandfather, Ralph Sr., was the silent man, not silent in a strong way, but silent in a deeply withdrawn way. I doubt that I heard him say more than 20 words in my lifetime. My father is an only child, and left home for good when he left for college. My grandfather’s silence was deep and irrevocable.

I knew he had relatives whom he never saw. The story from my grandmother was that, when he left to fight in World War I, his family decided that he was not coming back, so they sold his things and cashed his checks as they came in. I have no way of checking the truth of this, but it is certain that he had almost no contact with his family once he returned. He went to Detroit to train as a mechanic, then returned to Dallas for the rest of his life. His orbit grew ever smaller. By the time I came along, he was apparently locked into the silence.

I’m a poster child for oldest sibling syndrome. I take responsibility for everything, and every time something goes wrong, I assume it’s my fault. My grandfather’s silence was puzzling and uncomfortable. I always thought that he didn't like me. Or children. Or my family. Or all of the above. Since I didn't know what I had done wrong or how to make things better, I tended to edge away from him. I wish now that I hadn't. 

We visited my Shelton grandparents a couple of times a year or so. My grandmother always had places for us to go and people for us to visit, so we didn't sit around the house very much. On one of these visits, when my brother was perhaps 4 years old, my father overheard something amazing. My grandfather was telling my brother about the battle in the Argonne, and how only two or three of them came back, and then had to go out again the next day. That’s all my father heard, and my grandfather stopped talking after that.

That’s all we knew. All we know. 

Next: Theophilus.