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.

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