we’re not careful, we might conclude we just arrived here on Earth
unrelated to thousands of others much braver and likely just as
interesting as ourselves. We might not even give a tinker’s darn
about all those who’ve gone before us.
We’ll never know how it felt
to have flatboated or steamboated down the Ohio, canoed up the
Missouri, and slogged the rest of the way up the Platte toward
Oregon in 1866, only 20 years after the British relinquished their
claim to the Oregon territory.
It’s one thing to have read
Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail, Kentuckian A.B. Guthrie
Jr.’s Way West, or James A. Michener’s Centennial.
It’s another important piece of business to know that maybe just
one restless or reckless cousin or a whole passel of kinfolks felt
passionate about extending the United States of America all the
way to the Pacific Ocean.
The issue at hand is to put
out a bugle call to discover who we are and who we were, where we
are and where we were. It’s called genealogy, the study of family
connections-good or bad, right or wrong.
I had thought all along that
my grandfather, Rev. Coleman W. Dick, was an only child. Nobody in
my family ever said a word about even the possibility of other
brothers and sisters, the children of Van and Zerelda Stephens
Dick. (She’s buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, but I
don’t know where my great-grandfather was laid to rest.)
After giving a talk at the
historical and genealogical society in Salem, Indiana, I just
happened to mention the names of Van and Zerelda. About two years
later, after one person had spoken to another person and that
individual had passed along the names of my ancestors to somebody
else, did I discover that a child of the Dick family left what
would come to be known as Kentuckiana and headed for Oregon!
The source of my new knowledge
is Edmund G. Fisher’s Descendants of Thomas and Jane
(Jefferson) Stephens of Baltimore County, Maryland, 1745-1999.
Cousin Ed, the genealogist, and I now talk by e-mail between
Kentucky and Oregon, and I now know that Van and Zerelda (Ed
spells it Zerilda) had ten children: Philip, Franklin, Mary
Elizabeth, Harriet, Silas, Martha, Samuel, Joseph, Coleman (my
grandfather), and Sarah.
Frank became postmaster at La
Grande, Oregon, and later was elected to Oregon’s House of
Representatives (1885-1888) and Senate (1888-1891).
"For some 35 years the
Dicks made their home in a large, though not particularly
distinctive, Victorian mansion at S.W. 14th and Salmon Streets, in
Portland’s central business district. This home was demolished
long after Frank and (his wife) Marquis’ deaths to make room for a
freeway expansion project."
When I was in Portland for a
20th-century educators’ conference, I didn’t know that one of my
ancestors 100 years before had walked the same downtown streets.
And Oldham County, Kentucky, will never be the same, because
"Rilda" and Van’s roots are there: "As newlyweds,
the Dicks lived briefly near Madison, Indiana, but by 1838 were
residing on a 230-acre farm at Westport in Oldham County where Van
had strong family ties. Ohio River trade dominated Westport’s
commercial life and provided ample business for the small
cooperage Van operated for some years on his farm. The couple’s
ten children were born and reared in Westport. Little of Van and
Rilda’s later lives is currently known."
This is where I do my
genealogical part. The next edition of Cousin Ed’s mammoth volume
will include the descendants of grandfather Coleman, my father,
Samuel, my daughter, Nell, and her daughter, Celina Rose, who has
the distinction of being the first descendant of Thomas and Jane
Stephens to be born in the 21st century!