Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Quakers Up My Family Tree

The Quakers Up My Family Tree

Do you ever wonder what’s up your family tree?  Who were your ancestors?  What were they like? I wonder! It’s always been a fascination of mine since my teenage days. My great aunt Amelia (Hess) Davis once lent me a whole packet of genealogical records.

Most of you know I just got back a week ago from a road trip where the main event was the Hess family reunion. The funny thing was that after that, a lady named Sarah Hess asked to be added to my local home school e-mail list that a mutual friend had recommended to her. I told her that my mother was a Hess and she said her husband had ancestors from the same area of Pennsylvania and that some of them were Quakers. Huh!  I sent her information to my mom’s cousin Priscilla (Amelia’s daughter) to see if there was a connection, knowing, of course, that Hess is an extremely common German name so probably they weren’t much related. In the process, Priscilla did say there were several generations of Quakers, not up the Hess branch, but up the Graves side. (Another notable ancestor up there is Margaret Scott, the last and oldest person hanged in the Salem Witch Trials.)

Anyway, here’s what Priscilla said, and I’ll tell you what this has to do with you after that. Keep reading! Lots of links to come, too!

One of our immigrant ancestors was Noel Mew, an English mariner. His father was Richard Mew who was an English merchant and a friend of William Penn. Noel Mew bought land in New Jersey from William Penn, and later bought a farm in Rhode Island. They were Quakers. His daughter Mary married Michael Wanton. Their daughter Ruth Wanton married Gideon Freeborn. Their daughter Mary Freeborn married Stephen Potter. Their daughter Ruth Potter married Joseph Fenner. All of these folks were from Rhode Island and were Quakers.

Abigail Fenner married John Tomkins and the Tomkins were early Methodists. Some of them also seem to have been Baptists. John and Abigail were some of the founders of the Tomkinsville Methodist Church. This village is now spelled Tompkinsville. John and Abigail's daughter Mary Slack Tomkins married George Graves and had George Fenner Graves who married Priscilla Hollis and had Mary Adelle Graves who married Charles Hess. 

So we had about 5 generations of Quakers in Rhode Island. It was the Tomkins who came to Pennsylvania and that seems to be about the time they ceased to be Quaker.

We had a difficult time finding the parentage of John Tomkins. Originally I thought he came from Rhode Island which is where Abigail Fenner was from. Not so. He came from the Tomkins family who came with a group from Connecticut to be the founders of the city of Newark, New Jersey. At the age of about 13 he ran away from home and went to sea. After sailing for about ten or more years he got off in Rhode Island and married Abigail Fenner who was from a prominent Rhode Island family. A Tomkins descendant who has done a lot of research to determine the possible parents of John Tomkins has come to the conclusion that he is probably the son of Joseph Tomkins and Bethiah Freeman. Joseph Tomkins was a Revolutionary soldier from the Newark area whom the British referred to as "the fox" because he was so clever at eluding them. This couple had a son who was supposedly lost at sea. There is a discrepancy of about ten years in the birth date of this son and the birthdate of our John Tomkins but who knows how accurate either of those dates really is.

OK, so that might be pertinent to my own family. But why did I put this here for the rest of you?

Our American history is made up not just of wars and huge events, but of common people with interesting stories. Your ancestors and mine shaped this country. Think how a small choice can affect the trajectory of a whole family line or even the course of a nation’s history. Why did John Tomkins run off to sea?  Did he get in a fight with his big brother? Ten years later, he just happened to get off the ship at Rhode Island, where he met Abigail. What if he’d gotten off at New York or been lost at sea? What if well-heeled Abigail had turned up her nose at this sailor boy?  Or, closer down the family tree, what if mom’s cousin Priscilla’s brother Charlie hadn’t become my dad’s college roommate, and introduced him to my mom?  What then? I wouldn’t be here! I’m philosophical like that.

Do you know much about this country’s faith heritage? Do you know the major religious movements throughout our history: how each one interacted with the others and how each changed culture? The colonial Puritans persecuted not only the Rhode Island Baptists led by Roger Williams, but also the Quakers, who were a bit unorthodox in their beliefs. You do already know that William Penn was a Quaker, and founded Pennsylvania with the ideals of religious freedom and peaceful relationships with native Americans? He’s the one who sold land to Noel Mew. The Quakers were also (with their staunch pacifism and love of social justice) key figures in the abolitionist movement, often as conductors on the Underground Railroad. One of my favorite poets, John Greenleaf Whittier, was a Quaker. His poem “Expostulation” is a masterpiece of abolitionist verse. In modern times, they are known as the Society of Friends, and gender equality and service to humanity are hallmarks of their meetings. Good stuff! How do I already know this? I have educated myself as I have educated my children through over 20 years of home schooling. History is at the heart of what I teach, whether at home or in many classrooms. One of the very favorite novels that I’ve taught to countless students is The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. I love how Hannah Tupper, a sweet old Quaker lady in colonial Massachusetts, is proved innocent of being a witch, because yes, I am thinking of my dear old Margaret Scott, who was hanged in real life.

Another thing. Who is keeping your family’s stories alive? Who is organizing the family reunions and bringing along the vintage photos? You might not be blessed to know many of your second cousins like I do, but you can start something right now with your family. Find them on Facebook if you have too, but start making those connections. Some of my dearest and life-changing memories are from family reunions. I’ve been trying to track the heritage of faith. Looking back at my family tree, I wonder how each generation passed down their values to the next, and how much of that affected my own upbringing, even subtly. I know, I am philosophical like that, to the core. I don’t stop there. I think about how I can pass down a legacy to the coming generations. My children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. And so I write. I tell the stories. Here. Right here on this blog and on my others. But I don’t just want to tell it, I want to live it – to do something worthwhile that will be an example to my own descendants.

How about you?

So, now that you’ve made it this far, here are the related links:
Virginia Knowles

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Road Home and a Playlist (Road Trip 2014)

Dear friends,

All good things must come to an end, so on Thursday, we loaded up the mini van for our return trip to Florida. We had extra boxes and bins since my dad wanted us to take a lot of my mom's things home with us. I picked out a lot of vintage glassware to share with my daughters, as well as several very old Emilie Loring novels. My sweet sister Barb also sent a bin of books and other stuff home with us.

The kids wanted a last fling on the swings in my dad's backyard, as well as a few last photos with him.

We left a bit after noon and drove to Raleigh, North Carolina to stay with my second cousin Jean again. She served huge pieces of New York pizza. After dinner, Jean and I took a long walk (and talk) at the lake near her apartment. I always appreciate her insight and encouragement.

On Friday, we left Jean's around 3 PM and drove as far as Hardeeville, South Carolina. The next morning, after a breakfast buffet and swim at the hotel, we started out for Orlando. Around noon, heavy rain pelted the highway and a lot of people were pulling over, so we decided to take a really long lunch at Cracker Barrel instead of getting fast food. The kids were more than thrilled to have a real sit down meal, and of course they loved the gift shop, where I let them buy a few small things. Everyone was in fine spirits when we left.

We arrived home at 6 PM on Saturday, completely exhausted.  It's a wonder I stayed awake those last three days of our trip.  To keep my brainwaves going, we sang a lot (even Christmas songs!) and listened to the radio and my iPod. Here are some of my favorite songs from my road trip playlist - a mix of Christian, country, and Brit & American pop.
  • "The Broken Beautiful" by Ellie Holcomb
  • "Pompeii" by Bastille
  • "All of Me" by John Legend
  • "Brave" by Sarah Bareilles
  • "Soldier" by Gavin DeGraw
  • "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman
  • "The Best Song Ever" by Chris Rice
  • "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane
  • "Smile" by Uncle Kracker
  • "Starts With Me" by Tim Timmons
  • "Wake Me Up" by Avicii
  • "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel
  • "Less Like Scars" by Sara Groves

Looking back, I must say it was a splendid trip. Other than a little whining and squabbling, the kids were amazing, and they kept telling me how much they appreciated all we were doing.  They helped out a lot, too. What a difference that makes!

It will take me some time to get everything unpacked and to readjust to being at home and working out a new schedule for the rest of the summer. I miss my "up home" relatives but I'm glad to be back in my own home with my own family.

Embroidery by my sister
Barbara Dell

This is the last post in my Road Trip 2014 series.  Here are links to all of them!

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Sweet Time at Hershey Park - And Then We Got Lost (Road Trip 2014)

Dear friends,

We arrived home from our road trip yesterday, so I guess it's time to catch up on my last two blog posts for the series!

The day after our Hess family reunion, a bunch of us went to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania with a fantastic group discount organized by one of my cousins. Several of the older kids were allowed to go off on their own, while some of us adults stuck with four of the youngest in our group.

As I look back on the day, the thing that sticks out to me is that it was a time for me to be a mom first, and not worry about what I would personally like to do. My job was to see what would be fun for my little girl and her three second cousins, and do that! None of them were interested in big kid stuff, so I spent a lot of time watching them go round and round on the kiddie rides.  :-) I did go on the merry-go-round and the monorail and other tame rides with them. My big mistake was convincing Mel to go on the Comet roller coaster, which was too intense for her -- and the seat was way too tight for my ample hips.

The big excitement came when we decided to go to the Character Quiz show and my little girl was selected to be a "contestant." She won a huge Hershey bar.

The chocolate bar quickly melted, so my cousin got several plastic spoons from the ice cream stand and the kids dug in.

I didn't get any pictures of the water park, because I didn't want to get my iPod wet. We were all tired, and some of the kids feeling a bit sick, by the time we got done. My teenage daughter lost her sneakers at one of the water rides, so I lent her my crocs and walked barefoot most of the way back to the car.

Actually, one of the most memorable events of the day happened on the way home. We finally left the park after 9:30 PM and expected to be back at my dad's house by 11. Apparently, despite my driving directions printed out in my notebook, I didn't realize I wasn't supposed to get back on I-81, and that it was time to switch to I-83. I drove and drove in the dark while my kids zonked out, and kept waiting to get to the Baltimore beltway so I could travel west for a few miles on I-70 to Route 29, which would take us down toward my dad's house in Columbia. Then I saw a sign for I-70 and wondered if I had already been on the beltway without realizing it. That is, until I noticed that the sign said Frederick, Maryland was 27 miles to the east, when it should have been to the west of me. Instead of Baltimore, I was in Hagerstown, Maryland! The irony is that I had been listening to Avicii's song "Wake Me Up" and thinking about being so tired. As soon as it dawned on me that I was drastically off course, the line "Didn't know I was lost! Didn't know I was lost!  Didn't know I was lost!" came on. I started laughing hard enough that it woke me up enough to make it the rest of the way home. We arrived at 12:40 AM, and I later mapped it out that we had traveled an extra 50 miles. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only time I got lost on our road trip. It happened several times and got to be quite a joke. I just wish that particular detour had been during the daytime so we could have seen the beautiful western Maryland countryside. But then again, if it had been daytime, I would have realized I was on the wrong road much earlier!

Needless to say, I did very little the next day.  It seemed a waste of time, but that's OK with me. Sometimes we need a down day, especially on vacation! I figured it was a great opportunity to rest up for the final leg of our journey which would start two days later...

Thanks for reading!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hess Family Memorial Reunion (Road Trip 2014)

Dear friends,

This past weekend I had the immense privilege of attending the Hess family reunion at Frances Slocum State Park in northeastern Pennsylvania. We've had many reunions here, but this one was special because it was combined with a memorial service for my maternal grandparents, Henry and Dorothy Hess. Grandpa passed away in 2010 and Grandma in January, but it was their wish that the memorial service be delayed until both of them had died and we could schedule it with a summer reunion. This is how thoughtful and practical they were. They also left money for a full catered lunch instead of our usual potluck meal.

I know that most of my blog readers are not related to me, but I think what I'm writing here provides a little perspective on preserving family heritage and connections, as well as ideas for memorable gatherings.  There are a lot of links at the bottom, too!

This year we had over 70 people, most of them descendants of my great-grandparents Charles and Mary Hess.  We also had three from the Ransom clan on my grandma's side of the family, as well as a few friends who came with Uncle Henry's family.

We started the day with a memorial service at the family grave site in the nearby Fern Knoll cemetery, where Charles, Mary, my infant uncle David, and some of the Hess cousins are buried. Grandma, Grandpa, and my mother were all cremated, so we scattered their ashes among the grave stones. My mother's four siblings each shared a poem, thoughts, or a song.  My father and I each shared our memories, and so did two or three of my mother's cousins. I spoke of my admiration for my grandparents and my mother, my deep affection for the extended Hess family, my appreciation for their emotional support and generosity toward my children and me, the legacy of thriftiness and resourcefulness that so many of us share, and my love for this area of Pennsylvania which holds so many dear memories in my heart.

I started attending the Hess (every several years) and Ransom (used to be every year) family reunions when I was a small child. The first one I remember is 1976 when I was 12, and that was extra special since that is where I became a Christian. (See My Story of Liberty in 1976.) Another notable reunion for me was in 2006 because I reconnected with some of my second cousins, who are now dear friends. I love how we can encourage one another, and especially appreciate how one of my second cousins just reminded me to keep training my children in the ways of the Lord.  

Second cousins Dorothy, Naomi, and Amelia
are enjoying the reunion tradition of painting birdhouses.
Second cousins Jeremiah, Melody, and Henry IV
enjoyed themselves together
at Hershey Park the following day.

Charlie (left) was Dad's roommate
at King's Point Merchant Marine Academy.
He introduced my parents, which is how
my dad became part of the Hess clan. 

My grandpa loved fun stuff like the
snapping alligator candy dispenser.
He also had an incredible stuffed cat
that started purring and then went spastic.

There is a story behind this chiming clock!
Grandma and Grandpa apparently never
bought birthday and Christmas presents for each other.
However, many years ago, Grandpa asked my cousin Judy
to take him to buy this clock for Grandma for Christmas.
Since my grandparents lived with my parents for the
last several years, it has hung on their dining room wall.
Grandpa had requested that Judy receive this clock,
so I brought it up from my Dad's house for her.
I will miss its hourly chimes, but I'm so happy
that she can savor this sweet memory!

I'm also so thankful that our
Ransom cousins, Gail and Lyn,
joined us from my
Grandma's side of the family.
One highlight of the day was browsing
through all of the vintage photos and
news clippings.
One of my aunts also put out photos from
my grandmother's albums so we could
find pictures of our own families
and take what we wanted.
I gathered them for my brother John and sister Barb,
since they were not able to attend this year.
I quickly pocketed the one
of a teenage me in a swimsuit.  :-)

This picture, from the 1976 Hess reunion,
is of all seven of the original siblings.
My grandpa is third from the right.
Behind them is a chart with a complete
family tree so we could all figure out
where each other fit in.

My mother's four siblings,
Dick, Barbara, Henry, and Nancy

My great-grandparents, Mary and Charles,
with their two oldest children, Amelia and Ruth.
I have a framed copy of this photo on my bookshelf at home.

Isn't Mary Graves Hess elegant?
She was named for her grandmother,
Mary Graves.
My mother and my oldest daughter
carry on the Mary name tradition,
as do some of the Hess cousins.

(Special thanks to my father and my Uncle Dick for allowing me to use their photos in this post.)

Lots of links!

Hess Reunion 2014:
Tributes to my Grandparents and Mother:  

Food from the Hess Clan:  
Stories from Other Hess Reunions:
Road Trip 2014: 

Memoir of Heinrich Hess, My German Immigrant Ancestor

Dear friends,

I've been posting about the Hess family reunion, and wanted to include this memoir from my great-great-grandfather Heinrich (Henry) Hess, who came over from Germany in 1849 and settled in northeastern Pennsylvania and became a coal miner. (See Coal Miner’s Great-Great-Granddaughter.)

I have a copy of his handwritten memoir written in German. This is the English translation. Note that the words in parentheses are explanations, and the dashes represent information that was illegible.

Henry is the one with the beard.
My great-grandfather Charles is seated at right.
(This is the right hand portion of the same picture.)

Memoir of Henry Hess

Scranton, July 3rd 1886       

      Henry Hess born the 30th of November 1826 in Harnheim on the Pfrem, Rheinbaiern.  My father was Henry Hess; my mother Barbara Gottler.

     As a young man of almost 23 years of age, I left the ancestral home on the 21st of August 1849 to immigrate to America.  Arrived in New York in September on a sailboat in which we had been on the ocean 24 days.  Stayed in New York a few days where I and three of my comrades decided to go to the state of Pennsylvania.  Since at that time where was no railroad there we had to travel partly by water and partly on foot through virgin land until we reached Hale on the Rainen and then came to Blekle on the Crafede Road.  From there we had to continue our trip on Shuster's Rabe (Shoemaker's black horses) to Schlokem Haller (now Scranton).  It wouldn't have suited us for we had heard of distant Pitston where the pigeons were already roasted and only has only to eat them.  However, we turned back disappointed to the renowned Backdon where we stopped and stayed with Ludwig Engle.  We spent a few days here and looked for work.  Went to Slaken Haller again where we finally got work as laborers for 75 cents per day.  On the 8th of October 1849, I found it (myself) in the Rest House with Carl Art (probably tuberculosis). In the first year, everything became so ill that there was no hope for my getting well.  However, the Lord decided otherwise; I became well again.  So it went good again.  I stayed in the above named Rest House a year; then I went to John Reob where I then met Elisabeth Simon, now my beloved wife.  We were married on the 5th of July 1852 in Wilks Bar (Wilkes-Barre) by Bredge Lasher with Henry Rebb and Micheil Helperch as witnesses.  My wife, identified above, was born in Ruhrhessen on Basken Singlis on ------.  Her father was Henry Simon; her mother ---------.  Eight children were given to us; 7 boys, 1 girl, of which one, a boy, went before us. 

     A review of almost 37 years -- so I must say the Lord has done great things, more than I can comprehend.

     "At my confirmation I selected this verse, Psalm 143, verse 10, "Lord, teach me to do thy will for thou art my God.  May your good spirit lead me on a smooth road."  The Lord has lead me up to this point and I know that He will also lead me further on if I will only believe in Him.  My wish and will is to make myself subordinate to Him and to be true to Him until my end."

What a heritage!  I need to remember that closing paragraph!  I am thankful for this testimony from the path as I continue to keep the heritage of faith.

I painted this about
years ago for
my grandparents.
It is still my prayer.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Coal Miner’s Great-Great-Granddaughter (Road Trip 2014)

Coal Miner’s 

As I’ve been planning our road trip, I wanted to give my kids a sense of their heritage. One of my immigrant ancestors, Henry (originally Heinrich) Hess, was a coal miner from Germany. Since we were already driving to Pennsylvania where my mother’s family has lived for generations, I decided on a tour of the Pioneer Tunnel coal mine in Ashland. We went on Saturday, on our way up to our family reunion in Wilkes-Barre, which was the next day.

I was afraid my kids might not be interested, but we all enjoyed the half hour tour. We rode the open mine cars into the mountain, and then got out to walk around while our funny guide explained the history and techniques of coal mining.

We didn’t go downward, since the Pioneer Tunnel is a horizontal drift mine. Its level tunnel runs 1,800 feet straight into the side of the Mahanoy Mountain. 

For an additional fee, there is also a train ride and an adjacent museum, but we didn't do either one, though I did take this picture of my dad and four youngest kids in front of the train.

In the gift shop, I bought a book (Growing Up in Coal Country), as well as a lump of coal, some polished stones, and a cross necklace with a small piece of coal embedded in the middle.

We loved our drive through the beautiful Pennsylvania small towns and country side.  

Small town life

Pennsylvania countryside

Road cut through the mountain

After arriving in Wilkes-Barre, we checked into our hotel and joined the extended family for dinner at a buffet restaurant.  Later, the kids swam in the indoor pool with their second cousins.

Stay tuned for a post on the Hess memorial and reunion.

Virginia Knowles

Soft Molasses Cookies and Crunchy Jumble Cookies (Road Trip 2014)

Soft Molasses Cookies and Crunchy Jumble Cookies

Dear friends,

I mentioned in a previous post that had jotted down some vintage family recipes from my second cousin Jean’s hand-written cookbook.  I wanted to make her grandmother Amelia Davis’s soft molasses cookies and crunchy jumble cookies to bring along to the Hess family reunion in Pennsylvania this past weekend.  Jean said her daughter Mary one first prize with these at a baking competition.  I’m not surprised!

On Friday afternoon, I made several dozen soft molasses cookies (a triple batch), and then on Saturday I made a few dozen crunchy jumble cookies (one batch).  They turned out quite well, I must say, despite several that burned on the bottom.  

Since my mother passed away last summer, I had a bittersweet time baking in her kitchen without her. I had organized all of the cupboards and drawers last summer while she was in the hospital, so I knew where most everything should be, but I still couldn’t find the second beater to the hand mixer.  Of course, I had to buy a lot of the staple ingredients since my father doesn’t bake and much of what was in the cupboards has expired.

Though emotionally difficult, I’m glad I took the effort to do this.  They were a big hit at the reunion, and many of my relatives wanted the recipe.  Most of all, it was a way to connect with my family and my heritage, and that is priceless.

Soft Molasses Cookies


1 stick butter, softened 
½ cup Crisco
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
2 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ tsp. ginger
1 ½ tsp. cloves
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon


Cream the butter, Crisco, and sugar together.  Add in the molasses and eggs.  Combine the dry ingredients thoroughly and add to the wet ingredients.  Roll large (2” diameter) balls in sugar and place on cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Crunchy Jumble Cookies

1 cup softened butter
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda
4 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 cup chocolate chips


Cream the butter and sugar together.  Mix in vanilla and eggs.  Mix the flour, salt, and soda together and add to the wet ingredients.  Then stir in the Rice Krispies and the chocolate chips.  Form into balls on cookie sheets and bake at 350 until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

A word about photo editing!

The lighting in mom's kitchen was a little weird when I snapped the photo on the left with my iPod.  After I posted this recipe, my niece told me the cookies in it looked green and unappetizing. So, I just fixed it using the "warmify" option on Picasa to make them look more like they really do. :-)  See the difference?

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