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Family History Road Trip

peggyandme.3.21.19I saw my cousin Peggy Kingsbury Rice last week on my annual visit to Charlottesville, VA for the Virginia Festival of the Book – a five day book festival with an amazing variety of authors and topics. It was our second visit in two years. Peggy’s father Deane is my father’s younger brother. Even though we didn’t grow up together and have almost a ten year age difference, when we get together the conversation flows easily and the family connections shine through.

Peggy and I have been talking about taking a family history road trip to Washington DC and have settled on the perfect time to do it. Peggy’s parents, Deane and Nancy will be visiting her the first week of June. They fly in and out of Washington DC so we’re planning a day trip around DC that will highlight places that are significant to our family history.

My father, Bryant Kingsbury (1932-2007) was four years older than his brother Preston Deane Bryant. Their parents were Joseph Bush Kingsbury (1890-1983) and Katherine Gertrude Bryant (1902-1959). Joe and Kitty met in Washington DC at a party in December 1926. From his letters to her in the year preceeding their marriage on 4 January 1928, it’s obvious he was smitten.

Although Joe Kingsbury often travelled for work and took an assignment out of the country near the end of World War II, Kitty and the boys stayed put in Washington DC until the family moved to Bloomington Indiana in 1948, when Joe joined the faculty of Indiana University. Kitty had grown up in Washington DC and there were strong connections to DC on both sides of her family.

Those are the people and places I’ll be blogging about over the next ten weeks in preparation for our visit in early June. When I refer to “our great great grandfather” I am including in the term “our” my two cousins Peggy Kingsbury Rice and Stacy Kingsbury Christiansen and me, so I’ll be citing the relationship to ancestors counting from “our” generation. Kitty is our grandmother, Papa Joe (aka Joseph Bush Kingsbury) is our grandfather. Kitty’s mother and father (Elizabeth Monica Preston and Herbert Sydney Bryant) are “our” great grandparents; their parents are our great great grandparents (sometimes listed as 2G grandparents) and so on.

We know a lot about our Kingsbury-Bush ancestry because of the “Blue Book” created by our great uncle Forrest Alva Kingsbury in 1958. In it, he captures the American ancestry of the Kingsbury and Bush families beginning with Joseph Kingsbury who came from England in 1637 and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Forrest Kingsbury (1883-1972) was the oldest son of Wayland Kingsbury and Flora Jane Bush. He grew up in Osage, Iowa with three younger full brothers, Frank, Joe and Dean and one younger half brother, Clark. Flora Jane Bush Kingsbury died in 1900 and Wayland remarried Annie May Walker in 1902. All of the boys shared great love and affection for their new mother.

Forrest was a professor of psychology and taught for a number of years at the University of Chicago before moving to Redlands California where he taught at the University of Redlands from 1948 to 1952. Redlands is in San Bernadino County, east of Los Angeles. Forrest and his wife, Cornelia Hasselman (1887-1980) never had children but what a wonderful legacy he left for his nieces and nephews and their descendants.

We learned very little about our grandmother Katherine Gertrude Bryant growing up. Kitty died in 1959, when I was only four years old. Peggy and Stacy were not born until the 1960s. Contributing to the lack of information about her is that Kitty struggled for most of her adult life with alcohol addiction. This undoubtedly meant that many of the stories her sons might have remembered about her were too painful to share. I know this because I have a collection of my grandfather’s contemporaneous writings that provide a very detailed and sad account of how their lives were affected by her drinking.

So without dwelling on her illness and the effect it had on her family, I’ll start with what I know about Kitty’s side of the family, beginning with her paternal grandfather Levi Jesse Bryant (1839-1920). Fortunately there is a family genealogy, much like the one Forrest created for the Kingsbury Bush family about the Bryant family. It was published in 1938 and is entitled Charles Smith and Rachel Amy Bryant: Their Ancestors and Descendants. The author, Tenney Smith, was writing about the ancestors and descendants of his parents and by extension, at least on his mother’s side of the family, our Bryant ancestors as well. His mother Rachel Amy Bryant was the older sister of our great great grandfather Levi Jesse Bryant.

It can be dangerous to rely on previously published family histories without evaluating the data, but it offers a shortcut that I’m willing to take in this instance, to know a little more about our Bryant family. Several of our early Bryant ancestors were in Massachusetts as early as the Kingsbury family but living in Plymouth and Duxbury, which are south and a little east of Dedham.

Our first Bryant ancestor to arrive in America was Stephen Bryant who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts from Essex, England as a young man. The exact date of his arrival is uncertain but from the references to him in the records of Plymouth it seems he arrived sometime around 1632. He was on a list of Plymouth men able to bear arms in 1643, married Abigail Shaw in 1646 and became a freeman in 1651.

Fast forward a 150 years and we find Prince Bryant and his wife Rebecca Everett living in Springfield, Massachusetts. Rebecca came to Massachusetts from Northern Ireland with her parents when she was 13 years old. She is the source for some of our Irish DNA although we get another dose from the Preston side of Kitty’s family. Rebecca and Prince Bryant married in Springfield in 1798 and left for Monroe County, Illinois in 1800. Their second son, Jesse Bryant, our 3G grandfather, was born there on 8 Mar 1802.

Jesse Bryant married Betsey Williams on 18 Jun 1826 in Monroe County, Illinois. Betsey was the daughter of Zopher Williams and Ama Ludington who came to Illinois in 1815 from Tioga County, New York. Jesse bought land from his father’s estate and built a stone house near Waterloo, Illinois, where most of his children, including our great great grandfather Levi Jesse Bryant were born. The house was still occupied in 1935 when Tenney Smith researched his family genealogy.

In 1844, Jesse and Betsey loaded their eight children into covered wagons and moved to southern Missouri. There they encountered “malarial fever and insects beyond endurance” (p.46) and one of their younger daughters, Electa Elizabeth, died at the age of three in October 1845. The family loaded the wagons again, traversed the state of Illinois from south to north, and stopped briefly in Argyle, Wisconsin, where Betsey’s family was living at the time. They journeyed west to Jackson County, Iowa where they lived for a couple of years before returning to Moscow, Wisconsin, where their last child, a boy named David Zopher Bryant, was born in December 1847. Moscow is about 15 miles north of Argyle, Wisconsin, which means that Jesse’s and Betsey’s children grew up in close proximity to their maternal grandparents.

Jesse Bryant died on 21 Sep 1853. From this point on, the family stayed put (at least for a time) in Wisconsin. That’s how Levi Jesse Bryant, who was 14 when his father died, came to enlist in the Wisconsin 3rd Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War, which is where we’ll pick up the story in my next post. His older brother John Prince Bryant also fought for Wisconsin (Company B of the 18th Infantry) during the civil war. He died in Corinth, Mississippi on 3 October 1862.

One of the reasons I enjoy genealogy is because I like to imagine what our ancestors were like. It is very difficult to find enough information in most sources to form a good picture of their personalities but Tenney Smith does a great job describing his grandmother Betsey Williams Bryant, who was born in Candor, New York in 1807 and left for Illinois, “an almost untracked wilderness,” (p.53) when she was just eight years old. She is our 3G grandmother. Of her, he writes:

“She was a worthy daughter of an honored mother. She is remembered as an old lady with full, round, pink cheeks and a halo of white hair. Her placid face beamed with loving kindness. It was a face that attracted children at sight. They liked to be with her. That face did not come from having led a sheltered carefree life. It came from having lived a life of unselfish devotion in the service of others and the care of children.” (p. 53)

Betsey’s final days were spent as a pioneer. She joined her youngest son, David Zopher Bryant when he travelled west to Clay County, Nebraska, where they each took up a homestead. “They had a house on the line between their homesteads and lived together in one house. There the end came to the long and eventful life that had been hers. She was found sitting in her rocking chair , with her knitting in her lap. Just fallen to sleep, without pain or suffering.” (p.54)

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A Man Ahead of His Time – My GG Grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury (1827 – 1909)

My grandfather’s aunt Ella Kingsbury Whitmore wrote a book about her family’s life as pioneers entitled Salt of the Earth. It’s the Kingsbury family’s personal  Little House on the Prairie and recounts the events from Joseph and Hannah’s marriage in Vermont in 1850 to their life in the Midwest, first in Illinois and then in Iowa. If you check this blog often, you’ll get bits and pieces of that story from time to time.

Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury was a carpenter and he met his wife Hannah Brown when he was building a barn for her step-father John Robinson in Jamaica, Vermont.  Hannah’s father Orrin Brown died when she was young and her mother remarried. The headline picture on this blog is of the Kingsbury family of Osage Iowa – Joseph and Hannah seated in front of their four children – Emma, Wayland, Ella and Mary. It was probably taken in the late 1880s.

The family’s strong abiding faith in God and love of family shine through Aunt Ella’s account of daily life in the Kingsbury home. My grandfather, Joseph Bush Kingsbury (JBK) described his religious upbringing as something he never questioned until much later in life.  His father Wayland married a minister’s daughter (Flora Jane Bush, whose father Reverend Alva Bush founded Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage, Iowa) so JBK and his brothers  had a strong religious upbringing. JBK’s diary from his time as a college student at George Washington University (1910- 1915) has numerous accounts of Sunday School meetings and other church related activities, in addition to his job as a stenographer and clerk in the Department of Agriculture.

JBK 1970My grandfather was 65 when I was born and he was a college professor at Indiana University.  I could talk to him about anything and he was a strong influence in all of my academic pursuits. Near the end of his life (he died in 1983 at age 92) I remember asking him about his belief in God and his religious views.  We had never talked about that but I always thought of him as “religious.” I was surprised by his reluctance to talk about his faith.  He said something like – “I think I’m just about ready to talk about that,” but it was a conversation we never had.

Somehow his reluctance to tell me about his faith journey made a stronger impression on me than if he had said, “Yes there is a God, Jesus is His son and you should believe that.” Coming from him, I probably would have. I think JBK understood the benefit of someone struggling with their own ambivalence in matters of faith and finding their way without accepting what they were told they should believe.  I think he was right about that.

I have digressed from my original intent in writing this post, which was to illustrate the progressive views of my very religious GG grandfather Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury but in doing so, I’ve shared the even more important and progressive views of his namesake, my grandfather.

So as for the views of Joseph Biscoe Kingsbury – his daughter Ella writes:

“Father was not only deeply interested in the abolition of slavery and of the liquor traffic, but also in woman suffrage. He thought his daughters were as capable as his son of expressing their convictions on matters of local or general interest. Their ‘in-laws’ were equally forward looking and progressive.”  (From p.55 of Salt of the Earth by Ella Kingsbury Whitmore)

I’m proud to be from a long line of progressive men.