For some reason I am fascinated with history – family history. And during school vacations, when I finally have some time to spend on such endeavors, I am able to do quite a bit of research. Not exactly as exciting as skiing or snowboarding or as relaxing as sitting on a beach or by a pool, but something different to occupy my mind.
This week I came across an obituary – a scrap of newspaper folded neatly into my great, great grandmother’s autograph book. The obituary was for her father, James Cuthbertson Sharron. JC as he is referred to in my family (his father was James Russell Sharron), was a minister’s son who himself became a minister in the Presbyterian church. His life’s travels took him from Dauphin County, PA where he was born in 1810 to Jefferson College and Princeton University, then to a posting in Muskingum, Ohio around 1835. In the 1840s he moved to Iowa, before Iowa became a state. Here he moved from pioneer town to pioneer town, organizing churches in West Point and Birmingham as well as some smaller town. In the 1860s — at the ripe old age of 50-something — JC joined an Iowa regiment as a chaplain for the Union Army. After the Civil War, he returned to Iowa and to his ministry, dying in 1868.
Now why is all of this interesting? For some reason the connections to the ancestors who make up my family history, make the dusty stories and facts that were taught to me more real. 1810, before the War of 1812…. how odd that one of “my people” went to college (twice)! 1830 was when Ohio achieved statehood – JC was in Ohio shortly after that. And yet, Ohio was too settled for him so he moved on to Iowa when the population of that territory was 50,000. The Civil War – 1865 – this ancestor lived through it.
Granted that JC had a more interesting life than most of the ancestors I have uncovered. In fact for whatever reason, his story is the most complete of my ancestors’ stories. Reading through my great great grandmother’s autograph book reveals some of the threads of an everyday life — the sadness of having to move to a new town, illness or deaths of friends and acquaintances, the chronicle of a plains pioneer.
I am at once awed by the strength of character of these people and maybe, just maybe, beginning to understand the challenges of living in another time in history.