Tuesday, January 21, 2014

52 Ancestors: #3 James P. Preston

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 
#3 James P. Preston

This year, Amy Johnson Crow has issues a new 52 weeks blogging challenge:

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks
on her No Story Too Small blog.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor. Not only should this get me blogging more, but also to take a deeper look at some of the people in my family tree.

My approach: I plan to make this a Tuesday Theme, and, use it to enhance my WikiTree ancestor profiles. That is, focus on a different ancestor on my WikiTree list of profiles, each week (include possibly adding new profiles), Great idea! Thanks to Randy Seaver's post for bringing this to my attention!

#3 James P. Preston (1835-1906) is #10 on my Ancestor Name (Ahnentafel) List, and is my great-grandfather. He married #11, Ellen Rebecca Miller (1850-1912) - my great-grandmother. I am descended through:

* their daughter, #5 Ellen (Ella) Rebecca (Preston)Ballard (1880-1923), who married #4 William (1869-1939)
* their son, #2 Delbert Leverne (Pete) Smith (1915 - 1977), who married #3 Mary Eileen Kinnick (1918 - 1999)
* me, #1 William Leverne Smith (1939- …)

This ancestor has been the most "fun" to research and learn about, I suppose, because when I started this journey, Aunt LVene, my Dad's sister, who was then the "family historian" had said to me - "Oh, we don't know much about grandpa Preston" with the implication that they really didn't want to know about him. [The truth was, they knew a lot more than they were going to tell...]

As I've told this story, many times, "What could possible get me more interesting in research someone?" than a statement like that, said in that tone of voice. So, the journey began. Admittedly, he is probably the "black sheep" of the family - but, also, one that is the most interesting, fascinating, and "I can't get enough of him and his family history!"

By 1998, I had enough for a substantial web page - Pioneer Sketches: The Adventures of James P. Preston:
(Created 4 Mar 1998; Last updated 26 Oct 2002)

[This image of him was found in Orlando, FL, in a library County History book]

On August 27, 2012, I posted his Montana "Biography" on these pages: http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/2012/08/mug-book-monday-james-p-preston.html
This is typical of "bios" printed in County Histories in the 1870s - it was based on an oral interview… no doubt, he believed what he said, but most of the early information was incorrect. Understandable, since his father died when he was two years old, and he left the home of his mother and step-father when he was 17 (or younger) to go to the California Gold Fields.

Since the early 2000's I have worked closely with a cousin and with her extensive research on top of what I had already found, we have now traced this family back to the early 1600s in Massachusetts and New Hampshire along with many of their branches. We will never know enough, about him, or them, but the journey has been a real pleasure, and I expect it to continue, from time to time.

He was, in fact, a very successful gold miner. Period. He made and lost more money than I'll ever see in my life-time. Even in his later years, when he tried to settle down on a Montana ranch and raise Morgan Horses, he would be called back to Superintend "Gold Ditches" in various parts of Montana. In the later years, however, loneliness or just a hard life, drove him to drink too much, too often - like so many of his contemporaries. He appears to have died in poverty because of it.

However, he left four strong children, born in Montana, but raised in my home town of Coon Rapids, Iowa. One son, unfortunately, died of drowning in his late teens. The other two sons each raised fine families (the cousin I mentioned descended from one) and a fine daughter - my grandmother.

Acrimony existed after the children were in school among James, his wife, and her father. His wife apparently became ill, and returned from Montana to her parent's home in Ohio. Her father would not let her return to Montana, the story goes, but allowed her to go live near her brother in Coon Rapids, Iowa, where he was a banker.

During the year she was away from James and the children, the children attended school and seemed to get along fine. We even have copies of school records with his clear signature on reports of their school attendance. When a year had passed, he filed for divorce (which did allow the children to join their mother in Iowa). It was granted, as such. Elements of this episode were no doubt repeated, over and over, in this part of the family that came down to my Aunts LVene and Irene, the daughter of the daughter… Sadly, each of these women (the wife and daughter, died relatively young (62 and 43). Stories for another day...

James did remarry, a few years later, it appears, and did have another daughter - her story is still largely unknown. He divorced that wife - and, he listed himself as Widowed on the 1900 census, along with the daughter. We've found no further trace of the second wife, or the daughter… but we have looked, extensively, and will continue to.

The final story of James comes from relatives, not records. He died, presumably, a few days before Montana began requiring death reports. He was buried in a private paupers grave. A later dispute between the owner of the graveyard and the county resulted in all the records of burials there being destroyed. No records remain.

Sadly, it seems almost appropriate that his incredible life ended that way…

Still, a special guy, from my point of view. ...

Next week, his wife's story...  ;-)

Familes are Forever! ;-)

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