Nov 12, 2014

California Adventures: Going After Roots, unsettling miracles

I blogged a few days ago that I would be going down to Sonora to the Tuolumne County Museum and Geneological Society to look at a file they had on my family.

I admit, I had some doubts. I hoped there would be some good information I did not already have, but I figured I already had most of it.

When I got there, one of the museum attendants took my kids on a tour of the museum while I sat down with the file folder. I found it contained accounts of baptisms of the Silver children and the places they were baptized. Several of the chidlren were missing... I'm guessing they didn't live until baptism. This is sad to me, because another thing I found out is that the Silvers were strong Roman Catholics, and one of the Catholic beliefs is that baptism is necessary for children to go to heaven. I wonder what sort of heartache my great great great grandmother silver had, burying half of her children. She might have thought they were lost to her completely.

I found, also, some communication--emails-- between several people who seemed to know a whole lot about my family. I of course wrote these email addresses down. I emailed them all as soon as I got home, but the sad thing is, they all returned with an error... all of them were defunct. Except for the man I'd communcated with before--his email was still good, and we've had a lot of conversation over the past couple days about the Silvers/Salvadors. His father and great aunt apparently related a lot of stories about the family, including stories of the three adventurous Salvador sisters who settled in gold country (my grandmother Silver and her two sisters, Mary Freitas and Virginia Freitas, whose work was done (by Mary and Martha. Martha, if you're reading this, you now know how cool it was to be able to do their work. I am grateful they were able to get them done in the same session... it just felt right.)

He also has visited and lived on the island of Faial, where he's gone after Parish records. He found my grandmother's baptism record. He has family stories about the family who left Faial to go to America, then never returned, including stories about my grandmother's family, the Salvadors. Apparently, at the time of their immigration, there was an epidemic that killed a lot of children. IN fact, in the records it looks as if several of the Salvador siblings died that year. It was likely that Julia and her sisters were sent to America to escape the epidemic.

So, in other words, this person I'm communicating with is a miraculous resource for me and my family. As my great, great, great grandfather was also born on Faial, it is possible that, when this guy goes back, he can go after records about the Silvers as well, and it might well be through him we finally learn the name of my great, great, great, great grandmother Silver, and perhaps more about what happened... immigration dates seem to be confused.

Since then I've also gotten a good email address for two of the others in the communications I read, and I've emailed them both. A woman wrote an article on the silvers with many wonderful pictures, and it's my hope I can get digital originals of them for my family.

After that we traveled to the IOOS cemetery. OK, this is a funny story. The night before we left for Sonora, I was all set to find my grandparents in the Shaws' Flat Cemetery. I assumed they were buried there because they lived in Shaws' Flat, and i'd felt so strongly compelled to go there. I decided to google Shaws Flat cemetery again... it was the early hours of the morning, and i couldn't sleep because i was feeling unsettled about going on such a long trip with my kids. I wanted to see the picture again, of Shaw's flat, because I hoped I'd feel less unsettled by it if I looked at it again. I'd been feeling that Shaws' Flat Cemetery would be a rather eerie place.

When I googled I found a website detailing Cemeteries in the area of Sonora. I clicked on the link, and found that the odd acronym I'd seen listed on my great great great grandfather's death certificate... IOOF Cemetery, was listed. I'd found his cemetery. An hour or two before we were to leave. Someone didn't want me to be dissappointed.

IOOF stands for Independent organization of Odd fellows. It's a men's club, and apparently membership comes with free burial plots. My great great great grandparents were strong catholics, and this is a protestant cemetery, but they were too frugal to turn down a free burial plot, as my great great great grandfather (and his brother) were members.

I found the Cemetery, and also my grandparents. And Antone, who is my great, great, great, great uncle--my grandfather's brother. And one of the Silver Children and spouse.

It was a cool cemetery--very steep, with tiered plots. My kids enjoyed playing on them. There were lots of interesting graves there.

After that, we headed to Shaws' Flat. I'd felt so strongly compelled to go there; I just felt I ought to go even though I'd already found my grandparents. Plus, I was given a map, along with the other genealogical information, of where the "Old Silver Ranch," the land they farmed, used to be.

I decided to GPS and travel to the Cemetery first. I plugged "Shaws Flat cemetery" into my phone, and followed directions until I saw the graves--on a little rise above the road.
There was no place to park, so I pulled over at a wide spot in the road in front of a gate.

The cemetery was as unsettling as I'd anticipated. It's like, I think, I was being prepared so I could get my courage up and go in anyway.

I was kind of hesitant to bring my kids in, but we'd traveled all that way so I had them hold hands (hoping it'd quell their tendency to use gravestones as a playground... i wasn't sure this particular place would be as conducive to that. I was right, it wasn't. Daniel knocked over a gravestone, hooray. Fun family activity? Desecrating graves. In a place where you can easily imagine a very material sort of objection being made.)

You see from that last that I found some Silvers. This is the grandson of Frank and Julia, and I think the one who likely still farmed the ranch. One of the emailers wrote that she remembered there an "Old Farmer Silver" she was told to avoid as a child, because he tended to load up his shotgun with rock salt and shoot trespassers with it. Kids from the school would sometimes try to cut across his property. I'm guessing it was this guy, buried here at Shaws' flat. You see he died in the 1980's.

I had some strong feelings, too, as I walked around.

Back to my great-great-great grandmother and her children... where do you think she would have buried them? I didn't see any markers, but I felt sort of like they were there. The babies. I felt sort of like I knew what area they were, too. It was unsettling but also, important. And wonderful. A feeling of... these babies have a mother now--we sealed them. She didn't lose them when they died, like she thought she did. This *used* to be a sad place... now it's a holy place.

I walked back to the car, kids in tow. We got in. And I looked at the map and found that I'd parked directly in front of the gate....

to the Old Silver Ranch.

Kind of a miracle. As I stood there in front of the gate, I felt a lot of things. The spirit was pretty strong.

When I got back, one of the things I found among all the information from the genealogical society was a description of the Ranch, and how, at one point, the land the cemetery is on, was included in my grandpa Frank's property. And in an unpublished survey, done a long time ago, several unmarked graves were found. The article with this information postulated that several of the graves were likely the Silver Children, as a portion of the Cemetery was actually on my grandparents' property, and they were too poor to afford official burial in the catholic cemetery.

So I wasn't wrong, feeling that way, as we walked there. They were there.

I've thought about this family all my life. From the time I was a girl and my mother was showing me our family history, and I learned of Julia Silver and her 21 children, (including two sets of twins, and one set of triplets), I have had my heart turned to that family. And I feel so grateful that we sealed them. Now they're up there, watching and guiding me. And hopefully, cheering me on as I raise my own large, young, brood. I feel Grandma Silver a lot right now. I bet she could give me some pretty good advice.


Janell said...

This post made me happy.

Skywalker said...

I'm glad you made the trip safely! I watched your progress throughout the day via our shared locations in Google+.

While I miss you a lot during this three week separation, I'm glad that eternal objectives are being met! It's kind of like a mini-mission that you were called on. I can handle that.