“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
I never thought I would begin a blog post with a biblical quote, but it is what leapt to mind when I thought about this story.
I thought the lead for this story would be: William Leaf married two of my grandmother’s sisters. It is true, he did marry two of my grandmother’s sisters, but as I tried to tell the story it became more about the difference in how we see things as children and how we see things as adults than about Great-Uncle Bill.
William Leaf died before I was born. His first wife, Fanny, died before I was born, but I have strong memories of his second wife, Ida. Ida died in 1962, so all my memories of her are as a child.
What do I remember? I remember Ida as a substantial woman with a shelf-like bosom to which she squeezed me when we met. She was by my 10-year-old memories not an overly attractive woman. Bear in mind that she was born in 1874, so by my count as a child she was approximately 185 years old. I remember Ida’s daughters, three stepdaughters from her husband’s first marriage, one daughter and a son to whom she gave birth. I remember a sense of tension when all four girls were in the room and I asked my Mom about this. Here is an annoying thing about my mother, she didn’t gossip and she had strong feelings about what was appropriate material to share with your children. Unfortunately, even after I was taking care of her, in her mind I was always a child.
I was told that the oldest three girls were Ida’s stepdaughters and that her husband, Bill, had been married first to Ida’s sister. As a ten year old I found this weird and a tad creepy. It was explained to me that this was the way they did things then to provide a mother for the children. At some point I must have said something about Aunt Ida being less than beautiful. With surprising candor my mother replied, “Oh no, Ida was a great beauty.”
That’s how it sat until I became a family historian.
Fanny Leaf died in 1903, probably in childbirth or from its complications. Bill was left with three daughters, a 5 year old, a 3 year old and a newborn. Bill moved in with his wife’s parents and his 16 year old sister-in-law Ida. The 1910 census, seven years after his first wife’s death, finds Bill and his three daughters, ages 12, 9, and 7 living with his in-laws and their 26-year-old daughter, Ida. Ida is only 14 years older than Bill’s oldest child. Bill lists 13 as the years of his present marriage, clearly thinking of his marriage to Fanny. It would be another two years until Bill and Ida married.
How do I see this as an adult? Ida was sixteen when her sister died, a bit young for marriage and surely everyone needed time to grieve and heal, but ten years elapsed between Fanny’s death and Bill’s marriage to her sister, Ida. If this was a marriage of convenience surely Ida could have married before the age of 28. I looked at the old photos and my mother was right, Ida was a beauty when she was young. Did love grow or was this marriage one of convenience? I wonder how Fanny’s daughters felt about the marriage. Did they resent the marriage? Did they feel that they were treated differently from their much younger siblings? I can’t answer these questions. I know that as adults all the children socialized together and behaved like a family, just a slightly strained one. I am gathering more information about this family, but I don’t know that I will ever be able to answer these questions. I do know that childhood memories can cloud and confuse my research.
I will write more about William Leaf in the future; he has a very interesting story. I just need to shake the cobwebs out of my brain and put away childish things.