Mother had left my father when I was 6 weeks old, and I had tried for years to find the
books of poetry mother had described, in the few times I was able to get her to talk about him.
My recent search for the book had failed, and I turned to genealogy to try to find a relative of
father's to whom he might have given a copy. That's what brought me to Eileen.
I never did find those books of father's but, in Eileen, I found a cousin and a friend.
The starting place for my search was an obituary of my father's mother that I found among his baby pictures,
sent to mother after he died.
Catherine was described as having been a daughter of Henry Burnett and
a descendant of Henry B. Gibson from
Canandaigua NY. That and the fact that her pallbearers included 3 generals and the governor of Colorado.
I knew I had a chance.
Husband, being a darling, suggested a trip to Canandaigua NY. As we drove down Gibson Street I did wonder. It was. So was nearby Port Gibson NY. Henry B. Gibson turned out to be one of the richest men in western NY. President of a bank, two railroads and a canal company. Not half shabby. And in the Historical Society files was a small family tree.
In the process of cold calling people all over the US for genealogy leads, I identified Eileen as
another possible Henry B. Gibson descendant. As I recited some of my ancestral names, Eileen exclaimed,
"But those are my names!" Her invitation to tea was immediately given and accepted.
It wasn't until Paul and I reached Eileen's home in Newport that I understood why she hadn't given me
a street address. Her home basically covered the whole block! I was nervous ringing the bell but,
when she came to the door, I almost began crying. Standing before me was the first person I'd ever met,
besides my brother, who carried my father's blood. That moment is permanently imprinted on my soul.
There were other cousins to meet at that initial visit, such as
Andrée Cecile Antoinette Thoresen
(Dédée) and her husband Jon Thoresen. Dédée was Eileen's second cousin, that is, she was the granddaughter of Frederick Sherman, the brother of
Eileen's grandfather, William Watts Sherman. That made my relationship to Dédée the same as my relationship
to Eileen - we were 3rd cousins once removed.
But it was with Eileen and her daughter, Beryl Powell,
that I felt instantly at home. Eileen and I shared a passion for genealogical research, and Beryl and
I were of an age and disposition. Beryl has great intellectual depth, as well as great kindness. She
learned middle eastern languages in order to help her father with his Islamic coin collection.
We don't agree on politics but, when my candidate lost in the last election, my instant thought and
consolation was that at least Beryl would be happy.
That was the start of the visits. From then on I would gather together copies of whatever research
I had done and make copies for Eileen and Beryl, bringing them along when I'd amassed a large enough pile.
When I could find something appropriate on ebay, like an ancient magazine article on Beryl's great grandfather,
I'd pick it up and bring it along for Beryl's growing collection. A visit almost always included lunch,
which was eaten in the smaller dining room.
With Eileen, I could play to my heart's content. Our family tree is very, very large, and I printed out the entire thing on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper that we assembled as a jigsaw puzzle on her huge dining room table. Another time I scanned in old family photographs and was able to bring them back later bright and shiny, and sometimes colorized. Eileen was especially pleased by one of herself as a child.
Some of the visits were hilarious. Wonderfully strange people would wander into the house as a
large extended family. One of them was especially taken with a story I told of a 17th c ancestor
who was convicted by her own son-in-law, and sentenced to be stripped to the waist and tied to the great gun in the center of Newport for 15 minutes. The visitor couldn't wait for me to repeat the story to Eileen who was, indeed, not pleased. But it was just all so funny and fun.
Eileen had a strong sense of how her ancestors ought to behave themselves, and
they didn't always live up to her standards. Like her 3rd great grandfather entering
a house through the chimney to retrieve a stolen silk dress, or Henry B. Gibson losing out in his fight with
Erastus Corning in the first year of the New York Central's existence.
But whether she was fond of one particular ancestor or not, what we shared was the excitement of
bringing these long dead people back to life. Most of my friends were kindness itself in listening
to my research enthusiasms, but telling the stories to someone who shared my obsession was pure joy.
Eileen and I were third cousins, once removed. The easiest way to think about genealogy relationships is that
1st cousins are the children of siblings, the grandchildren of siblings are 2nd cousins, and the
great grandchildren of siblings are 3rd cousins. The 'removed' roughly refers to what generation
you're in. Once removed for Eileen and I means that I'm not in her generation; I'm in her daughter Beryl's.
And because Beryl and I are great great grandchildren of siblings, we're 4th cousins. Since we're in
the same generation, there's no 'removed' to my relationship with Beryl.
Several handwritten genealogy notebooks floated around the family
and, on our first visit, they were brought out for comparison with my computer tree.
One of the confusions I was able to clear up was identifying the fact that the Watts Sherman
I descended from was not the one they thought of as their ancestor. In fact, they descended from
two different Watts Shermans, one the uncle of the other. The Watts Sherman in the huge painting
near the front entry was named for his uncle Watts, his father's brother. And to add to the confusion, the
younger Watts had married his first cousin, a granddaughter of that elder Watts.
On a subsequent visit Eileen laughed and recited for me her newly learned Watts Shermans.
We were both inordinately pleased.
Some of Eileen's Ancestry
Colonel Henry Bicker + Sophia 'Fietie' Heyer
Judge John Gibson and Catharine Bicker
Henry Bicker Gibson + Sarah Sherman
Captain Nathaniel Sherman and Lucy Tisdale
Watts Sherman + Olivia Jillson
Sarah Sherman + Henry Bicker Gibson - My first shared ancestry with Eileen
Sarah Maria Gibson and Watts Sherman II
Henry Sherman and Martha Mitchell
Watts Sherman II + Sarah Maria Gibson
William Watts Sherman + Sophia Augusta Brown
Lawrence Lewis Gillespie + Irene Murial Augusta Sherman
Eileen Sherman Gillespie + John Jermain Slocum
John Slocum's Obituary
Providence Journal Wake
Providence Journal Obituary
A Glimpse At Rhode Island Aristocracy
Behind the Hedgerow Documentary
Interview with G. Wayne Miller
Documentary on Eileen
The Slocum Collection of Islamic Coins
6-7 November 1997