|Samuel VanBuren Howell|
I never knew my grandfather, Samuel VanBuren “Vannie” Howell, born in 1874. He died a few years before I was born and I only knew him through the stories about him told by my grandmother, mother and her siblings.
Poppy, as he was called by grandchildren and his older children, outlived his mother by only two years. His wife, my grandmother (Mommie) lived on for more than 30 years as a widow after his death in 1942.
From what I gathered, Poppy wasn't a larger-than-life character. He had a quick temper but was generally a quiet, hard-working man who minded his own business. He was a blacksmith, a farmer, a shopkeeper (more about this in later posts).
His childhood was undoubtedly difficult. His father died when he was a baby - killed with a baseball bat by a man in Elkton, Tenn. This fact raises a plethora of questions, the answers to which no one seems to have.
Was it an accident? Deliberate? We don't even know where he was buried.
When I became interested in learning more, I asked my mother and two of her sisters who were still living at the time about it. They knew absolutely nothing about the death of their grandfather beyond what’s stated above.
Did my grandmother know the details? Did Poppy? Certainly HIS mother knew. Did she share the details? That would have been Great-Grandma Varnell, who remarried after her husband’s death and raised another family. She died in 1940.
My mother and aunts said they never remembered their grandfather’s death being discussed other than how he died.
Over the past forty or so years, a few of our family members attempted to follow this mysterious trail and learn more. They visited Elkton, Tenn., searched county courthouse records, talked to old people who were living at the time. But nothing was unearthed.
In the mid-1990, when I became interested in the subject and vigorously pursued leads, I was able to locate via the Internet a woman in Colorado who provided heretofore unknown information. It seems my great-grandfather was a widower when he married Great-Grandma Varnell (Poppy’s mother). Not only that, he had four or five children (it’s in my records and I have to look before I post next time). After his wife died, one of his brothers took his children to raise.
All were living in Tennessee at the time, but the brother eventually moved to Texas, taking my great-grandfather’s children with him.
Here was the definitive link. The records of the woman in Colorado listed my great-grandfather as having remarried Georgia Ann Stanton (Great-Grandma Varnell) and that’s the last her records show of him. She was unaware of our branch of the family.
Amazing! Poppy had half-brothers and half-sisters! Did he not know about them? I am guessing he did not!
All this makes me feel weird – like I unearthed information that was not mine to know. If Poppy didn’t know, then why should we, more than a hundred years after the fact?
Through the miracle of technology we are able to communicate and learn things in ways unknown to people of the past.
And something else that strikes me is this: people in olden days didn’t discuss the past if the subject was difficult or painful. Life was hard and they just had to get on with it in order to survive - literally.
I love a mystery and solving one, so learning this heretofore unknown information was quite satisfying.
In future posts I’ll be relating additional details about this “lost family.” The lady in Colorado actually sent me a copy of her family genealogy which documented the existence of my great-grandfather and his “first” family.
While this post is perhaps not so interesting to readers far and wide, I know that my extended family – some of whom are readers here – will enjoy this subject.
Thank you for indulging me to tell this story!