Thursday, September 02, 2021

What Year Was Grandma Gower Born?

I recently found online the birth certificate of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower. She was born in Arkansas in 1903 even though her birth certificate says she was born in 1902. The question of Grandma Gower's birth year has been one our family has talked about for many years. And it will remain a mystery for generations to come.  Here's the story of how the discrepancy came about.

Nola and Leroy Gower
with daughters Maida and Vicki.
San Diego, about 1942.
Nola Shannon Gower  (1903-2004) and husband Leroy Gower (1899-1974) migrated from Okemah, Oklahoma to San Diego, California in 1942, during World War II. Leroy, with their son Hank, moved west first, in the summer of 1942. Nola and their two daughters, Vicki and Maida, stayed behind in Oklahoma waiting for Leroy and Hank to get jobs and make some money. Later that year the Gower girls finally got word to come to California and rode the bus to San Diego in December. 

When the family was finally reunited in San Diego, Leroy and Hank were employed at Railway Express. Nola then began searching for work and applied at Convair, a major San Diego employer in the War effort. Nola, however, could not produce a birth certificate, a requirement for employment. So she contacted her older sister Tabitha Shannon Johnson (1899-1990) who still lived in Mountain View, Arkansas. Tabitha provided the Stone County, Arkansas clerk with all the information needed to generate a birth certificate for Nola. Unfortunately Tabitha got Nola's birth year incorrect. Tabitha mistakenly said Nola was born in 1902, which then became part of the official record when her birth certificate was generated. Below is a copy of Grandma Gower's birth certificate.

So in March of 1943, just three months after arriving in San Diego, with help from her sister in Arkansas, Nola had an official birth certificate. The only problem was, it stated that she was born in 1902 instead of 1903. The family decided not to make a big deal out of the mistake. Getting Nola a job ASAP was the priority. With her birth certificate she was hired by Convair and proudly joined the war effort, and the Gower family got on their feet in San Diego.

Official Birth Certificate for Nola Shannon Gower
from Stone County, Arkansas
Today there are plenty of other historical records that make it clear that Nola was actually born in 1903, including U.S. Census records for 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940. But her official birth certificate will forever state that she was born in 1902, as does her Washington death certificate, and her Cemetery headstone in San Diego's Greenwood Cemetery.

A problem arose in the late 1960s or early 1970s when Nola began receiving retirement benefits based on a birth year of 1902 rather than 1903. Her son and care-giver Hank became worried that the  Social Security Administration might find out that she was receiving benefits a year sooner than she was entitled. He took a "don't-ask-don't-tell" approach, and it worked. Neither she nor he were ever caught. And just as well. Grandma Gower was the most unassuming and honest person I ever knew. She would be the last one to ever try to get income dishonestly.

As a result of this innocent snafu, there will forever be a question about what year Grandma Gower was actually born. But whether she lived 101 or 102 years, there is no question about the quality of life she lived and the outstanding legacy she has left behind.

Berniece Johnson Beckham (in pink) with her cousin
Maida Gower Shepard in 1940 and in 2013.
Both pictures taken in Mountain View, Arkansas
Speaking of Shannon Ancestors. The sister of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower was Tabitha Shannon Johnson, a key character in the story above. I got word recently via Facebook that Tabitha's daughter Berniece (my mother's cousin) passed away in Mountain View, Arkansas on Monday of last week at 95 years old. Our prayers and best wishes are extended to all the family of Berniece Johnson Beckham.

Elsewhere in the Shannon world. I received word that the Shannon book, which I have referred to many times in this blog, is now available online. It is a great resource for the part of Shannon family to which my grandmother Nola Shannon Gower belonged. Here is the link to find the Shannon book, written in 1990 by Dexal Shannon. By the way, the Shannon book has Grandma Gower's birth year correct.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Sunday, August 01, 2021

More Famously Named

In my last post I wrote about my 4X Great Grandparents James Sheppard and Hannah Gatchell Sheppard of Kirkwood, Ohio. They had 13 children, which resulted in 99 grandchildren. Or so the story goes. There is no question about their 13 children. After Hannah died, husband James left a will which documents all their children and specifies what each of them received. You can read James' will by selecting this link.

Daniel Webster Mumma
The 9th of James and Hannah's 13 children was a baby girl they named Elizabeth. At 21 years old Elizabeth Sheppard (1818-1879) married a young man from a neighboring family by the name of Daniel Webster Mumma (1815-1899). His parents were John Mumma and Mary Fox Mumma. I have written before about famously named people in our ancestry. But Daniel and Elizabeth take the cake when it comes to famously naming their children. They had a total of eight children, 5 of whom were males, each one named for a famous person.

Their first son they named Isaac Newton Mumma, after the famous 17th century English Philosopher Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). He is still considered one of the greatest Scientists and Mathematicians ever, and was one of the most famous people in the world at the time of James and Hannah Sheppard.

Their second son they named John Wesley Mumma, after the famous British evangelist and churchman Rev. John Wesley (1703-1791) who founded the Methodist Church. Many of our early Shepard ancestors in Ohio were Methodists or Methodist-Episcopal which probably explains this choice. Unfortunately baby John did not survive and died at birth.

Their third son they named Oliver Cromwell Mumma, after one of the most famous English Generals and Statesmen of all time. Sir Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was a famous person from an earlier generation. Nearly two centuries after his death Cromwell remained a legendary figure for Americans on the frontier, including the Sheppards of Ohio. Cromwell was deeply religious, known for his religious tolerance, and was an outstanding leader who continues to be one of the most famous Britons ever.

Benjamin Franklin Mumma (1849-1922) center right, with family

After naming their first three sons after legendary Brits, their fourth son they named Benjamin Franklin Mumma. He was named after the famous Founding Father Ben Franklin (1706-1790) one of the leading intellectuals of his day. The famous Ben Franklin died some 60 years before our ancestor Benjamin Franklin Mumma, but his legendary status remained hence the choice to use his name in 1849.

The fifth and final son of Elizabeth and Daniel was named after a famous American. To this last son they gave the name Daniel Webster Mumma Jr. His namesake Daniel Webster (1782-1852) was a legendary American lawyer, statesman and orator about whom the fictional tale "The Devil and Daniel Webster" was written. He served as the U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents Millard Fillmore and William Henry Harrison. 

Interestingly, and probably as a sign of the times, these 5 famously named children of Elizabeth and Daniel Mumma were all male. To their three daughters they gave the common names Malinda, Mary Ann, and Elizabeth. Beautiful names to be sure. But it still leaves one wondering, why were famous names only given to their sons? Were male offspring considered more important? Did they have higher expectations for the boys? Were the girls expected to be less accomplished? I think it was something much more than that.

These Ohio Sheppard ancestors of ours were true-blue Americans, proud of their young county and engaged in the life of their developing American culture. They were respectful and supportive of their civic and political leaders which contributed to their choice of names. I have written before how others of our early ancestors gave presidential names to some of their children. Elizabeth Sheppard Mumma, mentioned above, had a brother named George Washington Sheppard (1829-1900) and two different cousins named William Henry Harrison Sheppard, after President Henry Harrison. It was something of a sign of the times that they would give their children famous names. 
- - -
Steve Shepard 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Our Notable Ohio Roots

James Cross Sheppard (1775-1843) and Hannah Gatchell Sheppard (1784-1839) were my 4X Great Grandparents who, in their time, may have been the most influential people in our entire Shepard Family Tree. I think of them as our primary Shepard ancestors in America even though they were Great Grandchildren of immigrants. But we know much more about them than any of their predecessors in this country.

Photo of Civil War soldier
William H.H. Sheppard.
Only existing photo of
one of the 99 grandchildren
of James and Hannah
I have written about James and Hannah numerous times in this family blog, but the more I learn about them, the more I am impressed with how deeply they impacted their community and our nation. They were the first of our Sheppard family members to move westward from the East Coast. In the first decade of the 19th century they left their home in Maryland and ventured into the American wilderness of Ohio. 

As a reminder: before the Civil War our Sheppard ancestors spelled their last name with two p's. My Great Grandfather William Elmer Shepard (1862-1915) in the early 1880s began spelling the Shepard name with just one p, and it has been spelled that way consistently ever since by all his descendants.

An Expanding Family. In 1809 James and Hannah Sheppard braved the American frontier and helped to settle the community of Kirkwood, Ohio along the famous Cumberland Trail which eventually became the National Highway. The Sheppard's had 13 children, who provided them with 99 grandchildren who eventually scattered throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and beyond. In the 200+ years since the family of James and Hannah began moving westward, the size of their extended family has increased tremendously. 

Kim Boyd Clark (right) with mother
Thelma Shepard Boyd,
senior most descendant 
of James and Hannah
I wonder how many descendants James and Hannah have throughout the U.S. today. My particular family line includes 9 generations from James and Hannah Sheppard. In my last post I celebrated the birth of Gunnar Bass, the most recent member of the 9th generation of descendants of James and Hannah. 

Estimated Family Growth. As I mentioned, the original 13 Sheppard children produced 99 grandchildren. One of those 99 grandchildren was my GG Grandfather, Civil War soldier William Sheppard (1835-1862), not to be confused with his cousin, the soldier William H.H. Sheppard (1840-1862) pictured above. 

Now let us suppose that James and Hannah's 99 grandchildren produced families that averaged 3 children per household, a low estimate for their time but average for today. That would mean 297 children were born in the 3rd generation after James and Hannah. If we continue with that average family size of just 3 children, the number of new births in the 7th generation (our son Nathan's generation), would total nearly 20,000 descendants of James and Hannah. That would be a heck of a family reunion if we could pull it off! 

Sadie Shepard Pruett (1893-1980)
GG Granddaughter
of James and Hannah Sheppard
with daughters Gayle and Alberta
One of the 99. Does the 20,000 number I am suggesting sound impossible? Think of it this way: my GG Grandfather, Civil War soldier William Shepard (1835-1862) was one of the 99 Grandchildren of James and Hannah Sheppard. I have documented almost all the descendants of that Civil War soldier, and can say with some certainty that his descendants today number about 150. If the other 98 grandchildren also produced 150 descendants each, that would bring the total number of James and Hannah's descendants today to roughly 15,000 people. The pictures included in this post are just a sampling of the many descendants of James and Hannah Sheppard.

This is an exercise in estimates, of course. It would be nearly impossible to verify the numbers I am estimating. But there is little doubt that our forebearers James and Hannah Sheppard of Kirkwood, Ohio have a huge number of descendants in the United States and around the world today. The impact that those thousands of people are making is impossible to quantify but it exists nonetheless. Ours is definitely an All American family which continues to make its mark in countless ways. 

In my next post I would like to consider some of the other grandchildren of James and Hannah Sheppard. In particular I want to share about one couple who takes the cake when it comes to having famously named children.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A New Family Member: June 29, 2021

May God save the country,
for it is evident that the people will not.
 ~Millard Fillmore

Welcome Gunnar Kameron Bass! A new member has recently been added to our family tree. Earlier this month, on June 15, 2021, Gunnar Kameron Bass was born to Lyndsey Aqua and David Bass of Weatherford, Texas. Congratulations to the family of little Gunnar, especially David, Lyndsey, little brother Karver, aunt Mandi, and Grandmother Kerri! Gunnar is one of the Great Grandchildren of my brother Gary Shepard, and the 3rd Great Great Grandchild of my mother Maida Gower Shepard of Anacortes, Washington.

Mother Lyndsey with Gunnar Kameron Bass 
Starlene Bass Gower
. Gunnar is not the first person in our family to have the last name Bass. My aunt Starlene Gower, wife of my uncle Hendrix Gower (1922-2004), was born Starlene A. Bass in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1922. With husband Hendrix and father-in-law Leroy, Starlene was among the first of our family members to move to San Diego when the three of them migrated to Southern California in early 1942. Starlene lived in the San Diego area for the rest of her life, raising sons Hershell and Jimmie. She passed away in Escondido in 2000.

A couple of years ago I wrote a series of posts on famously named people in our family tree, including relatives named after President Henry Harrison, Emperor Julius Caesar, George Washington, the outlaw Jesse James, and others. While researching Starlene's family recently I encountered some other famously named ancestors who I'd like to bring to your attention. 

My aunt Starlene's roots were in rural Bassville, Greene County, Missouri, northeast of Springfield. Her Great Grandfather was Martin Van Buren Bass (1837-1917), who was born during the presidency of his famous namesake Martin Van Buren, who served from 1837-1841. This was clearly a family very supportive of their political candidates! Martin Van Buren Bass' brother AND father were named Andrew Jackson Bass, after President Andrew Jackson who was in office from 1829-1837. 

Starlene Bass Gower (left) about 1942
with sister-in-law Maida Gower Shepard
In the 19th century Americans were fond of naming their children after famous people, in particular American Presidents. On the Shepard side of our family, there is the famously named Millard Fillmore Sheppard (1855-1931). Though originally from Kirkwood, Ohio, as a teenager his family moved to Grundy County, Missouri where he lived the rest of his life. He was named after our 13th President, Millard Fillmore, who served from 1850-1853.

Thinking of famously named people, I must mention aunt Starlene's younger son who is named Jimmy Hendrix Gower. Originally from San Diego he lives today with wife Cheryl in Ft. Mohave, Arizona. Jimmy was given the name of one of the most famous guitarists of all time, Jimi Hendrix. My cousin Jimmy, however, was born in 1944, years before the legendary Jimi Hendrix became famous in the 1960s. So he was given a famous name unintentionally. Even so, he takes his place and will remain forever among the famously named people of our family tree.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

On This Day

Gary and Cindy in about 1990
with Eugene Shepard
On this day in 1979 my brother Gary and his wife Cindy of Oak Harbor, Washington were married at our home in Los Alamitos, California. The first 24 years of their life together were spent in the San Diego area. The last 18 years have been spent in Western Washington to be near our mother and other family in the Anacortes, Washington area. Gary and Cindy are an important part of the care-giving team for our mother Maida Shepard. Happy 42nd Wedding Anniversary and best wishes to Gary and Cindy for many more happy years together!

On this day in 1915 my Grandparents William Shepard (1888-1976) and Bura Davis (1896-1986) were married in Beaver County, Oklahoma. It was 106 years ago that Will and Bura were united in marriage at the home of the local minister of the South Flat Church of Christ in their community. In San Diego in 1975, just a year before William Shepard died, and after 60 years of marriage, he reminisced about his wedding day, and his bride, by saying this: 

She was quite a Sunday School girl. I had just come into the church myself [the South Flat Church of Christ] in December [1914]. My dad had come in a little earlier than that. He was on his death bed with cancer and wanted to see me become a Christian before he died. So I did.

I had my first model T car. To get married we had to go to another sod house where the preacher lived. It was a real wet spring and water was standing everywhere. We didn't have highways. Just old roads. I didn't think we could make it by the regular road so we went on the higher country and ran into a lake and got stuck. We sat there in that car in the mud nearly all day. Finally an old gentleman who lived there pulled us out with his team of horses. It was about 3 or 4 o'clock. The preacher then tied the knot and we went home the way we should have when we went out to see him. He must have done a good job tying the knot because it is still tight.

On this day in 1870 my Great Grandfather James Brooks Davis was born near Spencer, Indiana. He was the much admired father of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard, who chose her father's birthday as the day to marry William Shepard in 1915. James died at 58 years old in Beaver County, Oklahoma of a stomach ailment.

James Brooks Davis (in middle, without coat)
with father Charles Davis and brothers
In 1913 Jim Davis, after living in Indiana his entire 43 years, packed up and moved west to Beaver County, Oklahoma, a move of some 900 miles. He migrated with his wife Callie, also a native Indianan, their 7 children (ages 5 to 16), AND his wife's special needs brother Clayton Spear. To pack up and move a family that size and configuration required an ambitious pioneering spirit.

But Jim Davis was from pioneering stock. It was in his blood. His grandparents Alexander and Jane Davis had braved the American wilderness some 60 years earlier when they migrated from Monroe County, Ohio to Owen County, Indiana. And they did so with several young children, including my Great Great Grandfather Charles Davis. The stories of their adventures must have been the stuff of many a conversation around Davis dinner tables during James' early years. We remember him, on this his birthday, with admiration for his love of family and his willingness to work for a better future. He is buried today alongside his wife Callie in Sophia Cemetery in Beaver County.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Monday, May 31, 2021

Our Shannon Ancestry in California

In recent months I have connected with a part of our Shannon ancestry with which I was unfamiliar. It is the family line of Dee Shannon, wife of my cousin Joan Shepard of Chico, California. It was an unexpected surprise to learn that Dee, like me, is descended from the 17th century Irish couple Robert and Annel Shannon. Their four sons Thomas, Andrew, William and Robert, migrated around 1700 from Munster, Ireland to Pennsylvania. The oldest of their four sons, Thomas Shannon, is my ancestor via my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower, while William Shannon is Dee's ancestor via her Grandmother Marie Shannon Ostrom.

For those of you who are familiar with Shannon family history, Thomas Shannon (1686-1737) is the Irish immigrant described in detail in the anthology Shannon by the late Dexal Shannon. Thomas Shannon's brother William Shannon (1682-1742) is the sibling about whom most of us are not nearly as familiar.

ancestor Jefferson Milam Shannon
an early pioneer in California
Both Shannon brothers -- Thomas and William -- migrated to Lancaster County, in Southeast Pennsylvania when they arrived in Colonial America in the early years of the 18th century. In time, the families of both brothers began journeying westward across America. Thomas Shannon's descendants migrated to Davidson County, Tennessee, then to Stone County, Arkansas, and then to Oklahoma. In 1942, these Shannons finally made their way to the West Coast when Nola Shannon Gower and husband Leroy settled in San Diego. 

The descendants of brother William Shannon took a different route to get across country. From Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, they made their way into Fayette County, Kentucky, then on to Marion County, Missouri. In Missouri Nathaniel Shannon, Jr. had a large farm outside the town of Palmyra, on which he and wife Isabella raised a large family. 

One of their sons, Jefferson Milam Shannon (1831-1902), left his family in Missouri for the West Coast. In 1849 Jefferson Milam Shannon made his way from Palmyra, Missouri to the new State of California which at the time only had a population of 92,000. As people like Jefferson Shannon flocked to California the population boomed. (Today there are 75 cities in California with more than 92,000 people.)

Rebecca and Jefferson Shannon headstone
Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, Ca.
Jefferson Shannon appears in a special 1852 California Census as a young farmer in Solano County. Family records indicate that Jefferson's father Nathaniel Shannon Jr. (1800-1852), had come to California from Missouri a year or so before his son. But the record is clear that Jefferson Shannon arrived before 1852. In the early 1850s Jefferson made his way to Fresno and nearby Millerton where he established himself and accumulated significant wealth as a farmer and landowner. He married a local girl named Rebecca Margaret Baley, and with her raised four children: Mary Shannon Idria, Scott Shannon, Sidney Shannon, and Leland Stanford Shannon.

While in Fresno, Jefferson was fortunate enough to be acquainted with four of the biggest tycoons of early California: Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University. Not surprisingly the Shannons named their youngest son after Leland Stanford. 

After nearly 40 years in the Central Valley, Jefferson and Rebecca Shannon relocated in 1888 to the Bay Area to get advanced education for their sons. They spent their last years in the town of Alameda, California. Jefferson and Rebecca died in 1902 and 1906 respectively and are buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

For most of my life I was under the impression that my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower was the first of our Shannon ancestors to come to California. But I now see that that distinction belongs to Jefferson Milam Shannon and his father Nathaniel Shannon from Palmyra, Missouri. They arrived in California about the time of Statehood, before the Civil War, and 90 years prior to Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower's 1942 arrival in San Diego. It is a proud Shannon ancestry we have in California.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Born a Century Ago

Eugene Shepard with wife Maida
San Diego, 1975
Today is the 100th birthday of my father Eugene William Shepard (1921-2003). He was born exactly 100 years ago, out on the family farm in the rural community of Logan, Oklahoma, some 15 miles southeast of the county seat of Beaver, Oklahoma. He was the third child of William Shepard and Bura Davis Shepard, whose family struggled to make ends meet farming in the Oklahoma Panhandle. My father was a kind and gentle man who never thought too highly of himself. He was a devoted father of his and Maida’s 6 children and thoroughly enjoyed them as well as his 9 grandchildren, who were born between 1968 and 1993. He also had great respect for his own parents who both finished their lives living in Mom and Dad’s home. 

His first 8 years were spent on the farm in Beaver County. The family then lived for 12 years in rural Southeast Colorado where he graduated from Two Buttes High School, being one of just 7 graduates in the class of 1939. In 1940, as a lanky 19 year old, he and his family migrated from Two Buttes, Colorado to San Diego, California. It was not only a great distance geographically, but an even greater distance socially and economically from quiet, dusty Two Buttes to wartime Southern California and the burgeoning city of San Diego. 

Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower
December, 1976
Soon after arriving in San Diego, Gene met a young woman named Maida Gower. Theirs was a challenging wartime romance. Since he was in the Navy and stationed 100 miles away in Orange County, he could only visit her on the weekends. But finally his military stint ended and they were married at the El Cajon Blvd Church of Christ in the spring of 1945. Their life together began just as WWII was coming to an end. They spent the next 33 years together making a good life for themselves in San Diego and raising their 6 children. In 1978 they left the big city for small town life in Anacortes, Washington where Gene spent the last 25 years of his life. His family and his Church were the two most important loves of his life. A big reason for his and Maida's move to Washington was to support the Fidalgo Island Church of Christ.

I honor my father on this 100th anniversary of his birth. He died in 2003 at home on Wildwood Lane after a long struggle with COPD. I accept the honor of helping his memory live on. I owe him that much. He came from a wonderful set of parents, and he left a great legacy: a wife who has now outlived him by 18 years (and counting), 6 children, and 9 grandchildren, all of whom have great respect for his memory and who proudly affirm their family of origin. We his children and grandchildren continue to lift up his memory and remember with fondness the great person he was. Thanks be to God for the life of Eugene Shepard.

Phil Wilk and Beverly Russell
San Diego about 1965
I cannot remember my father Eugene Shepard without also remembering two other family members, one of whose birthday was also today, and the other whose birthday was yesterday.

Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004). My maternal Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower was born April 28, 1903 in Mountain View, Arkansas. Her early years were spent in Arkansas until she and husband Leroy Gower moved to Oklahoma in 1925. They then settled in San Diego in 1942 and lived there until Leroy died in 1974. Grandma Gower remained in her home on Lynne Street for 23 more years until she moved to Anacortes, Washington in 1997 where she died at 101 years old in 2004. 

Beverly Russell Wilk (1939-1974). Yesterday would have been the 82nd birthday of my cousin Beverly Russell Wilk, had she not died tragically in 1974 of a brain aneurism. Beverly was a beautiful woman whose life was cut tragically short but whose family line continues through her daughter Shannon Wilk and her granddaughter Emma Wilk. Shannon and Emma live today in Atchison, Kansas. Yesterday Shannon posted on Facebook several old pictures of her mother Beverly. It was great to see these old photos and to remember those days. One of those pictures I have included in this post.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Monday, April 26, 2021

Remembering Aunt Vicki

My aunt Vicki Gower Johnston of Chandler, Arizona died earlier this month on April 13. Vicki has been one of the great treasures of our family as one of the senior members of our clan. At 87 years old, she experienced all that life had to offer. 

Vicki (on the right) with sister Maida
and parents Nola and Leroy Gower
taken about 1942
Early Life. She was the third of the three children of my grandparents Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. Her older siblings were Hendrix and Maida. She was the only member of our family to be born in Okemah, Oklahoma during the years the Gowers lived in that small town about an hour's drive east of Oklahoma City. Born in the fall of 1933, her first 9 years were spent in the quiet country confines of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. In 1942 Vicki, with her sister Maida and her mother Nola made a difficult bus ride from Okemah to San Diego, California. They joined the rest of their family who earlier that year had driven to Southern California to find work during the economic boom of World War II. Vicki and her siblings were very much a part of the Gower clan that prospered during the post war years in San Diego.

Vicki was a free spirit who often resisted the status quo in her life. She married for the first time at just 17 in 1951 and had her first two children, Paula and Gloria, by husband Jerry Kerr. In her second marriage to serviceman Carl Harrell she gave birth to sons Michael and David during the time Carl was stationed in Japan. Her parents named her Melva Bernice Gower at birth, but as a young woman she legally changed her name to Victoria. It was the name she carried for the rest of her life.  

Vicki with husband Carl Harrell and children
Gloria, David, Michael and Paula in 1959
In Western Washington. After living in San Diego for over 30 years Vicki and then husband Al Perry chose to relocate to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Western Washington in 1975. Vicki was the first of our extended family to move to Washington when she and Al Perry moved there. Three years later my parents Maida and Gene Shepard retired and moved from San Diego to Northwest Washington. Today at least 20 members of our Shepard and Gower families live in that area, and it all started when Al and Vicki settled in scenic Northwest Washington.

Unfortunately her husband Al died after only four years in Oak Harbor. Vicki continued to make a good life for herself in Oak Harbor for 40 years. One of the best things to happen to her there was to meet and then marry Judge Duke Johnston. After 28 years of marriage to Duke, Vicki was widowed once again when Duke passed away from cancer in 2015. Later that year Vicki moved to Chandler, Arizona to live in a care facility near her daughter Paula.

Vicki with brother Hendrix, sister Maida
and mother Nola Gower in 2004
Her Life's Journey. Vicki's life journey took her from the dusty little town of Okemah, Oklahoma to the bustling city of San Diego to Whidbey Island in Western Washington. Her final move was in 2015 to the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, where she lived comfortably until her death earlier this month.

Vicki's remarkable life was multifaceted. She suffered her share of hardship, but also enjoyed all that life offered her. It was a great sadness for her when daughter Gloria died in 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee. One of her great joys was her granddaughter Heather Robson Cotten of Plano, Texas, and her great-granddaughters Victoria and Alexandria. 

Vicki is survived by her daughter Paula Harrell Tuzzolino of Sun Lakes, Arizona, and her sons Michael Harrell of Zionsville, Indiana, and David Harrell of Whidbey Island, Washington. Paula plans to take her mother's ashes and bury them in Oak Harbor. Our best wishes and sincere condolences are extended to Vicki's family in this time of loss. We will miss her very much.
- - -
Steve Shepard

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cousin Connections

For each petal on the shamrock,
this brings a wish your way:
Good health, good luck, and happiness
for today and every day.
~Irish Blessing

Discovering An Irish Connection. Before this Irish month of March is over I want to mention a recently discovered Irish connection. Dee Shannon is the wife of my cousin Joan Shepard. Ever since I met Dee a few years ago I have wondered about her last name and whether or not there might be an actual historical family connection. Shannon is a very common name, so I did not pursue the matter at first. But after some recent research I did find a connection, due in large part to the help of the book Shannon, by the late Dexal Ray Shannon. 

I have mentioned the Shannon book before in this blog. It was self-published in 1990, just a year before the death of the author, who was a 3rd cousin of mine. (He was a 1st cousin of my Grandmother Nola Shannon Gower.) A number of those among our Shannon kinfolk have the book. In recent years I have discovered that it is increasingly in high demand among genealogists in general. It is a great resource for family history research, cataloguing thousands of Shannon descendants in America. I do not know if copies of the Shannon book are available for purchase anywhere. If someone reading this post has information about the book's availability, please let me know by email or by posting in the comment section.

Thanks to the Shannon book and other online research, I discovered that Dee Shannon and I are both direct descendants of the Irish couple Robert Shannon Sr. (1630-1724) and his wife Annel Wood Shannon (born 1635). Four of their sons migrated to America from Ireland about 1700. One son was Thomas Shannon, from whom I am descended through my maternal Grandmother Nola Agnes Shannon. Another son was William Shannon from whom Dee is descended through her maternal Grandmother Marie Margaret Shannon. Dee and I are therefore 8th cousins, sharing a common and proud Irish heritage. 

Another Cousin Connection. In recent weeks I have also discovered another new cousin, this one on the Shepard/Davis side of my family. My paternal Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986) was the granddaughter of Malinda Wright Davis (1846-1920). Malinda is our connection to a wonderful, colorful, very Quaker part of our family history. 

Via a comment left on The Shepard's Crook, I connected with Jean Schubert who lives on the Olympic Peninsula of Western Washington. Jean and I are both descendants of Quaker ministers Rachel Wells Wright and her husband John Wright, making her and me 5th cousins. Ministers Rachel and John had a daughter named Charity Wright Cook (1745-1822) a well known, and very well traveled, Quaker minister in her time. She may have been the most well traveled Quaker minister in all of Colonial America. I have written before in this blog about Charity and about her parents John Wright and Rachel Wells Wright. Charity's life and travels are so compelling and heartwarming that cousin Jean has written a novelization of Charity's life. 

Published just last year, Of Hearth and Highway & A Bold Quaker Woman is a fascinating book about religious life in Colonial America and the adventures of one particular Quaker woman, who happens to be an ancestor of ours. It tells the story of Charity Wright Cook's deep faith and her courageous life as an itinerant minister serving the Lord far and wide. This devout Quaker woman and her family are folks from whom we are descended, which means that to some degree their story is our story. They tell us about ourselves as well as about their lives. I just completed reading Jean's book about Charity and found it both engrossing and inspiring. I highly recommend it. If you would like to obtain a copy, email Jean Schubert at She will gladly send you all the info on how to purchase a copy. 

Happy Easter to all of you!
- - -
Steve Shepard

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

This day always reminds me how Irish our roots really are. We have numerous immigrants in our family tree who came to America generations before our nation was born. Today is an opportunity to celebrate our Irish ancestry, and to remember those who made a great effort to migrate across the Atlantic.

My grandmother Nola Shannon Gower (1903-2004) was the most Irish person I ever knew. There are numerous persons in her family tree -- probably more than she realized -- who were Irish immigrants to America long before she was born. Even though she was very Irish and proud of that fact, I do not remember her ever getting particularly excited about Saint Patrick's Day. As a country girl from small town Arkansas in the early 20th century, her people were hard working, pious Baptists.

Numerous ancestors of ours took great risks by sailing across the Atlantic and journeying to America with high hopes for a better life. They are folks like Thomas and Eigness Shannon who came from Derry in Northern Ireland about 1700. Also James Alexander and family who came from Raphoe, in northern Ireland in the late 1600s, and John and Lucy Maxwell in the mid 1600s, and Robert and Mary Alexander who came from Scotland in the 17th century. We have a few dozen Irish ancestors who can be identified in our family history, and for them all we are grateful.

Image of an Irish Immigrant ship
arriving in America
A Remarkable Ancestor. Among the most interesting Irish immigrants in our history is William Henry Pickens (1670-1735) and his wife Margaret Pike Pickens (1672-1740). Originally from La Rochelle, France on the Atlantic coast, William was probably among the Hugenots, Reformed Protestant Christians who suffered severe religious persecution from the established Catholic Church in France. In response to that persecution 6X Great Grandfather William Pickens crossed the England Channel and migrated to Ireland. There he married an Irish woman named Margaret Pike with whom he had 10 children. 

From the town of Limerick in central Ireland, William and Margaret Pickens obtained passage for themselves and their children and sailed across the Atlantic to the new world. In the early 18th century ocean voyages were dangerous ventures, especially for a large family like the Pickenses. From what little we know about their journey, the family survived the difficult ocean crossing safely and arrived in Philadelphia in 1722. They settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania just north of Philadelphia.

An Amazing Life Journey. What an amazing life journey our 6X Great Grandfather William Pickens had. Born in a small French town amid religious persecution, he fled to Ireland where he settled and raised a family, before making his way across the Atlantic ocean to America. For the 18th century his was a life journey that included an incredible amount of cultural, ethnic and family transition. What an adventurous spirit!

From the historical records of the Abington
Presbyterian Church, showing the marriage of
Lucy Pickens and Matthew Gillespie in 1722

Once William, his wife Margaret and their children settled in Pennsylvania, the Pickens family continued in their Reform Protestant tradition and joined the Abington Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, a congregation that still exists today. As a youth in France, William was persecuted for being a Reformed Protestant. In America he and his family freely shared their faith in a new church setting. Historical records of the Abington Church show that 299 years ago, in 1722, the very year the Pickenses arrived in Pennsylvania, their 20 year old daughter Lucy Pickens married a young man named Matthew Gillespie. It was the first marriage for this family in the new world. What a joyous occasion it must have been! From that union our family line is descended: 

  • Lucy Pickens (1702-1762) married Matthew Gillespie (1700-1728)
  • son Matthew Gillespie Jr. (1726-1793) married Anna Pickens (1726-1775)
  • daughter Mary Q. Gillespie (1756-1789) married Andrew Pickens (1753-1844)
  • daughter Anna Pickens (1785-1867) married David McKnight Shannon (1790-1860)
  • son David Reid Shannon (1821-1864) married Peggy Gray (1829-1899)
  • son Samuel Pickens Shannon (1858-1930) married Finetta Dearien (1861-1960)
  • daughter Nola Shannon (1903-2004) married Leroy Gower (1899-1974)
  • daughter Maida Gower (b. 1924) married Eugene Shepard (1921-2003)
  • son Steve Shepard (b. 1948) married Cindy Harris (b. 1948)

Our proud Irish ancestry is something worth remembering. There is much more to learn about that part of our family. Today we pause and remember their place in our heritage and we celebrate all they went through to bring us to this day.
- - -
Steve Shepard