Monday, April 10, 2017

Happy Sibling's Day! April 10, 2017

Siblings are the people we practice on,
the people who teach us about fairness
and cooperation and kindness and caring, 
quite often the hard way.
~Pamela Dugdale

Today is Sibling's Day. Sibling relationships are usually the longest relationships a person will have in their entire life, often longer than the relationship a person will share with either of their parents. My relationship with my older brother Gary has lasted the entire 68 years of my life. And when it is all said and done that relationship will probably be the longest lasting relationship of my life.

I am grateful for the siblings with whom I have shared life for all these many years. This first picture shows me and my 4 sibings in a photo from 1983. From left to right are Barbara, Russell, Darrell, me and Gary. This picture was taken in front of our parents' home on Wildwood Lane in Anacortes. 

With my mother's advancing age and growing health concerns, the past year has been more difficult that any other in the life of my siblings and me. The challenges have been many as we have made our way through the struggles that have resulted from our mother's advanced years and the need to care for her in the best way possible. It has drawn us together, but it has also tested our mettle as siblings. Through it all I remain humbly grateful for the brothers and sisters I have been blessed with.

Jerry Clark. I am also grateful today for Jerry Clark of Lubbock, Texas. For one short year long ago, he was married to my late sister Linda (1950-1971). But for 46 years now he has remained a brother in heart within our family. Last Saturday was the 11th anniversary of Jerry and his wife Cathrina Clark. Best wishes and "Happy Anniversary!" to both of them.

Rachel Shepard. Happy 30th Birthday this Friday to my niece Rachel Shepard of Bothell, Washington! Rachel is the daughter of my sibling #3, Darrell Shepard and his wife Mary. This second picture taken a few months ago, shows Rachel with her son Kellan.

A Fascinating Pair of Siblings. One of the most interesting pairs of siblings in our family was William Elmer Shepard (1862-1915) and his brother Frank J. Shepherd (1860-1950). They were the only children of our Great Great Grandparents William and Mary (Sprague) Shepherd. 

The father of these siblings, William Shepherd, died in the Civil War in 1862 when Frank was just 1 1/2 years old and the younger William was just 5 months old. Mary Shepherd, after just 3 years of widowhood, married a fellow by the name of William Ragsdale, in Montgomery County, Indiana where she had been raised. 

The only problem was the widower Ragsdale already had 9 children, which meant that suddenly brothers Frank and William had to share their mother with their 9 new step brothers and sisters. Their mother Mary then gave Mr. Ragsdale 3 more children, increasing the new blended family to a whopping 14 kids.

The following graphic is a snippet from the 1880 U.S. Census which lists siblings Frank and William Shepherd as step-sons in the household of William and Mary Ragsdale. It also lists 6 of the 12 step-siblings of Frank and William. 

Frank seemed to do pretty well growing up in this new living arrangement, but young William didn't. About 1880, when he was an older teen, he had had enough of his family -- his mother, his one biological brother, his 12 step siblings, his step-father, all of them -- and he left home in anger, never to see them again. We don't know what exactly caused him to leave. One family story has it that young William and his step father simply could not get along. So before they even reached adulthood, the brothers Frank and William were separated, at William's initiative, and were never reunited. 

Frank ended up settling in Marshall County in Northeast Indiana, where he became a long time US Mail Carrier, and died in 1950. William Elmer went to Illinois, where he married Elvira Owen and with her had two children, William (my Grandfather) and Sadie. In 1905, with his new family, William Elmer moved on to Beaver County, Oklahoma where he lived the rest of his life. He died in 1915 and is buried in Beaver County's Sophia Cemetery.

For some reason, as the years went by, Frank used the spelling "Shepherd" for his last name, while his brother William used the spelling "Shepard." Why would these two brothers -- children of the same parents, who grew up together -- choose different spellings for their last name?

It's a very curious question that may never be answered. The fact of the matter is that Shepard and Shepherd were commonly used variations of their last name. In the mid 19th century attention to correct spelling was simply not as common as it is today. The Civil War record of the father of Frank and William shows his last name as Shepard, but on the same form it lists Shepherd as a possible alternate. And remember this: from the time they were babies Frank and William were the only ones in their entire family who had the last name Shepard or Shepherd. Even their mother Mary used her second husband's last name Ragsdale for the rest of her life. 

The time came in each of the boys' life when they had to choose for themselves how they wanted to spell their last name. It is possible that young William Elmer, when he angrily left his family, deliberately chose the spelling "Shepard" as a way of distinguishing himself from his Indiana kinfolk, and in particular his brother Frank. What we know for sure is that Frank consistently used the spelling "Shepherd" for the rest of his life, while his brother William consistently used the spelling "Shepard". The latter is, of course, the way the last 6 generations have consistently spelled our last name, ever since 1880 when young William separated from his family in Indiana.

Frank and William's curious story is filled with adversity and sadness but also hope. They were a unique pair of siblings in our family and are worth remembering on this "Siblings Day 2017."
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Steve Shepard

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