Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Without a Trace, Sept 9, 2014

No one escapes some degree of chaos... 
We can accept our state of chaos, 
lighten up on ourselves, have fun,
and work on improving… 
we are a work in progress. 
~David Earle 

Today is my birthday. As I reach 66, I am more grateful than ever before for the family I have. For my parents and my siblings, for my wife Cindy and our son Nathan, and for his wife and children who have been a blessing beyond compare. The first picture
shows me with our 3 grandchildren, Preslea, William and Logan Shepard. This picture was taken by Cindy just a couple of days ago.

This Friday, Sept 12, is the birthday of Kelly Shepard Sauvage, one of my 8 Texas nieces. My brother Gary has two daughters, two granddaughters, and one great granddaughter living in Weatherford, Texas or thereabouts. And my brother-by-another-mother Jerry Clark -- a Lubbock Texan himself -- has 3 daughters living in the Lone Star State. You can say it's a reach, but I say they are all my nieces. It's MY birthday and I'll reach if I want to.

So Happy Birthday to niece Kelly! She and husband James Sauvage, who have lived in Weatherford, Texas now for 14 years, are the proud parents of Nate and Kyle.
The second picture, taken this summer in San Antonio, shows Kelly with her boys Kyle and Nate.

The Story of Roena, Part 2. In my last post I mentioned some new information that I recently discovered about Kelly's GGG grandmother Roena Norton, a young woman whose stepfather was the father of Roena's only child Finetta Dearien Shannon. In this post I want to follow up with some more thoughts about Roena's life story.

Without a Trace. Roena disappeared without a trace after her daughter Finetta was born, while her stepfather Augustus Dearien has left quite an impressive genealogical footprint. He shows up in all the available Census records between 1850 and his death in 1900. There are military records to show he served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. There are records of his marriage to my GGG grandmother Elizabeth Mitchell, then later in his life to another woman named Marilla McDonald. There are also federal documents to indicate he owned 120 acres that he homesteaded in Stone County, Arkansas. And you can visit online or in person Stone County's Blue Mountain Cemetery where he is buried. (See picture.) We know much about Augustus Dearien and the 86 years he lived.

In contrast, the historical record for Roena Norton, in Stone County, Arkansas or anywhere else, is stone silent. Family tradition has it that her stepfather Augustus Dearien was responsible for her disappearance without a trace after baby Finetta was born. But how did one get rid of an unwanted 21 year old stepdaughter in 1861 in the backwoods of the Ozark Mountains? Murder her? Send her off and make her change her name? Sell her like a slave to some out-of-town buyer? 

Augustus Dearien was born and raised in Amelia County, Virginia in a slave owning family. He knew well what it was like to treat people like merchandise. He may have even had some experience in getting rid of an unwanted family member.

A Hateful and Violent Time. Here's an interesting historical note: Almost 20 years after Roena's disappearance, the 1880 US Census lists Augustus Dearien and his wife Elizabeth (Roena's mother), along with Roena's daughter Finetta. It is to their credit that Finetta is even a part of their household. After all, about the only thing worse than being an unwanted stepchild, is being the illegitimate daughter of that unwanted stepchild. And that is what Finetta was. In the 1880 Census, she is not listed as a daughter or granddaughter. Instead they report that Finetta's last name is Mitchell, and that she is a "boarder" in their home. Even though she is Augustus' daughter (albeit illegitimately), and Elizabeth's biological granddaughter, they could not bring themselves to acknowledge her to the Census takers as their own kin. What kind of people were these? The way they viewed Roena's daughter Finetta gives us some insight into why they treated Roena as they did.

Another interesting historical note: The following information from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, gives us an indication of what it was like in Northern Arkansas at this time. Many men from Sylamore Township (where the Deariens lived), went to serve in the Confederate Army. But many others did not want to get involved. In 1862 a "Peace Society" was organized in Sylamore, made up of about 75 men who refused to serve on either side. The Confederate authorities arrived on the scene, took them all away in chains to Little Rock, and gave them the option of either serving for the Confederacy in the war or being shot. All but 2 chose to serve.

Roena and her family lived in a hateful and violent time when families and communities were torn apart. As unfair as it may have been, it seems likely that GG grandmother Roena, the unwanted stepchild, met a tragic end at just 21 years old. Used and abused by her stepfather, she disappeared without a trace and probably died not long after her daughter Finetta was born in 1861.

What exactly transpired we may never know. We can only hope that other historical data will turn up one day with clues as to what happened to this ill fated young woman Roena Norton. 
In my next post: some good news from this sordid, tragic tale. 
- - -
Steve Shepard

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