Monday, February 18, 2019

A Birth Day and A Death Certificate, February 18, 2019

There is something unique about the first born.
~Raymond Feist

First the Good News. Tomorrow is the 76th birthday of Hershell Gower, the oldest of the 12 grandchildren of my Grandparents Leroy and Nola Shannon Gower. Hershell was the first child in our family to be born in California when he came into the world in San Diego during World War II in the winter of 1943. It was obviously a very happy time for the Gowers when baby Hershell was born into their family, the first of their 12 grandchildren who would be born in the following 19 years. Hershell was raised in San Diego but lives today with his wife Shelly in Bullhead City, Arizona. Best wishes and happy birthday to Hershell!

Maida Gower holding nephew Hershell Gower
in San Diego, California, 1943
My mother Maida Gower Shepard was a senior at San Diego High School when her nephew Hershell was born. Six years ago, when she was still able to post to Facebook, she sent this message to him: "Hi Hershell. This is a voice from your past. I remember the day you were born. I thought you were the cutest baby in the whole world. I said if I had a dozen babies I could never love them more than I do you. Of course I was only 17 at the time! Have a very happy birthday. Love you. Auntie M."

Mom is no longer able to communicate on Facebook and probably does not even remember that post from 2013. But she still loves her family, and given the opportunity would even today speak as glowingly about Hershell and the joy the Gower family felt at his birth 76 winters ago.

A Century Ago. 100 years ago yesterday my Great Great Grandmother Mary Shepard Ragsdale (1840-1919) died in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hers is one of the most fascinating, mysterious, heartbreaking, yet inspirational stories in our entire family tree.

I have written numerous times in The Shepard's Crook about her. Born in Indiana in 1840, she married William Shepard (1835-1862) in 1860. As a mother with 2 baby boys, she lost her husband in the Civil War in 1862. Then in 1880 she lost her teenage son William Elmer Shepard when he left home and never reunited with her and the family of her second husband William Ragsdale. She was then widowed a second time in 1887 and outlived her second husband by 32 years.

1919 Death Certificate of my Great Great Grandmother
Mary Sprague Shepard Ragsdale (1840-1919)
At the turn of the 20th century Grandma Mary Shepard Ragsdale entered her 60s and felt the need to move from the Ragsdale family farm west of Indianapolis into the city. In those days, when one turned 60, it meant you were well into old age and in need of being cared for. Mary spent her last 15 years with her eldest daughter Cora Ragsdale Stevenson and son-in-law Dora Stevenson in Indianapolis.

Recently I found online Mary's death certificate which gives us some important information about her. This copy of her death certificate is not very clear and nearly unreadable. But in it is important information about her that we would not have otherwise. The discovery of this document is typical of what happens in family research. Old documents of this sort are regularly becoming available for the first time, with information heretofore inaccessible to the general public.

This death certificate tells us that she was born Jan 25, 1840, that she died at 79 years old, and that she is buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. It tells us that her mother's maiden name was Chapman, and that she was born in Kentucky. It also reveals that her father's last name was Sprague and that he was born in Indiana. And it also tells us that Mary Shepard Ragsdale was living with her daughter and son-in-law on South Arsenal Avenue in Indianapolis when she died of "Arteriosclerosis" (hardening of the arteries).

Family research is a never ending endeavor. It is always gratifying when new documents like this death certificate become available and one more puzzle piece falls into place. With it the story of our family becomes just a little clearer.

When Mary Shepard Ragsdale died in 1919 she was survived by nine step children that she had helped raise, plus 5 children of her own, all of whom who were married and had their own families. The church where her funeral was held could have been filled just with her descendants -- her children and step children and their families. One of her children we know for certain was not in attendance. Unfortunately, she had not seen her son William Elmer Shepard in 40 years, ever since he had left home angrily about 1880, never to return. Unbeknownst to her, he had actually died in 1915 in Oklahoma. Nor did she know about her two Oklahoma grandchildren William Shepard and Sadie Shepard Pruett who had married and had children of their own by 1919. Mary Shepard Ragsdale had a full life, a difficult life, a life filled with much joy but also more than her fair share of sorrow. She is remembered even today, with humility and great gratitude for all she endured.
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Steve Shepard

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