Roughly 25 years ago I spent a few days with a cousin, one of my “grown-up” cousins that I didn’t know very well. By the late 80s, we were both quite grown up and enjoyed exchanging stories about our fathers’ family. She had done a fair amount of genealogy study but hadn’t found much past our great grandfather. She gave me all the information she had and expressed the hope that I’d be able to find something more.
That sounded like something little old ladies did when they ran out of other more productive things to do. I’d keep the information for “one of these days”, but didn’t tell her that.
A couple of weeks after I returned home, one of my favorite volunteer jobs involved an hour-long drive with a talkative friend whom I did not know well. I mentioned my visit and the stories I’d heard and discovered to my dismay she taught a class on genealogy. I learned moreaboutgenealogyinonehour than most people learn in a semester. And that was just on the trip out.
That evening Nancy called all excited. It was her night to be on hand at the Family History Center at the local LDS church and she had found my great grandfather in their records. She didn’t have much more info on him than I already had but she got me hooked and oh, the fun I’ve had along the way!
My mother never wanted to know about her ancestors. It was enough that she knew both of her grandfathers and she didn’t want to know how much worse it got. Over the next decade or so, I learned that one of her grandfather’s families arrived here a couple of years after the Mayflower and the other about ten years later. I discovered that her parents, who were married in Iowa in 1910, came from families who had been neighbors in SW Virginia in the 1780s. I read a story about the last Indian raid on SW Virginia in 1790-something that is still well-known today and discovered the woman who told the story was my fifth great grandmother. In short, I realized that my family history is American history.
But my dad’s family remains a mystery. I’ve picked up details on the more recent generations. I’ve even figured out the depression that plagued my dad didn’t start with him. Just this evening I received an email from someone descended from one of Dad’s cousins, so I’ll probably pick up a little more on the family. But Great Grandpa must have crawled out from under a rock.
Oliver Hazard Perry Hastings was born somewhere in western New York in December of 1815. That tells a story right there. Aside from obviously being named for the famous sea captain who was a hero on Lake Erie the year before Gr-Grandpa was born, all of my other great grandparents were born in the 1860s. Do the math, somebody. That dude was old! He got married around the age of 20 and promptly started a family. The second child was probably on the way when they took off for the wilderness of Illinois. Why? With whom? How did they get there? He lived in Illinois, out in the country, for the next umpteen years and his wife finally died in childbirth with their 10th or 12th child when the youngest was only 8 months old. His oldest daughter, who was married with a baby of her own, took in the youngest ones and he took off.
One story says he went to California. It was the gold rush. There was a well-known Hastings who advocated a not-so-short shortcut for the trip to California. Were they related? They were from the same part of New York. Whatever…he was gone for seven years. He doesn’t even show up on the 1860 census. Then in 1863 he was back in Illinois, bought 40 acres from a gentleman several years younger than he, and married that man’s not-quite fifteen year old daughter. If this was a wedding of necessity, she must have miscarried because their first child was not born until they’d been married more than a year. Together they had 10 or 12 children, the fifth of which became my grandfather.
I have seen OHPH’s grave. I have seen the graves of his two wives. Neither wife is buried anywhere near him. I have seen the house he built on those forty acres. It was originally a two-room log cabin which has been added on to several times by the family who bought it from him. They have owned it long enough for it to be a century farm and one of their members is a genealogist. She shared with me tons of information about the house and the land and even the fact that we are distant relatives. She is descended from one of his first daughters from his first wife.
Many, many descendants have tried to find OHPH’s parents or any other information about him in New York. Some of us have come to the conclusion that he had to be part of a very large and prominent Hastings clan in western New York at the time. Perhaps his parents died young and he was raised by an uncle who did not name him in any will. Or perhaps he was illegitimate and no one wanted to be associated with him. Maybe he was indeed a legitimate son but his black sheep tendencies showed up early. Most likely, I’ll never get it figured out.
But the genealogist in Illinois shared lots of stories and suppositions with me. We both seriously doubted that he suddenly became celibate during those seven years he was gone and wondered how many other Hastings there might be out there who will never know they are related to us. Her most memorable contribution, though, was her revelation that she and the other local genealogists had decided his initials stood for Old Hot Pants.
It’s about time for me to take up the chase again.