Stepping up to Fatherhood

Week 24: #52 Ancestors – Father’s Day

By Eilene Lyon


Many men are both step-fathers and fathers, but only a portion of them do it in that order. One of those was Thomas Alexander Reams, my great-great-grandfather. He was the father of Mary Lila (Reams) Smith. This is the tale of the Reams family:

Sprague, Washington


A cemetery on a windswept hill northwest of the eerily quiet town of Sprague, Washington: This is the final home of Thomas A. Reams and his wife, Mary Paul Boyer Reams. Their life’s journey carried them from the east, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, through Indiana and Missouri, to arrive at this faraway place.

Thomas’ favorite haunt, Sprague Lake, barely glimmers to the southwest under an overcast sky. The deserted Main Street of Sprague is blocked by chain link fencing. South of town, the hills sprout infertile, black volcanic rocks. “Why here?” I wonder.

The Reams were Grandpa Laurence Smith’s maternal grandparents. He remembers visiting them in their later years. Thomas spent his days fishing. Mary was quite senile and he remembers that she “rocked back and forth in an old wooden rocking chair and tried unsuccessfully to catch flies.”1 They had moved to Washington from Missouri around 1900 to be closer to family who had moved to Sprague in the 1880s and 1890s.


Columbus, Missouri

Back in Missouri, they had owned a small farm in an area called Columbus, in Johnson County. Laurence said it was “no longer on the map,”2 That is not strictly true. In 2012, I drove by and found a green sign stating “Columbus” right where it should be (you can even find it on Google Earth).

There, I found an abandoned farm house and took a photo, not having any idea of the exact location of the farm. The following year, I received the photo above from a cousin and was surprised at the similarity of the house in the photo to the one I had seen. It is only a coincidence, however. I now know that the farm was several miles west.



Thomas Reams was the fourth of 10 children of George W. and Rachel (Zimmerman) Reams, born in Putnam, West Virginia in 1833. The origin of the Reams name in our family line is a bit uncertain. Reams is an old English name dating to the Norman Conquest in 1066.3  However, Reams family historians have found that in America, many Germans with similar sounding names (Rheme, Riehm, etc.) adopted the English spelling.4  For several reasons, I believe this is what happened in our family of Reams.

Mary Paul was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, to a German-American family in 1836: Samuel Franklin Paul and Catherine Hepler. Catherine died young. Samuel remarried and eventually fathered a total of 18 children! The family later moved to Tipton County, Indiana. Mary’s first husband, Richard Boyer, died somewhat mysteriously in 1860, so she and her three young children went to live with her brother, Peter Paul.5

Prior to 1860, the George W. Reams family, including the adult children, also moved to Tipton County, Indiana.6 There, in November 1861, Thomas wed the widowed Mary Paul Boyer.7 Though Thomas appears to have adopted Mary’s infant daughter, Amanda, the two older children went to live with other family members, and remained in Indiana when Thomas and Mary moved the family to Missouri around 1868. Thomas and Mary had seven children together, two sons and five daughters, all surviving to adulthood.

PaulMary 001

Mary Paul Boyer Reams. Date unknown.

Family Ties (the Knot)

Back in Indiana, Mary’s son, Samuel Boyer, married Laura E. Smith in 1883.8  Laura’s brother, Charles E. Smith (Laurence Smith’s father), moved to Columbus, Missouri, a few years later and went to work at the farm of the Biernbacks, neighbors of the Reams (I think this was no coincidence).9

Charles and Henry Biernback became long-time friends. In 1888, Charles married Samuel Boyer’s half-sister, Mary Lila Reams.10 Samuel and Laura (Smith) Boyer moved to Columbus that same year.11

Eventually all of Mary’s children, Boyers and Reams, moved to Washington state. Henry Biernback also moved to Sprague and eventually married Harriet Boyer, Mary’s oldest daughter. He was her third husband. They are buried together in Sprague.

A Last Wish

Just a year before he died, Thomas Reams had a wish fulfilled when his grandson, Harry Smith, arranged for him to take a flight in a biplane.  Imagine the changes wrought in transportation in just his lifetime: horses to trains to airplanes and automobiles.  But still, it was the simple pleasure of fishing that really made his day.



Feature image:  Thomas and Mary Reams (right of center) at their home in Columbus, Missouri.  The others have not been identified.  My guess is that the photo was taken about 1896 and the boy holding the horse is Tom J. Reams, the bald man is George W. Reams and he is with his two oldest sons, John (left) and Charles (right). 

  1.   Smith, Laurence M. The Early Years, page 6. 
  2.   Smith, Laurence M. Brief biography of Thomas A. Reams (no title). 
  3.   Name Origin Research 1980 – 2014 
  4.   Smith, H.C., M.D.  1981.  The Reams, Reames Family and Allied Families. 
  5. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Year: 1860; Census Place: Cicero, Tipton, Indiana; Roll: M653_301; Page: 17; Image: 17; Family History Library Film: 803301. 
  6. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009.  Year: 1860; Census Place: Tipton, Tipton, Indiana; Roll: M653_301; Page: 7; Image: 7; Family History Library Film: 803301. 
  7. Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.  Tipton County, Indiana; Marriages 1844-1870 Bk. 1: Aug. 1844-May 1852 Bk., Compiled by Ruth M. Slevin; Book: 2; Page: 350. 
  8. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.  Year: 1900; Census Place: Sprague, Lincoln, Washington; Roll: 1747; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0041; FHL microfilm: 1241747. 
  9.   Smith, Laurence M. 1974.  Brief biography of Charles Edward Smith (no title). 
  10.   State of Missouri Marriage License, Johnson County.  Certified copy dated 10 August 1944. 
  11. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.  Year: 1900; Census Place: Sprague, Lincoln, Washington; Roll: 1747; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0041; FHL microfilm: 1241747. 

16 thoughts on “Stepping up to Fatherhood

Add yours

  1. As always, interesting story. I sometimes wonder about what it was like to see transportation change so dramatically in your lifetime. It seems like it’d be a lot to process, but maybe our ancestors were less into introspection than we are now. As long as it worked, why not embrace it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading. One post I plan to do (someday) are the changes in society/technology during several generations. I tend to believe that our own generation really isn’t seeing the kind of radical change that earlier generations saw.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL! Good one. I like Twitter because it’s a fast way to share writing and genealogy information and blog posts of my own and ones of others that I really like. I don’t follow politicians, etc. Well, I do follow animal rights tweeters.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. As I fisherman, I believe they are indeed real fish but yes, definitely the photo was made in a studio. Many times people brought their “trophies” to local studios to have photos made of their exploits.


  2. Great photos! I have many similar photos and I have noted that most women back then were missing most if not all of their teeth (probably due to calcium deficiency due to multiple births) and rarely smiled for photos. Also strangely, I always wonder about those horses and dogs in old photos and wonder when they met their end,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think anyone smiled much in old photos, partly due to missing/bad teeth, and partly due to the need to sit still for many seconds to capture the image. I always wonder about the animals, too!


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