Week 38: #52 Ancestors – Cousins
By Eilene Lyon
I have a scarcity of first cousins – exactly five. Even though I rarely see them, I would know them instantly if I ran into them anywhere in the world. I’ve met a number of my dad’s cousins since taking up the family historian role.
I visited with several of them on a trip to South Dakota in 2012. Three years later, I went to the Pioneer Days festival in Madison, SD, and thought the guy standing next to me looked familiar. Yes, it was cousin Nick! Totally out of the blue.
My father has/had 37 first cousins, not counting those who did not survive infancy. Yet he hardly knows them. Some, he’s never met. My mother doesn’t know her cousins very well, either. But what is even more astonishing to me is that her father seems to have met only two or three of his many first cousins.
My maternal grandfather, Laurence M. Smith, aka Smitty, had 60 first cousins that I know of, though some died very young. Seven of those are double cousins, because his father’s sister, Laura Elizabeth (aka “Maggie”) Smith married his mother’s half-brother, Samuel Boyer.
There are a number of reasons he didn’t get to know his cousins. One was geographic separation. Another is that most of them were much older than him. He was the next-to-youngest in his family, with 18 years between him and his oldest sibling. His father was the youngest of nine children. His mother was 6th among 10 siblings and half-siblings.
In his memoirs, Laurence recalled a few of his relatives. The first, uncle Milt Mapes, married his maternal aunt, Josie May Reams.
UNCLE MILT MAPES: It was in the 1920s sometime when we visited at my Uncle Milt’s. I remember that it was late afternoon of a July day when we arrived in the 1916 Buick. Their house was two story frame, common in that period of time. In front of this large house was a picket fence.
I remember the large poplar trees also in front. To this day I recall the comforting sounds of the wind rustling the leaves of these huge trees. Uncle Milt was farming at least a thousand acres at this time on a farm which was some distance South and West of Sprague, Washington.
I should mention that Uncle Milt could not read or write. He was smart enough to hire people who could. One of his daughters later was something of a bookkeeper for him and over the years the family became quite wealthy.
On this visit I recall that they had a large player piano in the living room. After a night of sleeping in a large feather bed, which in itself was quite an adventure, I asked Aunt Josie if I could work the player piano. “Of course you can.” She opened up the case where all the rolls were and I took off pumping the player piano. Aunt Josie, I’m sure, regretted starting me off on this. I never let up. I pumped the player piano the entire time we were there, driving everybody to distraction.
In later years Uncle Milt and Aunt Josie moved to a small acreage just East of the town of Sprague, Washington. I remember being there on another summer day. I was feeling puny. I had one of the periods of illness I seemed to have had at that time of my life.
Uncle Milt was working with some pigs and one of the young pigs got loose. I took out after the pig and after quite a chase I caught it. Uncle Milt said, “Man, can you believe a kid running like that and him being sick. If he ever gets well I’d like to enter him in a race some place and collect a pot of money.” I seem to recall that after that time I got to feeling a lot better.
Milt and Josie Mapes had two daughters who were Laurence’s first cousins, Lura and Laveda, who were eleven and eight years older than him, respectively.
The other encounter Laurence had was an unplanned meeting with his double cousin, Howard Boyer.
…I should tell of an obscure relationship I happen to know about. My father had a sister, my Aunt “Maggie” who lived in Oroville, Washington. Her son Howard Boyer became the general manager for the local office of the Washington Water Power Company.
When the power company was taken over by the state P.U.D. Howard stayed on with the P.U.D. and worked for them until he retired. I was working for the W.W.P. Co. in 1934 and my boss introduced me to the manager in Oroville.
He didn’t recognize me, so I told him that I was his cousin. “My gosh amighty.” he said. “You must be one of Uncle Charlie’s kids, the youngest?” I told him that I was not the youngest, that Loren was younger than I. At that time I was involved in taking inventory of some of the sub-stations in that area.
Though Laurence lived in Washington many years, Howard was the only one of his seven Boyer cousins that he apparently ever met. It doesn’t seem that he met Maggie and Samuel, his aunt and uncle, but I could be wrong about that. Howard was also eight years older than Laurence. One of Laurence’s cousins was born 38 years before him, giving you some idea of the disparity in ages.
One of Howard Boyer’s children actually helped me get started in genealogy and we met in Oroville a number of years ago. I’ve never personally encountered any other of Laurence’s cousins’ descendants.
Feature image: Me (back row) with my two brothers and four of my five cousins in 1977, Corvallis, Oregon.
Smith, Laurence M. 1990. “The Passing Parade.”