In the telling of family history, it’s become quite hard for me to stay away from the same old story. Too often, as I comb through ye olde branches, it feels as if I’m only supposed to talk about those somehow-notable persons (or events) and rarely (if ever) tell the tale of “an ordinary life.” Because of this, it’s gotten difficult for me to tell any tale, or indeed to know just whose life into which to delve. I’m left wondering if someone (or anything) of ‘ordinary ways’ will be of enough interest to anyone else on-down-the-line.
It can feel as if I am perennially telling a story along the lines of “finding the clue that solved the mystery that helped to ‘possibly’ locate some Holy Grail, while managing (with any luck) to still pull a random Pilgrim out of Grandma’s nightcap”! It’s no wonder I receive those ice-cream stares when bringing up the subject at the dinner table. My, what a peculiar avocation!
So, the heck with it. I’ve decided to settle back into my chair on this bright Spring day (a day when I should be out doing some much-needed pandemic dogwalking) and let my mind wander. Instead of censoring myself before an imagined audience, today I want to tell stories that nag at me.
I’ve always been a bit of a rule breaker. You see, today as I let in the Spring air I was reminded of a name I’d heard long ago. The name I recalled was one “Evan Evans,” and I wondered perhaps why I knew the name at all, a “half-remembered” name of (perhaps) a “half-remembered” life. So I decided to build on the who of “Mr. Evan Evans,” and especially the why his name should be stuck in the question marks of my old man’s brain. Just who was Evan Evans? Why is the memory of Evan’s life carried with me still, even now? Then I remembered a conversation about family roots I’d had with my mother. In a way, it was my mom who first introduced me to Evan.
Just who was Evan Evans? Why is the memory of Evan’s life carried with me still, even now?
Now, divorce is a cruel thing. Not only does it divide families, but it also scatters knowledge of our roots. My mother was an only child of such a divorce, one that landed her in her mother’s Sage family while virtually eradicating any knowledge she might have acquired about her father’s Lee family. What all of this means is that as the little genealogist inside me growing up and asking mom questions about her dad’s family, the reply was generally I don’t know. Oh, mom knew the scant basics, e.g., things like her grandparents’ names, but the names of any great-aunts or -uncles and their families in her generation was lost on mom as, indeed, she never knew. Well, I may have only been about eleven years old at the time I was asking her these questions, but as you know, the eleven-year-old ‘genealogist-in-training’ is quite the force to be reckoned with and doesn’t give up all that easily.
I remember at the time asking mom “to go back,” and for her to try and recall any people, places, or things associated with her dad, or those to whom he might have introduced her. (I was such a little genealogical pain in the neck even at that age!) She could recall only the smallest amount; a forlorn white cat who cried for her when she left for school, her parents’ friends Ray and Lola, rumors about her grandmother’s early death, and tales about an old stagecoach, but little more. Then, as if out of the blue, I remember my mother perking up. It was as if a beautiful memory of a time with her father had just landed at her doorstep. She said, “Well, I remember my dad taking me to Denver once to see ‘Uncle Evan.’ Eureka! the eleven-year-old genealogist in me exclaimed. However small it was, I finally had a lead.
My mother recalled an almost idyllic setting of accompanying her dad to Uncle Evan’s. I remember both of us chuckling when she said his name, Evan Evans; it seemed quite silly to us at the time, like a tongue twister or a villain in the game of Clue. (Evan Evans with the candlestick in the library…) Mom recalled a large house with a big bay window high up overlooking Denver. I guess mom would have been about six years old at the time she’d visited Evan, and it was a wonder she could recall this much – or, indeed, if any of her memories were true. (In fact, the house looks to have been quite small, the window of average size and overlooking a city park…) She sensed her father felt very close to Evan and that this visit, whatever it was, was one paid out of gratitude and respect. Mom recalled that Evan and his wife Grace were kind people, and treated her fairly, though it was evident even to a little girl that they had never had any children of their own. Whatever this was, whatever this memory of my mother and her dad was, this visit to Even Evans was foundational, important in some way. But just who the heck was Evan Evans?
I never got the chance to ask my grandfather about Evans Evans. The time came and went, and mortgages and diapers appeared shortly after college, with my grandfather passing away not too many years later. My discussions on family history with mom never quite returned to Evan. For some reason, our discussions always veered off course, back to her Sage clan, and to the more familiar “known things.” Then several years ago, in researching the siblings of my great-grandfather Burton Arthur Lee, I stumbled upon, you guessed it, Evan Evans. And the truth was, Uncle Evan wasn’t “an uncle” at all.
The fact that Evan Evans turned out to be my grandfather’s first cousin is really of no consequence. Evan was the son of my great-grandfather’s sister Lucy (Lee) (Potter) Evans, and enough older that for my grandfather to address him as “uncle” doesn’t seem to be all that odd an occurrence. While I can’t determine a lot about Evan and his quiet life in Denver, I’m grateful for the memory of Evan as a catalyst in helping me put the names together that tie one generation to the next. No, it’s not so much that we are a family filled with a batch of Evanses – rather, that the names of Evan’s siblings reflect the name changes that affected the life of his mother, Lucy Evans, and as to how she furthered their historical use in the names of her children.
While Evan Evans was named for his father, the names Aunt Lucy Evans used for Evan’s brothers were Stanley, Dewey, and Nestle (the latter name not unlike my favorite chocolate drink). Lucy Evans’ mother’s name was Lucy Melinda (Nestle) Lee. Aunt Lucy’s grandmother’s name was Melinda Jeanette (Adams) (Nestle) Dewey. Yet aside from scattered notes contained in my grandfather’s papers (and only one vital record), there are actually few ways to tie all these surnames (Lee, Nestle, and Dewey) together. Further, death certificates are of little help in linking these family names. Most of these death certificates, those for the children of my great-grandparents John E. Lee and Lucy Melinda (Nestle) Lee, list Lucy Melinda’s maiden name as Dewey (the surname of her step-father) or, worse, as Unknown. As to how her son Stanley got his name … well, at this point that’s anybody’s guess.
So, I guess I’m kind of grateful today, grateful to Evan for whatever kindness he showed my mother and my grandfather. I have to think that if they’d never made that visit to “Uncle Evan’s” house that Evan’s name would have simply disappeared from this branch’s memory, perhaps becoming no more important than my own. The discovery of a certain synchronicity in these family names started for me with an ordinary clue of some guy named Evan. Without my mother’s random memory of him, I don’t know that I would have looked a lot further, or have stitched together some of the family names as easily. I guess that’s it; I’m gonna go back this beautiful Spring day and see what else I can recall. That is if a certain dog who wants to go for a walk will allow it.
 Evan Lloyd Evans (1894-1958) was a dispatcher for a public utility company in Denver, Colorado.