Sometimes traveling in the RV gives us the flexibility to pursue things other than just beautiful scenery. I had been spending a good deal of time online with Ancestry.com tracing my family history. My dad’s father always lived in Iowa, but in tracing his background I found he had been born in Missouri, and found a number of records indicating his family had been there since the late 1700′s. Of course, typical of genealogy work, there were conflicting records and my great-great-grandfather seemed to have been married to two women at the same time. We were on our way east from Montana, so we decided to stop in Missouri and see if the mystery could be unraveled. Of course the decision to stop was aided by the fact that that where we were headed, Versailles, Missouri, was practically on Lake of the Ozarks and would offer hubby lots of fishing opportunities.
Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri is beautiful county. The lake is actually a damned up river, so it curves across the landscape with these long, skinny, arms shooting off to the left and right. We had a site in Paradise Beach Campground, right on one of the arms of the lake in Sunrise Beach. It was another campground populated by seasonal, weekend, campers, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves during the week. Hubby had the canoe in everyday looking for the big smallmouth, while I drove back to Versailles in search of some family history.
The ladies at the Versailles Historical society, and the people at the beautiful, old courthouse couldn’t have been more helpful. They found me marriage records, land records and cemetery surveys that filled in all the blanks. In fact I found the family cemetery located on the land they farmed. It was now in the middle of a cow pasture, fenced off to keep the cows out. We could only view it from beyond a distant fence. They also solved the mystery of my great grandfather’s multiple marriages and provided insights into that era in American history. Great granddad married Mary in 1837 and they had four children. In March of 1850, at age 34, she died giving birth to twins, who also died. They are all in the family cemetery. Three months later, great granddad married Eliza Shinn, my great great grandmother, a 33 year old, unmarried neighbor who still lived with her parents. He needed a wife and mother for his four little ones and Eliza, who had been helping him out with them after Mary’s death, had no prospects. It was a marriage of convenience. It must have worked out, they had five more children, including my great grandfather, Archie, from Iowa. Large families, lots of deaths and multiple marriages were all par for the course in the 1800′s. Life was hard for these people who pushed west and settled what was then the frontier.
Loaded with new information we moved south into Arkansas and spent some time on Bull Shoals Lake. Another beautiful area of the Ozarks. Hubby fished while I continued my research. Now that I knew Eliza Shinn was in fact my great great grandmother, I could confirm I was the descendant of her grandfather, Levi Shinn. He was a Quaker who originally came from New Jersey to settle in West Virginia in 1773. The house he built in 1778 still stands and is a Historical Landmark in what is now Shinnston, West Virginia. Having had our fill of fishing in Arkansas, we headed the RV toward West Virginia to see the old family homestead, another branch of the family tree accounted for. Oh, and that photo used as the featured image on my home page for this post? That’s one of my early Shinn relatives. Kind if scary. How lucky we are to have the flexibility to go where we want, when we want, to follow wherever the red roads lead us. Even if it leads to family photos like that.