Sunday, February 26, 2017

Grandfather's Quasquicentennial

This past Tuesday - February 23rd - marked a milestone: my paternal great-grandfather Samuel Kirk's quasquicentennial.

In the small farming community of Granger, Iowa, Samuel Kirk was born 125 years ago to William and Nancy (Weeks) Kirk. He was the seventh child of a family that would ultimately include 12 children.

Family lore says William moved his brood from Iowa to Edgewater, Colorado in 1901 (censuses and city directories support that claim), positioning two of my ancestors for their fateful encounter.

An Unknown Man
In 1928, Samuel landed a job at a nearby water reservoir where he worked, briefly, as a nightwatchman (a job his own father William held and was killed at in 1919).

The reservoir abutted my great-grandmother's backyard. This job brought my great-grandparents into close proximity and, while never married to each other, eventually led to the conception and birth of my grandfather in 1931.

Persistent family rumors, a suppressed birth certificate, and genetic genealogy countered decades of silence and misinformation to reveal the truth behind a family history mystery: Samuel Kirk was my biological great-grandfather.

What was the nature of Samuel's relationship with my great-grandmother? Did he know he was a father? Did he ever see his son?

I never met my own grandfather - who is now deceased - so I can't ask him these questions. In fact, no one is living who can answer these questions. The players in this drama have passed into history.

Even the historical record - the one published in black and white - would have us keep this secret in perpetuity. Samuel's obituary listed survivors as his wife, a stepson (her child from a previous marriage), and three siblings. There's no mention of his son, my grandfather.

Discovering Samuel 
With no living witnesses and sparse printed history, the nature of Samuel's relationship with my great-grandmother and their son will forever remain veiled in mystery.

Accepting that fate, I move on and sift through surviving records to piece together an understanding of who Samuel was throughout his life. For example, inferring he was a man of service and duty when he was drafted into the Motor Transport Corps during World War I.

More recently, a collection of photos that I received from a distant cousin last year confirmed a strong physical resemblance to my father and his own father. While they say looks can be deceiving, I'll take them in the absence of everything else; anything that provides insight into the shadowy man born 125 years ago.

Samuel Kirk pictured goose hunting at Windsor Reservoir, Colorado