Two branches of a family reunited after decades apart
Pictured at right is John Wheaton, who was born in Cape May County, NJ, in 1818 and died in Warren, RI, in 1897. He is our common great-grandfather, so we are second cousins. To be more accurate, second half-cousins, since we descend from different great-grandmothers.
John’s father, Joseph, was a farmer and carpenter, but John and his brother Lewis both left the farm for New York City sometime between 1840 and 1850. John became a butter merchant, then a wholesale grocer in Manhattan. (Lewis was also in the grocery business.)
In 1850, John was living in a boardinghouse run by Chauncey and Anna Watson. At some point, he was introduced to Anna’s niece, Laura Watson Atwood, and the two married in 1856. My grandfather, James Watson Wheaton, arrived a year later.
But Laura died, at age 24, in 1858. Two years later, John remarried, this time to Mary A. Blackington of Warren, RI. We are not entirely sure how they met, however.
In 1860 the Watson and the Wheatons were living in Brooklyn. James was being raised by his grand-aunt, Anna Watson. John and Mary lived nearby, but by 1870 had moved to Mary’s hometown.
James married young and had moved to Montreal by 1890 for work, then to Chicago by 1900. He and his wife, Emma Ketchum Wheaton, had one son, James Watson Wheaton Jr., and had adopted a girl, whom they named Gladys Wheaton.
James, however, remarried around 1906 to Anna Bergstrom, a Swedish immigrant almost 30 years younger than he. (The circumstances of their meeting and marriage are shrouded in mystery.) James and Anna had two sons, including my father, John Atwood Wheaton. They settled first in Queens, then in Nassau County, NY.
Meanwhile, John and Mary had raised two boys and two girls into adulthood. All grew up in the Warren area.
John William Wheaton became a successful hotelier and married Blanche Storer. They had no children. John and Blanche spent part of their time in NYC, and it seems James and John were close friends, their ages being only six years apart.
Charles Nathan Wheaton founded a handerkerchief factory with Henry P. Howland (his brother-in-law) and married Edith Cleaveland. They had one surviving son, Warren Wheaton, who had three children — my second cousins. More about them shortly.
Annie May Wheaton married Henry P. Howland, and they had two children. Their son stayed in the Warren area, while their daughter married a Cummings and settled in northern NJ. The Cummings had children as well. I have not yet tracked down these cousins.
Laura Antoinette Wheaton married the Rev. William Ackley, a much older man whom I believe was the Wheatons’ pastor in Brooklyn. Rev. Ackley and Laura had no children.
These five siblings apparently stayed in touch and visited each other, but in time their families grew apart. John William died in 1935, and Blanche in 1950. James died in 1942, and his half-brother Charles three years later. Laura, who had moved in Florida as a widow, died in 1950. And Annie May also died around this time. Their children did not spend much time together, so as the years passed, the two branches lost track of each other.
Let’s skip ahead a few decades. I moved to Kentucky in 1980, and stayed there almost three decades. I had no idea — nary even a suspicion — that I had Wheaton cousins living in the same state. In fact, by 1985 we were living only about an hour or so from each other, I in Louisville and they in Lawrenceburg and Frankfort!
At the time, I was resigned to the idea that I had no cousins on my father’s side at all. His brother had died young, and my dad had no clue what had happened to his father’s half-siblings.
Now I know, after meeting Timothy, Melissa and Collette Wheaton over the summer, that their father, Warren Wheaton, had left New York as a young man to start a business in Kentucky. But our paths never crossed.
Now, by chance two summers ago, I took advantage of a free weekend on Ancestry.com and found several Warren Wheatons in the 1940 census. One of those men was in Kentucky, but I considered it unlikely he was the same person as Charles and Edith’s son, despite being about the right age. I even found a photograph online of Warren Wheaton at a groundbreaking ceremony in Lawrenceburg.
Once the summer ended, the mystery of Warren Wheaton was pushed aside for more immediate matters.
In spring of this year, Kelly sent me an email to tell me that Timothy had contacted her and, given his details, was more than likely my cousin. Since that time, he and I have exchanged several emails and photos, and when I was in Louisville this August, I visited his sisters in Frankfort. We hit it off right away, and are looking forward to sharing more time together in the future.
Had I not joined the Genographic project four years ago, and this surname group shortly thereafter, such a reunion would have been unlikely. Kelly’s persistence and energy certainly helped make it happen, so I want to say, “Thank you, Kelly!” for bringing some of John Wheaton’s great-grandchildren back together.