In 1998, I posed for photos at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle. I looked great that summer day. My blonde hair was long and wavy. I had some rather fine sunglasses and so I kept striking a pose by various boats and nautical items in the museum. What I did not know then was that I had a connection to a Great Lakes shipwreck.
I did have some nautical connections. After all, my father had served on a heavy cruiser named the USS Oregon during WWII. But I had personally never had any nautical experiences of my own. I had never been on a ship for a voyage of any sort. My nautical experiences had been only been to travel by canoe along the river, a rowboat on a lake, or paying for a steamboat tour.
Still, I felt a deep connection to all things nautical and certainly a bond to the amazing Great Lakes. After all, I am from Michigan and as the expression goes, “4 out of the 5 Great Lakes prefer Michigan.” I loved the Great Lakes so much that most of my vacations as an adult centered around going to a cottage on the Oscoda shores of Lake Huron. Every morning while at Lake Huron, I walked to the beach with coffee in hand and watched the massive Great Lakes steamers that plowed through the water. I telepathed my sincere good wishes to the crew who worked on those massive freighters.
The Great Lakes shores have plenty of tourist shops and I would often visit them and see the sad books about Shipwrecks. It tore at my heart and although many folks are eager to purchase this type of book, it seemed much too sad for me. I would not even pick up the book to look at any possible sad illustrations or photos.
Many of us probably know the Gordon Lightfoot song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I still feel profoundly sad to hear the song. Here are some of the lyrics that stress the dire historical moment.
“And later that night when the ship’s bell rang Could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound And a wave broke over the railing And every man knew, as the captain did too T’was the witch of November come stealin'”
It was in 2006 that I became fascinated with researching genealogy. My beloved mother had passed away that year and I was anxious to find all the family stories that I forgot to ask her about. During my searches on genealogy web sites, I had a bone chilling moment when I realized my family had a strong connection to the Great Lakes ship wreck of the Hippocampus. My 2nd great grandmother, Mary Ann Higbee Hess, was the big sister of Urial Higbee. It was Urial (my 2nd great granduncle) that perished and was lost in this well known shipwreck.
I started to read the very type of story that I had spent years avoiding in those gift stores. As I read, I looked at a pen drawing of the Hippocampus. The artist had pictured it in the angry swell Lake Michigan’s waters. Seeing the illustration wrought me with profound sadness. The same lakes that have always fascinated me with their majesty also could cause unspeakable loss.
Here are articles from the Saint Joseph Herald newspaper from 12 Sep 1868. This was one of the first articles that I found and it was very unnerving to see what may have caused the disaster. A story that literally hinges on a tired ship captain taking a day off and a load of too many peaches being placed on the ship.
There was another article that I found which gives greater context to the type of storm. This article appeared in the Herald-Palladium (St. Jospeh, MI) on 30 Nov 1981.
When Uriel Urial Higbee was born on April 4, 1826, in Sandusky, Ohio, his father, James, was 46 and his mother, Mary, was 43. He married Sarah Louise Dodge in 1844. They had five children during their marriage.
When John Andrew Bravin “Uncle John” was born on March 1, 1922, in Meduno, Udine, Italy, his father, Anibale, was 31 and his mother, Lousa “Louise” Melosso, was 22.
In the 1930 US Census, Uncle John was only 8 years old. He was living with his family then at 924 E. 10th Street, Altoona, PA. The census indicates that both of his parents were born in Italy and that the family language in their home was Italian. In this same year, his younger brother Louis was 5 years old and his sister Madeline was 3 years old. Both Louis and Madeline were born Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Uncle John was a US veteran. He was in the US Marine Corp during WWII and served as a Sergeant.
He died on February 10, 2011, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, at the age of 88, and was buried there.
Here are a few photos from the Groshans family photo collection:
Chauncey was the 3rd Great Grandfather of Eugene Norbert Wiesner.
Here is how they related:
When Chauncey Commodore Hitt was born on August 23, 1812, in Delaware, New York, his father, Isaac, was 27 and his mother, Anne Moore Hitt, was 25. He married Frances Elizabeth Walter in 1839. They had seven children in 15 years. He died on November 14, 1874, in Door, Wisconsin, at the age of 62, and was buried there.
Here is a photo of Chauncey’s wife Frances Elizabeth Walter Hitt that I found on Ancestry and Family Search web sites.
Stories of Chauncey’s life are told in a publication called: “History of Door County, Wisconsin: the county beautiful” Chauncey is listed as one of the first persons to buy land in Door County.
From some of my other research, it appears that just shortly before Chauncey’s death he bought a boarding house attached to a saw mill and turned it into a tavern and saloon to be run by his son Charles. I believe the property was named the “Eagle Hotel.”
These are very small print, and I only have dates and not the names of the newspapers:
Hendrick Jansen Oosteroom was my 8th great grandfather. Here is how we relate:
When Hendrick Jansen Oosteroom was born in 1630 in Netherlands, his father, Jan, was 25 and his mother, Claudina Relyea, was 24. He married Tryntje Lubbertse VanBlarcom and they had five children together. He then married Geesje Jacobs on May 23, 1666. He died in 1670 in Poughkeepsie, New York, at the age of 40.
Here is a photo of records regarding his 2nd marriage:
His name later became Hendrick Jansen Ostrom. A comment made on Family Search.org reads: “The Dutch of New Amsterdam did not use surnames until 1664 when British took control & renamed New York. The surname “Oosteroom” as entered here has seven alternate spellings as seen on records of time frame – whoever could write spelled & wrote what was heard, not what was meant to be heard”
He was also called Hendrick Van Schalwyk which used the place of his birth as his name.
In 1654, there are records of him receiving a land grant for 25 mogens of land in Kill van Kull, the site of what would later be, Bergen New Jersey. Because of problems the settlers were having there with the Native Americans, it seems that Hendrick later took a lease for unsettled land in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, NY. which was a part of British Colonial America. From familysearch.org “He was apparently living in New Jersey when the Indians forced all white persons living west of the Hudson to retreat to New Amsterdam, where his second child was born in 1657.”
My direct ancestor and 2nd Great Grandfather, Garret Spruhan, was born in about 1825 in Kilkenny Ireland. (source reference for birth is the 1860 census) The name Spruhan is rare in the United States and in Ireland.
“Garret Spruhan was a farmer in County Kilkenny. He arrived in New York like many from his country and eventually moved west with the railroads. He married Margaret Denny and had five children. The Spruhan family settled in Crawfordsville, Indiana.The children’s names were as follows: John Arthur, Katherine, William Henry, Eliza J., and Macie.
In 1862 Margaret Denny Spruhan died (She was my 2nd great grandmother). Garret Spruhan returned to farming in 1864 after purchasing land north of Crawfordsville. He also remarried in that year to Ann McKevitt Wood. The family farm prospered over the next four years, as evidenced from estate records. Tragedy hit the family in early 1869 when Garret died.
From the estate records, the Spruhan children were sent to live on farms in neighboring counties. Only Macie remained at the Spruhan farm with her stepmother. Any questions or comments are welcomed.” Note: this means that my great grandfather Henry Spruhan was emancipated at the age of 12!
____________________________ In 1852, at the age of 27, Garrett Spruhan married Margaret Denny. They were married on January 11, 1852 in Hamilton Co., Ohio by a Roman Catholic bishop. In the 1860 census, Garret lives in Union, Montgomery, Indiana. The afore mentioned quotation states that he settled in Crawfordsville, Indiana. (The Civil war would begin on April 12, 1861) __________________________ Garrett had a brother named John Henry. John immigrated to Nova Scotia Canada. He changed the spelling of his last name from Spruhan to Spruin. This is documented in a post found online. http://genforum.genealogy.com/cgi-bin/pageload.cgi?Roanoke::in::36997.html (There seems to be an incorrect piece of information in this post. Garret immigrated in 1850 and NOT 1839. Also, there may be a misspelling of Garret’s second wife’s name.)
Here is the post that I found on-line from family historian Lydia Spruhan: Dear Spruhan Family querers: My name is Lydia Mary Spruhan. I am the genealogist of the family. I can tell you alot about the Spruhans in Indiana. The family began in this country when Garret Spruhan came to America from Ireland in 1839, and married Margaret Denny, also from Ireland. The were married in the Roman Catholic Church, by the Bishop of Pennsylvania. Garret became a naturalized citizen in 1940. I still have his original naturalization papers, as well as official “copies” issued by the Gov’t. He and his wife moved to Crawfordsville, Indiana and began a family, the oldest being John Arthur (NOT Alexander) Spruhan, who is my great-great-grandfather. I have many photos of him, as well as letters to my grandfather from his daughter, my great-great. Eliza, whom you also mentioned, became the first female attorney in the State of Indiana, and carried the name Eliza Spruhan Painter. She ran a charity for Confederate Soldiers from the Civil War. But, I am jumping ahead of myself here. There were many children born to the Spruhans, some of whom died in infancy. They were all baptized at the Catholic church in Crawfordsville. I have the original church ledgers if you would like to see them. When Garret and Margaret were still fairly young, Margaret died. Garret married a woman named Ann McKerritt, also from Ireland, as a second wife. After Garret died (I have never found out whether he died in the Civil War after conscription or of natural causes), the children were sadly separated into different families in the community. I have the name of the family who raised Eliza and the younger children. I’ll have to look it up for you, it’s German. John Arthur and Henry were already of sufficient age to be emancipated as adults. John Arthur married Joan America Bohannon, who is in herself quite a story. Their children are in my direct line, so I can share that history with you as well if you wish. Her family dates back to the pre-Revolutionary times, and my female ancestors and aunts have always been in the DAR due to the connection to John Bohannon who served in the Virginia militia during the Revolution. John Arthur was the railroad man for the stop in Crawfordsville for many years. His son, Fred Garret Spruhan went to Purdue and also became an Engineer. His son, John Galey Spruhan, is my grandfather, also a Purdue grad and engineer. John Halsey Spruhan was the only child of John Galey Spruhan and my grandmother, Beatrice Halsey, who only recently died a few years ago at 93. After John Halsey Spruhan, of Salem, VA, comes Paul Wesley Spruhan, my brother, and then his son, my five-year old nephre Bahe Spruhan. Paul lives in Arizona with his Navajo wife, Bidtah. Both of his children are also enrolled in the Navajo Nation (tribe).
Back to the beginning: The Spruhans come from County Carlow, and County Kilkenny, Ireland. Garret was from Kilkenny, and he has a brother who also emigrated around the same time to Nova Scotia. the family there changed the spelling of their name so it would be pronounced correctly (Sproo-in), NOT Sproo-Han. They go by the spelling Spruin. John Henry Spruin is the brother who went to Canada. His son, John, is somewhat of a local Nova Scotia hero, as he was one of the “Halifax Nine”, who were first responding fireman at the Halifax explosion (when a munitions boat exploded in Halifax Harbor, killing all nine, who were the only fireman who responded, given the seriousness of the explosion and the certainty of death. There are still Spruins in Canada whom I know of.
Back to Ireland: The Spruhan Family are all buried back hundreds of years from Garret’s arrival in the US, at St. Columbkille’s Cemetery in Thomastown. There are barrows in the distance of the ancient Celtic kings who the area around the Nor River (Black River) in Kilkenny. There are Spruhans still there, in the area of Carlow bordering Thomastown, Kilkenny. They are headed by Thomas and Peggy Spruhan, and they have five sons, one of whom I talk to, Edmond, who lives in the Boston area. One of Edmond’s brothers, Michael I believe, lived and worked in Mexico City, and married a Mexican woman. They have a son named Emilio. So, as you can see with the Navajo & Mexican influences, our family is quite diverse.
Of course I have the documents and photos for all of this. There are a few other Spruhans in my home state of VA: Jack Spruhan, my great uncle (Fred Garret’s cousin), and his local hero father, Pinky (Guy) Spruhan RIP, who was the football coach at Roanoke College for many years.
What else are you wanting to know about? Henry Spruhan is your ancestor, I do have a family tree which comes down to the 1980s. there should be two siblings named Paul (not my brother Paul) and his sister Cinnamon Spruhan. they also had a younger brother who died as a child. Cinnamon should be in her 30s and Paul is a young free spirited 20 something. People often search for my brother, Paul, on Facebook, and are si surprized when they find Paul Spruhna from Henry’s line, as he seems to be into counter culture…like Punk Rock or skateboards or similar style.
As I said, you’ll have to ask my some more questions if I’m to help you find (or have myself alreay), the particular documents or information you require.
Interesting piece of sad Famine-era family history: there was a young woman named Bridget Spruhan who jumped to her death from a prison ship rather than be put into a life of servitude and slavery in Australia. For some reason the song “Fields of Athenry” makes me cry, most likely due to Bridget’s experience. Many regards, Lydia Mary Spruhan Salem, VA _______________________ Of Garret’s children, my direct ancestor is Henry Joseph Spruhan who married Caroline Baur. Henry was 12 at the time of his father’s death and was thus thrust into an early adulthood emancipation. (Henry Spruhan was my Great Grandfather)
My name is Linda Claire Hess Groshans
List of generations: Garret Spruhan and Margaret Denny Henry Joseph Spruhan and Caroline “Carrie” Baur Henrietta Spruhan and George K. Hess, Sr. Robert Lawrence Hess and Gretchen Lois Ream (my parents)
Comments from Ancestry.com
“Nor River: The Spruhan Family are all buried back hundreds of years from Garret’s arrival in the US, at St. Columbkille’s Cemetery in Thomastown. There are barrows in the distance of the ancient Celtic kings who the area around the Nor River (Black River) in Kilkenny.”