Saturday, February 23, 2013

Families: Large or Small?

Anyone who has researched ancestors in the United States during the 1800s or before has surely noticed the one inherent characteristic of the listings of those times: the families were generally larger. Much larger.

For whichever of the litany of supposed reasons why family size seems to have fallen off a sheer cliff upon entrance into the twentieth century, the Bean family apparently opted to be an early adopter: they took to that new “style” before it even became fashionable. In the 1860s, Leon Bean found himself sharing any potential sibling rivalries with only one partner: his younger sister Blanche.

Leon and Blanche spent their youth in their family home in Redwood City. Their parents, however, were not native Californians. As you can imagine, in the years post-Gold Rush, California became a magnet for boatloads of immigrants—both from abroad, and also from points east in the United States.

Leon’s parents were a case in point. Samuel Bean, born somewhere in Maine around 1825, arrived by boat in San Francisco some time around 1850. Leon’s mother made the same journey as a single woman, leaving Maine bound for San Francisco.

Samuel married Celia W. Hankerson on July 5, 1861, in Redwood City, where the carpenter and his bride established their home. Leon, the oldest of the two children, arrived in May, 1863. His sister Blanche Celia followed on June 4, 1865.

Dates like those would qualify this Bean family to be designated by the San Mateo County Genealogical Society as Founding Families in the First Families of San Mateo County Project—if there were any descendants currently alive today.

Think of it: while we’ve read about states conducting First Families projects, this county designation would flag Samuel Bean’s family as one of a mere 3,214 residents in 1860.

However, because all the Bean family descendants I’ve known—or have been able to find—have all passed away, there is no mechanism in place with which to recognize this family’s place in San Mateo County history.

And it’s partly owing to the fact that this family has been so small.

Perhaps that’s why researching this line has resonated so much with me over the years. I’ve had a particular sensitivity to the state of having a family so small, it lacks even the sense of family-ness.

You may remember my small-family screed from last Thanksgiving—the post where I bemoaned that lack of sense of family. In researching the Bean family, I may have transferred some of that lonely sense from my own family to that of this Samuel Bean and his own “Us Four, No More.”

Lacking in this family were any of the usual photographs of the time, depicting ample family life busting from the seams of the homestead. Think about it: if it weren’t for Leon and Ella having twin boys, they, too, would have carried on the two child tradition. Moving through the next generation, neither Leona nor Bill had any children; it was blind-and-deaf twin Sam who became the sole provider of grandchildren for Leon and Ella. And of those two boys born to Sam and Maud, only the younger went on to have any children. In that generation? You guessed it: Earle had two children, too. And, as of last November, not a one of the whole bunch of them is with us, today.

Oh, I can reach back three generations to Leon’s sister and find an exception to that rule: Blanche and her husband actually had four children. Of course, I never met Blanche, nor did any of the family I did know ever mention her—the connection must have been lost decades before. Now, however, I can use some of those hard-earned genealogical research skills to see if there is anyone left of that branch of the original family that started with Samuel and Celia.

What makes me want to look so hard for someone with whom I have no remaining connection? Oh, maybe it’s just that same yearning felt as the kid sitting out in the cold on a lonely Thanksgiving morning, wishing there were family coming over for dinner.

Photograph: Around the dinner table, undated and unlabeled photograph from Bill Bean collection. Bill's wife, Ellen Danielson Bean, sits to the back of the left side of the table. Closest to the front of that side of the table may possibly be Bill's nephew, Sam Bean, junior.


  1. I'm trying to decide what I'm feeling right now - sad for the seeming end of a family or uplifted by the hope of finding descendants.

    As for the first arrival -- by boat?!?! That had to be a heck of a long journey. I'm not up on my train history, but was there no train? No wagon?

    1. Wendy, I'm trying to track down the specific passenger list for Leon and Celia. I know there is a family photograph that mentioned having their furniture come around the horn, but I've since found a ship's list that included "S. Bean" (that's a long stretch) which included notes explaining that they started this particular journey from the west side of the Panama isthmus. Whether that was our Samuel Bean or not, I guess that cuts the trip in half, but still...the entry on the ship's records indicated that they passed another ship in distress and picked up all the women and children. Rough times.

  2. That was some boat trip..around the horn of South that is a long sea voyage. Diaries from that time would be wonderful to read.
    You are correct they had a small family..for the times of no birth control:)

    1. Far Side, you are right about that: a diary from a journey like that would be fascinating.

      I have yet to find the specific vessel for each of the journeys--one for Samuel, one for Celia (and possibly her sister)--but just in looking, I'm realizing that even though this pre-dates the Panama canal, many took a route that included a land journey to connect with a Pacific Ocean vessel across one of the Central American countries.

  3. It's too bad that they don't qualify to be a Founding Family because they have no living descendants. It doesn't seem fair. :(

  4. Well, Deborah, you know everything's negotiable. I can always ask. :)

  5. This post REALLY made me think. Wow. "Us four, no more." That seems to be the "rule" today--one girl, one boy--and yet it is indeed sad to think of family lines dying out. I wonder if that happens more frequently these days. My ancestors seemed to want more than 10 children, and many of them as time progressed were able to see most of these children live to maturity and have their own children.

    Now there is less outward concern about preserving the family line or "daughtering out," as they used to call it. But people still want, and need, that family connection between past and present.

    1. Mariann, I had never heard the term, "daughtering out." Interesting descriptor!

      When you really think of it, though, each family line is not that far from dying out--sometimes only one generation stands between continuing the line...or not. Now that I think of some other lines in our own family's heritage, I can think of others who, though having even three or four children, had none who chose to continue the line into the next generation.

      It is interesting to contemplate all the dynamics and many facets of life that go into the decisions which either produce the next generation, or end the line with the current generation.

  6. I've found some " Blanche Descendents" for you. :)

    E-mailed you a link - about a quilt that Samuel's amazing wife Celia made.

    Celia was from Bangor, Maine, and I found a reference to a Samuel Bean that lived in Corinth, Maine (a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Bangor....) so perhaps we can determine where in Maine Sammy hailed from?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...