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.