Thursday, May 20, 2021

Untangling the Strands
of a Family's Legacy


Of the five children surviving at their father's untimely death, Joseph Henry Harrison Ijams claimed three sons and two daughters. It was the daughters who likely had not much more than a dim memory of their departed father, for Martha was four years of age, and her younger sister Caroline a mere six months old, when their mother Mary was left a widow.

Martha Osbern Ijams was born in Knoxville and remained there until her death in 1943, leaving behind her husband, Canadian E. Clyde Gothard, a former proprietor of a downtown hat store turned insurance salesman and board member of his brother-in-law's Tennessee Mill and Mine Supply Company. That brother-in-law, husband to Martha's sister Carrie, was George Henry Miles Manning, whose abrupt and early death eerily echoed Carrie's experience with her own father, and left their only child fatherless as a teenager.

Of Joseph Ijams' sons, the eldest—himself left fatherless as a teenager—was William E. Ijams. Married to Mabel Townsend—a community-minded woman who served on the national board of the Girl Scouts—in his early years, "W. E." was employed by the East Tennessee National Bank. He later secured a position in charge of the freight department for the Little River Railroad in Townsend, Tennessee, which he still occupied at the time of his 1930 death. Just as his sister Carrie had left an only son, W. E. left an only daughter.

Joseph Ijams' second-born son, Howard Aiken Ijams, was not quite ten years of age when he lost his father. Unlike his siblings who remained in their home town, Howard left Knoxville to study medicine at the University of Michigan and later served in a medical capacity at the United States embarkation camp at Newport News, Virginia, during the first World War. He returned to Knoxville where for a while, he served as city physician. Once again, the extended Ijams family suffered news of another sudden death when, in 1923 at the age of forty nine, Howard's automobile was struck broadside by a street car.

Despite the many tragic turns the extended Ijams family suffered over the years, it is the story of the last remaining son of Joseph and Mary Aiken Ijams we'll focus on in the next few days. By far the longest-lived of his siblings, Harry Pearle Ijams was also the child who gave his mother the most grandchildren.

Those two details, while quite the opposite of the experience of his siblings, do not yield us the prime reason to trace his family line. It is in the story of this youngest son of Joseph and Mary Ijams that we find the faintest—yet most tantalizing—connection tying the legacy of beneficent uncle Isaac Ijams' nephew Joseph Henry Harrison Ijams with the story of how we discovered the correct pronunciation of that Ijams surname in the first place.

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