Gypsies and Community Pillars

Father’s day always brings one of many opportunities to call Dad and catch up. This year I needed a little more than catching up. I needed reaffirmation that I grew up to be just as Dad had intended (like all children of great fathers, I will always need my Daddy no matter how old I get). Our phone call led us to another conversation that is of genealogical interest. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society circulates weekly surveys relating to genealogy. They may have already asked this one question, but here is one I would like to see responses to: Was your family “gypsies” or pillars of a community?

My Rhoades family are gypsies to the core.  And by gypsy, I mean constantly on the move – not genetically Romani gypsies.  We don’t have any of those in our genealogy that I know of.

A significant trend I have noticed about the Rhoades side of the family is each generation moved west (I am the oddball that backtracked east).  Not one big family westward push, but each male descendant left home and sought fortune and glory far away from home (relatively).  Starting with my father, he was born in Omaha but grew up in a tiny Dam town in South Dakota where he went to the Dam school, and Grandma shopped at the Dam store (Grandma’s favorite joke).  Dad joined the Army, traveled the country and parts of the world, then hopscotched around before landing as far west in the US as possible. 

  • His father (Kenney) was also born in Omaha, Nebraska and grew up there.  But after coming of age, he joined the Navy.  Upon discharge, he kind of hopscotched (not as much as my Dad did) and landed his family in that little Dam town in South Dakota.
  • His grandfather Rhoades (Ken Sr.) was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  His family moved to Michigan after his older half-brother took over the family farm.  He then joined the Navy, settling in Omaha when his service ended.
  • His great-grandfather Rhoades (Daniel) was born in Ohio, grew up in Fort Wayne, lived in Michigan, and died in Omaha.
  • His 2xgreat-grandfather Rhoades (John) was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, married there and moved to Ohio briefly before settling down in Fort Wayne.
  • His next two great-grandfathers Rhoades (both named Henry) were born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and moved together with other members of the family to Westmoreland County.

While this is representative of only the Rhoades line, if you think about it, their wives from the Arthurs, Weigle, Johnson, and Cobe lines followed the same pattern.  Before their daughters married a Rhoades man though, most of these associated families also moved around with each generation and their siblings spread out in adulthood, making cluster research for many branches a bit difficult at times.

Grandma was born and raised in Iowa.  Grandma’s direct Aleck line did not move much.  Xaver emigrated from Germany in 1852 and lived briefly in New York in the tailor’s trade before hopscotching the Midwest and finally settling in Council Bluffs, Iowa near where his Aleck descendants remained.  He did not start his family until he became established in Council Bluffs, his intent all along was to find a place to settle and grow roots.  Grandma’s Kucks people, like the Alecks, moved from Germany to Iowa (with a stop in Illinois) and stayed put.  The Hinkle branch also made one stop, in Indiana, before coming to Iowa.

Chicago in 1833, accessed 21 June 2019 at the Chicago Public Library website. Stephen DeJean’s son, Joseph drove a wagon team with the family’s household goods from New York to the Wisconsin territory in 1837. He was mired down in mud in front of the Tremont House (1833-1839), Chicago and had to send the household goods to Milwaukee by boat while he dug out of the mud. This drawing shows how rural the “town” of Chicago looked in 1833. It didn’t get incorporated into a city until 1837, the same year Joseph passed through.

Then there are the other associated families of the Aleck’s who moved with each generation up to a certain point.  Both the Gages and DeJeans could be considered “old family” in the United States.  The Gages arrived in Massachusetts in 1630 with the Winthrop Fleet.  The DeJeans came to New York around 1795, while the United States was still a young and struggling country.  Within one generation the DeJeans moved westward through New York, and established roots (sort of) around Wisconsin until our specific line continued west, meeting up with the Gages in Iowa.  The Gages moved a little slower at first, hopping from one town to the next in Massachusetts, then into New Hampshire, Vermont, and Illinois.  Edward finally made it to Iowa where he married Luella DeJean, and his daughter married Edward Aleck.

Xaver Aleck used Ox drawn wagons in his travels. Xaver was said to have abandoned plans to move to Nebraska because “he would not live in a country where there was not enough wood with which to make a linchpin.” He spoke from personal experience when his wagon lost a linchpin in the Nebraska prairie and they had to fashion one from a whip handle. Photo accessed 21 June 2019 at the Library of Congress website.

Growing up knowing about all the moves our family has made, especially my parents and me (my mother is a naturalized immigrant), caused me to believe that everyone came from somewhere else as a rule.  My friends at every school I went to were also from roaming families, many of them had at least one parent from another country, as well.  No one was really from where ever it was we lived that year (even Alabama had a lot of incomers as it was a NASA town).  I assumed everyone came from families that were roamers and rovers.  Then I moved to Ohio and all the new friends I met there were born and raised in Columbus or nearby, as were their parents and grandparents.  I was a novelty to them as they were to me.

Clipping of original map showing Danville in 1876D.G. Beers & Co, H.J. Toudy & Co & Worley & Bracher. (1876) Map of Boyle & Mercer counties, Kentucky. Philadelphia: D.G. Beers & Co. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

And now the Coomer line.  They are community pillars.  Kentucky became a state in 1792, and this Coomer line is known to have arrived during the 1830s (some Coomer branches came even earlier) through the Cumberland Gap from Virginia and North Carolina.  My husband is fifth generation “Kentucky”.  FIVE generations!!  He, his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and 2xgreat-grandfather all grew up in Kentucky.  The last three generations grew up in Danville and owned one of the oldest family-run businesses in the city until the 1980s.  Their associated families (Pruitt, Ellis, Tarter, Batey) all have similar stories.  Small family units did move around a little but always remained within a three-county radius of their parents or siblings.  Some offshoots managed to escape into Illinois and Indiana.  LOL

If Kentucky hadn’t experienced so many catastrophic courthouse fires in almost every county, genealogy research would be a breeze on the Coomer and associated families.

Needless to say, my husband is on the other side of the spectrum.  He took for granted that he had such deep roots in a community and assumed everyone had roots somewhere.  And the Coomer’s travel too.  Each generation has family members in the military, to include my husband and father-in-law, and got to visit faraway places.  They love to travel for vacation, especially overseas.  But they always come home to Kentucky, and when they live away from home, they keep up with the “goings on” back home.

Living in Danville with the Coomer family has been an eye-opening experience for me.  And occasionally, it is a struggle.  One of the benefits of being a gypsy is the anonymity which I covet, and have recently learned that my father also appreciates (I am my father’s daughter).  Having roots makes you (your family name) well known in a community, and even if people don’t know you, they know your family history and who you are related to.  It didn’t take long for word to circulate Danville when my husband moved back.  He can’t go to a restaurant without stopping and talking to about three different groups of people who know him.  He can read an article in the local newspaper and tell me who the reporter is and the people mentioned in the report.  I am still getting used to introducing myself and receiving the immediate response of “Oh! Are you related to Hugh?” (my father-in-law).  It makes me simultaneously smile with delight (I am proud to be a member of the Danville Coomers) while cringing at the loss of my anonymity.

Yes, Father’s Day was an excellent opportunity to catch up with Dad, talk about family, and tie it back to my love of genealogy.  And yes, my Dad thinks I am doing just fine. Phew!