It all started with an email that said, "My name is Julia. I am a Testerman and I have lots of info. Please call me." So I did, and we had a delightful 3-hour conversation over two nights. Julia did have lots of info, and she was able to flesh out the bare outline of her ancestors' lives that I had found in historical records. A subsequent phone conversation with Julia's cousin Helen and emails from another cousin, Kathryn, added more details to the story.
- Yes, Mary Frances Nickell, Julia's great-grandmother, was married before she married George Turner Castle, my great-grandfather. Her first husband's name was Silas Monroe Testerman, and he did die tragically before the birth of his daughter and namesake, Salina Monrovia Testerman.
- Silas Monroe was pretty amazing. He was only 27 when he died, but he had accomplished a lot in his short life. He was a schoolteacher. He was a Mason and helped organize the Grange (in Morgan County, I presume); he kept a journal of his travels (which I hope to read); he played the violin and the dulcimer; he held a long-standing record as a high jumper; and on his way to school one morning he saved the life of a drowning man but lost his own life in the attempt.
- On the subject of names: Helen told me that in the years following the drowning a lot of new parents named their sons Monroe. All three cousins told me that their grandmother was emphatic in her preference to be called Monrovia.
- Kathryn's mother told her that Monrovia was in the wagon with her mother and her new husband, George Castle, when Monrovia jumped down and ran back to her Testerman grandparents, "crying that she did not want to leave them." She was 8. She apparently stayed with them until she married Alonzo Jones in 1898. Those are the kinds of details I love and the kind of thing we wouldn't know from the historical record. It seems that both of our families were lucky that our grandmothers passed down their childhood memories.
- I mentioned to Julia that my grandmother told me that when Grandpa Castle died, her cousin John Smith Castle went to Hazel Green to get Cora, who was going to school at Hazel Green Academy. She said, "Oh, my goodness! Both Monrovia and Alonzo graduated from Hazel Green Academy!" Here's another scrap of memory that has more significance now that I know that Cora was following in her older sister's footsteps. (I just realized while writing this that John Smith Castle, who was the son of James Harvey Castle and his wife Elizabeth Nickell, was Cora's first cousin on both her father's and her mother's side.)
- Monrovia and Alonzo had 9 children: Carl; Bernice; Clarice; Estella (who preferred to be called Estelle); Mary Catherine (named for her great-grandmother, Mary Catherine "Kitty" Brooks Nickell); Vernon; Wendell; Virginia; and Alfred. Helen is the daughter of Bernice, the second of Monrovia's children; Julia's father was Vernon, child number 6; and Kathryn's mother was the next to youngest, Virginia.
- Mary Catherine was the only child that did not reach adulthood. She died of diphtheria; Monrovia also caught it but survived. Alonzo went to town and got the diphtheria vaccine and vaccinated the rest of the children.
- Finally, the answer to this question: Did Monrovia and Cora visit each other as adults? Yes! Kathryn has photos of the two of them together when they were older. The two sisters were close. When I asked this question of Julia, she told me I needed to talk to her cousin Helen, because Helen was actually born in Herington, Kansas, where Cora and Fred Jones lived. Fred had gotten Helen's father a job with the railroad in Herington, and the family moved there. Helen lived there until she was 7.
- Monrovia lived to be 96. In her later years she moved to live with her daughter, Bernice, in Nampa, Idaho. She had a small mobile home in Bernice's back yard. Helen remembers her as a sweet-tempered person, although Julia remembers her as also being "straight-laced."
- In 1976 Carl, Bernice, Clarice, Vernon, and Julia went on a road trip to visit every place that the Testermans had lived, including Herington, Kansas, and Morgan County, Kentucky. Helen has a picture of her mother, Bernice, with our mutual cousin Ralph Jones from that trip.
I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Julia, Helen, and Kathryn. Their memories and their obvious love of their family have made me feel as if I have also met their parents; their grandmother, Monrovia; and their great-grandfather, Silas Monroe.
One more goose-pimply coincidence: How did Julia find me? She is in the habit of doing genealogy research at the McClung Library in Knoxville, Tennessee, near where she lives. A fellow genealogy researcher there suggested she look at my blog because he knew that she was a Testerman. How did he find my blog? He researches the Reeds, another of my ancestral families. I'm so glad he shared his find with Julia!