Monday, June 30, 2008

An Independent Man: John WILKINSON, Jr.

When Jasia called for posts for the 51st Carnival of Genealogy, I had a little trouble coming up with someone in my family tree who would fit this description AND who was deceased:
With the upcoming July 4th holiday, there is no more perfect time to honor someone from your family whose life can be summed up in one word – INDEPENDENT! Do you have a relative who was feisty, spoke their own mind, was a bit of a free spirit? Anyone who most people might consider a “nut” on the family tree but you know they really just followed a “different tune?”

I can think of a number of independent individuals in my family, all living, and all women--people I truly admire. So I got to thinking, "Were there any men in the family that could have been described as independent or a free spirit?" Well, I don't know for certain, but I think that John WILKINSON, Jr. might have fit the bill. Here's an opportunity for me to highlight another single person in my family tree; too often, it's the direct ancestors, or the relatives who married and had children that get featured in family stories. But those single men and women have their place, too, and contribute to our family histories in diverse, and often profound ways. They often had more freedom to travel, pick up and settle multiple times, and try new experiences than those who had families to support.

The history of John WILKINSON, Jr. begins on 25 March 1879 in what was then Northumberland Co., Ontario, Canada, probably in or near the unincorporated community of South Monaghan, situated halfway between the cities Peterborough and Port Hope in present-day Durham County. He was the fourth of seven children born to John WILKINSON, Sr., a carpenter, and Mahala SAYERS, and the last of their children to be born in Canada before they immigrated to Muskegon County, Michigan in late 1880, successfully avoiding both the 1880 U.S. Federal Census and the 1881 Canadian Census!

There may have been something in John's upbringing that caused him to be independent. His siblings, for the most part, all seemed to be a bit unusual. His oldest sibling, Mary J. WILKINSON, my great-grandmother, seems to have been the most traditional, marrying her husband and having 13 children, a not-so-surprising number in those days. Then came Manley, who married a German immigrant and had 11 children. Not one of those offspring married, except for the youngest, Alvin; and he waited until both his parents were deceased! What was the deal behind that? Next came William James, who moved out west to Washington State for a while. The family history always showed him as single, but I found him in a census with a wife and several children. However, he returned to Michigan to live with his sister until his death. No spouse or children were listed in his obituary. Did he divorce? Catherine seemed fairly typical, but like her brother Manley, married an immigrant from another country (Sweden). She outlived him to marry again. After John came Frederick, who married a woman with a similar name, Fredericka. They moved to Washington State, like William, and lived for quite some time in the community of Freeland, which was started as a utopia for those with socialist sympathies. Ella contributed to the ethnic diversity of the family by marrying an Italian street vendor. And poor little Jennie died young.

We know that John migrated around quite a bit. He homesteaded in the Peace River area near Ft. St. Johns, British Columbia, although my attempts to locate his land have been futile, John Wilkinson being a fairly common name. He also lived in Monroe, Snohomish Co., Washington for a while, with a SAYERS cousin, relatives on his mother's side. I had an opportunity to meet the daughter of this cousin when she was elderly, and she told how she, her siblings, and her cousins loved Cousin John: how they would get into water fights with him when fetching water from the well! My paternal grandfather, a grandnephew of John also had fond stories to tell about how he used to play with the youngsters in the family. He may not have had children of his own, but John apparently loved and was beloved by the little ones in his extended family!

While in Washington State, John enlisted with Co. C. of the 35th Regiment of the U.S. Volunteer Infantry to serve during the Philippine Insurrection, which occurred at the end of the Spanish-American War. Did he become naturalized as part of his enlistment? I don't know. I do think it fits his independent personality that he did not serve in a well-known war, but served in a smaller military venture, instead. When he returned to Michigan, there was no local military fraternal organization specifically for that operation, so he joined the Guy V. Henry Post, Camp 3 of the United Spanish War Veterans in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

During the Depression, he worked as a teamster, and owned a farm in Paris Twp., Kent Co., Michigan, which was worth $9,000--a tidy sum in those days! Paris Township was nowhere near any of his siblings, so unlike many single men of his day, he did not live with a sibling or elderly parents. In the 1940s, he lived in Rothbury, Oceana Co., Michigan, another community away from his siblings. However, he is mentioned in his siblings' obituaries as a survivor, suggesting that although they may have lived apart, there were still good relations between them. These many locations show a man on the move, but a prosperous and apparently happy one.

I have seen one photograph of John. He could be described as handsome, on the shorter side, with dark hair and a mustache. He is standing outside his automobile, dressed in a suit, hat, and long coat. The photograph was taken during the 20s, probably during a visit to his widowed sister and her daughter, who may have taken it. (I wish I still had a copy of it; I scanned it back in my pre-Scanfest days, when I was ignorant of digital storage, and it's now irretrievable. The original in a borrowed scrapbook seems to now be in Texas.)

At this time, I do not know his death location, but he died 6 August 1955 and was buried in the Wilkinson family plot in Oakhurst Cemetery, Whitehall Twp., Muskegon Co., Michigan.



Source: Tombstone of John Wilkinson, Jr. Oakhurst Cemetery, Whitehall Twp., Muskegon Co., Michigan. Digital photograph taken at the request of Miriam Robbins Midkiff by Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness volunteer Toni Falcom. Digital copy in the possession of Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, Washington. 2002.

What do you think? Was John WILKINSON, Jr. an independent, free spirit? I am certain of it!
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