My great great grandparents, John E. Congleton and Almira Almy had a large family. But like most families in the 19th century, not all of their eleven children would make it to adulthood. Learning where each of them had been born allowed me to trace the meandering migration path they took across America which finally lead them to settle in California.
My father’s family has been in the United States for several generations and in some cases since before there was a United States. Both sides of his family arrived in Sonoma County, California fairly early on in the local history. His mother’s side of his line arrived in the 1850s, while his father’s side arrived in the 1870s.
THE LIVES OF TWO FAMILIES INTERSECT
Both John Call and Mary Fulton were born in Scotland in the 1820s. Mary immigrated with her family to Canada while still a child. The family subsequently relocated to Rhode Island where Mary met and married John Call in 1844. They then moved to Massachusetts where their son, Finley, was born in in 1846. But unfortunately, the couple would not be blessed with any additional children of their own.
My great great grandmother began her life on February 14, 1861 in the tiny snow-bound village of Moscow, Minnesota as Agnes Vanderwalker. Sadly, her mother, Clarinda Stokes Vanderwalker, died in childbirth leaving her father, Isaac Vanderwalker, with six young children. When the Civil War broke out two months later, he decided it would be best to hand the infant over into the care of a local couple who wanted to expand their family. And after being adopted by John and Mary Call who, in 1870, relocated to a farm on Bailhache Avenue outside of Healdsburg, California, Agnes Vanderwalker Call did enjoy an idyllic childhood. [More details here.]
By the time Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton was 26 years old, she had already experienced a lifetime of tribulation. She had lost her mother at birth, been given away to the neighbors by her father, been relocated 2,000 miles from home by her adoptive parents, endured a “shotgun marriage” to a handsome ne’er-do-well, given birth to three children, lost a son to illness, and managed to obtain a divorce under the repressive laws of the 1880s.
In 1870, when Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton Wilson was a small girl, she travelled from Minnesota to Healdsburg with her adopted parents John and Mary Call.
In February 1861, in a drafty frontier cabin on a farm in the newly-minted state of Minnesota, Clarinda Stokes Vanderwalker died giving birth to her daughter Agnes. Clarinda and husband Isaac Vanderwalker already had five children, four of them girls. They were fourteen year old Elizabeth, twelve year old Helen, ten year old George, six year old Mary, and five year old Clara who was afflicted with dwarfism. The two older girls may have wanted to take care of their new baby sister Agnes, but in the dead of winter in rural Minnesota it could not have been easy. As Agnes’ daughter Helen Wilson Peterson describes in the audio clip below, the best option available to widower Isaac Vanderwalker was to give the baby away to the neighbors who had access to a milk cow.
The saga of my Great Grandmother Agnes’ life spanned a number of major world events, and that never rang more true than in the early twentieth century. To learn about the interesting first chapters of her life please check out The Early Years, Agnes Makes a Regrettable Choice, Agnes Rejoins Healdsburg Society, A New Family for a New Century, and A Sister Found and Lost.
THE GREAT WAR
In the years leading up to the United States entering the Great War in April of 1917, Agnes and Albert Wilson had become quite active in the progressive politics of the Pomona Grange of Healdsburg. However, once the country was directly involved in the global conflict, their focus shifted. They, along with so many other citizens of Healdsburg, jumped on the patriotic bandwagon and campaigns to sell Liberty Bonds were quickly organized.
Throughout the decades, my Great Grandmother encountered numerous challenges, but she was always able to persevere while at the same time still finding enjoyment and purpose in her life. The 1930s were a tough time for the whole country but, as always, Agnes made the best of the bad situation.