The discovery of gold in 1848 by James Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma resulted in an influx of about three hundred thousand eager young men into California seeking their fortune. Most went bust and returned home; a tiny few discovered their fortunes and became rich; and then there were those, like my great, great, great uncle Abner Vanderwalker, who were able to find a way to carve out a satisfactory life for themselves. At least for a while…Continue reading
The Vanderwalker/Vanderwarker/Vanderwarken family tree goes back to Colonial times in the early 1600s. They were a prominent family in upstate New York near Saratoga and included at least two patriots who fought in the American Revolution. My ancestors, of course, were in the branch of the family that left town to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
This is my biological line through my great grandmother, Agnes Call.
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 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.
John McCall was born in Scotland on June 20, 1822. Four years later, on August 10, 1826, the woman who would become his wife, Mary Fulton was born, also in Scotland. While still a young girl, Mary immigrated to Canada with her parents. In 1844, the Fultons then immigrated to Rhode Island, where Mary and John met. They were married October 25, 1846 in Providence and later moved to Savoy, Massachusetts. Two years later, on February 24, 1846, a boy was born nearby. Later in his life, he would be described as a “lame” boy, but whether his disability was due to an accident or a birth defect is unknown. When that boy was orphaned, the McCalls adopted him and named him Finley.