Wednesday, January 30, 2013


One thing that fascinates me in the genealogical research of my family is how often family lines intertwine. In times when people didn’t often travel far from the places of their births, in rural areas where people were tied to their land, and in migrations when a group of families crossed national boundaries together it’s not unusual to find multiple connections between families. A common example of this is when several children of one family marry several children of a second family. These multi-sibling marriages are relatively common in my family. When I also add in connections that cross generations and connections that join family branches, instances of intertwining lines occur surprisingly often.

Some of my past blog posts mention incidents of family lines connecting in more than one place. A few months ago I wrote about the unsettlingly intertwined Grant and Hubbard families.  Earlier this month I discussed connections among the Arneth, Startzman, and Reitenauer families. And in the footnote to the Hirvi post last week I described how June Megley’s two marriages connected the Hirvi and Hietanen lines of my family.

Today I’m going to outline the interconnections among the Shanower, King, and Gerber families. Pay attention. This gets complicated.

Possible photo of Sophia King Shanower (1841-1877).
My discovery of these interconnections began with my great-great-grandfather Benjamin Franklin Shanower (1845-1928) and his first wife Sophia King Shanower (1841-1877), who lived during their seven-year marriage in Stark County, Ohio. Information on Sophia King was lacking. I had made an attempt to find her family of origin, but the information that surfaced wasn’t conclusive. It can be hard to prove things with such a common surname as King. And since I’m descended from Benjamin Franklin’s second wife Louisa “Lucy” Leifer (1856-1916), I had no direct blood connection to his first wife Sophia King Shanower as far as I knew. So she wasn’t my highest research priority.

I found another King—Emeline King (1839-1914)—on another branch of the family tree. Emeline also lived in Stark County, Ohio. Her husband was David E. Gerber (1834-1921), a Stark County native descended from Swiss immigrants to Pennsylvania, some via Alsace, France. Emeline and David were the parents of Melissa Agnes Gerber (1861-1942), who married my great-great-great-uncle William Zachary Shanower (1855-1903). (You can read about Melissa and William’s son Harvey Allen Shanower’s first marriage here.) William Zachary was a brother of Benjamin Franklin Shanower. That made William Zachary’s wife Melissa a sister-in-law to Benjamin Franklin’s wife Sophia King Shanower. This family relationship, as well as geographic proximity, made me wonder whether Sophia King Shanower and Emeline King Gerber might be from the same King family. Their births were two years apart. Maybe they were sisters.

The Gerber family about 1900. Back, left to right: Mary E. "Mellie" Gerber Miller, John Calhoun Gerber, George W. Gerber, Edson (Edward) D. Gerber, David H. S. Gerber (of whom more below), Elva Gerber Riley. Front, left to right: Kathryn E. "Kate" Gerber Yutze, David E. Gerber (husand and father), Jennie L. Gerber, Emeline King Gerber (wife and mother), Melissa Agnes Gerber Shanower (wife of William Zachary Shanower).

I re-doubled my efforts to identify Sophia's King family. It turned out I was right—Emeline and Sophia were sisters, daughters of Abraham King (1804-1888) and Phoebe Reichenbach King (1807-1885). Abraham and Phoebe King were parents to a large brood, all born in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The last name King had been Americanized from Koenig, and both Abraham's and Phoebe's ancestors had come from Switzerland, as several of my family lines did.

The King family moved to Canton, Stark County, Ohio, about 1856. Their farm was next door to the Gerber farm, so it surely wasn't long before Emeline King met her neighbor David E. Gerber. In 1858 they married. Like Emeline's parents, she and David also gave birth to a large brood.

The Gerber farmhouse about five miles south of Canton, Stark County, Ohio, circa 1910. Emeline King Gerber is the seated woman on the right. Her husband David E. Gerber is the seated man. They are surrounded by some of their children and their children's families. The King family, who were Emeline's parents and siblings, lived on the farm next door from about 1856 to 1866. The farm of Aaron King, brother of Emeline and Sophia, was another two doors down during the same period.

David and Emeline Gerber's eldest daughter Clara Ellen Gerber (1859-1881), like her sister Melissa and her aunt Sophia, married a Shanower. Clara married John A. Shanower (1851-1923), another of my great-great-great-uncles. John was a brother of both William Zachary, Melissa’s husband, and Benjamin Franklin, Sophia’s husband. Clara and John's marriage made Clara’s Aunt Sophia also her sister-in-law. (Although this double relationship was academic, since Sophia was dead by the time Clara married John in 1880.)

David Shanower Gerber's adoption certificate.
On July 30, 1881, John and Clara Ellen Gerber Shanower had their first and only child, David Henry Shanower (1881-1972). Clara died four days later from delivery complications. Her death certificate lists cause of death as “Childbed.” By the time David was four years old, his father John evidently wasn't up to the task of single fatherhood, so it was decided that David’s maternal grandparents, David E. Gerber and Emeline King Gerber, would adopt him. The adoption went through on November 23, 1885.

David Henry Shanower took the last name Gerber. His descendants are all my cousins twice over—through both the Shanower line and the adopted Gerber line. They’re one generation closer to me through the Shanower line.

My first cousin three times removed David Henry Shanower Gerber is related to Sophia King Shanower in three ways. He’s her nephew through her marriage to his uncle Benjamin Franklin. He’s her grand-nephew through her sister Emeline, his grandmother. He’s her nephew again through his adoption by Emeline. So Sophia King Shanower, who I thought was only connected to me by her marriage to my great-great-grandfather Benjamin Franklin Shanower, turns out to be connected also through David Henry, our common blood relative, as well as through his birth parents. That makes Sophia my great-great-great-aunt-in-law and my great-great-great-great-aunt-in-law, as well as my great-great-step-grandmother. Three relatives in one.

The Gerber family, circa 1884. When I first saw this photo I'd read of David Henry Shanower's adoption by his maternal grandparents, but I didn't put two-and-two together and realize that the boy on the front right, who was identified as David Gerber, is actually my Shanower cousin. Obviously I realize that now. Back, left to right: George W. Gerber, Kathryn E. "Kate" Gerber Yutze, John Calhoun Gerber, Edward D. Gerber. Middle, left to right: Melissa Agnes Gerber Shanower (wife of William Zachary Shanower), Elva Gerber Riley, David E. Gerber (husband and father), Emeline King Gerber (wife, mother, and Sophia King Shanower's sister), Mary E. "Mellie" Gerber Miller. Front, left to right: Jennie L. Gerber and David Henry Shanower Gerber (son of John A. Shanower and Clara Ellen Gerber Shanower, adopted by David and Emeline Gerber).

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