PATIENCE REUNITES THE SEWELL FAMILY
AFTER 70 YEARS!
By Donna Sewell Clark & Phil Nendick
This article was originally published in the April 2007 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
I joined the Sole Society in 2001 to begin my search for family connections to William Shield Sewell. The Sole Society website, an opportunity to post photos/ articles, along with the impressive CD of data was tremendous help in making my research a success. Also, my background in public health, including experiences with Oregon’s vital records department, taught her the importance of going to the original documents to collect, research and validate pertinent family facts. All this paid off!
In May, Diana Kennedy contacted me regarding an inquiry from a fellow in England about my posting/ family photo, which included my great grandmother (Statira Bell Sewell) and father (William Shield Sewell), great aunt and two cousins. This researcher, Phil Nendick noted that one of the young girls in my posted photo was his mother!
Yes, it’s been nearly 70 years since the family was in contact. Due to premature death and war, family contacts were lost. But now I have four new cousins across the pond…... Phil Nendick, my second cousin living in Bromsgrove; his son, Ol from Newcastle on Tyne, his 79 year old mother, Erica living in Farnsfield and his mother’s sister, Eileen (84) living in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Both the gals are a little older than their photo @ age 5 and 8 respectively.
Amazing, that Phil recognized his mother! Over the last several months we have been piecing together the family tree, sharing photos and stories. So more family stories will emerge as time and memories permit.
One of the key questions is why my grandfather, Ernest Sewell left England in the first place. According to Phil and Erica, the story is that Ernest, who was employed in the family business around 1901 but living at home, arrived after his curfew to find he was locked out. So, being of sound mind and courage he just left to find his fortune in a far off land never returning to England again. Fortunately, that estrangement didn’t last forever; family letters between Ernest, his father William, mother Statira and sister Annie Maude Sewell Johns continued even after his premature death 13th October 1929, in Oregon, United States. While Ernest never saw his family again, his wife Leola Sewell (my grandmother) corresponded with the family in England. She kept many photos and family letters that I used for references.
One of the more touching letters is one sent from my great grandfather William Shield Sewell to my grandmother, Leola, shortly after the birth of her first son, Robert Ernest, my father. Of course it’s written so eloquently in beautiful handwriting. When I read it, tears come to my eyes not only for me, but also for the feelings, tenderness and wisdom he shares with my grandmother as he reflects on the long view of his life.
Dear Mrs. Ernest, August 31, 1921
It is not very often I am so fortunate as to be able to read a letter from an American lady, but having been in the States a few times weeks myself such a letter strongly appeals to me. I can assure you, anything and everything American is good food for me and I admire in no small degree that wonderful and progressive country. I like it because it’s watchword is Liberty, I like it because it prefers Peace to War, and I like it most of all because it is free of all monarchical pomp and its republic in every sense of the word. I spent some pleasant days in the States and though it is many years ago I still look back on that visit as the great educational lever in my life pilgrimage, the Yankees were kind to me and I never forget a kindness, yes, it is a wonderful country and a more wonderful people.
I have heard with pleasure that you are the mother of a marvellous boy, well boys are hard to rear, they start off all right, but when they get about 13 or 14 they get very gabby and want to boss creation, however it is well to keep a good birch rod handy and don’t forget to use it when required. We have had boys ourselves, but never one called “Robert” as I guess it sounds very much of a “Policeman” “Bobbies” we call them here, well bring him up with the way he should go, teach him to laugh, and give him plenty to eat.
We are passing thru terrible times in England now, it is not the England of 10 years ago and never will be again in my time, if ever, our mode of life and our morals seem on the downward grade and every man is out to take the next man in, such a spirit can only lead us to where it led Rome that is, to utter ruin.
I hope you get along all right and are happy, for after all happiness adds much to the pleasures of life, you are just starting out on the responsible part of life’s journey with all it perplexities and struggles, we are doing nearly the last lap in the race and getting tired and weary, we hope some day to reach a better and nobler country, “ a perennial spring where the birds ever sing and where nothing shall ever grow old” I enclose you some verses I have lately composed for my very old friends hero and I trust you will like them. I have also enclosed my photo taken a few years ago as I am told you would like one.
Sometimes I feel that I would like to see the States once more, but that will never be I am afraid, I could not stand the racket now so must just be content to dwell on past memories of my first visit.
Maude and her husband and daughter are staying with us just for a change, if you have a fine boy, they certainly have a fine girl, there is no mistake, she is par-excellence and just as sharp as the Yankee girls I saw when in your country. My wife is fairly well; in fact we are all passable just now. Mr. Johns has his holidays now and we are going to have a day or two away together and thank Heaven we shall be able to get a glass of good Stout, not like your country we have not yet been so lunatic as to go dry and I don’t think we ever will, we have no “Pussyfoots” here, could not be bothered with them.
Yours most sincerely,
There is so much poignant wisdom in this letter, written some 85 years ago. A multigenerational perspective is helpful in looking at the world today. And now I also know why he referred to raising boys… we thought that my grandfather (Ernest) was the only son of William; but there was a twin brother to Aunt Annie Maude named Herbert, who died at age 14 (approx 1900). We always wondered about “Bert Sewell”, inscribed in several books sent to my father from England. Now we know the rest of the story.
The “circle” of life sometimes takes many generations to complete. As William spoke of his pilgrimage to the US some eight- five years ago, I am now completing that circle, as I take my pilgrimage to England this fall. There, I will be reunited with the Sewell family and hopefully meet Sole Society members too. Oh there is so much more to discover! n
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