Prob. Died Young, Or How Pat Ryan Lost His Eye (As a Union Soldier) (9)

Mendelsohn The Lost

This will be my final posting in this series about Patrick Ryan (1846-1893) and his Civil War pension file. If you’re just discovering this blog, you may want to read the whole series of which this is the final piece. What I want to do now is provide some footnotes to  previous postings in the series.

As an aside (but it’s not really an aside) — and in case this hasn’t already been obvious to you — my penchant as a family historian is to regard the telling of the story of any given family as a constantly ongoing project. With any of the ancestral lines about which I’m gathering information, I don’t ever conclude that I’ve completed my research and found all there is to find about that family line.

Perhaps I’m inclined to view family history this way because I view historical research itself this way. I’m predisposed to see the compiling and writing of historical narratives (based always in sound documentation) as a never-finished enterprise, because there’s simply always more to discover. And because our framing of the narratives we’re writing — our optic on the ancestral figures we’re researching — shifts with almost every new discovery, requiring us to look at the story we’re telling and the characters on which it focuses in a new way. . . .

My graduate academic training is in the field of the history of Christian thought; I have a master’s and a doctorate in that field. I was taught to think about history in just this fashion, and, in particular, to look for the suppressed and hidden narratives that have not yet been unearthed because they focus on the lives of people who have often been ignored by the official storytellers. Not a few of my family members fit in that category: people whose lives fall through the cracks because they were not considered significant or powerful enough to warrant attention in official histories of periods and places.

As the footnotes I’m about to share will suggest, I’m very aware that I still have some important unanswered questions to consider regarding the life of Pat Ryan. There are things I still do not know, and would like to know. I went some forty years after starting research on him in the latter half of the 1970s before I thought in the last year or so to hunt again for a Civil War service record for him after my first foray failed to turn up anything. My discovery of his Union service record and the rich pension file he and his widow Delilah Rinehart Ryan left behind has opened doors to new avenues of research that I have yet to explore completely.

Some of what I think I know about my ancestors inevitably turns out to be wrong. I make an embarrassing number of mistakes, reach far too many wrong conclusions — and I’m constantly having to start over, re-learn, talk to others who know more and see better than I do, in order to reframe my take on some of the folks in my family tree. This blog is as much me sharing with you what I think I know as it is me re-thinking and re-learning what I thought I knew (and correcting it), and I appreciate your own critical feedback and suggestions at any time. This is how I have always learned as an historian, including a family historian.

When I read Alison Light’s Common People: The History of an English Family several years ago, I was very taken with the following suggestion regarding genealogy:

At its best, as I suggest in this book, family history is a trespasser, disregarding the boundaries between local and national, private and public, and ignoring the hedges around fields of academic study; taking us by surprise into unknown worlds.

~ Alison Light, Common People: The History of an English Family (London: Penguin, 2014) p. xxviii.

Two more observations also leapt out at me — this one:

Since family history moves in a psychological dimension, it is always plangent, resonating with loss, and coincidences are like ley lines mysteriously transforming the map of time. Such discoveries find pattern and meaning in what otherwise threatens to be mere accident, but they also seem to offer evidence of commonality. Family history knows that everyone – and everything – is ultimately, and intimately, connected.

~ Ibid., p. 249.

And this one:

All historians are resurrectionists, but perhaps family historians only want to give their ancestors a proper burial. Sometimes all we can hope to find is a name.

~ Ibid., p. 252.

Light’s book focuses on working-class English people, “ordinary” people whose names are, in fact, quite often forgotten by historians — people whose lives are overlooked in “official” narratives about those who “made history.” Many of our ancestors — well, perhaps I’m speaking for myself and this is not true of all of us —fit that description: people who are overlooked in “official” narratives; people regarded by the “official” storytellers as those who did not make history so much as watch more important people make it.

But as Daniel Mendelsohn tells us in his magnificent account of his years of struggling to find out what had happened to some of his relatives in the Silesian area of Poland during the Holocaust (see the excerpt at the head of this posting) — he tells this story in his book The Lost — sometimes something approaching magic happens as we sift through the documents and artifacts in which we hope to glimpse our “lost” ancestors, and there they are. Mendelsohn’s book is one of the most powerful books I have read in a score of years — in part, because his passionate concern to find his “lost” relatives who perished in the Holocaust parallels in some ways my own search from early adolescence (when Mendelsohn began his own search) to find my “lost” Famine Irish immigrant ancestors, the Ryans. My search to find precisely where they came from in Ireland, a search I’ll talk about more in a posting (or perhaps two) complementing this series about Patrick Ryan. . . .

And now to my footnotes:

I. In the first and second posting in this series about Pat Ryan and his missing eye, I provide bits and pieces of information about Patrick’s Irish roots. The next posting or two I do about this Ryan family’s Irish background will give you a more complete account of what I know about the family’s history in Ireland before these Ryans left County Kilkenny in 1852 and 1853 and ended up in Arkansas.

II. In the third posting in this series, I speak of the double-pen house with a central dog-trot hallway in which my grandmother, a daughter of George Richard Batchelor (1845-1907) and Catherine Ryan (1849-1910), Pat Ryan’s sister, grew up in Grant County, Arkansas. In case that topic interests you — in case you’d like to read more about the traditional Southern double-pen house joined by a dog trot between its two rooms, you might find this National Register of Historic Places history of  the Samuel Daniel Byrd (1814-1890) house in Grant County very instructive.

Samuel_D._Byrd,_Sr.,_Homestead
Samuel D. Byrd house, Poyen, Grant County, Arkansas; photo taken by Valis55 and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons for online sharing.

Samuel D. Byrd was a brother of Lawrence Cherry Byrd (1822-1864), who married George R. Batchelor’s aunt Hannah Delaney Batchelor (1819 – abt. 1864). Samuel and Lawrence were children of William Edward Byrd (1822-1864) and Lovey Cherry (1784-1877). The first wife of Delaney Batchelor’s brother Moses B. Batchelor (1808-1883) — Minerva Monk (1812-1860) — was the daughter of Strachan/Strahon Monk (1787 – abt. 1858) and Talitha Cherry (1790 – abt. 1860). Talitha and Lovey were sisters.

After the Batchelor family left Nash County, North Carolina, about 1818 and the Monk, Byrd, and Cherry families left Martin County, North Carolina, about the same time, all four families settled in Hardin County in West Tennessee. In 1846, Lawrence Cherry Byrd and his brother Samuel brought their families to Hot Spring (later Grant) County, Arkansas, settling at a crossroads settlement that later became known as Poyen. It fell into Grant County at that county’s formation in 1869. Two years later, Moses and Minerva Monk Batchelor moved their family to the same settlement and settled next to his sister Delaney’s family.

The Samuel D. Byrd house is thought to be the oldest standing structure in Grant County. As the National Register of Historic Places documents I have just linked explains, it was originally built in 1848, and added onto at later points in its history. This historic house has direct pertinence to the story of Pat Ryan, of course, since Pat’s sister Catherine married a son of Moses and Minerva Monk Batchelor — George R. Batchelor. George would certainly have spent time in the Samuel D. Byrd house, since it was the residence of a brother-in-law of his aunt Delaney (whose husband was also a first cousin of George’s mother Minerva). For all these reasons, and in case you’d like to learn more about the historic double-pen dog-trot house, I’d like to recommend the linked article about the Samuel D. Byrd house. The application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places was successful, and the house is now on this Register.

IIIIn the fifth posting in this series about Pat Ryan, I recount a story I was told as a child by my grandmother and several of her brothers about the Redfield, Arkansas, doctor Joseph Marion Reynolds (1847-1923) and Rufus Allen Spann (1874-1952), an orphan raised by Pat Ryan and his wife Delilah. As I stated in that posting, the story I heard as a child was that Allen Spann was a foundling whom Dr. Reynolds brought to Pat and Delilah to raise.

My postings in this series note that I have confirmed by various pieces of documentation that Pat and Delilah did, in fact, adopt Allen Spann, who was an orphan — so the story goes — at the time he was brought to Pat and Delilah by Dr. Reynolds. But after I have discovered that Pat Ryan had a wife prior to Delilah, Rosanna Hill (1837-1868), the widow of John H. Spann (1834-1865), and after I’ve found that Pat served in the same Union Army unit with John and John’s brother James Jasper Spann (1839-1928), I’ve begun to wonder about the family story passed on to me.

With all these multiple family ties between the Ryans (and Batchelors) and Spanns, I ask myself now: does it really make sense to believe an orphan was brought to or left on the doorstep of Dr. Joseph M. Reynolds, who somehow knew that this baby was a Spann, and brought it to Pat and Delilah Ryan to raise? Some pieces seem to be missing from this story don’t they?

I don’t know what those pieces might be, and I might be very wrong in wondering if the story handed down to me doesn’t tell the whole truth. But I do want to note that this is an aspect of Pat Ryan’s story I’ve earmarked to think about further, to research further. Family stories can both reveal and conceal truths. I suspect something might well be concealed in this story, as it was handed down to me — though I surely don’t wish to ruffle feathers in asking such questions.

IV. Finally, in that same fifth posting (see #3 for a link to it), I have now added charts to try to show you in graphic form some of the intricate connections between the Ryan, Spann, Hill, and Hodges families of Hardin County, Tennessee and Itawamba County, Mississippi (the Spanns, Hills, and Hodges spent time in both of those counties), and Grant and Jefferson Counties, Arkansas. As I have noted, an esteemed reader of this blog, John Blythe, suggested that I generate such charts and upload them to this series.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the charts I’ve generated. My computer skills are limited. I used my FTM program to make these. If anyone more versed in this kind of thing would want to make recommendations to me about a better way to produce such charts, I’d be grateful.

By the way, here’s a photo of Levina Spann (1817-1900), who married William Hodges (d. abt. 1849) (and then, following his death, William Ingle). As I’ve told you previously, Levina and William Hodges’ daughter Levina Elizabeth Hodges (1840-1912) married Asa Hiram Hill (1826-1865/1870), a brother to Rosanna Hill, who married 1) John H. Spann and 2) Patrick Ryan. As I’ve also indicated, Levina was a daughter of Hezekiah Spann (1781-1840/1850) and Mary H. Nanney (b. abt. 1791) — and a sibling of John H. and James Jasper Spann.

Levina Spann, Uploaded by jjmad55 to the Saints, Sinners, Kings, and Cutthroats tree at Ancestry
This photo of Levina Spann (Hodges) (Ingle) was uploaded by Ancestry member jjmad55 to his/her “Saints, Sinners, Kings, and Cutthroats” family tree.

Have I mentioned that a son of George R. and Catherine Ryan Batchelor — this was their son George Hugh Parks Batchelor (1883-1948) — married Louvina Spann (1892-1957)? Louvina (the name Levina/Lavina, commonly used in the Spann family, seems to have morphed into this spelling in her generation) was the daughter of James Knox Polk Spann (1859-1922) and Averilla Victoria Hughes (1862-1919). James was a son of Hezekiah M. Spann (1826-1879) — a brother of Levina Spann Hodges, John H. Spann, and James Jasper Spann.

This is the ninth and final posting in a nine-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here. That posting will end with a link pointing you back to the previous one in the series. By following links back from that posting, you can find the entire series on this topic.

If you’re interested in tracking Patrick Ryan’s Irish roots, my next series of postings pursues that topic. The first posting in that series is here.

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