One thing I’ve been needing to do for a long time is write a tribute to my grandmother. My dad’s mother’s name was Helen Cook before she married Alec Iles. The people I’m going to describe in our lineage are incredible. They are so very much the embodiment of the American dream, and while most of this I’ve only learned recently, as I learn, I think yes, of course this is my heritage.
I never met my grandfather, Alec. He died while my dad was in college. I am told he had bright red hair that had turned bright-white, and that he had a sharp sense of humor. He worked at a radio station while my dad was growing up.
He was an anchor baby, the first Iles to be a natural U.S. citizen. He shows up as a young child on his father Harold’s petition for naturalization. Harold, and his Father, Sydney James both immigrated to the U.S. from Yorkshire, England on a ship called the Merion, sailing our of Liverpool in 1907.
Alec’s middle name was Felton, after his great-grandmother, Maria Felton, married to his grandfather Sydney James Iles. Sydney and Maria grew up together after Sydney’s father Robert remarried, and Maria Felton became a part of their family.
So, Sydeny James Iles (1864-1932) has a son, Harold (b. 1889), and they come to the U.S. in 1907. I don’ know what brought them here. In Harold’s petition, his occupation is a loom fixer, and he’s described as having brown hair, brown eyes, and a scar over his right eye. He marries Phoebe Emma Hollingsworth, and I imagine she must have been a redhead. In 1918, my grandfather Alec was born, with red hair that later turned white.
Meanwhile, Edward Paul Cook (adapted from Koch) marries Florence Avis Dean.
They get mentioned in “A genealogical dictionary of the first settlers of New England” because Florence is a descendant of Rowland Stebbins, a surveyor who settled Deerfield Massachusetts after arriving in 1634 on the ship ‘Francis’ from Ipswich.
Here’s what they say about Edward and Florence:
"Edward’s father, Wilhelm Koch, was born in Germany and came to New York wth his parents when he was about 12. He married his cousin Anna Koch and died very young of the flu, leaving her with four small children (Edward, the oldest, was about six). Anna supported herself and her children by doing housework. At some point, probably during WWI when there was some anti-German feeling in the country, the family name was changed from Koch to Cook.
Edward left school after 8th grade to help support his family. As well as being a farmer, he was a carpenter, handy at making things, and a voracious reader: his house was full of piles of books. He may have been attracted to Florence partly because of her education; they both valued education, and sent all three of their daughters to college in a time and place when that was unusual. (They would have sent their son to college too, but he wanted to be a farmer, like his father).
Herman and May Dean’s oldest daughter, Florence Dean, graduated from Holley High School in Holley, New York, in June 1920. She then attended Normal School and got a job as a teacher. At a party, she met Edward Cook, who as a young farmer living with his partner and his partner’s wife and interested in marrying and settling down on his own. He noticed her particularly because the brownies she brought to the party were so good. They were married in March, 1923, even though she had to keep the marriage a secret until the end of the school year. Otherwise, she would have had to resign, since married women were not allowed to teach in those days.”
On the Deans:
Albert and Mary’s son Herman Dean, and his wife, May Owen Dean, had a store during the Depression. “The side yard of my grandparents’ store was a hobo stop, and people would knock on the door for a handout now and then.” — Joan Cook Sanders”
Side note: some of my Stebbins family testified in witchcraft and witchcraft slander trials. It is unclear to me which side they were on; however, the suspicious death of one Stebbins man was believed to have been witchcraft, though no official charge was made. One John Stebbins (b. 1647) had a record (he was charged for calling his father, Rowland, “an olde foole”. No, seriously.) and was captured during the French and Indian War and marched to Canada with his wife and children; they later returned except for one daughter, Thankful, who converted and married in Canada. Later, one of my Stebbins grandparents, David, was a lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment during the Revolutionary War.
Recap! My genealogy includes families that arrived as early as 1634 and as recently as 1907. My great-grandmother graduated college and was a teacher.
Now, my grandmother goes to college.
She grew up on a farm, and then she went to Keuka College to study Chemistry. She then worked as a research Chemist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and co-authored a research paper before starting her own preschool called the Learning Ladder, which she ran until she retired. She had such an impact that several of her students and their parents returned for her funeral last year.
Somewhere along that awesome path, she met Alec, and they got married, and had my dad and his brother, Alan.
When she was young, my grandmother had scarlet fever and nearly died; then, doctors told her that the damage it caused to her heart meant she probably wouldn’t live past her teens.
But she kept learning anyhow, kept doing all of those things that no one would have looked down on her had she not done. She was a farm girl who became a chemist and a teacher and a business owner. I went to her preschool, and I remember eating watermelon and wearing smocks to paint.
She lived half of her adult life without her husband, and never remarried. I remember her mostly as someone who love wildlife and hiking, as very matter-of-fact, I remember eating beets at her table and not understanding why anyone would ever want to eat beets (though I have apparently reached that magic age where I now love beets). I recall that she soundly supported my love of drawing.
I can’t say enough about the people who preceded me. I like to think that I’m like them all (well, except for the suspicious-of-witchcraft crowd): that the place that I came from is just that, where I came from, and not where I’m going or where I’ll end up.
I hope that I’m patriotic, and innovative. I hope that I have the guts it took you to leave England in a ship, or start a business or a town, to feed the hungry, and to read, to read to read and learn constantly, though you are a farmer, to make it back home from however far away.