Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17th

Growing up I had only one grandparent, for all practical purposes, my Grandma Rolf.  My father’s mother died before I was five; I never knew, and scarcely knew of his father.  It took the great folk revival of the sixties to learn I was Irish.

I pressed my father once about nationality.  “I’m American.” I pressed my luck a little further. “What about your parents?” “They were Americans, too.”  He went back to his Scientific American. I asked my mother, and learned my dad was Irish.  Her grandmother called him shanty Irish, and he did not go back into that house until after her grandmother’s death.

In fact my father’s mother was all Irish, his father all Scots-Irish.

My great grandfather, John William Lytle, was born in 1832, in Pennsylvania.  He worked as a tailor, then a clerk, then took up teaching.  That career was interrupted by the Civil War.  He fought and was wounded at second Bull Run; his brother was killed at Spotsylvania.  He soldiered on, and was wounded so severely at Antietam he was discharged.  A short biography I found of him said his wounds hindered him all his life.  He resumed teaching, married Annie Crum, was the town clerk of Coalmont, Pennsylvania.  He held lodge and G.A.R. offices.  In short, a solid citizen, excepting, as the biography said, he had renounced religious affiliation.  “He believes that religion does not consist in form or mode of baptism, but in character and act.”

John William and Annie had several children; all became school teachers except George Marion, my father’s father.  George was a coal mining engineer.  He brought Mary Emma Hogue, his bride, back to Coalmont to live.  She did live there for seven years, through the birth of my father, John Lindsey, his brother and two of his sisters.  Mamie Hogue Lytle left Coalmont for her childhood home, Akron, Ohio, pregnant with her fifth child in seven years.  George Marion posted bond to assure his appearance in court, presumably on a child support charge.  He skipped, went west, lived under an assumed name, and died fifteen years later.  He abandoned his children.

Mamie Lytle, my grandmother, was the daughter of a stereotypical hard drinking Irishman, James Lindsey Hogue, and devoutly Catholic wife, Mary Cecelia Maley.  James was in the building trade, and together with his business partner, Frank Bisson, built the homes on Bisson Avenue, a steep hill in Akron. Grandma Lytle and her five small children lived first in the attic of the Hogue home on Bisson Avenue.  Mamie’s eight living siblings, her parents, her children burst its seams.  Mamie and the five children lived in a series of rented homes in the area, leaving when the rent was due.  The children lived on and off with relatives and in the Akron Children’s Home.

Alcoholism and Catholicism were the genes predominately infused in the Hogue line. My father was bitter about each.  His grandfather Hogue was a mean drunk, his grandmother a strict Catholic.  His mother being the oldest sibling, he grew up with some of his aunts and uncles as contemporaries.  As adults he saw some fall to alcohol. He was equally bitter about, as he considered it, the sacrifice of a cousin and his sister Ruth, to the church as priest and  nun.  When I asked her, Aunt Ruth never believed she was forced to be a nun; I have no idea what his cousin thought.

My father left the church at age twelve.  His lot was miserable.  He was generally in charge of his band of siblings; his mother absent.  There was not enough food.  Housing was iffy.  His Catholic education was supervised by his grandmother, until his epiphany: his mother was devout but the institution that led to five children in seven years was not housing the children or feeding them, no matter what the reason his mother had left his father. The Hogue clan never forgave him.
I grew up on the North Hill of Akron, Ohio, with a large contingent of red headed Hogue descendents living on the other end of the parish that was St. Martha’s.  The rift was so complete, in spite of my mother’s best effort, we never knew them.  My cousins, children of my father’s sisters, do not know them.  Apparently there is no grudge like an Irish grudge.

My father was aptly named for his grandfather, the Scots Irish who soldiered on.  The father who abandoned the children was brought home by his brother to be buried, but apparently in an unmarked grave.  There is no stone marking George Marion in the line of Lytle’s beginning with John William and Annie Crum Lytle.
My own Grandma Lytle lay in an unmarked grave for fifty years, until my mother said enough is enough.  Her children did not mark her grave, I will.  And so my Grandma Lytle has a stone, in All Soul’s, where her non Catholic children chose to bury her.

Considering my heritage on this St. Patrick’s Day, although I like to consider myself Irish, I pull up Grandma Rolf’s corset strings and follow Mom’s conscience when there’s work to be done.

And since I’m still Irish, Erin go bragh. 


  1. Even though your family had very hard times, you are fortunate to know who they are, their histories and their fates. Like you, my dad didn't talk about his history... through research, I believe my grandfather's family was from Scotland and my grandmothers from Ireland.... but haven't been able to document this. That is very generous of you to provide the headstone marker... I'm sure future genealogist will especially appreciate it.

  2. Seems like all families have their black sheep and their difficult times...
    Happy St Patricks Day to you from another of Irish descent.

  3. Aw, families. So much history in them all.

    Happy St. Patrick's Day to you and yours.

  4. Sadly, dysfunctional families come in all ethnicities, faiths and countries and the children pay the consequences.

  5. Wow! You have a very interesting, colorful family history. Have a happy St. Paddy's Day, Joanne. We're all Irish today, especially after living in Chicago for 35 years.

  6. families. we can go back genealogically for 15, 16, 18 generations, at least on my mother's side but know little about their lives. on my dad's side there was a major rift over the civil war, choosing sides. my side left, changed his surname (we guess since we find no records after three generations) and never the twain met again.

  7. Joanne, I think the Irish have had a difficult history... yet, in spite of it, they are a proud race and one I'm happy to share an ancestry with. IMO their music is fantastic, their country is beautiful, and their people possess just the right amount of joy in their hearts. Happy St Patrick's Day!

  8. Another fascinating piece of your history. Thank you for sharing it on this St. Patrick's Day. I hope it was a good one for you and yours.

  9. Wonderful piece of history here. I can relate on the grandparents issue, as I only got to meet mother's mother. The rest either died before I was born or when I was too young to remember them. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, thank you so much for sharing.

  10. Families are such tricky beasts. My own was limited to my parents and (half) siblings. After my mother's death we discovered that we have cousins in the UK. Goodness only knows what the feud was about.
    The fortitude and generosity that some in your family displayed is admirably carried on by you. And I love that your Grandma Lytie no longer lies in an unmarked grave - though I am a bit confused about whether it was you or your mother who are responsible.

    1. It was mom. And, she went to make sure it was done well when it was done.

  11. I know very little about my ancestors. I know that my maternal grandfather bred rabbits and won prizes for them at the shows.
    I've been told that my paternal grandfather was the town drunk, with one of his sons following in his footsteps. I can't know this for sure. I have the family tree that my mum put together for me, with photos and various certificates, but that is all I know of them.

  12. I do so enjoy reading the history of families that have settled in America because they are written on a grander scale and they always contain at least one life-changing episode (the decision to emigrate to America). Here, where my family have plodded about the same few miles for 2 or 3 hundred years, things seem much less exciting.

  13. Being 100% Irish, I know of their ways. Your stories are not so unlike what I know about my family. However, the Irish that I have known of previous generations were full of secrets. With my cousins and my siblings, we have put together some pieces of the family puzzle, but most of those went to their grave with them. They all suffered with dignity throughout their lives because they firmly believed that their reward was coming when they died. They were told by their church to suffer it up, the more the better, to reach eternal life. They unfortunately, through their piety, lost out on many joys in life lived on earth.

    I love and agree with your great grandfather John Lytle, "He believes that religion does not consist in form or mode of baptism, but in character and act." Beautifully said!

  14. Wonderful family history. I'm married to a Scot and so the children have that heritage. Somewhere in my maternal line there is Welsh but no Irish.

  15. A belated Happy St. Patrick's Day!

  16. your gr-grandfather John Lytle was a wise man. I am glad that your choices lean to his wisdom.

    The sad part of knowing family history is how painful most of it was and still is. The good part is that the knowing gives the strength to steer away from sins of the past.