Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: The Hog has come and gone…

Mich Manual 1869

Everyone with a public voice is talking about the cold this week…and the groundhog. In these parts, it’s likely that contrary to public opinion, he did not come out of his winter stupor. Why would any creature wish to get out of bed at sunrise on a very cold February 2, just to see if there are any shadows? The myth continues, as does this deep cold.
As far as I’m concerned, this cold weather is perfect for a few things, all of them indoor. This is the time I like to dive into Ancestry and nose around in my ancestor’s lives. It is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid; a whole different level of where did I come from. I thank my grandparents for their patience and answMich Manual 1869ers to the endless questions of a nine year old with her hands full of tin types.
Each was more than happy to identify their relatives and connect them to me. I was delighted and we engaged in this storytelling upon each visit. Eventually I discovered that my grandmother’s grandfather, George Vowles, served in the Michigan House of Representatives 1868-1870. He was elected by his district in Oakland Co.
Grandma made sure that I got tin types, photos and other items of interest from that time. George Vowles 1869 Michigan Manual is among my prized possessions, as are his letters home, some written on Michigan State Legislature letterhead. I also have his Michigan State Seal lapel pin.
As a small child we often visited my mom’s uncle who lived on the Vowles homestead on the Milford Road, at New Hudson. I fondly remember the old furniture, especially George and Julia’s massive four-poster bed, in which I once slept. When I was older I copied information from the Vowles family Bible, sitting at my great-great-grandfather’s desk. It was a thrill for me and he had not used either in many years.
Also as a small child my mother and I visited two of her elderly cousins, sisters and grandchildren of George Vowles. Between them they owned the sheared beaver top hat that he wore to Lansing and his state representative chair, retrieved when the previous Michigan Statehouse was replaced in 1879. They were very proud of their relics and intended to send them my mother’s way. They never arrived and I have no idea what has happened to them. The family historian in me is tremendously thankful for what have and that the items are still together, 154 years after the fact. The bed and desk were sold long ago and the 1830’s house was lost to flames in the 1980’s.
During his two years in Lansing, George Vowles was appointed to the Prisons Committee. It appears that this was of great interest to Rep. Vowles, and Julia, is wife. In his letters home he told of the work of his committee. Julia left her family in New Hudson to visit George in Lansing. She put the farm in charge of sons William, 20 and soon to wed, and Frank, 16. Her purpose was not only to visit her husband, but to also attend a lecture by a leading authority on the subject of prison reform. In a letter to son Will, George writes, “your mother will not be home until after the lecture. She very much wishes to hear the speaker. Be sure to meet her at the train. With sincere best wishes, your father, Geo. Vowles.”
The formality between loved ones at that time always makes me chuckle. He also changed it up with, “Lovingly, your father, Geo. Vowles.” Years later, son Will would sometimes sign letters sent from his homestead in Iowa, “Lovingly, your son, Wm. C. Vowles. The formality between father and son is odd to us. George and Will would likely think the same of our salutations and emojis.
In this week’s photo we see G. Vowles, of Oakland, and B. Sham, Jr. of Lenawee County sharing a desk at the back of the hall.
I wonder. In today’s world of combatant political exchanges and ill-will, would George Vowles be investigated for writing home to his family on State stationery? By today’s standards, this is nothing. All of the one-up-men ship, combatant, name calling, accusation throwing, relentless, grossly inaccurate and political crap has become more than I personally can stand. There is no shame any longer, or sadly much truth. Our ancestors would be so disappointed in us, just as we are disappointed in that groundhog and his lies this cold week.

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