May 29, 2024 at 12:00 a.m.

Call added branch to family tree

Back in the Saddle


Editor’s note: This column is being reprinted from May 27, 2009. Jack’s family has a rich history in Jay County. His mom was a Haynes, related to both Judge Jacob March Haynes and automobile inventor Elwood Haynes. He received a call one day that introduced him to another branch of his mom’s lineage.


The phone message went something like this: A woman from Kansas called who said she is related to you.

OK, I don’t know about you, but that got my attention.

Enough to call back.

The woman in Kansas on the phone said her name was Mary Lou. And after about half a dozen minutes, it became clear that we were, in fact, related, even though I’d never heard of her and she had never heard of me.

As it turns out, her grandmother and my grandmother were sisters.

With an asterisk.

That comes from the fact that my mother was adopted at birth, so genealogy always comes with an asterisk.

But still, there was a connection.

After all, we live in the house where my great-grandmother — and the great-grandmother of the caller from Kansas — ended her days.

She had lived most of her life in Ohio but lived in Portland until her death at 94.

And she was a pretty remarkable woman.

Sarah Kelly Jay was born in West Milton, Ohio, in the middle of the 19th century. She was a teenager when the Civil War broke out. She raised a family in St. Marys, Ohio, then ended up in Portland, living in what was essentially a mother-in-law’s house behind the home of her youngest daughter until her death in 1940.

Think about that for a moment. She was a teen in the Civil War and lived until the edge of World War II.

So, Sarah Kelly Jay was our mutual great-grandmother and I now live in the house where she spent the last year of her life.

Asterisk or no asterisk, it was time to roll out the hospitality.

A planned visit in November fell apart.

But last month, my second cousin, Mary Lou Wendeln Priebe, came to town to say hello.

Just for the official record, her grandmother Lula Jay Wendeln was the sister of my grandmother Carrie Jay Haynes. (Non-family members shouldn’t bother to jot any of this down.)

So, what do you say to a distant relative you never knew existed?

As it turns out: Plenty.

Both my sisters came up from Richmond for the day, carrying an assortment of photographs from old albums.

I’d scoured through the archives as well and had made copies of photos of our mutual great-grandmother and great-grandfather and a photo of the two of them with Mary Lou’s grandmother and an infant that may or may not be Mary Lou’s father.

My brand-new second cousin brought along her daughter who lives in Indianapolis, my third cousin once removed, who was more than a little baffled by the whole thing.

I can understand that. Genealogy often seems as fascinating as taxidermy.

But when the links are lost, they’re lost for good.

By the time our visit was over, Mary Lou not only had copies of old photographs but also a copy of our great-grandmother’s Civil War diary and a cobbled together family tree that took the Jay family (no relation to John Jay the first chief justice) and the Kelly family back to the earliest decades of this country. We scribbled corrections and new details all over the “family tree,” and I’ve made new computer print-outs to reflect the changes.

I figure they’ll come in handy a few years down the line when one of our daughters get a phone call saying, “You don’t know me, but I think we’re related.”

PORTLAND WEATHER

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