2002: Birthday in Salem
Treasure Cities
Buried Treasures
2544Ashbyew My sixty-first birthday came around on February 15, a Friday, and I decided to use it to learn what I could about the life of my fourth great-grandparents, OliverAndHannah Ashby Wheeler, during the ten years (1805-1815—or longer, as far as I then knew) they had spent in Salem, Massachusetts. Their first child, my Grandma Harriet, had provided to genealogists in Utah the names and dates of three brothers and a sister born there, but the records were scarce and fuzzy.
It was becoming apparent to this greenhorn genealogist that my honored great-great-great grandmother Harriet Page Wheeler Decker Young had given the Utah historians a thoroughly garbled picture of her heritage. She told them, correctly, that she was born in 1803 in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, to OliverAndHannah Ashby Wheeler; that she was very young when her family moved to Salem, Massachusetts, her mother’s birthplace. And that, ten years later, they had moved to upstate New York, where she taught school, married Isaac Decker, and had the first five of their six children.

When asked about her ancestry, however, she replied that they consisted of obscure Welsh farmers. Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing shameful about being Welsh. But I knew already that all her immigrant ancestors came from England in the 1600s. Her grandfather, Oliver Wheeler “of Acton” wore a sword at Concord Bridge in 1775. Her mother Hannah’s Ashbys went back a similar way in Salem, since the line crossed The Pond. From England, not from Wales.

I was absorbing, moreover, a fairly detailed picture of our smart, assertive, opinionated Grandma, who relished her considerable social status as a Utah Pioneer of July 24, 1847, and as Brigham Young’s sister-in-law and (twice) mother-in-law. Had she known about her grandfather’s Revolutionary rôle, can one seriously imagine that she’d have failed to pass that honorific tidbit along to her last bishop, Orson Whitney, or to his fellow Utah historians? They did ask. Or that it wouldn’t have become part of the Utah elementary school curriculum, perhaps even to this forgetful day?
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