Sunday, April 7, 2013

Discovering Where My Father’s Name Came From

Arnold G. Tew, Sr.
Margaret "Maggie" (Conner) Tew

John Andrew Tew
As I have posted in other places on this blog, my paternal grandfather’s name is Arnold George Tew.  He was the son of John Andrew Tew and Margaret “Maggie” (Conner) Tew.  My father is a Junior and so is also named Arnold.  [My mother says that there was some vigorous lobbying for me to be named Arnold George Tew, III – but she nixed it and thus I am named John David Tew after my father’s brother and my mother’s brother respectively! ]

Other than my father and his father, the only Arnolds I knew of while growing up were celebrities –- Arnold Palmer, Arnold Stang, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and, of course, Arnold Ziffel, the “son” of Fred and Doris Ziffel on the 1960s sitcom Green Acres.  Arnold Ziffel just happened to also be a pig.  But the point is, that based on this small sample I determined early on that in the U.S. the name Arnold is rather rare and so it always made me wonder about where my grandfather’s -- and hence my father’s – first name came from.  About five months ago I solved the mystery of how my father and my grandfather came to be named "Arnold."  [HINT:  It was not after Arnold Ziffel!]

My great grandfather, John Andrew Tew, was born in Coventry, Rhode Island in 1853.  He was the son of Adam Tew (1865 - 1908) and his wife, Susan (Walker) Tew (1828 - 1893).  Susan was born in Rhode Island on April 14, 1828 and she married Adam Tew on January 8, 1846 when she was only 17 years old.

Adam Tew
Susan (Walker) Tew
Susan was the daughter of Nathan Walker (1808 - 1885) and his wife Polly (Wells) Walker (1809 - 1847).  Nathan and Polly had nine children including my 2X great grandmother Susan, who was the eldest.  Nathan and Polly had three daughters and five sons.  Until late December of last year I knew nothing about Susan's siblings and while I had a picture of Susan in middle age, I had no photographs or pictures of other members of the Nathan and Polly Walker family.  And then on or about December 20, 2012 I stumbled across the Oehler Tree on  The tree is owned and maintained by Joshua Oehler of Phoenix, Arizona -- and the Nathan and Polly Walker family of Coventry, Rhode Island is part of his family tree.  Mr. Oehler had lots of information about Nathan and Polly's other children, but he had virtually nothing about Susan, the eldest.  He did not have the fact of Susan's marriage to Adam Tew, anything about their children or of her death -- but perhaps for good reason.

As I pieced together from information on Joshua Oelher's tree and in my Tew genealogy, the Walker family suffered a number of tragedies by July 1847 when Polly, mother of at least six living children, died in Coventry, RI at age 38.  In 1830 Nathan and Polly's second daughter had died before reaching her first birthday.  In 1846, their third daughter and third eldest child, Mary (born in 1832), died at age 14.  This left Susan Walker, the eldest child, as the only surviving daughter of the three girls of Nathan and Polly Walker.

Of the six boys of Nathan and Polly, at least five were living at the time of their mother's death.  Edmund Walker might have been Mary's twin brother for he was also born in 1832.  Edmund was 15 when his mother died.  Stephen Walker, named for his paternal grandfather, was born in 1835 and was 12 years old when his mother died.  Benjamin, born in 1838, and another boy born in 1841, were 9 and 6 respectively when their mother passed away.  A son whose name is presently unknown was born in 1844 and would have been just under 3 years old when his mother died if he himself was still living. Finally, Joseph Manchester Walker, born in Coventry, RI on November 14, 1846 was a mere 8 months old when his mother died on July 19, 1847 in Coventry.

Nathan Walker
So, in the summer of 1847, when Nathan Walker was not yet 39, he found himself a widower with five or six sons all 15 years old or younger and a sole surviving daughter who was 19 years old.  In many cases this would have left the family of underage boys to be raised by their father and their older sister, except that in 1847 the eldest child and only daughter, my 2X great grandmother Susan, was already married to Adam Tew and was herself the mother of a daughter, Mary D. Tew, born in Rhode Island on July 20, 1846.  Susan's first child, Mary, turned 1 year old the day after her grandmother Polly died.

Nathan's solution for making sure his children were cared for was to turn to others for assistance.  As a result, his young family was dispersed across Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  Infant Joseph went to live on a farm in Foster, Rhode Island with the Daniel Battey family.  In 1850 Benjamin was living with the John Corey family in Coventry.  The whereabouts of the other children during the first years after their mother's death is presently unknown.  The dispersal of the sons, and the fact that eldest child, Susan, was married and the mother of an infant daughter, probably explains why Mr. Oehler had little information about my great, great grandmother Susan (Walker) Tew in his Oehler Tree -- when the young boys were dispersed among other homes after their mother's death, Susan was already married and had a family of her own to care for.

Susan and her husband, Adam Tew, had at least five children in addition to their first-born, Mary Tew.   They had three girls and three boys that I know of.   The oldest of their three sons was my great grandfather, John Andrew Tew, born in Coventry on August 27, 1853.  John Andrew was only about 11 years younger than one of his mother's brothers -- the one that was born in 1841 and was only 6 years old when his mother Polly died in July 1847.  It is quite possible, therefore, that John Andrew spent some time around this uncle until the uncle died at age 21 in 1863.  In any event, John Andrew Tew and his wife, Maggie, named the only one of their four sons to survive beyond age two after this particular brother of John Andrew's mother Susan.  They named their son Arnold George Tew after John Andrew's maternal uncle, Arnold A. Walker!  John Andrew Tew's "Uncle Arnold," one of his mother's younger brothers, died in the Civil War at age 21 and so it becomes almost certain that my grandfather, Arnold George Tew, was not randomly named Arnold, but rather was named in honor and in memory of his grand uncle, Arnold A. Walker, a casualty of the Civil War.  In turn, my father, Arnold George Tew, Jr., was named Arnold after his father and, by extension, after the younger brother of his great grandmother who died while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War!

My 90-year-old father learned for the first time how he came to be named Arnold when I shared this genealogical insight with him in mid-December last year.

Arnold A. Walker (1841 - 1863)

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Photos of Nathan Walker and Arnold Walker courtesy of Joshua Oehler as posted on his Oehler Tree at  Thank you Joshua!

Picture of Susan (Walker) Tew courtesy of my cousin, Bruce O. Marquardt, who is a great great grandson of Susan (Walker) Tew and her husband, Adam Tew.

Picture of Adam Tew courtesy of my cousin, Don Benoit, who is a descendant of Adam and Susan Tew.

All other photos from the collection of the author.
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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  1. Very emotional. Love to hear these old stories.Keep up the good writing.

  2. John, I enjoyed your story about "Arnold". I am sure it is heartwarming for your Dad to learn the source of his name. My Mom has an interesting middle name - "Aubin". When I discovered that her gg-grandmother was named Aubin, it set me off on a search that has lasted 35 years. Your stories and photos are a delight!

    1. Pam:

      Thank you for your comment and the kind words about my postings!

      One of the fascinating things about genealogy is the discovery of names -- and especially ones that sound so odd or foreign to us now. The Weekly Genealogist by NEHGS even devotes a regular article to names and their meanings/derivation. Like you, I have discovered some very interesting names in my genealogy: Dorcas, Mehitable, Peleg and others that are often Biblical, but rarely seen these days.