Monday, February 9, 2015

52in52: Sylvanus T Snell and Susan Tunison

This sort of makes me think of genealogy and love at the same time. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

I had to think long and hard about this weeks' theme: LOVE. I thought about writing about my grandfather, who loved love enough to marry ... a lot. I thought about writing about my grandmother, who died when I was a child and I loved dearly. I thought about writing about my grandparents on my dad's side, because they were together through thick and thin. But I came back to this couple, because I've always thought that they were an example of the endurance of love through harsh journeys, separations, and the growth of love through the proliferation of the family and their family legacy.

Sylvanus T (possible Traverse or Travis) Snell was born in 1801 in New York or New Jersey. His son's biography says that he was born in New Jersey, but there was a much larger group of Snell family members in New York, so I would tend to think that his records that say New York are probably more correct. Sylvanus married Susan Tunison sometime between 1820 and 1830, likely in Herkimer or Steuben County, New York. She was born in 1806 in New Jersey, but grew up in upstate New York. My guess is that they were married close to 1830, because their first son, Jacob, was born in 1831 and children came regularly after that - John, in 1833, Sylvanus Jr. in 1835, Elizabeth Ann in 1836, Abigail in 1840, and George A Snell in 1844.

While that paints a picture of a loving family, there's a bit more to the story. Upstate New York was fairly bought up in the 1830s. There wasn't much room for opportunity for a person to become a large landholder and wealthy as per the definition at the time. So in 1836, Sylvanus ventured to Michigan and found a wild and free area of western Michigan and bought 320 acres of land from speculators in the set up Easton Township, Ionia County, Michigan. He then came back to New York, realized their family was in no state to move, and stayed in New York, moving from Herkimer County in 1820 to Steuben County in 1840. Having done daycare myself, I can imagine the horror of trying to visualize moving three children under the age of 5 in 1836 as well as my wife and household!

1840 US Federal Census from Bradford, Steuben Co, New York.

We know that Sylvanus and Susan were still in New York since we have the censuses, but we also know little John Snell passed away in New York, a death unmarked by vital records and gravestones. Yet he remains in the family memory.

By 1849, the couple and their five children moved to Easton, finding the property as wild as when Sylvanus had first seen it in 1836. It was rough and tumble, but Sylvanus made a go of things and he and Susan had a loving home and a family that was well known within the community. Sylvanus and Susan donated land to build Easton Cemetery, forever cementing a legacy. What Sylvanus did NOT count on, however, was that he would pass away just two years after moving his family to Ionia County. On 22 June 1851, Sylvanus died in Easton, Ionia, Michigan. How we know this is through his tombstone in the cemetery on his land donated to the city, because this is before the advent of vital records in Michigan and is therefore not kept in such records as Seeking Michigan, GENDIS, or by Ionia County.

I can only imagine how heartbroken Susan was, a widow at merely 44 years old, already having lost one child, and now left alone with four children to finish raising before sending them off into their own. Jacob Snell, my ancestor, had already moved onto a part of the property gifted to him by his father's estate with his wife Almira Kellogg. Susan kept on, keeping George Snell in school until age 16. Each son received large donations of cash or land from the estate, allowing the family to keep independent in Easton for many years to come.

This 1875 map of Easton Township shows the lands owned by Sylvanus T Snell, Jr., George A Snell, and Jacob Snell as well as Easton Cemetery, all on the original 320 acres purchased by Sylvanus and Susan.

Susan never remarried, moving in as a beloved grandmother and caretaker with her sons (Sylvanus in 1870, and George A in 1880) before passing away in 1884, laid to rest next to Sylvanus in Easton Cemetery:

 Detailed photos of the Snell tombstone by David Alan Snell. I've got similar photos, but his are much easier to read.

Unlike most of my mom's family, this family stayed in one place. Their love shows in their connection to the land. Even though the city of Easton seems to have largely forgotten the legacy of the Snell family (there's not even a record of them at the Ionia County library's genealogy files), the family land is part of a centennial farm in Easton, descended from Sylvanus to Jacob, from Jacob to his son Orson Traverse Snell, and from Orson to his youngest daughter Sylvia Snell Rasmussen, half sister to my 2nd great grandmother, Edna Mae Snell Webber. In 2013, I had the pleasure of visiting the property and you could just feel the love radiating throughout. Over 150 years in the same family. Sylvanus and Susan could not have made a better legacy for the Snell family. I doubt they could have predicted what would happen to them along their marriage, but it made it through, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, and that's why they are the example of love I chose to tell this week.


Photographs of the Snell-Rasmussen family farm and Easton Cemetery are by Concetta Phillipps. Make sure to click to see the larger, more readable versions!

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