This one, I wasn’t expecting.
On my childhood hometown newspaper website, I noticed a family reunion photo that included an old high school football and basketball teammate. The caption referenced a Deacon Simon Stone as the founder of the Stone family line in America, dating to his arrival in Massachusetts from England in 1634.
A little bell went off in my head. “That sounds familiar.”
So I dug out the family history, which I had originally amassed in the late 1960s and updated on occasion through the ensuing years as more information presented itself.
There it was — Deacon Simon Stone, whose son of the same name married Mary Whipple, daughter of John Whipple of Ipswich and Whipple House fame.
Simon and Mary produced, among others, brother and sister David and Susanna Stone. The two subsequent families of those two would produce children that, as first cousins, would marry each other and continue the line to an intersection with the Deane family at my three great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Rhoda (Allen) Deane of Gill.
So, my old teammate and I were indeed related, though distantly.
I had actually been in contact with him the previous fall, as he is a school athletic historian, to write a story on the four Athol High undefeated football teams in the school’s history and to promote one of them, the 1932 team, for induction into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
One member of that team, age 98, was still alive and well and able to represent the team. He had been a student of my father’s in 1934, and I had met him on several occasions. I wanted the team to be inducted while he was still alive, and the campaign eventually worked.
“Thank you so much for attending my father’s services to celebrate his long, full life,” wrote his daughter a year later. “It means a lot to us that you took so much time and energy to arrange for his selection into the Hall of Fame. This was a great honor for him and our family. He enjoyed so many old memories at the induction a year ago. Please know we appreciate your interest in helping my Dad ‘relive’ a wonderful time of his life.”
In addition to meeting at these calling hours, my soon-to-be-discovered cousin and I met in the spring of the following year at the calling hours for the wife of our old high school football coach, who at the time was 88. He himself would pass on two weeks later, so I was glad that I had seized the moment to reflect on past athletic moments.
Back in the early 1960s, my friend and I had scrimmaged against each other and competed against outside teams as teammates without realizing the family relationship.
“This will surprise him,” I thought, gathering up genealogical charts to email him to trace the connection. “Make sure to invite me to the next family reunion,” I signed off.
He, indeed, was surprised and forwarded me further family information that had been presented at the reunion. “You will be sure to be on the invitation list for the next reunion.”
So what does all this mean?
Surely, many of us are related as we recede back into the earlier generations. The number of ancestors grows exponentially, doubling with each generation and making more and more intersections all the more likely. The passage of time and scattering of families, however, causes the connections to fade into oblivion, though they still exist.
And while we are acutely aware of our most current relatives, the same fading will most likely occur into the future. Already, it seems, the world is more isolating as lifestyles become faster and more complicated. Do we have time for each other in our busy schedules? In my own case, I am only generally aware of the doings of my cousins’ children.
Yet the ties are still there, still available for enriching life through the sharing of common ancestry, history and heritage.
When I see this friend in the future, it will be in the context of a more complex relationship. Now, we will pay a little closer attention. As a matter of fact, I made a point to invite him, a U.S. Army veteran, to an Exchange Club of Greater Newburyport “Field of Honor” on the Bartlet Mall one recent September.
Time races by. Opportunities slip away. Things go unnoticed. All to the detriment of a more enriched life. Sure, one road not taken means that another is followed with its own discoveries and delights. But there’s no need to rush down either path. Meandering side streets connect the two, if only we would take the time to take the detours and side trips.
Noticing a newspaper caption and delving into some old family history have linked two friends together into one family network — a pleasant late-in-life bonus.
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.