I’m never going to get rich on book sales: that was never a dream or expectation. What I also didn’t expect or imagine, was the number of connections arising because of me publishing my books. And yet, they keep coming. I didn’t think to predict that by telling my own family story it might encourage others to talk about theirs. That what I wrote about might encourage or invite others to relate their own memories. To be honest, a few of the connecting themes don’t truly surprise me: the daughters whose fathers were alcoholic. The dads who stopped drinking like mine, and those who didn’t. The readers who grew up in Oregon and related to my stories, especially those of the 1960’s and today, along with the ones who didn’t but had similar stories of life elsewhere. But I really didn’t anticipate that I would meet people who would add to my own stories about my own family.
Two days ago I received a call, out of the blue, from a woman who had purchased My Music Man from a bookstore in Vancouver. (Wow…that’s nice! I had no idea there was a brick and mortar store in Vancouver carrying a copy of my memoir.) She had a friend who “had a Gill connection” and they had hoped to attend my Murdock Talk earlier this month in Oregon City, but were realistic about the traffic they might hit trying to get there. She had found my card in the book (okay, slight deviation, but now I’m a bit confused) with my cell number. We chatted for a bit – and I must admit she certainly knew a lot more regional history than I, encouraging me to read two books I’d never heard of. She also asked if it was okay for her to give her friend my number.
Last evening “R” caught up with me. I learned all about how, earlier in his life, he had a friendship with Mrs. Gill. I was prepared for the call as I had pulled out my volumes of genealogy and photos that I am forever indebted to Mom for putting together two decades ago. After a bit of discussion I realized that R had been friends with the daughter-in-law of J.K. Gill’s brother, John, through her marriage to Harold Gill. This is a branch of the family I’ve never had contact with. In My Music Man, and this Blog, I’ve talked plenty about my great great grandfather, J.K. Gill, owner of Portland’s J.K. Gill Bookstore. I’ve also written about J.K.’s brother Sam, a steamboat engineer and my dad’s “hero.” Brother John, though, I had to dig back into my family albums to remember more about. As I did, I was again reminded of the interesting stories of each of these brothers, who, although born in Yorkshire England, emigrated with their family to Massachusetts in 1854. It was in 1864 that J.K. sailed to Oregon after meeting Chloe Clarke and her daughters in the east, soon after marrying Chloe Clarke Willson and William Willson’s daughter Frances in 1866, and operating his first bookstore in Salem. J.K., or more formally Joseph Kaye, lived from 1841-1931, raising one son and five daughters with Frances, including my great grandmother Georgia (Gill Montgomery). So what about John and the other brothers?
- John (1851-1929) was well-educated, and a singer and cellist. He ended up heading the textbook department of J.K. Gill’s. His wife was Lisa and they had two children, Harold (the husband of R’s friend, “Mrs. Gill”) and Elsa.
- Benjamin (1843-1912) was a college professor at Wilbraham in Massachusetts, as well as a church pastor with a Doctor of Divinity degree, later teaching at Pennsylvania State College.
- James (1849-1930) was a mechanical engineer who also moved to Portland.
- Samuel (1854?-1935) as mentioned, was a machinist and steamboat operator, and had a beautiful singing voice. The articles he wrote for the Portland Bulletin, and the log book or journal he kept while a steamboat engineer, are both archived within the Oregon Historical Society’s Research Library.
- Seth (1885-1930) was a musician and piano tuner who never married.
- I know less about J.K.’s three sisters, as they all stayed east: Mary was a college graduate who died from burns suffered in an explosion (1848-1899); Ellen and Ruth both married and stayed in Worcester, MA.
So back to this new friend of mine. He met Mrs. Harold Gill, who lived on S.W. Montgomery Drive in Portland, late in her life and after the death of her husband. As he assisted Mrs. Gill with needed tasks around her house, he became a good friend and listener, learning many stories that he began to share with me today. Upon her death she left R with several items from the Gill Family, largely because she didn’t feel her existing family members would appreciate them. He was excited to describe to me a ship log he now has that includes notes of travel from Liverpool to England to Boston. I’m rather excited, as well, to check these out, as I’m not quite sure what part of the Gill family they represent, although they appear to be dated prior to the family emigrating to the U.S. It also just may be he was gifted a piece of furniture that once was owned by John McLoughlin, but that remains to be seen.
I am eager to set up a date to visit my two new friends in Vancouver. Stay tuned. And something tells me it’s time to pitch a talk to the Friends of Fort Vancouver! We never know where new connections in life may lead us. But I continue to learn: listen up, stay willing and jump in when the moment opens!
Want to read more about J.K. and Sam Gill?