|Henry Bowler |
Henry Bowler and I met face to face, so to speak, for the first time, when my father’s cousin gave me his Cabinet Card photograph. As she put it in my hand, she commented that her son had hoped this scary looking fellow was no relation to us. She had dashed that hope by pointing out that he was our – her son’s and mine – third great grandfather. I was thrilled!
It is incredible, and sometimes overwhelming, to consider the number of ancestors that actually compose any single person’s family tree. As one of my favorite genealogy quotes points out, in family history, “whenever you solve one problem, you gain two more.” Every person in your pedigree has two parents, and each of those two lead to two more. Family trees grow exponentially in this way. Ultimately, a genealogist trying to compile the stories of long-ago relations, has plenty of ancestors to choose from when deciding whom to research each time they open the record books.
Sometimes, though, our ancestors make these decisions for us. Accidental discoveries of tombstones, newspaper clippings, family papers, or the occasional “scary” photograph, catch our attention and direct our curiosity. In this case, great-great-great-grandfather Henry had stepped up.
|Henry's tombstone, Bowler Cemetery |
At the time I only knew Henry as a name on paper in the great genealogy records chase. So, I went to visit him. Henry is buried in a small family cemetery on the farm where he lived near Rogersville, in Center Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Beside his gravestone, markers still stand for his wife, Penelope (Stewart) Bowler, and nine of their close relatives. Standing on this hilltop a cemetery visitor can look out on the land where Henry spent his daily life.
Of course, the man in this photo, made me want to know what his life was like. Who Henry really was? Revealing an individual’s personality and personal story is not generally obvious, sometimes nearly impossible, to discover for ancestors who lived so long ago. We can often piece together facts from official records to recreate some sense of their status and lifestyle, and gain a sense of their priorities and routines, but not as often their personal description or nature.
Henry, however, was not done basking in the family history spotlight.
Obituaries from the early 1900s, have the potential to be non-existent, very brief, or alternatively awesome! Do not ever look to just one local newspaper and accept it as the only offering. In Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, several newspapers were in print at the time of Henry’s death and his family chose a less common one, the Independent, in which to publish his extended notice. The more popular Waynesburg Republican carried only a two sentence death notice and if the research had ended there, we would have missed an incredible biography. This is an excerpt from Henry’s exceptional obituary published 26 May 1904 in the Independent:
“Henry Bowler was one of the oldest citizens of the county and we might say in some respects a very peculiar man. He was never outside of Greene county but once and that only across the line for a few hours. He had never seen a train of cars nor a steamboat. Had not been away from the farm on which he lived but twice in the last fifteen years. Had not been to Rogersville, which is in sight of his farm, for something like thirty years.
|Henry's funeral card |
This account of my “peculiar” ancestor is a lively complement to the treasured photograph. Henry’s photo is the first one you will see if you ever open my Bowler family photo album. He never fails to make me smile.
Allow your ancestors to inspire and lead you on your search. There is a serendipitous influence underlying family history research that few genealogists will deny. Sometimes unexpected discoveries take you down paths to whole new branches of your tree waiting to be explored!
Henry’s extended family and additional photographs collected in the course of my personal research may be viewed in the Candice Lynn Buchanan Collection and by checking out the family profiles in the Greene Connections Tree (still very much under construction, but growing!).
(An earlier version of this article was originally published by Candice Buchanan in Greene Speak, April 2006. Updated 21 February 2016 for www.GreeneConnections.com.)
GreeneConnections.com is a free local history archival project. Sponsored by LOLA Energy.
 Item # CAND_AN003_0001, Bowler Series, Candice Lynn Buchanan Collection, Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).
 Bowler Cemetery (Center Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania; About two miles southeast of Rogersville along a road that used to be called "Bowler Ridge." To reach the cemetery, you must walk through the field and climb the hill.), Henry Bowler tombstone; personally read by Candice Buchanan, 5 November 2004. "Henry Bowler / Born / May 27, 1818 / Died / March 18, 1904"
 Henry Bowler obituary, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 24 March 1904, page 1, column 7.
 Henry Bowler obituary, Waynesburg Independent, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 26 May 1904, page 2, column 1-2.
 Item # CAND_AN003_0002, Bowler Series, Candice Lynn Buchanan Collection, Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com).