Shirley Farris Jones, Murfreesboro Post, July 17, 2011
Summer is always a good time for family reunions, discovering who we are, and why or how we came to be where we consider “home.”
Reconnecting with long-lost relatives can be a discovery in and of itself.
This was the case when I was invited to attend a Neese Family Reunion recently in Pennsylvania.
These were descendants of my Grandmother Farris’ family, none of whom I had ever heard of or met prior to last year.
My introduction to the Neese family actually began in spring 2010 when my husband, Jerry, and I returned from a trip to Colorado.
My Grandmother Farris’ older brother, Harvey Calvin Neese, my great-uncle, was honored at the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony May 7, 2010 in Denver.
As a child, my father had fascinated me with the tales of his uncles who went west in search of gold in the 1890s.
Two of the brothers came back to Tennessee; two remained in Colorado. Cal Neese was Night Marshall of Cripple Creek, Co. when he was killed in the line of duty on July 3, 1920.
For almost nine decades he simply faded into history, remembered only by his friends and family, most of whom had passed on as well.
My Grandmother Farris died when I was only 9 years old. I knew her family came to Tennessee from Pennsylvania but other than that, I knew very little else.
When my dad’s eldest sister, Ruth Farris, passed away in 1995, she left me a treasure of pictures, letters and “keepsakes” that Mama Farris had saved over the years from her Neese family.
This began my search into the life and death of Cal Neese, one of my grandmother’s older brothers, born in Armstrong County, Pa., relocated to Tennessee as a child, and shot down by a drunken friend on the main street of Cripple Creek, Co. in 1920.
The research on this man would also result in his being honored at the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial last May, in a full-wall display in his honor at the Outlaws and Lawmans Museum in Cripple Creek, and in a book, “Harvey Calvin Neese: From Coffee Co., Tenn. to Cripple Creek, Co.”
On my journey back into Cal’s life, I discovered my grandmother’s other siblings, along with her parents, grandparents, and lots of information on cousins and extended family still in Pennsylvania.
They also discovered me along the way. And they were just as curious about their Tennessee relatives as we were about them.
The story actually began when my Confederate great-grandfather, Dr. John Kennerly Farris, Co. I, 41st Tennessee, returned to Coffee County in 1865 and began his service to the community of Hillsboro and Prairie Plains as a practicing physician.
It was a very dangerous time for everyone, a doctor being no exception.
A Union Cavalryman named John Neese from the Pennsylvania unit stationed in the area was assigned to ride along and protect the doctor on his travels.
Thus began the odd friendship of two men of opposing armies, but similar philosophies, that would last the rest of their lives.
Neese was in fact wounded while protecting Farris, and family legend holds that Farris saved Neese’s arm.
The two men kept in touch after Neese returned to Pennsylvania. And in 1867 Neese and his father-in-law, George Emery spent the summer with Farris and family.
While here, they purchased land, gave a small portion for a church and school, and the following summer of 1868 removed their families from Armstrong County, Pa. to Coffee County.
At that time, Neese had a wife and four sons, George, Jacob, Calvin and William.
There would be two more brothers, Arthur and Robert, and three sisters, Kate, Mattie and Mary, born in their new state over the next decade; my grandmother, Mary Emma, being the last born in 1878, before their mother died in 1880.
Two decades later Mary would marry the son of Dr. John K. Farris Sr., John K. Farris Jr. who had just completed medical school.
Thus providing the next generation of Farris kin with a real-life Yankee grandfather!
In 1885, John Neese remarried, and Catherine Emery, his mother-in-law who had suffered the loss of both her husband and two daughters during this five-year period, and who had been helping to care for John Neese’s family, returned to her original home in Armstrong County.
During the coming years, all direct connections would more or less be discontinued between the Tennessee and Pennsylvania families.
And that was the case until last year when I was contacted by one of the descendants of Jacob Neese, John’s brother, who lives in Colorado and just happened to see the articleabout Cal Neese in The Denver Post.
Small world, huh?
Thus began e-mail discovery between the great-grandchildren of the two Neese brothers, Jacob and John.
More e-mails followed from other Pennsylvania cousins, including the grandson of Jacob. So many questions, so few answers. We discovered some of us even had the same pictures of unknown relatives, all done by the same photographer in New Bethlehem, Pa., around the turn of the 20th century, and no one of the present age had a clue as to their identity.
When the e-mail correspondence first began, all were polite and inquisitive.
As time progressed, although the family reunion was still months away, we became first friends, and then more like family, sharing jokes along with fact finding.
I found myself really looking forward to meeting these nice Neese “cousins” and being able to put a face along with a name.
Finally, it was time, and Jerry, the two Papillons, Nikki and Nolli, and I headed for the land of my grandmother’s ancestors.
We arrived in Brookville, Pa. on a Friday evening.
From that first dinner when 11 of us “grand-children” got together for the first time ever, through the grand tours of cemeteries, charming old churches and villages, the old Neese Homestead in Neese Hollow in the beautiful foothills of the Allegheny Mountains the next day, through the Reunion itself on Sunday, it was one grand and glorious journey back through time.
I have never been made to feel more welcome anywhere in my entire life, Southern hospitality not-with-standing.
I came away with warm thoughts and fond memories of a family “disconnected” more than 143 years ago, most likely because of philosophical differences of two brothers relating to the American Civil War.
One brother, very patriotic, enlisting at the onset of the war only two weeks after his marriage, willing to fight and die to preserve the Union he so believed in; the other brother, simply wanting to raise his family and mind his own business, choosing not to participate until the Conscription Act forced him into service late in 1863, not really caring a flip what happened “down” South, yet ironically where he would choose to live the remainder of his life after leaving the home and family he no longer felt a part of after the War had ended.
Family reunions are good for the soul.
They give us focus as to who we are, where we came from and, hopefully, direction as to where we are going.
Despite so much “un-civil-ness” during the Civil War, there was still a lot of civility and humanity and unlikely friendships that developed as a result.
As we approach the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, it seems an especially appropriate time to delve back into our own family histories and note the impact that extended far beyond the lines of battle.
Thus ends my tale of two great-grandpas, one who fought for the South, and one who fought for the North.