A 4-Generation Love Story for Valentine’s Day

Introduction: In this article – to help celebrate Valentine’s Day – Katie Rebecca Garner shares generations of love stories from her own family history. Katie specializes in U.S. research for family history, enjoys writing and researching, and is developing curricula for teaching children genealogy.

Today being Valentine’s Day, everyone is making plans to celebrate love. Valentine’s Day is also a perfect time to celebrate the love that brought us into existence – not only that of our parents, but also their parents, and their parents, and so on. I have done this by gathering the love stories of my recent ancestors. I hope that reading these love stories inspires you to gather your own family’s love stories to add to your family history.

Photo: Valentine’s Day card, 1919
Photo: Valentine’s Day card, 1919. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

My parents met at a dance as teenagers. Mom came home from that dance saying that she met the most wonderful guy. They dated for several months until mom broke up with him. She never told him she wanted to break up, she simply stopped answering his calls. Meanwhile, dad kept her picture in his wallet, wondering what had happened. Dad went on a two-year mission trip to Argentina, which helped him find himself. After he came home, he and mom got back together, and got married.

My grandparents on both sides divorced, so the men I knew as my grandfathers were technically step-grandfathers. Considering both them and my biological grandfathers, my grandmothers each had dual love stories.

My maternal grandmother was born and raised in Australia, and came to the U.S. to marry my grandfather, Weston Bishop. They met during his mission trip to Australia. My grandmother’s family was one of the families that he helped. After going back home to the U.S., Weston kept in touch with the families he knew in Australia by writing letters. When my grandmother had moved out of her parents’ home for nursing school, he started writing letters to her. At some point, he asked her in a letter to come to America to marry him. My grandmother and her parents thought this was a great idea. They eventually divorced and each remarried.

Photo: Valentine’s Day card, 1883
Photo: Valentine’s Day card, 1883. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The man I know as “Grandpa Fred” is my grandmother’s third or fourth husband. My grandmother pursued a career as a nurse and met Fred through her profession. He was still married to his first wife at the time. She was dying and my grandmother was one of the nurses who cared for her in the hospital. After she died, my grandmother and Fred kept in contact through letter writing. They eventually got married.

My dad’s parents knew each other in high school. He chased her for years, trying to win her heart. After high school, she went to college in a small town. He joined the Navy and went to that same town. He lived in his car, and she would bring him food from the college cafeteria. After they got married, they lived in a tiny, inadequate apartment. They had a rocky marriage and eventually divorced. My grandmother took her kids and moved back in with her parents, and finished college.

Several years later, my grandmother met her next husband, the man I know as “Grandpa.” At a church function, a leader was admonishing the men to find themselves a worthy woman to marry. My grandmother thought she would need an introduction to a man who’d find her worthy. Shortly thereafter she met grandpa at a dance. She described this dance as the worst dance ever: the music was too loud, and the people were too young. She was sitting there bored when this man came up and made conversation with her. He asked her to dance, and they built a friendship from there. They slowly built their relationship and eventually married.

My Australian great-grandparents, Douglas Robinson and Thelma Crowther, met at the beach at Christmastime. They were set up by his family’s dog, a German shepherd named King. At that beach trip, it was Douglas’s turn to watch the dog. King ran off and Douglas chased after him. King eventually ran into Thelma, who gave him some water. Douglas finally caught up to the dog and saw him with a beautiful young woman. They started talking and he asked if he could see her again. He certainly did see her again, and they got married about a year later. It is said that he was so in love with her that he never remarried after she died.

Photo: Valentine’s Day card, 1919
Photo: Valentine’s Day card, 1919. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

My maternal grandfather’s parents were childhood friends. At a young age, Harold Bishop and Jessie Beazer promised they’d get married. However, his family didn’t approve of her, thinking her family was beneath theirs. But that didn’t stop him. They got married in 1918, two months before he left to serve in WWI. Perhaps the war prompted him to quickly marry his longtime sweetheart. How Jessie must have worried about her new husband, who was not only in danger of being attacked by Germans but was also in danger of catching the Spanish Flu, which was more deadly than the war. Harold was discharged in 1919, nearly a year after getting married. Finally, he could come home to his wife, and they could begin their life together.

My paternal grandmother’s parents met in college. John McElhinney was a smart kid who came from a poor family, paying for college entirely with scholarships. Geraldine Walters worked her way through college. They met playing ping-pong at their college’s recreation center. As they got to know each other, he realized that she was what he wanted. He went on to grad school in Illinois. During Christmas break one year, John decided to go home and marry his girlfriend. This meant he had to bring his new wife with him when he went back to college. The apartment they were supposed to live in wasn’t ready yet, so John got permission to let his wife sleep on the couch in the fraternity house.

Ironically, the great-grandparents whose lines I research the most is the one love story I haven’t been able to learn: the love story of Catherine Rachel Harris and Chester Miller Garner. Perhaps I may discover it as I continue to research their families.

This Valentine’s Day, celebrate the love that brought you here by learning your family’s love stories, and make them a permanent part of your family history.

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