Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Life Well-Lived: The Passing of John Allen Aylard

On the evening of Thursday, March 28, my father passed away. He had suffered for at least two years from Lewy body dementia, a disease that slowly unraveled the fabric of his logical and perceptive mind and diminished the strength of his once-vigorous frame. But while the deterioration of that disease increasingly confined him during his last months, it will never define his life.

The second of four sons, my father John Allen Aylard was born on March 15, 1931, in Jackson, Michigan to Clark William and Esther Lavina (Vore) Aylard. When my father was five the family moved to Arizona in the hope that a warmer, drier climate would relieve his father's crippling bouts of arthritis. Clark built a house trailer for the trip to be pulled by a Model “A” Ford. You can imagine the result of piling four rambunctious little boys into the cramped rear seat of an un-air-conditioned car for a two-thousand-mile Summer road trip. My father later recalled that the Burma-Shave signs helped to break the monotony of the trip. The trailer was used as full time or supplemental living space for the next four years.
At this time, the nation was in the middle of the Great Depression. My grandfather was unable to find work in Arizona, so the family continued on to Southern California. They lived in trailer parks for about a year before renting in West Los Angeles. Despite living in relative poverty, my father often recalled that he never felt poor. My grandfather took whatever odd jobs were available to provide for the family and the four active brothers never failed to make their own excitement.

In 1940, my father developed non-acute appendicitis that kept him out of school. The surgery and recovery resulted in more lost time from classes, requiring that he repeat a grade, placing him in the same grade as his next-younger brother.

World War II erupted when my father was ten. My grandfather was too old to serve and none of his four sons was old enough, so the family was spared the angst of having one of its own in harm’s way. Instead, the family experienced the war through the rationing of food and other staples, bond drives, and the increased presence of military personnel in the area where they lived. He once saw a fighter plane flying low over the highway and crash just off the coast into the Pacific Ocean; he recalled that the pilot survived and swam to shore.

Leaving the Los Angeles area in 1943, the family headed northward, living in a variety of locations in Central and Northern California. One destination was the small town of Independence, near a Japanese internment camp named Manzanar. The family’s landlord worked in the camp, and invited them to visit him there. My father was impressed by the imposing fences and armed watch towers, but found the atmosphere of the camp surprisingly peaceful.

From 1944 to 1948, the family continued to move north, settling in the small town of Windsor, living in a large tent while my father and his brothers helped their father build a house.

My father later described himself as being “painfully shy and unsophisticated” during his youth. As a teenager his social life consisted of family and a few members of a local church group. Yet he was an avid fan of the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast Baseball League, and he enjoyed exploring the natural beauty of the area in which he lived.

My father worked at various jobs to defray his school expenses. He worked on a chicken ranch and learned about territorial roosters; he worked with sheep and learned why the Bible compares us to sheep; and he worked in a Maraschino cherry processing plant, and learned that it was possible to feed more cherries onto the conveyor than the crew down the line could process.

In 1954, he graduated from San Jose State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a minor in Mathematics.

In January, 1955, my father was drafted into the United States Army. After completing basic training, he was sent to Texas for training as a guided missile crewman with the 601st Field Artillery Missile Battalion. My father proved his ability in training and was eventually recommended to become an instructor. Unfortunately, he had already been assigned as a jeep-driver, wasting the advanced training he had received and limiting him to the rank of Private First Class.

In the spring of 1956, his unit was shipped overseas for a tour of duty in Germany, stationed at Zweibr├╝cken. During his overseas assignment he was able to do some travel and sightseeing in Germany (visiting Adolf Hitler’s retreat in the mountains above Berchtesgaden) as well as France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, North Africa, Greece and Turkey.

After his discharge from the Army in 1957, he went back to San Jose State under the GI Bill for additional education in accounting. This time he cleaned model homes to pay the bills. After completing enough courses for the equivalent of a major in accounting, on January 2, 1959, he was hired as an internal auditor with Contra Costa County, California.

Also, after his return home from the Army he met and fell in love with Lorna (my mother), who was attending his home church in the San Jose area. After a two-year friendship and courtship, they became engaged on January 3, 1959. They were married in June of that year and rented an apartment, near my father’s work, while my mother worked as a teacher.

The next year my parents purchased their first home and welcomed their first child, my sister, in the Fall of 1960; she was followed by my brother in the Spring of 1963. I was born in the Fall of 1965.

My father worked in the Contra Costa County Internal Auditing Division for the entirety of his professional career, the last 26 years as the head of the Division. While employed, he was a member of several professional organizations, and was one of the first auditors to qualify for the professional distinction of Certified Internal Auditor. He retired from his professional career in March 1993 after a total of 34 years of public service.

In retirement he had more time for the hiking, photography, and travel that he had enjoyed throughout his working life. He continued to be actively involved in church, serving in roles in such as treasurer, financial secretary, and small-group leader. But he made possibly the biggest impact, and experienced the most reward, through his years of teaching adult Sunday school. He was a life-long student of the Bible with the goal of passing on his faith and values.

He underwent triple-bypass surgery after he suffered a mild heart attack on Christmas Eve night in 2007. His health and strength seemed somewhat diminished thereafter, until he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2010. He died at home in my mother’s care on the evening of Maundy Thursday, March 28, 2013. His body was buried at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, California, on April 10.

My father’s life was one of quiet but consistent faith, generosity, and wisdom, not only in word, but even more so in action. His was a life well-lived. I have inherited a priceless legacy from his example that I will cherish, and that I hope to bequeath intact to my own children.

Parts of this post were adapted from the life story read at my father's memorial service on April 12, 2013.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Daughter He Left Behind

When in the early 1850s my great-great grandfather bade his final farewell to friends and family in the countryside town of Soham, England, I can only imagine that he carried with him a burden of heart-breaking memories. The scythe of death had winnowed many loved ones, both old and young, from the life of William Aylard. Only months or perhaps weeks earlier, he had buried Fanny (Levet), his wife of nearly ten years, following her death from pulmonary tuberculosis. As he closed the book on this chapter of loss, he brought with him the two surviving children Fanny had borne him: Sarah and William. His firstborn son, also named William, had died five years earlier, just before his first birthday, and would remain behind, buried on the grounds of the local parish church. And yet he left behind more than death and painful memories in Soham: he also left his oldest child, a daughter named Ann.

William Aylard (1814 - 1886)
Private Collection of James A. Aylard

When my uncle gifted me with extensive genealogy resources several years ago, I inherited a considerable trove of family history information onto which I could graft additional research of my own. But in that inherited data, Ann was a perplexity: a limited entry in the genealogy database with little detail beyond her first name (listed there as Anna) and the faint possibility that she had one day produced two sons who might have died in the First World War. Even her mother’s name - and whether that woman and William were actually married - were unknowns.

Ann’s circumstance touched me, and the lack of information about her intrigued me. Why did she remain behind in Soham? Did she live into adulthood? Did she ever marry? Did she have children? Where did life take her, if apparently never to the shores of her father’s adopted American homeland?

Whatever happened to the daughter that William left behind? That is a mystery that I will explore in coming posts.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Peculiar Practice: Reusing the Names of Deceased Children

The practice may seem jarring to modern sensibilities, but a century and-a-half ago, reusing the name of a dead child for one born at a later time was relatively common. Of course, child mortality was also more common, which no doubt was a factor in the less-sentimental attitudes of that day.

In my own family line, my great-great grandfather, William Aylard, fathered two sons named William by his second wife, Fanny (Levet). I provided some brief detail about the first-born William in my last post. That son was born in 1845 and died less than a year later, in 1846. A year and-a-half after this tragic death, in January 1848, a second son was born to William and Fanny, and he was also named William.

The second William, often named Will in adulthood, emigrated from England to the United States with his father and sister, Sarah, around 1851. After several years living in New York state, Will moved with his father, step-mother, sister and growing family of half-brothers and half-sisters to Ohio where he lived the remainder of his life, until his death in 1915 of a heart condition. He is not known to have ever married or fathered any children.

Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth for William Aylard (1848)1

Death Certificate for William Aylard (1915)2
  1. England, birth certificate (short form) for William Aylard, born 27 January 1848; citing 14/26/260, Newmarket Union registration district; General Registry Office, Southport.
  2. State of Ohio, Bureau of Vital Statistics, “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database, ( : accessed 28 December 2008), Certificate of Death for William Aylard, File No. 68275 (1915).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Original Sources: William Aylard (1845-1846)

How I am related to
William Aylard
(Click image to see larger copy)
About two years ago, when I began researching the English birth, marriage, and death (BMD) registers for all occurrences of my Aylard surname, I discovered a son of my great-great grandfather, William Aylard, who had not been previously recorded in the family genealogy files. He was the first son of William (1814-1886) and his second wife, Fanny Levet (1815-1851), born on 8 September 1845. Tragically, he died on 5 August 1846, little more than a month shy of his first birthday. His cause of death, as recorded in the death register, was bronchitis.

William Aylard - Certified Copy of an Entry of Birth (1845)1
William Aylard - Certified Copy of an Entry of Death (1846)2

  1. England, birth certificate (short form) for William Aylard, born 8 September 1845; citing 14/113/456, Newmarket Union registration district; General Registry Office, Southport.
  2. England, death certificate (short form) for William Aylard, died 5 August 1846; citing 14/96/405, Newmarket Union registration district; General Registry Office, Southport.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whatever Happened to Rachel Shiflet? Part III

(L-R) Rachel Shiflet, Grace Vore, Mary (Vore) Stephenson,
Louise Ward, William Lloyd Stephenson, Esther Vore,
Lavina (Barr) Vore, and Jesse Allen Vore (abt 1918)
I conclude my three-part series on Rachel Shiflet with some details of her life after she left the family of my great-grandparents, Jesse Allen and Lavina (Barr) Vore. To my knowledge, though it is admittedly limited, Rachel disappeared from my family’s awareness when she left their home sometime toward the end of 1920, presumably to be reunited with her birth family after a ten-year absence. I can only imagine the trauma this would have likely caused this twelve-year-old girl who probably had no memory of her birth parents.

In family history research, knowing where a person has been can help us determine where they might later have gone. The regular, ten-year rhythm of the United States Federal Census is one of the basic pulse points for determining a person’s whereabouts. The fact that we found Rachel in the 1910 Census while still living with her birth family, before she came to live with the Vores, proved a key to unlocking where she went once she left them.

From the 1910 Census, I was fairly confident that Rachel’s parents were Frank and Emma Shiflet. The first census enumerated after Rachel’s departure from the Vore family was that of 1930. However, I was unable to locate any Rachel Shiflet in the 1930 Census, when she would have been roughly 22 years old. Had she died? Or had she gotten married? The key to the answer proved to be her parents.

Searching, I found a Frank and Emma Shiflet living in Hartford, Van Buren County, Michigan, in the 1930 Census1. Their ages matched that of Rachel’s parents, as did their states of birth, and their ages at first marriage (twenty for Frank, and seventeen for Emma). But Frank was not the head-of-household, instead listed as Father-in-law. He was living in the home of twenty-five-year-old Ora Alexander. And Ora’s wife: twenty-two-year-old Rachel Alexander. This is fairly convincing circumstantial evidence that we have found Rachel Shiflet, now married (from age seventeen, like her mother). Further evidence is that this Rachel was born in Indiana, as was Rachel Shiflet. Both Ora and Rachel are listed as laborers at what appears to be an “artificial foliage factory.” And they are the parents of a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Hazel M. Alexander.

Since the 1940 US Federal Census will not be released until 2012, it is not possible to trace Rachel further in the Census at this time. In the search for other records on Rachel Alexander, I turned to FamilySearch, a largely free LDS genealogy Internet resource. And there I found an entry for Rachel’s death on August 30, 1960, at 52 years of age2. This particular entry only provides a partial transcription of data from the record, and does not provide an image of the original death certificate from which it was presumably taken. So my confidence in its accuracy is less than if I could view the actual document itself. No cause of death was transcribed. However, the names of her parents are provided, including her mother’s maiden name (Emma Yaw). It also provides her exact birth date (9 January 1908) and her place of birth (South Bend, Indiana). It also confirms that she was married to Ora Alexander.

So as my series on “Whatever Happened to Rachel Shiflet?” comes to a conclusion, it is clear that we have only scratched the surface of her life. We have constructed a framework that enlarges the picture we have of her beyond the ten-year period in which she lived with my grandmother and great grandparents, but still we have little more than the dimensions of the canvas. That is part of the mystery and lure of family history: finding clues that lead to facts and details, that in turn add brushstrokes to that canvas, providing depth, color, and vibrancy to a life once lived. Rachel’s life is still largely a mystery to me, but I now have several leads for future research.
  1. “1930 United States Federal Census Record for Rachel Alexander.” Index and images, ( accessed 11 April 2011. Entry for Rachel Alexander, living in Hartford, Van Buren, Michigan, 1930; reference Roll 1028, Page 11A, Enumeration District 18, Image 956.0. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls.
  2. "Michigan Death and Burials, 1800-1995." Index, FamilySearch ( accessed 11 April 2011. Entry for Rachel Alexander, died 30 August 1960 citing Death Records; reference 893, FHL film 1,954,714; Index entries derived from digital copies of original and compiled records.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Whatever Happened to Rachel Shiflet? Part II

Front (L-R): Esther Vore, Rachel Shiflet, Grace Vore;
Rear: Hugh Vore, Mary Vore
In my previous post about Rachel Shiflet, I noted that not much seemed to be known about the background of this young foster child among the Vore children. Rachel is said to have arrived in the Vore home in October 1910. The sense that my grandmother, Esther Lavina, had about Rachel’s past was that she came from an unfit home, though apparently little was said about it.

The decennial US Federal Census had been conducted in April of 1910, prior to Rachel’s arrival at the Vore home. So by searching that census, I hoped that I might find Rachel living with her birth family—which would be truly ideal.

The 1910 Census does, indeed, list a two-year-old Rachel V. Shiflet in the rural community of Sodus, in Berrien County, Michigan (about ten miles from Bainbridge, where the Vores lived). Rachel is listed as the daughter of Frank E. Shiflet. Also listed are Frank’s wife, Emma N. Shiflet, and three other, older daughters (Ila, Elizabeth, and Maud). And with some brief study, we learn some other interesting things about this family that help to paint a fuller portrait of Rachel’s early home life:
1910 US Federal Census for Sodus, Berrien County, Michigan.

  • Frank and Emma had been married for 26 years, and this was the first marriage for both of them. So it is relatively safe to assume that Emma was also Rachel’s mother.
  • Emma had given birth to ten children, eight of whom were still living.
  • Rachel was the youngest child living in the household at the time.
  • Frank was a mason and cement worker.
So now we have a glimpse—a snapshot—of what is almost certainly Rachel’s birth family. We do not gain any clarity on what conditions in that family might have brought about a need to remove her to another home for that ten-year period. In fact we see what might seem on the surface to be a stable home: parents, married for many years; a father, seemingly gainfully employed. But the census alone provides very little detail from which to draw any substantive conclusions. And because of their sensitive nature, most likely any records of Rachel’s foster care that survive would be sealed.

In my next and final post about Rachel, I will explore what I found out about her after she left the care of the Vore family. Where did she live? Did she marry? And did she have children?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Whatever Happened to Rachel Shiflet?

When my paternal grandmother, Esther Lavina Vore, was ten years old, a little girl named Rachel Shiflet (or Shifflet) came to live with the family under circumstances that were apparently never explained clearly or completely to my grandmother or her siblings. Rachel’s decade-long presence in the family is briefly recorded in a family history written in 1984 by my father’s cousin, Clarice (Vore) Dodge:

In the early 1900’s Jesse [my great grandfather] and his wife, Lavina [my great grandmother], adopted (although probably not legally) Rachel Vera Shiflet (b. January 7, 1908) in October of 1910 while they were in Bainbridge, Michigan. Rachel stayed with them until a few days before Christmas in 1920. It is not clear just why Rachel came to live with them as not much was related to the Vore children other than the impression was that Rachel’s home was not a fit place to bring up a child.1

Sure enough, twelve-year-old Rachel’s presence with the family is enumerated in the 1920 United States Federal Census, with her relationship recorded as “Foster Daughter”. Apparently the person providing the household information to the Census enumerator knew little about her birth family, as the birthplace of both her father and mother is recorded simply as “United States”.

From what little is written about Rachel in the family record, it appears that her departure was as sudden as her arrival, and that little if anything was known of her life thereafter. The mystery gives off a curious scent of adventure to the family historian. Where did Rachel go, and what became of her? And where, exactly, had she come from? I’ll reveal more of what I found in my next post.

1. Dodge, Clarice (Vore). “The Vore Aylard Bond: A Union of Four Families.” MS. 1984. Digitized Copy. Privately held by James A. Aylard, California. 2011.