Friday, September 4, 2015

UNCLE Jake Summers

We've had a long-standing question about our Summers family of Macomb, Michigan, which is this:

How was Jacob Summers 1787-1864 related to Jacob Summers 1808-1885?

The older man was a Michigan state legislator, who was also involved in banking, agriculture, and civil service. Two local histories as well as several newspaper articles referred to him as Uncle Jake.

The younger man was mostly a farmer, and was also involved in local civil service.  Deeds, court cases, and even his own will use the suffix "2d" after his name.

It has been easy to believe that Jacob 2d was the son of Uncle Jake because of the Michigan death register that states the parents of Jacob 2d were Jacob and Mary Summers (Mary having been one of three wives of Uncle Jake). But we have no way to know who reported that information, and the fact that Jacob 2d was born four years before Uncle Jake and Mary were married has always bothered me enough to wonder....

Where to go with this problem? First, let's talk about the suffix "2d." Wikipedia has this to say about numerical name suffixes:

“Alternatively, Jr's are sometimes referred to as "II". However, the original name carrier relative of a "II" is generally an uncle, cousin, or ancestor (including grandfather).”

So, hmmmm. Maybe the answer to the question has been staring us in the face. I have been taking the familiar name of “Uncle Jake” to mean that the public somehow saw the older Jacob Summers as a kind and wise gentleman - and how my brain came up with that association, I'm not exactly sure. What I've learned in researching the older Jacob is that his reputation was instead one of being rather eccentric and rough around the edges. So why was he called Uncle Jake?

This would be one of those AHA moments when I always wonder what took me so long to see the obvious. What if the “uncle” reference was literal? Of the two Jacob Summers in the area, the older man was the younger man's uncle! And interestingly, the references to “2d” did not appear in the records until after the death of Uncle Jake's brother, John Summers, Jr. in 1843. At that point, I believe, John Jr.'s son, Jacob, started calling himself '2d,' and others referred to his uncle, Uncle Jake, accordingly.

Considering that John Summers Jr. married his wife Jane in 1807, Jacob 2d could easily have been their oldest child. So this theory holds some water, in my opinion, and while still not proof of anything, I like the utter simplicity of this conclusion: Uncle Jake Summers and his nephew, Jacob 2d were both early pioneers to Macomb County, Michigan. During their lifetimes, there was likely no confusion about the identity of either Jacob Summers or their relationship to each other. But over 150 years later, it takes awhile to collect the puzzle pieces, put them together, and step back to see the big picture! At last, I feel like I'm looking at a picture of two Jacob Summers in Macomb, Michigan that makes sense.

1 comment:

  1. I'm now of the opinion that David Summers was the father of Jacob Summers 2d, not John Summers Jr. See my post "Third Time Charm", Jan. 2016.