Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Frank Thomas Ryder
Frank Thomas Ryder was born Thomas Francis Ryder on October 13th, 1889, in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, the second child and second son of Fred Ryder and Mary Catherine McCarthy Ryder.  He was baptized on October 24, 1889 at the Catholic Cathedral Church there and Charles Kane and Jane Scott (possibly his maternal aunt?) were his sponsors.   He died October 7, 1957, in Omaha, Nebraska, and was buried at Calvary Cemetery there.  

I spent a very great deal of time with Frank as an infant, toddler and pre-kindergarten, as I did with my grandmother Ruth Harriet Gearen, all of my Ryder aunts and uncles.  Before his forced retirement, Frank traveled often for business reasons, to Cudahy Packing plants around the country and to Mexico, but he was still a presence at home.

Most of what I remember is from the time they lived in the Rockbrook neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska, on Rockbrook Boulevard, (now a replacement contemporary home at 2306 South 102nd Street).   But after a break-in robbery in my parents’ tiny apartment in a house on Lafayette Street, we lived with Frank and Ruth for a time on Mercer Blvd. near St. Cecilia’s Cathedral.  By late 1948 my family moved to Davenport Street near Creighton University, close to them.

The house at 1006 Mercer Blvd. was a delightful and busy place.  My mother, Mary Ryder Wilmes, was the oldest of five daughters (Frances, Kathleen, Patricia and Bernadette), all of whom were still at home along with oldest son James and youngest Thomas and there was always something happening.  The picture above was taken on the front porch there, probably in spring, 1948.

Even after we moved to Davenport Street, we were back at 1006 Mercer Blvd. often.  There were many visits to and from my aunts’ friends.  Cars or motor bikes full of young people arrived and departed frequently.   Holidays were beyond wonderful and the anticipation for each was tingling.  The picture above was taken in 2012.

1006 Mercer Blvd., Omaha NE
Even after our move, we were back at 1006 Mercer Blvd. often and there was either basketball, baseball, tennis or golf in the driveway and out in Mercer Blvd., as well as hiking trips along the stone wall of the Mercer Mansion (home of the family who later developed the Omaha Old Market). Othe times, one of them would take me across Cuming Street to Blackburn’s Pharmacy for fountain Cokes or trips to the donut and lemon roll bakery on North 40th Street and Hamilton Avenue.

Ryder Family Dinner
There were very big family dinners around a giant dining table as in the picture at left.  This picture is from sometime in 1949 in the Mercer Blvd. basement.   Frank was not in this picture, which probably was snapped by the family photographer, Uncle Jim Finnegan, (evidenced by his vacant seat next to Katy in center, left). That’s probably Ruthie Wear Kuehl in Franny’s arms (left, just above Ruth Patty Ryder Quinn and Jack Quinn are next to Katy followed by Jim and Jeanne Ryder, then Bob Wear next to my parents on the lower right).  Note the huge platters of fried chicken. It must have been special as there is floral centerpiece.

We were there many Sundays for dinner, usually a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and white gravy and green beans or a seasonal vegetable.  Later years, on Sunday afternoons at Rockbrook Blvd., there were fierce competitions during College Bowl, a 50’s television game show.  Tommy was really great at that game.

It is not an exaggeration that this family loved each other and loved being together.  They were together often, they celebrated, they helped each other, they sought each other out and they laughed all the time.   And, my aunts Katy and Patty remembered childhood visits from Frank’s McCarthy uncles.   In years before this time, there must have been visits from Ruth’s siblings and parents from Sioux City and Chicago, too, as Frank wrote the lyrics to a song he titled “When Your Wife’s Relations Come to Visit You” with the refrain “There’s No Place like Home”.  I’m very sorry that I can’t remember all the words but my aunt Katy Ryder Finnegan reminded me of some of them including references to “grease up to their elbows” and “pork chop bones” tossed in the corners, and pushing you out of your good bed.  

My father Jim (in the lower right corner of the picture above, apparently demonstrating a soft drink flavor) remembers Sunday morning trips with Frank after World War II to the Cudahy Packing plant in South Omaha where, after a bit of a wait, a box of meat and maybe shell fish would be brought out to the waiting car.  Bacon, Canadian bacon, beef, pork, and oysters, too. 

The stockyards were frenzied in the 50’s, trucks and trains unloading around the clock, and early on Sundays, the cattle trucks would start to line up on "L" Street from all over Nebraska and western Iowa, waiting to deliver their livestock to the pens of the buyers for the packers.  This web page is an excellent source for information about the Omaha Stockyards:

The Rise and Fall of the Omaha Stockyards.

I knew it was the most important part of Omaha’s economy, but the article states that directly and indirectly, the stockyards accounted for half of Omaha’s employment base. The bars lined “L” Street, too, to accommodate the waiting truckers, and they were not today’s Omaha Old Market cafes, bistros and brew pubs!  Of course, it smelled like a stockyards, too.  That was Frank’s world. 

In late 1940’s and early 1950’s post-war Omaha, veterans married and formed families fast and there was a huge housing shortage.  Contractors were very busy.  Frank helped arrange for a two bedroom house to be built for my family at 4140 Binney Street in Holy Name Parish, financed by my father’s VA or GI zero-interest mortgage loan.  My father told me that Frank had a contractor friend, Mr. Minelli, a co-worker at Cudahy, who went into the house building business and Minelli built our house.  

We called our street “Little Binney” to separate it from ”Big Binney” which ran steeply uphill from 43rd Street to 45th Street by the Servants of Mary Convent of Holy Name.  My mother and I would walk up there to catch the streetcar over to Frank’s house on Mercer Blvd.    

Frank was a generous man and may have helped find jobs for friends.  It is hard to describe what unpleasantness the jobs probably involved at the packing house (the Muckrakers and Upton Sinclair did a fine enough job with The Jungle in 1906, years before Frank worked there).  One of my uncles told me a story about showing up for a job there one day and deciding that was it.  One day.  However, a neighborhood and Cathedral High School friend of my father’s, Maury Howell, returned from the Sea Bees after World War II and went to work for Frank at Cudahy.  He worked as Frank’s assistant for many years, according to my father. 

 Ruth’s older brother, John Florence (“Florry” or "Fleury"?) Gearen (Treasurer of Cudahy, a publicly traded company and part of the S&P Index’s original 500 companies according to Wikipedia) died in January, 1946.  A Cudahy employee magazine obituary stated that his brother-in-law Frank was the chief master mechanic of Cudahy, probably the chief electrician and facilities director all in one.  He certainly didn’t have an electrical engineer’s education so his were probably self-taught skills.  The 1940 census question about highest grade completed states that he completed one year of high school.  His love of books and reading was legendary in the family and he valued education very highly.  Each of his children had one or more years of college, and his sons completed professional schools.   

I am not certain of the date or details but Frank had a heart attack and was not able to return to work.  I estimate it was in the early 50’s but, in any event, it was too early for him to retire.  In retirement, he spent a great deal of time with grandchildren.   That’s Bob Wear, Jr. reaching for the caramel apples in the picture above and probably one of Jim and Jeanne Ryder’s children in Frank’s lap in this picture.  Frank and Ruth had young guests all the time.  There are 29 grandchildren and several times that many great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

2302 Rockbrook Blvd.
He loved to build things.  One of his retirement projects was building a new house – from a kit.  I clearly remember the construction of the house on Rockbrook Blvd. and peering down the construction ladder to the basement from the kitchen.   My 2013 post at:  Share A Memory - Home Building 1950's speculated about the kit Frank purchased to build the house.  The Option #17 plan shown is very close to the house floor plan as I remember it.

It quickly became a rose-covered white modern ranch house with green-striped-with-white awnings, a large side yard on the south with a patio and a huge brick or stone barbeque in the back.  The lower back yard sloped sharply downhill where Rockbrook Creek ran through the rear of the lot to Happy Hollow Country Club and Pacific Street on the north, creating a scary, tangled woods.   When the Rockbrook house construction was not yet finished and they had to move out of Mercer Blvd., he rented a house at Lake Okoboji in north central Iowa for the summer.  My mother and I spent quite a lot of time with my grandmother at the lake that summer.  I think I was only three then and I cannot recall if any of my mother’s siblings were there but I image that Bernie and Tommy were there for a while at least.   

Another project was building a television, also from a kit or as parts from electronics catalogs, according to my mother.   It had the dark green oval screen, of course, it was black and white television, and he had it on a table in the basement but I cannot recall the case.  A few years later, during the McCarthy era, probably around 1953-54, I remember that he was watching the hearings.  

Frank was a Republican, and probably because of his work at the packing house, he disliked unions.  Maybe he was interested in Senator McCarthy’s pursuit of communists because during his years at Cudahy, angry and violent labor strikes occurred around the Midwest, some involving communists.  The Great Plains Quarterly article by University of Nebraska at Omaha professor William C. Pratt in 1996) provides a scholarly background for labor relations history and part of that history was the packing house labor issues:

These issues presented difficult challenges for executives of companies like Cudahy.  Part of South Omaha was a wild and violent place in those days, and management probably had their reasons for disliking unions, just as the unions and consumers had their issues with the packing companies.   

Frank’s friends visited him at the Rockbrook house when he retired.  They would visit and drink coffee, but sometimes Frank drank Kool Aid.  There were family rumblings about Frank and that Kool Aid because he was a diabetic and as we know now, that was probably associated with his heart disease.   Of course, my grandmother was a great and daily baker for all her visitors and he was probably presented with opportunities to eat the wrong things.    He could be a little demanding of her, and the call “Oh Ruth!” frequently rang through the house.   I assume that his heart disease, forced retirement and frustration left him somewhat grumpy but I don’t have any recollection of him in that way.  There were, however, occasions when his children gave it back to him.  There were lumps of charcoal or potatoes in his Christmas stocking on a few occasions! 

Before he was sick, together, we spent a lot of time on the move.  At that time, he drove a maroon Mercury.   As I was researching his father and the Ryder families, it struck me that he was accustomed to being extraordinarily busy with his Cudahy’s job, but Frank was also used to seeing large swaths of a city every day from his job as a streetcar conductor in Chicago in the early 1900’s.  The 1910 census states that he was a conductor on a streetcar; his father and brother Benjamin were motormen so this was surface streetcar not the elevated.  He never mentioned it that I can recall, but, as I became accustomed to traveling around with him and asked for a trip somewhere, he would tell me not to have miles instead of brains in my head.
One frequent stop was a dime store in mall at Countryside Village at South 87th and Pacific Streets (Ben Franklin?).  He liked that store and I liked it, too, as it had rows and rows of unwrapped toys, clothes and hardware counters   Usually, I left with something from one of the toy rows.  He did lots of the grocery shopping because Ruth did not drive.  Armed with the weekly grocery ads from newspapers, we visited markets around town, including Steve’s on the corner of South 50th and Leavenworth Street.   It was a wood-floored grocery then, with a swinging screen front door and a butcher shop.    It wasn’t long before the chain groceries dominated and the small groceries disappeared.  Fifteen years before that, my father Jim had worked in one of those neighborhood stores (see a Look What I Found post in November, 2014). In the many decades since the ‘50’s, Steve’s has been an antiques store but I think of Frank and the grocery every time I pass.

I can’t recall how long he was sick before his death in 1957, but it was clearly a chronic condition.  I was 10 years old when he died and I remember returning home from school on an October afternoon and finding my mother crying with her head in her arms on the dining room table.  I dimly remember his wake at the Brewer-Korisko funeral home in South Omaha.  In my mother’s family history collection, I found the visitation book which brought many memories of family friends, his coworkers and relatives.  Frank’s funeral at Christ the King Church was my first experience with death and I attended the funeral Mass with my Wilmes grandparents.   It was one of my saddest days.  
My mother and her sisters Franny, Katy and Patty, really wanted family information (Bernie Ryder Strasheim died in 1966).  They even took a trip to Virginia once in the early 80’s to look for their maternal grandmother Dora Virginia Curtis Gearen’s records.  His daughters pressed Frank, but there was only the story about his brother Benjamin.

Arthur Benjamin was Frank’s older and only brother, born and baptized in Sioux City in 1884 according to the Sioux City Archdiocese Archives (his sister Anna was born in 1894 and Margaret was born in 1898, both in Illinois).  The story was simple and without dates – Benjamin was killed in a train robbery.  I found the newspaper story of his death in a “harvest holdup” in a train boxcar in 1915 in Kansas – in an Oklahoma Territory newspaper at:


Information about Frank’s father Fred will be in a separate blog post, but this story confirms that there were some issues with Fred’s absences prior to Benjamin’s death in 1915.    In Frank’s World War I draft registration in 1917, he states that he is the sole support of his mother.  The census and City Directories listings may actually provide the moves back-and-forth between Sioux City and Chicago, but the names are sometimes interchangeable or perhaps misreported by the enumerator so I can’t follow it with confidence.  Fred may have been out of the home before 1915.  He died in St. Louis, Missouri in 1923, from cancer, having lived there for seven years according to his death certificate. 

Fred’s father was Azariah Ryder, a pensioned Civil War veteran of an Illinois infantry unit who was born in Bath County, Virginia.  Fred was born in Illinois in 1861, before Azariah enlisted or was drafted into the Union Army in 1863.  Thanks to the now deceased family historian Gordon J. Ryder (distant cousin), author of The Rider-Ryder Family of Virginia (The Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD 1993), there is actually a narrative history of Azariah’s extended family.   The self-published book (book and publisher now out-of-print and business) is the result of his multi-year exhaustive search for family information.   This compilation includes extensive documentation, correspondence and personal visit narratives with relatives and individuals with knowledge of this enormous family.

There is a single copy of it at the Milstein Division of American History and Genealogy in the Schwartzman Building of the New York Public Library.    I cannot find a digitized version online.  Because the book is copyrighted, I have written to his family hoping to obtain permission to include several of the stories as he wrote about them.   

Azariah’s father along with brothers and cousins (one of them ours) crossed the Allegheny Mountains from Bath County, Virginia several times on horseback to search for land in the Midwest.   Fred’s grandfather Thomas J. and Azariah settled in McHenry County in northeastern Illinois in the 1840’s.  Thomases’ father James and his father William had probably moved to mountainous Bath County farms from Maryland or Virginia in the  late 1770’s, according to Gordon Ryder.   

Maybe Frank knew more of family history, or maybe he didn’t know much of it, or was disappointed with dysfunction.   With his daughters, at least, he did not discuss it.  Christine Quinn Hudson told me that her mother Patty Ryder Quinn had discussed his father with Frank and she remembered that Fred Ryder was very sad at a child’s (Benjamin’s?) death.   However, Frank had to have known his relatives.  Both Frank’s father’s Ryders and his mother’s McCarthys families lived as next door neighbors in Sioux City for decades as the censuses and City Directories document and Frank lived there during some times.        

I wish there had been more time to know Frank as an older girl.  It would be great to quiz him about all this as I suspect he had many stories.  I will continue to post the stories that can be discovered here in Long Since Dispersed.  Please send me stories and recollections at wilmessh@yahoo.com.

There are so many details to these stories and the individual pieces of information are stored on public family trees on Ancestry.com where you can search by name.

All of the photos used here were in the collection of my mother Mary Ryder Wilmes and with the exception of the one I believe was taken by Jim Finnegan of the family dinner and the one I took in 2012 of 1006 Mercer Blvd, I do not know who created them.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Gearen Surname History - A Family Long Since Dispersed

I came across the title of this blog - "Long Since Dispersed" in an internet surname search in 2012, referring to the historic movement of the Gearen family between locations in western and southwestern Ireland.

Gearen is the surname of my mother's maternal family.  My mother Mary Virginia Ryder Wilmes was born  on January 15, 1922, in Sioux City, Iowa.  Her mother was Ruth Harriet Gearen Ryder, born August 15, 1892, in Sioux City, Iowa to James E. Gearen and Dora Virginia Curtis Gearen.

The surname Gearen is not among the most common Irish surnames, according to a list of the top 100 I saw recently.  In historical records in both Ireland and the United States, it is is spelled many ways. Genealogists sometimes say spelling doesn't matter, and that probably applies here.  Gearen also may not be the most common spelling. The research on her Irish immigrant great-grandfather Patrick Gearen (father of Mary's grandfather James E. Gearen, born in Rhode Island on October 1,1859) is not complete.  Even now, however, it appears there may be at least three different spellings involved, not including obvious U.S. census misspellings.

There is exciting research from a cousin's 2006 family trip to Boherbue in County Cork. Unfortunately, because there are dozens of Patrick Gearens or similar spellings born in and around County Cork in Ireland in the early 1800's, until  confirming information is assembled, it is probably not "proved". This will be the subject of a later series of posts.

In extended history then, where did Gearen appear?  I found two explanations in my early genealogy research. In one case it was unfortunately before I was careful about sources. Therefore, these two documents are offered with an apology to the source of one as I have misplaced the citation.

This is a copyright-free map of Ireland at approximately the time Patrick Gearen emigrated to the United States.  It does not indicate the counties but the southern-most green location, Cork City, is part of County Cork and County Kerry is immediately to the west. County Mayo is referred to and it is located on the north of peninsula on the west half way up.

The first explanation of a similar Gearen surname is taken from a now out-of-business travel website GoIreland.com from 2012.  A search of the Internet Archive (http://www.archives.org) did not include this page, although others were included there.  

Because it includes Gaelic characters hard to reproduce, I will insert the entire page.  It contains names of historical figures beginning in the 11th century.  I am reading Irish history as fast as I can but not yet at the point of putting Ui Fiachrach in context there!  (Perhaps the wikipedia entry  is of use here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U%C3%AD_Fiachrach.)  There is also the suggestion that one form of the Gearen name - Guerin - may be a French Huguenot name. 

The second is a page from a surname directory which I cannot now trace.  At the bottom of the page, the last entry is a specific discussion of O Gearin, attributed to "the barony of Erris" (a barony of County Mayo) and a following page stated:  "long since disbursed".

Indeed, my specific genealogy searching is now centered in County Cork, and County Kerry, both counties devastated by the famine.  A website for the Harney family's genealogy includes letters from ancestors living through the famine.  I recommend that you take a few moments to read them:  


The dark area to the immediate north of Cork City is probably the area from which Patrick Gearen emigrated to the United States in 1855 or 1856, according to entries on the 1910 and 1920 U.S. census forms.