Skip to main content

Cultivating Character Through Family Stories

By Angela Wittman

For my dear friend Dee Galyon who recently reminded me the importance of keeping our loved ones memories alive and my dad who patiently cultivated a love of family history in me.

My soon to be 80 year-old father called me yesterday and while his reason was to relay some family news, he soon began reminiscing about his years in the Air Force and travels to England and Scotland while in the service. And even though I was right in the middle of preparing dinner, I didn't mind the call or the stories. You see, I love my dad and my earliest memories are of him telling me family stories.

I cannot help but think that the stories of my grandfather and his family helped shape my character. My grandfather was the "black sheep" of his family due to a tragic divorce between his parents and the circumstances of his father's accidental death. My grandfather blamed his mother, (a strong, independent woman), for both the divorce and death of his dad. So, while Grandpa and his mother were distant emotionally, Grandpa and Grandma moved her into their modest home and took care of her in her later years.

Seeing Grandfather's family loyalty, even to those he didn't much like, made an impression on my father who was one of the younger sons in a family of 12 siblings. While others might tell of my grandfather's faults (he was quite head strong and didn't take too kindly to Government intrusion into his family's life or farm) my dad saw the man as a human being who did the best he could in the circumstances he was born into. And I strongly suspect Grandpa's family stories helped shape my dad's character.

So, in honor of Dads everywhere, let me share a bit of the Somers' family story*:

Our story in America began in the mid 1700's when a John Somers came to America and settled in Caswell County, North Carolina. His family was from Warwickshire, England, and my dad is convinced our Somers line originated in Scotland before settling in England.

John must have been an adventurist as well as a Patriot because he was right in the thick of the action during the War for Independence. It's believed he was at Valley Forge with George Washington and he was taken as a prisoner of war during the battle at Williamson's Plantation. ** For his service during the war, he was given 4000 acres in Eastern Tennessee instead of monetary payment. Records show that at John's untimely death he owned 8000 acres in North Carolina where he lived with his wife Catherine Arden Somers and their children. His oldest son is my 3rd Great Grandfather,  John Somers. Jr.

After John Sr.'s death, John Jr. helped settle his estate and left North Carolina for Eastern Tennessee. He married Rebecca Wright and they gave birth to a son named Abraham. Abraham settled in Gainsboro, Jackson County, Tennessee with his wife Dorcas, who I suspect was Cherokee. My Great Grandfather, Henry Francis was their 5th child and born in 1860 approximately one year before Tennessee seceded from the Union.

Little is known of Henry's childhood except two of his older brothers fought in the War for the Union. I'm certain the circumstances and timing of his birth helped shape him into the man God used for His Glory as a "circuit rider" or traveling evangelist for the Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri boot heel area. 

Family stories are told of how much his family and step children loved him and looked forward to his visits home to the family farm near Stringtown, Mo. It was said Great Grandma Cotney would celebrate as though it were Christmas and they would feast including roasting a hog for his homecoming, while enjoying stories Great Grandfather shared of his family and travels.

I can imagine my Grandfather, (William Henry, the oldest son of Henry and Cotney), sitting near his father and listening with rapt attention as his dad related stories of being Cherokee and having to hide one's identity to avoid persecution and the family members who traveled on the Trail of Tears. It's said there was a set of twins who were orphaned and a white family took them in and raised them as their own. Then there was the story of two brothers who differed on theology so much, one even changed his last name from Sommers to Somers.

I know these stories influenced Grandfather's character - he was a man's man and from what I've read of the Cherokee culture, he lived it with my dear Grandmother Lillian and their 12 children; he was fiercely independent, knew how to hunt and trap his own food and wouldn't take a dime of Government money, nor tolerate their imposing some foolish rule on how much cotton he could grow on his own land, mind you! Dad tells the story of a Government official coming out to the farm during WWII and checking Grandpa's crops. It seems he had planted a few rows of too much cotton which was already in bloom and wanted Grandpa to destroy it. Grandpa pulled out his shotgun and the government agent took off lickity-split never to darken the Somers' doorway again! Grandma was afraid they would put Grandpa in jail, but they didn't.

Now, dear friends, if you are in Christ you also have a treasure trove of family stories to share. Let's not forget the stories of valiant men and women, who though imperfect, were used mightily for God's Glory. Hebrews, chapter 11 is a good place for you to start learning your family His-Story in order to tell character building stories to the next generation.

May the good Lord bless His people as they tell their children and grandchildren of their rich Christian heritage found in Holy Scripture. In Lord Jesus' Name I pray, amen.

* Much of this is oral tradition and while I haven't been able to document all, I trust that the stories told to me are based upon fact, even though some details are missing or faded by memory.

**Capt. John Somers (or Summers) fought at the battle at Williamson's Plantation where it is believed he was captured and held as a POW.


  1. Please know I have a treasure trove of family stories and plan to share more as time and memory permit. :)


Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment, but profanity, anti-Christian or argumentative comments will not be published. Thank you, ed.

Featured Posts

How abandoning Sola Scriptura shipwrecks your faith

By Amy Spreeman - Posted at Berean Research:

What is the difference between the spiritual transformation that happens through the Holy Spirit, and the Spiritual Formation movement that swept through our churches a few years ago?

The difference is night and day. I remember talking about this with the late Ken Silva in 2012. He helped me understand that the Spiritual Formation movement provided the platform and a channel through which mystical practices began entering many different evangelical and traditional denominations.

Unfortunately, this type of experience has moved many believers into an unbiblical, mystical form of Christianity. It’s based on the premise that if we do certain meditative practices and ancient rituals, we can be more like Jesus and find God within ourselves.
Continue reading...

See also:
What is the spiritual formation movement? - Got Questions?What Is Spiritual Formation and Why Does It Matter? - GTYJohn MacArthur on Spiritual Formation and Biblical Sanctification - …

Ontario, Canada: 'Judge Rules in Favor of Christian Couple Who Lost Foster Children for Refusing to Lie About Easter Bunny'

By Heather Clark - Posted at Christian News Network:

ONTARIO — A Superior Court judge in Canada has ruled in favor of a Christian couple who lost their foster children, and were prevented from caring for other children, after refusing to lie by claiming that the Easter Bunny was delivering candy to their home.

Derek and Frances Baars are Reformed Presbyterians and began fostering two girls, ages three and five, in December 2015. However, shortly after the girls were placed in their home, concerns were raised by the Children’s Aid Society that the couple was not going to play Santa Claus and Easter Bunny with the children.

The Baars, who according to legal documents, do not celebrate Christmas or Easter at all, said that they were willing to buy the girls gifts and give them candy if the biological parents expected them to do so, but would not tell the children that the goodies were from Santa or the Easter Bunny.

Notes had been written in the home study in regard to the couple’s religiou…

Big Brother Is Coming for Your Kids, and He’s Wearing a Dress

By Laurie Higgins - Posted at Americans For Truth About Homosexuality:

You want to know where the “trans” insanity is taking us—I mean, besides co-ed private spaces everywhere, which means no private spaces anywhere?

Look no further than Regulation 225, a proposed amendment to the Delaware school code, which, if passed, will allow students of any age to “self-identify” their “gender or race” at school without their parents’ knowledge if students say their parents would not be “supportive.” Don’t believe me? Read it yourself in Section 7.4 and Sec. 7.4.1:

All students enrolled in a Delaware public school may self-identify gender or race…. A school may request permission from the parent or legal guardian of a minor student before a self-identified gender or race is accepted; provided, however, that prior to requesting the permission from a parent or legal guardian, the school should consult and work closely with the student to assess the degree to which, if any, the parent or legal guardia…

Judgement: The Doctrine Lost to the Modern Pulpit

By Howard Davies - Posted at The Banner of Truth:

In John Bunyan’s book The Pilgrim’s Progress, the story begins with Christian discovering news which causes him great alarm. Clothed in rags and with a burden upon his back, he is distressed to learn from a book he has been reading that the city he lives in is soon to be destroyed by fire from heaven. He tells his wife and children of their terrible danger. They must immediately try to escape.

But the response of his family is to think he has gone mad! As night is coming on they hasten to put him to bed in the hope that he might recover his senses by morning. However, the next day find him even more troubled. He wanders alone in the fields, sighing and reading from the book in his hands. Occasionally he is heard to cry out: ‘What must I do to be saved?’

In days of great spiritual darkness those called by God to preach the gospel have a sobering task. Our present world is still as Bunyan saw it. It is the City of Destruction. Mankind li…

Bible Burning in Southern India Shows Depth of Hostility Toward Christians

Posted at Morning Star News:

Report denotes leap in anti-Christian attacks in 2017.
HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Hindu extremists in southern India issued harsh threats to Christians distributing Bibles before snatching their car keys, taking Bibles out of their vehicle and setting the Scripture on fire, sources said.
Christians associated with Gideons International, all senior citizens, told Morning Star News that their advanced age did not temper the vitriol they received in Singotam village, Nagar Kurnool District, in Telangana state on Jan. 21.
“From now on, if any of you distribute Bibles, we will attack you brutally [till your genitalia are damaged],” one of the Hindus warned the Christians, according to a video the extremists took of the attack. “How dare you promote Christianity?”
Continue reading...