My trip with Uncle Willie

In August of 1996, I went to visit my Uncle Willie in Scott Valley, Siskiyou County CA. My family had been visiting the valley at least annually all my life, as this is where my mom grew up. Her parents were born and raised there, and their parents had lived there before them, and even some of their parents had lived there. Everyone in the valley is some kind of relative, it seems.

After my grandmother died in 1993, the visits became fewer, although I stayed in contact with Uncle Willie by mail. Soon a few years had slipped by and I realized I hadn’t been down to see him since Grandma’s death three years earlier. It was time.

On this trip, however, instead of staying there to visit with him in his home, I took him on a road trip. Willie was in his 70s and it was getting harder for him to drive, and this was a trip he’d always wanted to take.

Uncle Willie and I had shared a passion for genealogy for many years. Like me, he enjoyed the mystery, the detective work, the thrill of discovery. Sometimes he seemed to particularly relish finding out bits of information before I did. And of course, those who knew Willie knew he liked to be the one who knew. Sometimes he and I would spar on points of family history. I was the stickler for documentation, and Willie was the one who just knew. When I would ask him what proof he had, he kept his documentation to himself and claimed he just knew it to be true. He trusted his hunches, and sometimes they even paid off. He lived in a remote location on a limited income and was not able to go on genealogy road trips. Despite this, he had amassed an incredible amount of information on the family tree. He corresponded with many people throughout the country in his continual search for ancestors. He honestly did know a lot about the family and had a terrific memory for names and dates. He had collected many, many family photos over the years, and had put together an album of family information and obituaries on the Eastlicks and collateral family lines. He was active in the Siskiyou County Genealogy Society and was the editor of their quarterly newsletter for many years.

One of the goals I shared with Uncle Willie was to find the gravestone of our ancestor, Hannah (Stryker) Eastlick. Hannah’s husband, Jacob Eastlick had died in 1870 in Bureau County, IL. Widow Hannah then moved west with her daughter’s family and ended up in Mendocino County, CA. Many of the Eastlick clan was residing by then in Siskiyou County. Anyway, Hannah died in 1881 and we had always heard she was buried near Philo in Mendocino County.

On Friday morning, August 23, we set out on our 300-mile road trip to Philo, planning to stop first in Ukiah to check records at the Mendocino County courthouse. As luck would have it, “Murphy’s Law” was at work that day. After a hot, six-hour drive, we got to the courthouse to find it closed for the afternoon, due to renovation and the moving of records to a new facility. We couldn’t believe our bad luck!

Undaunted, Willie and I decided to head over the mountains toward Philo to search for Hannah’s grave without benefit of records or directions. The drive was beautiful, through scenic mountains on a twisty road with no guardrails. Without evidence of exactly where Hannah was buried, we simply started exploring cemetery after cemetery, stopping to ask directions along the way. By nightfall we’d wandered through tombstones in three graveyards, finding some relatives, but not Hannah. We headed back to Ukiah and the Thai restaurant.

Saturday morning in Ukiah we found a wonderful historical facility, the Held-Poage museum, which contained a few records on the Harrisons, the family of Hannah’s daughter, Lorinda (Eastlick) Harrison. We also found cemetery listings which revealed the name of the cemetery near Philo where Hannah was buried. Armed with that information, we drove back over the mountain to Philo and the Studebaker cemetery outside of town. We had difficulty finding it at first, but we stopped at a roadside fruit stand for directions and were soon pointed in the right direction. The cemetery was not visible from the road, and in fact, we had to cross over private property to reach it. It was a quiet little burial ground on a wooded hillside. The view out over the valley was breathtaking. There we found Hannah’s headstone, a tall marker with the carving of a weeping willow tree to match the gravestone of her husband back in Bureau County IL, and the inscription:

Wife of
June 18, 1881
86 Years

Headstone of Hannah (Stryker) Eastlick

We had accomplished our goal. Our research at the museum that morning had answered a few questions about the Harrisons and had posed new ones. We had spent those two days in search of Hannah and enjoying each other’s company, talking non-stop. That evening we drove to Yuba City to spend the night with my cousin Kris.  She fixed us dinner and we had a fun time getting caught up. The next morning I drove Uncle Willie home. We spent the rest of our time together on that visit going through documents, letters and photos, discussing family members close and distant. This is the way we nurtured our relationship on so many such visits, sharing an interest that was so important to each of us. I will treasure that time.

My mom’s only brother, Wilburn “Willie” Eastlick, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 1999. He kept the news to himself for some time before telling the family. It may have been partly because of a fear of facing his own death, partly because he didn’t want anyone to pity him. He dealt with his illness in his own private way and with the support of the wonderful staff from the Madrone Hospice in Yreka CA. Hospice nurses made visits to him in his home and helped him deal with the issues and complications of his disease. He weathered the ups and downs of his terminal illness and even began facing the end of his life, making his own final arrangements. I’ll never forget, when I drove south to visit him in the summer of 2000, he had me take him to the funeral home in Yreka to choose his casket and see that his obituary was written in advance.

A turn of events came in October of 2000, when the pick-up he was driving went off the highway and was totaled in a one-vehicle accident. Although Willie sustained no major injuries, the accident left him feeling beat-up and sore. Within a few days he became unable to care for himself at home. He went to live at the Hospice House. 

At that point, continued pain and difficulty led to the diagnosis of pneumonia. Once again he seemed to be weathering the ups and downs, coping with each new blow.

On October 25, one of the Hospice nurses phoned me at home in Washington State to tell me Uncle Willie’s condition was worsening. She had the gut feeling that his body was giving out, and said that he seemed like a person preparing to die. Within a couple of days, the family gathered around his bedside at the Hospice House to visit with him and say goodbye. At Willie’s request, my brother and I sang an impromptu concert there for him, with the relatives gathered around his room and the nurses looking in from the doorway. Willie always loved to hear us sing. At moments throughout the weekend, he was very much with us, able to converse and even make jokes. At other times he was very far away. 

Willie Eastlick died in the wee hours of the morning on October 31, 2000. He was buried in the family plot at Fort Jones Cemetery, near his parents Lester and Irene (Bottoms) Eastlick and not far from both sets of his grandparents, Obed and Eva (Crouch) Bottoms and Willard and Crete (Conner) Eastlick. Even his great-grandparents, Jacob and Constantia (Stephens) Conner lay at rest in that very cemetery, not to mention aunts, uncles and cousins of all kinds.

Uncle Willie was one-of-a-kind. Coming up on the tenth anniversary of his death, I think about all the time we spent together talking genealogy. That last year of his life he was so delighted to get an internet connection and use email. If he was alive today, I have no doubt that he would be on Facebook and Ancestry and have his own blog! I miss him.

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4 Responses to My trip with Uncle Willie

  1. Fran Lewis says:

    Your words brought tears and I felt like I was in the car with you both listening to your conversation (and if I know Willie, some arguing). I am so thankful that you and Willie shared this relationship. Adding the personal touch really makes genealogy come alive!

  2. Russ Lewis says:

    Thanks, Sis, for your tribute to your uncle Willie. It is beautiful, and really gets to the heart of things, that is, what life is all about. I am excited about your blog, not to mention all the ways that you “make a difference”. I love you. Dad.

  3. Cousin Patti says:

    I am at our local library and just discovered your site! My Goodness; this is beautiful! I so very much love your stories!

  4. cousin Joan says:

    enjoyed reading this and got a lump in my throat when you and Blaine were singing in the hosp room……

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