Shedding Light on the Family Tree: 200 Years … and counting

The 41st in a series on my family tree

Prompt: Passed Down


Things. We accumulate them, and then what? Speaking as one with no children it’s a question I ponder frequently. And as I get older the need to acquire anything for the sake of it becomes less important.

I wonder about my ancestors and the possessions they accumulated. Where did all of these things end up? In antique stores? A landfill? How much of it has actually been passed on to the next generation and beyond so that the family has a sense of its own history?

It’s impossible to know, of course except, that is, for the pieces we have managed to tuck away in the hope that future generations will also treasure them for the artifacts they are within the context of our shared heritage.

Blue Ceramic Vase and Spoon Holder
Source: Family Archives

In previous posts I’ve referenced a number of items that have managed to make it down the generational ladder ~ great grandma McDonall’s quilts; great granny Gordon’s tatting; great grandpa McDonall’s old railroad bag which stored documents and photos of McDonall, Belton and Crouse ancestors; the old Brownie camera my maternal grandmother, Alice (Gordon) McDonall used to take photos in the 1940s; the amazing butter bowl given to my second great grandparents, Henry Belton and Mary Jane Crouse, when they were married in 1870, and more.

What came to mind for this piece were a couple of items my mother kept in her china cabinet for many years, given to her many, many moons ago by her great aunt Margaret (Belton) Cox (1887-1978). They now reside with our cousin, Kelly McDonall (another family historian), upon whom my mother bestowed them about a decade ago when it was time to pass them on.

Family Treasures … The Spoon Holder

The truth is we know little about these two family treasures except that they’ve followed a similar path through at least six generations. My thanks to Kelly for photographing these pieces so beautifully.

Belton Butter Bowl
Source: Family Archives

The first is a glass spoon holder whose origins are unknown. However, thanks to the foresight of great aunt Margaret who, according to my mother liked to label family heirlooms, we have a cursory record of the journey of this fragile piece. (We have a similar example of aunt Margaret’s record keeping on the base of the beautiful butter bowl which she had inscribed some time after the deaths of her parents, Henry Belton and Mary Jane Crouse, and which was passed down to me upon my grandfather, Stanley Lewis McDonall’s death in 1987.)

Glued to the inside of the bowl of the spoon holder is a piece of paper with great aunt Margaret’s scratches on it:

…a Crouse 1820
… Belton 1847
Grandma McDonall 1904
All used this spoon holder

So here’s some stream of consciousness …

Based on this information we believe the “a” Crouse is Elizabeth (Eliza) Crouse (b. 1790 in Bucks Co. Pennsylvania). She married Isaac Crouse (so far date unknown ~ Was the spoon holder a wedding gift? Did she inherit it from her mother?). They were the parents of William D. Crouse (b.1817, Delaware, Ontario) who married Ruth Sumner (b. 1825, Delaware, Ontario) whose daughter Mary Jane (1850-1932) married Henry Belton (1846-1931.) Interestingly, the Belton notation says 1847. Did the Crouses give it to Henry Belton’s parents? Why and when? As we can see the first name is illegible. His mother was Catherine Davis (1811-1861) who married George Belton (1798-1896) in Co. Wicklow, Ireland (1832). Then at some point the spoon holder is passed on to Mary (Belton) McDonall (Grandma McDonall, even to her sister, Margaret.)

So basically the spoon holder’s journey starts in Delaware, Ontario (1820 ~ possibly even Pennsylvania before that); then to Michigan (1870s) where the Belton’s settled for a time; then across the northern plains of the U.S. during the building of the Great Northern Railroad (1904-1912 +/-). Then, we imagine, it was left with great aunt Margaret in Montana when my great grandparents, Mary and Steve McDonall and their three small boys immigrated to Alberta ca 1914, before it was then passed on to my mother who took it to London, England, where she had her operatic career for 14 years, and then back to Ontario when she returned to Canada. It now resides in Alberta.

All of this is a long (and possibly confusing) way of saying that this very old piece of glassware of unknown origin has been in our family for more than 200 years!! (1820-2022) I wish we knew more about it, but it’s stories are lost in time. I can only imagine how many spoons it has held, how many mantles it has graced, and how many hands have held it over 20 decades.

Three matriarchs who had possession of the family spoon holder.

Family Treasures … The Blue Ceramic Vase

The second item is a glazed, blue ceramic vase ornamented with cherubic figures all the way around. It has an inscription on the bottom noting the date it was produced, and that’s all we know except that it has been in the family for generations. Sadly, great aunt Margaret didn’t think to label it. In 1849 the Beltons and Crouses resided in Delaware, Ontario. Was it a wedding gift? A token of love or appreciation? We’ll never know.

The Final Word

It’s amazing to think that these two beautiful, fragile items have played a part, whatever that may be, in our ancestral story for 200 years. At least six, maybe even seven generations of matriarchs have treasured them so that they’ve survived all manner of challenging circumstances in a variety of geographical locations. My wish is that they may be treasured and enjoyed by many for generations to come.


©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2022 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

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