Girls, Uninterrupted

Evangelical Christians and evolutionary biologists are alike in believing that every person on earth can claim descent from the same woman, although these claims arise from completely different origins.  Scientists call their woman “Mitochondrial Eve,” named after mitochondrial DNA, genetic material lying outside the nuclei of cells, which is a mother’s unique contribution to her offspring.  

There is some justice at work here.  Just as we tend to inherit family names from our fathers, we can only get the mitochondrial stuff directly from Mom.  Geneticists think all human mitochondrial DNA can be traced back to one woman, because of the inevitable erosion that occurs over time:  All women have mothers, but not all mothers have daughters.  It’s the same force at play when some family names eventually run out of gas, and the reason why there are certain remote mountain villages where everyone in town seems have the same last name.  All men have fathers, but not all men will have sons to keep the family name thriving.  

The Lovewell name is in no danger of withering, but it is more prevalent in some regions than in others.  A cousin who moved to Massachusetts, where the first American branch of the family was planted, reported that while thumbing through a phone book, she was shocked at the abundance of Lovewells.  It is only a guess, but I suspect that looking through the Portland phone book might produce the opposite result.  Solomon and Lucinda Lovewell, pioneers who settled at Manzanita, had seven daughters but only one son, who drowned when he was young (Some sources name a second boy who may have died in infancy).  

The family name did not die out among Moody Bedel Lovewell’s descendants, who fanned out to settle the West in the mid-1800’s, but it did seem to sputter for a while.  Another of Thomas Lovewell’s brothers, Christopher Wolfe Lovewell, had a boy with his wife Martha Jane one year after their wedding, and then three girls in succession.  The youngest, Sarah, was only nine months old when her father was killed in a barrage of rifle fire during a senseless maneuver at Vicksburg in May of 1863.  Not only did Martha Jane Honts’s first husband die in the Civil War, her second husband’s life was probably cut short by it.  Amos Singleton was chronically ill following his service and died at 47.  His ailment evidently did not completely incapacitate him.  He fathered seven more of Martha’s children, six girls and a boy.  

The same month Christopher Lovewell fell at Vicksburg, Another of Thomas’s younger brothers, Alfred, died after an accidental poisoning at Fort Churchill, Nevada Territory.  Alfred was 26 and unmarried at the time of his death, and may not have been the only confirmed bachelor in the family.  Until the death of the family patriarch, his eldest boy Moody Bedel Lovewell, Jr., lived on the family farm with his father and his much-younger unwed sisters.  Later he moved in with his sister Hepsabeth and her husband, John Robinson.  Thus, at the moment Christopher and Alfred died in 1863, the only boys among Moody Lovewell, Sr.’s, crop of grandsons who were candidates to carry on the family name, may have been the late Christopher Lovewell’s orphaned son William, and the sons of Christopher's brother William, Alonzo and Franklin.  

William was another of the Lovewell brothers to sire a disproportionate number of daughters.  The 1856 Iowa Census finds William and his wife Martha living in Ringgold County with their two boys and six girls.  His second wife (Or, according to some tallies, his third), the former Matilda Wise, ordered 8-year-old Franklin Lovewell out of her house, but provided her husband with a replacement son, William Wallace Lovewell, along with four more girls.

As for Thomas Lovewell, by 1863 his wife Nancy had given birth to only one child who lived past the age of one, a girl.  His second wife, Orel Jane, would even things up a bit with three sons, but also another four daughters.  Despite what we may think, there is no evidence of a tendency for either gender to dominate certain families.  It’s all a roll of the dice.  Some families do seem to win the family-name lottery, resulting in phone books that bulge with the evidence of offspring.  Others win a different prize, one that’s harder to detect, but which holds real value for the folks who study the diffusion of human populations.

So, on Mother’s Day, don’t forget to thank Mom for all of that precious mitochondrial DNA.  Not sure if Hallmark makes a card for that.    

© Dale Switzer 2023