Jones Prestwood and Emma Van Syckel

Here is the story of my great grandparents on my dad's dad side. Jones and Emma were children of the Civil War. One family from the North, one from the South. For both, a second marriage. This is their story both together and as individuals. It includes Civil War devastation, a teenage wedding, infant death, abandonment issues, cross country escape moves, the wedding of someone 24 years their elder, and death from untreated syphilis.

Society likes to pretend life, especially love, is neat and clean, and it is sometimes. Love is especially clean and fun during the golden period. The time from first meeting until it’s not fun any more. Whether public or not, many journeys are messy or at least have messy spots.

Societal pressures cause some to be embarrassed about their lot in life, decisions they’ve made, and life’s turns. Many want to brush over the blemishes, forever. They want to keep things hidden deep in the minds of all involved never to be seen again. There is evidence of that in this story. With time some come to terms with life’s bumpy road. Others, don’t give a fuck right out the gate. When writing about history, my approach is to write about life as lived with a dash of respect for all.

This is the heart-wrenching story about the children of the Civil War, and the love that brought them together. One family from the North, one from the South. My great grandparents on my dad’s dad side. The Prestwood line. My line. He married Emma Van Syckel in 1901. Emma is the daughter of a Union soldier. Unlike Jones’ dad, Emma’s dad survived the war and thrived. For both, a second marriage. Jones was married twice, had 13 children, and apparently abandoned both families. Emma was married three times, widowed three times, and had six children. This is their story both together and as individuals before and after their marriage.

Despite their families’ bitter history, Jones and Emma fell deeply in love, overcoming the societal pressures that threatened to keep them apart. But their journey was not an easy one. Jones, haunted by his past and the shadows of war, struggled to find his place in the world. Jones became the black sheep of the East Coast Prestwoods. Emma, a widow with a child, faced the challenges of single motherhood with unwavering strength and determination.

The following pedigree chart documents generations from me, Mike Prestwood, back to the main characters of this article: Jones and Emma. Jones Prestwood and Emma Van Syckel come from ancient American colonial families. I’ve documented the Prestwood line back to Maryland and Virginia. My current understanding is that my 8th great grandpa Thomas Prestwood was born in England about 1640 and immigrated sometime before 1670 to the New England colony. He immigrated first to Maryland, then settled in Virginia. For the Van Syckel side the research is a bit more decisive and that line goes back to my 7th great grandpa Ferdenandus “The Emigrant” Van Sycklin.

The book “A History of the Van Sickle Family” outlines the life of Ferdenandus “The Emigrant” Van Sycklin. The young 17 year old teenager boarded a ship sailing from his Netherland birth lands to the American colonies. He arrived at the New Amsterdam settlement where he first settled in 1652. The New Amsterdam settlement was a Dutch colony comprised of his people, the Dutch. Later it became Flatlands, Kings County (Brooklyn), Long Island. In his latter days he removed to Gravesend where he died about 1712 at about age 77 years.

Ferdinand settled Flatlands, and moved to Gravesend late in life. Left: A 1670 Dutch map of the New Amsterdam Settlement. It is believed to be a copy of a 1639 map often attributed to Johannes Vingboons (a.k.a. Joan Vinckeboons).

Jones Ervin Prestwood

Now let’s dive into our main characters. Let’s take a look at Jones’ life before Emma. First up? His name. He was born Jones Ervin Prestwood. His East Coast family and friends called him Jones. His second family, the West Coast Prestwoods, knew him as Gus. There are times in his life he also used his middle name Ervin.

On records the Prestwood surname is sometimes spelled Presswood and Preswood during this time. Ervin shows up in records as Irving, and sometimes Ewing. The various spellings might just be a sign of the times. Even as late as 1800s, the spelling of names was still evolving. However, I think some of the confusion might be due to the fact that Jones’ father was likely illiterate. Despite a scholarly grandfather, Jones’ dad Evander likely could not read nor write. This strikes me as very odd but it is what it is.

Grandpa Billy in 1850

A page from grandpa Billy’s encrypted diary documenting Thursday March 17th, 1808 through Thursday the 24th.

William Thomas “Billy” Prestwood was Jones’ grandpa and the original settler of the Prestwood lands in North Carolina. Billy was a teacher by profession but also a commissioned officer for both South and North Carolina, amateur astronomer, mathematician, naturalist, surveyor, and linguist. He could read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and he kept the oldest longest daily cryptic diary in history from 1808 to 1859 detailing everyday life in North Carolina as well as documenting family history.


Dad Evander in 1850

Jones’ dad Evander McIver “Mack” Prestwood was the firstborn (of seven) to grandpa Billy. Despite the impressive accolades of grandpa Billy, Evander would sign his name with an “X” indicating he was illiterate. Why would Evander be illiterate? I’m not sure but it was common in those days in that area. Both the 1850 and 1860 censuses indicate that Evander could not read, nor write, but his wife Caroline could. And, this is before the Civil War so using the hardship of Reconstruction as an excuse doesn’t apply. A likely simple explanation is that during this time it was a common understanding that farmers do not need to read and write so they also don’t need to go to school. It’s clear school was a lower priority in many areas.

What about others? His sister Mary could not read nor write but all of his other brothers and sisters could. But, lots of other spouses and children could not. The wives of his brothers Fabius, Cicero’s, and Robert could not read nor write as well as various teenage children. A few of the teenagers were marked as could read, but could not write. It appears schooling was a very low priority at this time in the west of North Carolina.

“X” marks the spot! The illiterate would mark an “X” next to or near their name in documents requiring a signature

Their home in 1850 was in the Lower Creek district of Caldwell, North Carolina. At this point in life, Evander was a Farmer and they had three young girls: Gooly (6), Mary (4), and Nancy (2). Caroline was pregnant with their first boy who was born seven months later. They named him after Evander’s dad Billy, William Thomas Prestwood. Jones was born 36 months after this Nov 1850 census. They would have nine children in total, five girls, four boys.

In North Carolina, there were plantations with a long history of slavery on the Coastal Plains. In 1860, North Carolina enslaved one-third of its population. About 28% of the rich families in North Carolina owned over 330,000 slaves including 133 families owning 100+ slaves. There were no plantations and few slaves in the mountainous western part of the state including Caldwell County where the Prestwood brothers owned farms. They lived their entire lives in western North Carolina and never owned slaves. Far different geography and life-style from the flat coastal plains of North Carolina. Although there were no big plantations some of the neighbors did on slaves. In the area where the Prestwoods owned land, about 20% of their neighbors did own anywhere from 1 to 12 slaves.

Jones grew up on the Prestwood lands in North Carolina. The following chart shows his parents, grandparents on his dad’s side, and his siblings. I have yet to identify Jones’ grandparents on his mom’s side. When Jones was born on November 13, 1853, in Lenoir, North Carolina, his father, Evander, was 32 and his mother, Harriett Caroline Clontz, was 30. Jones was the fifth child born.

Much changed for Jones during his very impressionable ages from 6 to 12. Jones’ grandparents died right before the Civil War. Jones was six years old when his grandpa Billy died at age 71. Grandma Celia died the year before. She died at the age of 61 a few days before Jones’ fifth birthday.

April 12, 1861: War Breaks Out!

The Civil War was a brutal and unforgiving time, tearing apart families and communities across the nation. For the Prestwood family, the war would prove to be an unimaginable tragedy. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars in human history.

As the drums of war beat louder, five of the six brothers fought as Confederate soldiers in the civil war, donning the gray uniforms of the Confederacy. But little did they know, fate had already dealt them a cruel hand. Four of the brothers were assigned to the infamous 26th Regiment, a unit known for being the bloodiest on both sides of the war. The Prestwood boys were thrown into the heart of the deadliest battles, where death and destruction reigned supreme.

When it came time to fight, five Prestwood brothers fought: Evander, Cicero, Fabius, Sidney, and Martin Luther. Lenoir was home to four of the five Prestwood soldiers. Those enlisted from Lenior were put into the 26th Regiment in either Company F or Company I. Company F was known as The Hibriten Guards. Company I was known as The Caldwell Guards. Four of five Prestwood soldiers served in the 26th Regiment: Evander, Cicero, Fabius, and Luther. Evander and Cicero served in Company F, but not at the same time. Fabius and Luther served together in Company I for about 15 months from early 1862 to shortly after Gettysburg.

The war was unrelenting. The battlefield was littered with the bodies of Americans fighting Americans. At times, friends and family fighting friends and family. Their blood staining the earth red. The sounds of gunfire and the screams of the wounded echoed through the air, haunting all who survived the rest of their days.

As the war dragged on, the Prestwood family’s losses mounted. Their loved ones were torn from them, one by one, until all that remained was a shell of what once was. The surviving brothers carried the weight of their fallen kin with them, a heavy burden that never left their hearts. The Prestwood family had paid the ultimate price, a cost that would haunt them for generations to come.

The 26th Regiment played a major role at the famous battle of Gettysburg – including the Prestwood brothers Fabius, and Luther. The 26th Regiment started the first day of the Battle with 800 men. By sunset, 588 of them were either dead or wounded. Yelling like demons, 90 Company F soldiers courageously charged and took the formidable federal position on Seminary Ridge. All 90 soldiers had fallen. The 26th Regiment was not used on day 2. On Day 3 they were used again, this time only 90 of 588 soldiers returned to the confederate side. The 26th Regiment lost 88% of their men at Gettysburg. The two Prestwood brothers fought on, for now.

Despite having no slaves in the entire family, they fought for the rich slave owners of the South who, by the way, mostly did not fight. Martin Luther Prestwood switched sides after he was captured indicating he did not have deep ties to the Southern effort. Jones’ father Evander fought and died in the Civil War. Evander was the last of the Prestwood boys to be enlisted. He was enlisted 7 months before the end, was captured after 5 months, dies a POW. He served 8 months total. Jones also lost two uncles in the Civil War. Jones’ uncle Fabius also dies a POW. Uncle Cicero only served two months and was killed at the Battle of Bristoe. 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War. Far more than any other war including WWI and WWII combined!

Jones was a very impressionable 11 years old (turning 12 in a few weeks) when his dad was enlisted in the Civil War never to be seen again. That had to have an impact on the family and young Jones.

Speculation: I wonder what impact his father’s death had on Jones. He was the fifth born and at such an impressionable age. What impact did all this have on his psyche? Later, after Jones got married and had five children, he would leave his family when he had a young child and his oldest was 13. This is about the same scenario from Jones’ viewpoint as his dad leaving him and his four younger siblings including their newborn to fight in the Civil War. After moving across country to Oregon, and about 12 years later started a new family. He had four children and when his oldest was 11 and he had a small baby, he did it again! He left his second family and attempted to return to his first family. Speculation? Yes. Is this likely true? Eh, maybe not, but it’s an interesting psychological thing to think about.

Jones after the Civil War

Jones Ervin Prestwood, circa 1874-80. A guess. Maybe his 1874 wedding photo to Margaret? Restored and colorized by Mike Prestwood.

The devastation caused by the Civil War had not healed, and would never fully heal for that generation. Jones lost his father, several uncles, many friends of the family, and neighbors. Although the Civil War was close to a decade in history at this point, I’m sure the reality of Reconstruction on all was difficult. The patriotic citizens of the United States were hard on all the traitors responsible for the war and their unwitting soldiers. The Prestwood family would never be the same again. But, life endures. Life must go on.

From existing records, I can glean a bit about Jones’ family life after the war. The Prestwood family had land and worked those lands. In fact, Jones starts his working life as a farmer.


Margaret after the Civil War

The first wife of Jones is Margaret and she was a bit of a mystery to history. It appears she engaged in broad brush strokes to disguise some of the events of her life. I think her story goes like this. Margaret was born Margaret Elizabeth Shell. She started a tumultuous affair with a married man with kids on or near the front lines of a horrific war in which her very lifestyle was fading into history. She had two boys out of wedlock, perhaps with a local farmer named Thomas Barber. At the time Thomas has six of his eight or so children. Margaret’s first boy was born the last year of the Civil War. A tumultuous time to say the least. She started raising them as a single mom. By 1870 Margaret is using the name Margaret Fleming. The following 1870 census shows her living next to or perhaps with her parents James Wesley and Lucinda Shell.

1870 Census, Margaret “Fleming” living with her two boys next to or with her parents and using the surname Fleming.

1874: Jones Prestwood and Margaret Shell-Fleming, the Farmers

In 1874, 20 year old Jones is dating 31 year old Margaret. Margaret met Jones when her boys were about 9 and 6. In early 1874, Jones gets Margaret pregnant so they have to get married. She gives up her two sons to her younger brother John Shell to finish raising. John is two years younger than Margaret. Her brother John raises them from this point on. Her two boys go down in history as the Shell boys despite the use of the Fleming surname in the 1870 census.

Jones and Margaret tie the knot on Tuesday, October 27, 1874. Margaret used the surname Fleming as her maiden name on the documents, but now no longer needs the Fleming surname and it disappears from the records. Her two boys John and Robert are now with her brother John. Jones and Margaret have their first child Charles Edgar just over three months later on February 15, 1875.

Who was the father of Margaret’s first two boys John and Robert? According to family trees on ancestry, their likely dad was Thomas Barber (1832-1900). Margaret then took steps to hide this, forever. Do I blame her? Absolutely not. She lived during a time when kids born out of wedlock were known as bastards and it was a sin. She had an affair and a kid with a married man during the Civil War. They carried on their affair for a few more years after the war. I think the truth will ultimately be uncovered and I think history will not care. In fact, in many ways, Margaret was a victim of her time. With that said, if the biological dad was Thomas Barber, he was a farmer and a married man with about six kids when their first bastard child John Fleming-Shell was born. Is having an affair with a married man a sin still today? Yes, but in our time we do understand life can be complicated. Without knowing all the details, I think we should explore the known without too much judgement, and with a touch of respect.

The following chart shows Jones and Margaret, along with their parents and five kids.

1880 check in

At this time Margaret could read, but not write. They have three children ages 5, 3 and a new born. They would go on to have two more. Jones could neither read, nor write at this time. He was still a farmer. He will learn to read and write later in life.

In a few years Jones will switch careers from a farmer to a teamster. A teamster in modern times is a truck driver. However, Jones was a teamster in the old meaning of the word. He would lead a team of animals, most frequently horses, pulling a wagon. His specialty was as a wood hauler.

Speculation: Did Jones switch from farmer to teamster because he was bored? Did he want to see the world? Is this the time he starts wanting something more? If so, was he aware, or was it deep down? Pure speculation of course, but just a thought.

1880 Census: Jones Prestwood + Margaret Shell Family (Lenoir, Caldwell, North Carolina). Jones with his first wife and family.

1890 Check In

Life was good during this golden period. Margaret and Jones have settled into their home with all five of their children. They have two teenagers, Charles now 15, and Laura 13 as well as three little ones, James is now 11, William Thomas Prestwood is 8, and their youngest Henry Lee is 3. The last record I have for Jones on the East Coast is dated May 7, 1890. He attended his father-in-law’s 71st birthday and the event made the papers. A common practice during this time was for papers to write up local events including celebrations and visiting family members. Little did any of them know that the golden period for the Jones and Margaret relationship was about to end.

May 7, 1890 Newspaper clipping. The John Setzer mentioned is likely a nephew or cousin of Elisabeth, wife of Fabius who died in the Civil War. The McCalls mentioned are likely descendants of Margaret’s grandma Margaret McCall.

1891: Jones Runs Away to the West Coast

Their youngest child Henry Lee was born in March 1887. When Henry was about 3 or 4 Jones disappears. As the East Coast family story goes, one day in 1891 he took a wagon load of lumber from Lenoir to Hickory about 17 miles away. When he got to Hickory, he sold the lumber, wagon and team. He bought a ticket and got on the train and went to the West Coast. This wasn’t a planned trip, as far as his family knew. He just took off and left his wife Margaret and five children to fend for themselves. For decades they had no idea what happened to him. They wouldn’t find out what happened to him or where he went until he returned many years later. The East Coast story continues in about two decades after the West Coast story below.

Speculation: Decades from now, Jones will return to tell a story of having a near death experience. I speculate that he had a near death experience on this trip, realized he didn’t want to be married, and wanted to live life. He sold everything and ran away to the West Coast to live life and sow his wild oats.

In 1891, Jones gets hurt by a run away horse sells his team and buys a ticket to the West Coast. Notice Morganton on this map. 23 years later Jones will die alone in that hospital in 1914.

Here is Margaret’s obituary. She is a Shell but this obituary ignores that fact. Her brother John raised her out of wedlock children and she and her children took broad strokes over life’s blemishes lasting through her death.

Margaret Obituary. Notice she does not indicate who her parents were. Nor does she mention her made up fake Fleming surname.

Her death certificate speaks the truth. She was a widow to Jones Prestwood and her parents were Wesley Shell and Elizabeth Kincaid.

I have a feeling Margaret had a bit of a wild ride in life. I suspect that’s true for most of the families in the South after the Civil War. She did identify as a Prestwood and the wife of Jones her whole life and indicated such on her tombstone.

“Wife of Jones E. Prestwood” “Thy trials ended, thy rest is won.”

Emma Gussie Van Syckel

Now let’s turn to the other major character of this article, Emma, and her life prior to Jones. When Emma was born on September 3, 1875, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, her father, John, was 42, and her mother, Henrietta Rickets, was 37. Her father was a farmer off and on his whole life and sometimes a tailor with his wife Gertrude. The family moved to the Seattle, Washington area prior to 1890. This included Emma and her older brother Frederick. Her older surviving siblings Henerietta and Peter were already married and stayed in New Jersey. Emma completed an 8th grade education which was typical for the time. Did Emma complete 8th grade on the East Coast in New Jersey or in Seattle after their move? I don’t know.

The childhood family of Emma Van Syckel. I’m still trying to identify Gertrude’s mother.

Dad John, Union Soldier

Emma too was a daughter of the Civil War. Born a decade after the war to a Union soldier. Her father John fought in the 28th New Jersey Infantry, Company D. At least two of her uncles fought too. All survived.

1880 Census

Notice in 1880 the family is in New Jersey. Both parents John and Gertrude are Tailors. Their son Peter is a railroad clerk. Young Emma is just five years old.

1890: Emma Van Syckel and Walter Hendrickson

Emma’s first marriage was to Walter S Hendrickson. They wed on September 4, 1890. Walter was 19. Emma turned only 15 years old the DAY BEFORE the wedding. Two days prior she was 14! If she was pregnant at the time, I found no records, at least not yet.

When I stumbled across the following wedding license, I got a kick out of it. Her birth year varied throughout her life but is verified by her dad here, under oath. He was sworn in under oath and had to testify and give his consent for his young fifteen year old daughter to marry Walter.

The law in King County at the time specified men had to be 21 and women 18 to get married. Well, at least the forms were preprinted with that expectation. Walter just lies and signs the document saying he is “twenty-one years of age and over”, but the father of Emma did not do that. In the text “eighteen years of age and over” he crossed off “eighteen” as well as “and over”, and hand wrote between the text, “fifteen” and “the father of said Emma G Van Syckel hereby gives his consent to the marriage.” On the 1930 census, Emma claimed she was 16 when she first married. She was not.

The family of Walter Hendrickson and Emma Van Syckel.

Baby Etta is Born and Dies

She has her first child within two years. When Etta Hendrickson was born on March 19, 1892 her father, Walter, was 21, and teenage mom Emma was 16. The young mother only had 6.5 months with little Etta. Etta died four weeks after mom’s 17th birthday on October 2, 1892. Walter and Emma almost immediately start trying for another child.

Son Frank is Born

When Frank Earl Hendrickson was born on August 4, 1893, dad Walter was 22 and teenage mom Emma is now 17. Well, she’s 17 for another four weeks. Starting after 1900 she moved Frank’s birth year to 1894, and later to 1895 and as late as 1897. Frank settled on 1894 and that’s what his obituary and headstone says but his correct birth year is 1893. The 1893 date is verified by the county record and the 1900 census during which she is back living with mom and dad. It’s likely dad gave the census enumerator correct information. Records indicate Emma really did not like to tell her age. Either she was too young to get married and have a child and wanted to be older, or she wanted to be a few years younger than she was as she aged.

Dad Walter’s Demise and Legacy

According to a few ancestry member trees, Walter supposedly drowned while traveling to Alaska on a ship. Of note, Emma indicated she was divorced on the 1900 census. Walter’s biggest legacy no doubt was his son Frank. Frank married Mary Weixel on September 8, 1924. They had eight children in 19 years. He died on April 13, 1971, in Port Townsend, Washington, at the age of 77.

Jones During the 1890s

Now back to Jones and his arrival on the West Coast in 1891. I’ve discovered a little bit about Jones’ early years on the West Coast. In the 1890s, Jones climbed Mount Hood. He was likely part of the July 19, 1894 mass ascent on Mount Hood. As of 1895, Jones was still working as a Woodhauler and lived at 569 E. Salmon, Portland, Oregon.

Speculation: Jones will die from syphilis about 24 years from this time so one can speculate that he was sowing his wild oats. Untreated syphilis takes up to 30 years to migrate to the brain. Brain syphilis is called paresis which is what his doctor who treated him for it will write on his death certificate in January 1914. 

1895 Portland Oregon City Directory, Jones, Woodhauler

1901: Jones Prestwood and Emma Van Syckel

Now onto the stars of this article: Emma and Jones. At this time all indications are that Jones was ready to settle down. It was time for a son of a Confederate soldier to wed a daughter of a Union soldier. Jones married Emma in Tarboo, Washington, on September 5, 1901, when he was 47 years old and she was 26 years old. Jones is 21 years older than Emma when they get married. Jones was ready to switch occupations from a wandering teamster to a mailman during this time.

Note: Jones was still married to Margaret. They never divorced so upon marrying Emma, Jones was guilty of polygamy.

Every relationship has a golden period. I define the family golden period as the duration from when two people get together, or from marriage, to when the youngest child turns 18. The best case is that both parents survive and stay together and that all children survive through age 18. Life is messy and the golden period is shortened or looks different for many. That shortening in my opinion does not negate the golden period no matter how short it is.

Jones and Emma’s children were tall. Harold was 5′ 11″, blue eyes, brown hair, light Complexion, 180 Pounds. Lester 5′ 11″, gray eyes, brown hair, light complexion, 190 Pounds. Bert was 5′ 11.5″, blue eyes, blonde hair, skinny, 150 Pounds, Light Complexion.

Gus and Gussie

Emma proudly went by her given or adopted middle name of Gussie during this time. Well, for much of her whole life actually. West Coast family lore is that Jones was Gus. Gus and Gussie are Latin variants of Augusta, meaning “great and magnificent.” Emma definitely used Gussie on and off her whole life and preferred it during this time. During these years Jones sometimes went by Ervin, sometimes by Jones, and sometimes by Gus. My guess is that he likely used “Gus” more as a supporting reflection of Emma’s “Gussie.” For most of the West Coast Prestwood descendants, he was only Gus. For my family history this can be a bit confusing because my other great grandma Emma Gjerde also identified as Gussie at times!

1910 Check In

By 1910, Emma and Jones were married 9 years and had four children together. Jones is now 56 turning 57 this year but as usual Emma reported his age incorrectly for appearance. Well, I assume it was her. It would be better if their ages were closer so my guess is that she is the one that reported to the census worker. She reported his age as 54 and her age as 42. He was actually 56, she was actually 35. Geez! I guess she didn’t like the age gap between her and her husband.

The family lived in Jefferson Washington where they rented their home. During this time Jones had left farming, and wood hauling. Jones is now a mail carrier and could read and write. Mabel was 9, Harold 5, Lester 2, and Frank Hendrickson, step-son to Jones, was 14. At the time of this census, Emma Van Syckel “Gussie” was 8 months pregnant with their 4th and last child Bert. Likely a very happy time for the family.

Sometimes the golden age for a family comes to an abrupt end. For Emma and Jones, I think that happened in late 1911. Jones will have one last Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with his West Coast family.

1912: Jones’ East Coast Family Story Continues…

Circa 1930. James Sidney Prestwood (1879-1943) and wife Laura Bush (1879-1947).

Now let’s finish up the East Coast family story. On the 1910 Census, Jones’ first wife Margaret indicated she was widowed. By this point about two decades after Jones abandons them, the East Coast family believed Jones was dead. Margaret had to raised all five of their children. Two sons, William, and Henry are still at home with mom. Older brother James was also still in Lenoir at this time down the road. The oldest brother Charles was 35 miles away in Marion and daughter Laura was married and not in the area.

As the family story goes as told by the East Coast family in 1993, long ago in late 1911 back in the Seattle, Washington area, Jones confesses to Emma. What exactly he confessed to Emma is not known. Did he tell his wife he was dying? Did he tell her about the syphilis? Did he confess about his first family on the East Coast? About his five other children? Did he confess polygamy? Was Emma ever aware he never divorced and was currently married to two women? He at least told Emma something about his first family in North Carolina. Emma told him that if he had a family back in North Carolina, then that was where he belonged. She took him to the train station, bought him a ticket, and shipped him back to North Carolina. Emma and the West Coast family never heard from Jones again and never knew what became of him.

Speculation: I think it is likely life was good until Jones started showing symptoms of advanced untreated syphilis. At this time, there were no cures for syphilis. Effective treatments for syphilis were decades away. At this time, Jones likely had early symptoms of paresis, brain syphilis. Untreated syphilis can migrate to the brain within 30 years. Prior to a special Nobile Prize wining treatment available starting in 1917, patients would live about 2.5 years from first symptoms of paresis. From here, Jones will be dead in two years and it is reasonable that he was struggling with early symptoms, from dementia.

Jones Returns Saturday, January 6, 1912

Margaret Shell circa 1910. Likely a few years before Jones tries to return. She is about 67.

When Jones arrived back home in North Carolina in January of 1912, it was quite a surprise! The Prestwood family of North Carolina was a fairly prominent family and Jones was the black sheep of the family. I believe he first visited his son James Sidney Prestwood, now 34. After two plus decades, he finally got to tell his side of the story, and the East Coast family finally got to hear it. He said that he had gotten injured on a run away horse and almost died. He told his family that his name was at the top of Mt. Hood, because he was part of the first party to scale that mountain. (Not exactly true as it had been scaled decades earlier. But he was likely part of a mass rescaling of Mount Hood.) The family said they never knew whether that was true or just a story he told to look good to them.

After his visit with his son, Jones tried to see Margaret at their old home in Lenoir. Margaret was still there with two of their five children: Henry, now 26, and William, now 31. Henry will get married in just three months but Jones will not attend. He will be long gone by the time of the wedding. The story goes that when he arrived at their old home, Margaret rejected him. She met him at the door and ran him off. She told him she’d raised the kids and she didn’t need him anymore.

The Lenoir Topic, 12 Jan 1912. This short announcement confirms when Jones left and returned.

Jones then went back down the road and asked his son James if he could stay there. James told Jones he could stay only a few days under the circumstances. Jones tried to convince James to return to Washington with him. He told James that his belongings were there and if he’d go back with him, he’d give the stuff to him. James refused, saying his wife and family in Washington probably needed the stuff more than he did. Jones left a few days later. The family thought he returned to his second West Coast family in Washington. Over the decades the descendants wanted to reconnect with the descendants of Jones on the West Coast. That would have to wait until 1993. More on that later.

1914: Jones’ Death and Speculation

In March 1912, Jones starts treatments with Dr. Watkins. Years later, Dr. F. B. Watkins, MD, will become the Superintendent of the Morganton State Hospital. In May 1912, Jones is checked into the state hospital. Jones is diagnosed with paresis. Jones was in the Morganton State Hospital and died after a 20-month battle. Jones died just after midnight at 12:30 AM on January 24, 1914 from paresis. Just two months after his 60th birthday.

The Lenoir News, 27 Jan 1914. Jones Prestwood death announcement.
1920, William Thomas Prestwood (1882-1939). Restored & colorized by MP.


Paresis is brain syphilis. In 1914 a working treatment for paresis was just 3 years away. A treatment in which the patient is subjected to a high fever brought on by malaria. The high fever kills the syphilis bacterium treponema pallidum. This treatment was developed by Julius Wagner-Jauregg in 1917 for which he won a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1927. Alas, it was discovered about five years too late for Jones.

One can speculate that his East Coast family might have known he checked into the state hospital, or even checked him in. They definitely did not sign his death certificate which indicates to me that family did not visit regularly. I believe he died alone. I believe the family didn’t even know he was there. No family member signed for the body. The death certificate was signed by a state worker. Usually these are signed by a family member. His parent’s names and information are missing from his death certificate, a rarity. Finally, the family story told years later is that he went back to his West Coast family.

1917: Emma and Horace Graves

A widow for the second time, Emma married Horace Graves. Horace and Emma get hitched in Jefferson, Washington, on July 14, 1917. Horace was nearly 24 years older than Emma. Horace was 65 years old and Emma was 41 years old. Horace was born in 1852 more than 8 years before the beginning of the Civil War which lasted 5 years. Emma was born more than 10 years after the end of the Civil War. No judgment, just interesting generational facts. A year later in September 1918, Emma and Jones’ first born Mabel married Ralph Enterkine McClanahan.

1920 Check In

Emma is now married to Horace about 3 years — Jones left 8 years before in 1912 and died in 1914 but I believe no one knew he died. In the house are brothers Harold, Lester, and Bert Prestwood. Their oldest sister Mabel was married two years prior in 1918.

1930 Check In

By 1930, Emma is 54 and still married to her third husband Horace, now 78. Both are retired. Three of her sons with Jones are still living with them: Harold, Lester, and Bert.

In the following census, in yellow is Emma Flint. It is now 16 years after Jones Prestwood died in NC. I’m not sure she knew he died. I think he just abandoned her from her point of view. Family stories passed down were simply that he left the family and went back to his first family never to be heard from again. In blue is my 22 year old grandpa Lester who works with his older brother as a machinist at a garage.

Oops! Data error on this census! The father of the boys Jones Prestwood was born in North Carolina, not Georgia! It’s been less than two decades since the last time they saw Jones but his information is already starting to fade from history and lost to time. Now that we are in the digital age it will be far easier to correct mistakes like this and to preserve and honor our ancestors.

1930 Census: Horace Graves + Emma Van Syckel Family (North Trunk, WA).


Lester Sr. that same year married Bernice Flint on October 15, 1930 in Pierce, Washington. Lester Sr was 23 and Bernice was 20.

1940 Check In

Thanks to the 1940 census, we get an update on Emma. She is now widowed for the third time. Horace died 8 years earlier in 1932.

Their youngest son Bert never married and is buried next to his step dad. The man who raised him from a very young age and lived with him for the rest of Horace’s life. Horace passed in 1932. When Bert dies about 50 years later, he is interned next to his step dad.

The following census documents that Emma’s brother Fredrick, now 77, and 29 year old son Bert live in her home. Emma’s home is very near her son Frank Hendrickson’s farm (both are listed on the same page of the census).

1957: Mom Emma Passes

Emma Gussie Van Syckel died on November 21, 1957, in Port Townsend, Washington, when she was 82 years old.

Emma Gussie Graves (Van Syckel)

I included the following picture because I hope someone out there can help clear up whether this is or is not Emma Van Syckel.

Unknown Picture passed down from Lester, Sr. to my dad, to me. I seriously think this is likely a picture of grandma Emma Van Syckel with her son Lester and daughter Mabel. She died in Nov 1957 which would have meant Lester Sr. didn’t develop this film for 2 years. Possible? I don’t know. Anyone have any answers?

1993 West and East Coast Families Connect

So when did the West and East Coast Prestwoods reconnect? I think 1993 when Joanne from the West Coast Prestwoods connected with Caroline from the East Coast Prestwoods. Together they were able to solve some family mysteries. Joanne Ekstrom-Steese (McClanahan) is the great grandchild of Jones Prestwood and Emma through Mabel. Mabel was the first born of Jones and Emma. The following snippets are from a 1993 letter and document Joanne’s communication with Caroline Cogdell. Caroline is a descendent of Jones through James Sidney Prestwood. James was the second born of Jones and Margaret.

May 30, 1993
Joanne A. Ekstrom

Dear Aunt Gert and Aunt Vi:

It has been awhile since I’ve written to you news about my genealogical research. I have found out a great deal about your
Grandfather Prestwood. In fact, I just got off the phone a few hours ago from talking with [Caroline Cogdell] our Prestwood relatives in Lenoir, North Carolina. …

The first thing I found was the marriage records in Jefferson County. That was when I learned that Gus must have been a nickname, because his real name was Jones [Ervin] Prestwood. From there I went to the Family History Library and that is how I found the address of our relatives in North Carolina. The ones I talked to today are named Caroline, Jim and Elsie (really delightful people) and Gus or Jones was their Great Grandfather. Their grandfather was James Sidney Prestwood.

Here’s part of the story. Jones was married and had four sons. One day he took a wagon load of lumber from Lenoir to a town [named Hickory] about 17 miles away. …he sold the lumber, wagon and team. He bought a ticket and got on the train and went to California. This wasn’t a planned trip…

He seems to have returned to North Carolina… …in January [1912]. When he got there this is the story he told. He said that he had gotten injured on a run away horse and almost died. What your grandmother [Emma “Gussie”] …did was tell him that if he had family back in North Carolina…then that was where he belonged. So she took him to the train station, bought him a ticket, and shipped him back to North Carolina.

When he arrived back home in Lenoir, NC, he went to see the wife he’d walked out on. She met him at the door and ran him off. The story goes that she told him she’d raised the kids and she didn’t need him anymore. …he went back down the road [back to the home of his son James] and asked his son if he could stay there. [James told Jones] he could stay only a few days under the circumstances. [Jones] tried to get his son [James] to return to Washington with him, telling him he had left his belongings there and if he’d go back with him, he’d give the stuff to him. The son refused, saying his wife and family in Washington probably needed the stuff more than he did.

At that point, Jones left town for just a short time. He told them that he went back to Washington…

While Jones was back in North Carolina, he told his family that his name was at the top of Mt. Hood, because he was with the first party to scale that mountain. …Jones was the “Black Sheep”. …

Well, love to you and I hope you enjoy this new part of your history.

Lives Well Lived

Here’s a fact. Life is complicated, messy. Here on Earth, all relationships end one way or another. A relationship lasts so long as both are able and want to stay in the relationship. It really is that simple. How a relationship ends does not have to take away from its golden period. For Jones and Emma, they had a life together and lives before and after. Both their lives were up and down and sideways. The main characters of this story Jones and Emma brought 19 children into this world. Together they conceived four children. Jones conceived five in his first marriage with Margaret. Emma conceived two in her first marriage with Walter. Each relationship had a golden period. All the characters of this story lived. They had lives lived their way, lives well lived.

— END —

*** Research Notes ***

Jones or Jonas

I wonder if Jones pronounced his first name using one syllable as in “Jones” or two syllables as in “Jonas?” In his first wife Margaret’s obituary his name is listed as “Jonas.” Perhaps a typo, or perhaps the correct or more modern spelling of how he pronounced his first name. Margaret definitely considered herself the wife of Jones Prestwood her entire adult life so she would have talked about him from time to time which may be why the spelling of “Jonas” ended up in her obituary. Anyway, that’s mostly speculation on my part at this point and this is the only example of Jonas I’ve found so far.

Is “Jonas” a typo, or a modern spelling of how he pronounced his name.

Ervin, Irving, Ewing, or Evander

Jones’ middle name is for sure Ervin but some confusion after his death has lead to variations in the records including Irvin, Irving, Ewing, Erving, and Evander. Irvin is just a misspelling of Ervin. With Ewing I think the “w” is actually “rv.” The “w” was misread because of messy cursive writing. Finally, his middle name is not Evander after his father. Some have assumed the “E” in records was for Evander after his father. That’s just wrong.

Gus Nickname

For the West Coast family, many only knew Jones as Gus. Here is daughter Mabel’s obituary:

Here is a clip from the death certificate for Harold specifying the name of his father as “Gus Prestwood.” Harold Prestwood (1904-1983) was the second born to Jones and Emma.

Jones Ervin Prestwood Certificate of Death

The following is Jones’ Certificate of Death. In orange, notice the attending doctor and the person who verified it was Dr. F.B. Watkins. In yellow notice the diagnosis of paresis. In purple notice that Dr. Watkins treated him from March 1912 through his death. Finally, notice in blue that his parents are unspecified.

Emma Louis or Gussie?

I think Emma is Emma Gussie Van Syckel. I believe her middle name is not “Louis” despite a few modern family trees indicating such.

Van Syckel, Van Syckle, or Vansyckle?

Yes. All are correct. Emma’s parent’s headstone used Van Syckle. Emma settled on Van Syckel but went back and forth throughout her life. I think most of the family eventually settled on the Van Syckel spelling, but variations with descendants exists to this day.

Joanne Ekstrom Letter Transcribed

May 30, 1993
Joanne A. Ekstrom
Tucson, Arizona 85705

Dear Aunt Gert and Aunt Vi:

It has been awh1le since I’ve written to you news about my genealogical research. I have found out a great deal about your
Grandfather Prestwood. In fact, I just got off the phone a few hours ago from talking with our Prestwood relatives in Lenoir, North
Carolina. I am going to go watch a program about North Carolina right now. That was interesting. There are places in North Carolina that look just like your neck of the woods. No wonder he settled where he did.

The first thing I found was the marriage records in Jefferson County. That was when I learned that Gus must have been a nickname, because his real name was Jones Ewing Prestwood. From there I went to the Family History Library and that is how I found the address of our relatives in North Carolina. The ones I talked to today are named Caroline, Jim and Elsie (really delightful people) and Gus or Jones was their Great Grandfather. Their grandfather was James Sidney Prestwood.

Here’s part of the story. Jones was married and had four sons. One day he took a wagon load of lumber from Lenoir to a town about 17 miles away. When he got to Hickory, he sold the lumber, wagon and team. He bought a ticket and got on the train and went to California. This wasn’t a planned trip, as far as his family knew. He just took off and they didn’t find out where he went until he returned many, many years later just before his death.

He seems to have returned to North Carolina ~bout a year before his death in January 1913. When ho got there this is the story he told. He said that he had gotten injured on a run away horse and almost died. What your grandmother, his wife, did was tell him that if he had family back in North Carolina (I don’t know if he told her he had a wife and kids back there), then that was where he belonged. So she took him to the train station, bought him a ticket, and shipped him back to North Carolina.

When he arrived back home in Lenoir, NC, he went to see the wife he’d walked out on. She met him at the door and ran him off. The story goes that she told him she’d raised the kids and she didn’t need him anymore. Given the circumstances, I can certainly believe she did just that. So, he went back down the road and asked his son if he could stay there. He was told he could stay only a few days under the circumstances. He tried to get his son to return to Washington with him, telling him he had left his belongings there and if he’d go back with him, he’d give the stuff to him. The son refused, saying his wife and family in Washington probably needed the stuff more than he did.

At that point, Jones left town for just a short time. He told them that he went back to Washington, however, there is nothing in this…

There was a big space between the time he left North Carolina and when he ended up in Washington and be was in California during that time. The North Carolina relatives I talked to today believe he also had a wife and children in California, but they haven’t been able to find them yet.

While Jones was back in North Carolina, he told his family that his name was at the top of Mt. Hood, beca11se he was with the first party to scale that mountain. Well, I’ll check that out, because that will be in the history books. The family said they never knew whether that was true or just a story he told to look good to them.

It appears that the Prestwood family of North Carolina was a fairly prominent. family and Jones was the “Black Sheep”. William Thomas Prestwood, Jones Grandfather, was a teacher and he knew three languages including Greek and Hebrew. He served with the militia. He also surveyed and mapped the Cherokee Indian Reservation. William kept diaries in a kind of shorthand that were eventually found by someone other than family. These diaries were transcribed and there was a book published. But the book is no longer in print. Caroline, one of the people I talked to today, said his diaries were pretty risqué. So, while he was obviously a pretty successful man, he also had that side to him as well.

So, that’s the story of your Grandfather Gus (Jones Ewing) Prestwood. Hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Caroline, Jim and Elsie wanted your addresses, so I hope you don’t :mind that I gave them to them. They really are delightful people and so very, very excited about having found their relatives in Washington. They knew about us for years, but had almost given up hope of finding us, so now they are just real happy to have connected. They have a great deal of information about the family — clear back to the 1500s, I think. They are going to send me what they have and I will pass along what I find out.

I have enclosed an Ancestor Sheet that shows five generations back from your mother. I’ve also included all the Family Group Sheets that I have now for the Prestwood ancestors.

I have all your materials and pictures that you sent safe and sound. I still have to get copies and then it will all be sent back to you. Please don’t worry. I am j11st slow, not irresponsible. ha!

Well, love to you and I hope you enjoy this new part of your history.

Restored Photos

Original 1901 Wedding Photos of Jones and Emma:

I combined and restored the two photos above:Original 1874-80 Jones Photo

I restored and colorized it:

Original photo of Margaret Shell circa 1910.

I restored and colorized it:

Original photo of William Thomas Prestwood, son of Jones Prestwood, circa 1920.

I restored and colorized it:


I created the following timeline as research for this article.

  • 1652: Ferdenandus “The Emigrant” Van Sycklin arrives in the New Amsterdam colony.
  • 1640: Estimated birth of Thomas Prestwood in England.
  • 1670: Thomas Prestwood was in the New England colony by this date.
  • 1712: Ferdenandus death.
  • 1788: William Thomas “Billy” Prestwood born, grandpa to Jones.
  • 1796: Cornelius Vansyckel born, grandpa to Emma.
  • 1797: Celia Clarke born. Wife of Billy, grandma to Jones.
  • 1801: Lydia Buckelew born, grandma to Emma.
  • 1808-1859: Date span of Billy’s encrypted diary.
  • 1820: William Thomas “Billy” Prestwood and Celia Clarke wed.
  • 1821: Evander born, dad to Jones. First child of Billy and Celia.
  • 1832: John Henry born, dad to Emma.
  • 1838: Gertrude Ricketts born, mom to Emma.
  • 1843: Evander Prestwood and Caroline Clontz wed.
  • 1843: Margaret Shell born, first wife of Jones.
  • 1853: 5th child Jones Prestwood born.
  • 1858: Grandma Celia dies at 61.
  • 1859: Grandpa Billy dies at 71.
  • 1861
    • April 12: Civil War starts.
    • May 20: North Carolina secedes from the Union and joins the southern effort.
    • November 30: Luther enlists at age 23 (not drafted)
  • 1862
    • March 15: Fabius enlists at age 35 (not drafted, but might have feared the draft).
    • April 16: Draft started. Conscription Act dictated that all healthy white men between the ages of 18 and 35 were liable for a three-year term of service.
    • May 17: Sidney enlists, assigned to Company B, 58th
  • 1863
    • July 1-3: famous Gettysburg battle.
    • July 5: Fabius captured at Gettysburg.
    • July 14: Luther captured at the Battle of Falling Waters.
  • August 20: Cicero enlists at age 39 (NOT drafted, but might have feared the draft).
    • September: Draft age limit raised to 45.
    • October 1: Fabius dies of disease at Fort Delaware, Delaware.
    • October 14: Cicero killed in the Battle of Bristoe Station which took place in Dumfries, Virginia.
  • 1864
    • February 10: Luther is released and switches sides.
    • February: Draft extended to ages 17 to 50.
    • October 8: Evander enlists at age 43 (likely drafted)
  • 1865
    • February 5-7: famous Battle of Hatcher’s Run.
    • April 2: Evander captured in Virginia at Hatcher’s Run.
    • April 7: Evander entered into the prison on Hart’s Island in the New York Harbor.
    • April 14: Lincoln assassinated.
    • May 9: Civil War ends.
    • June 11: Evander dies of meningitis at Hart’s Island prison just weeks before the last of the POWs are released.
  • 1865: John Fleming-Shell born. Margaret, the first wife of Jones, has her first out of wedlock child with unknown father.
  • 1868: Robert Fleming-Shell born. Margaret’s second out of wedlock child.
  • 1874: Jones and Margaret Wed. First marriage for both, but Margaret has two boys.
  • 1875: Charles Edgar Prestwood born to Jones and Margaret.
  • 1875: Emma Van Syckel born, Jones’ second wife was born the same year as Jones’ first child.
  • 1877: Laura Virginia Prestwood born to Jones and Margaret.
  • 1879: James Sidney Prestwood born to Jones and Margaret.
  • 1882: William Thomas Prestwood born to Jones and Margaret.
  • 1887: Henry Lee Prestwood born to Jones and Margaret. Last child.
  • 1890: Emma weds her first husband Walter Hendrickson. Emma is 15.
  • 1890: May 7, Jones attends 71st birthday of father-in-law James Wesley Shell.
  • 1891: Jones abandons family. Runs off to Oregon.
  • 1892: Etta Hendrickson is born, first child to Emma and Walter. Etta dies 6 months later.
  • 1894: Frank Hendrickson born, second and last child of Emma and Walter.
  • 1895-99 about: Walter Hendrickson supposedly drowns at sea.
  • 1895: Jones Prestwood is living in Portland, Oregon. Still a woodhauler.
  • 1901: Jones Prestwood and Emma Van Syckel wed, a second marriage for both.
  • 1902: Mabel Simmons Prestwood born, first born to Jones and Emma.
  • 1904: Harold Prestwood born, second child of Jones and Emma.
  • 1906: Lester Earl Prestwood, Sr. born, third child of Jones and Emma. My grandpa.
  • 1910: Bert Prestwood born, 4th and last child of Jones and Emma. Never marries.
  • 1912: Emma puts Jones on a train to NC before Jan 6.
  • 1912: Jan 6, Jones arrives this Saturday in Lenoir, NC.
  • 1914: Jan 24, Jones dies at 60 from paresis, syphilis.
  • 1917: Emma weds Horace Graves. Horace is 24 years older.
  • 1919: Feb 23, first wife Margaret Shell dies.
  • 1930: Oct 15, my grandpa Lester and Bernice Flint wed in a double wedding with Bernice’s mom Emma “Gussie” Gjerde. My other great grandma named Emma Gussie!
  • 1932: Horace Graves dies.
  • 1940: Emma is living with her brother Fredrick and her son Bert near her son Frank Hendrickson.
  • 1957: Emma passes at the age of 82.
  • 1981: Bert Prestwood dies, is buried next to step-dad Horace.
  • 1993: The descendants of Jones Prestwood from his East Coast confederate wife Margaret and West Coast Union wife reconnect and solve some family mysteries.
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