Orene Wetherall Trail (2012) William B. Wetherall marriage portrait (1938)

William Bascom Wetherall, 1911-2013

William B. "Bill" Wetherall, veteran Nevada City attorney, died on June 19, 2013 in Nevada City [California] at the age of 102. He was born on March 25, 1911 in Ames, Iowa. After completion of public school education in Iowa, he attended the University of Idaho, where he received his law degree in 1937.

Upon admission to the Idaho Bar in 1937, Bill was appointed law clerk to Judge William Healy of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in San Francisco. He was admitted to the California Bar in 1939, served as Regional Litigation Attorney for the Office of Price Administration during the early 1940s, and engaged in private practice in the city for a number of years.

On June 1, 1938 Bill married Orene Hardman of Peck, Idaho, his college sweetheart. In 1955, he moved with his wife and three children to Grass Valley, and practiced law out of offices in Nevada City until 2003 then out of his home for several years. He served as City Attorney for Nevada City from 1959 to 1979, and was a director of the Nevada County Fair Board from 1962 to 1974. He was also a director of Music in the Mountains during its formative years.

Bill was preceded in death by his wife Orene on August 9, 2003, and by a grandson, Peter Owen Wetherall Vodonick (Zweig) on October 9, 2004. He is survived by three children, son William Owen Wetherall of Japan, son and daughter-in-law Jerry Alan Wetherall and Purita Obispo of Honolulu, and daughter Mary Ellen (Mellon) Zweig of Grass Valley; three grandchildren and a granddaughter-in-law, Gurditta Singh Khalsa (Zweig) and Alessandra of Santa Fe, and Saori Orene Wetherall Sugiyama and Tsuyoshi Owen Wetherall Sugiyama of Japan; two great-grandchildren, Siri Parmeshar Singh Khalsa and Amrita Elizabeth Khalsa of Santa Fe; and an "adopted" daughter, Clara Yang, and her sons Allan and Sean, of Placerville.

Orene Wetherall Trail (2012) Orene Hardman marriage portrait (1938)

"In every rose I see her radiant face"

Louida Orene Wetherall, 1913-2003

Louida Orene Wetherall died Saturady, August 9, [2003] in her Grass Valley [California] home. She was 89.

Orene was born November 21, 1913, on a homesteaded farm on the Camas Prairie in northern Idaho to Owen and Ullie Hardman. She attended the University of Idaho, where she met her husband, Bill, and in later years attended San Francisco State College. She married William B. "Bill" Wetherall on June 1, 1938, in San Francisco. They moved their family to Grass Valley in 1955.

She taught school in Idaho for three years, two of them in a one-room country schoolhouse. She worked in the office at Nevada Union High School for 13 years and did home teaching for several years. She was a lifetime member of the PTA and in her early years in Grass Valley was president of the Grass Valley Girl Scout Council and the Community Concert Association. She was an active member of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, the Golden Empire Convalescent Hospital Auxiliary, Music in the Mountains, the Grass Valley Ladies Relief Society and the American Association of University Women. She enjoyed books, music, crossword puzzles and her flower garden.

Orene is survived by her husband, Bill Wetherall; son William O. Wetherall of Japan; son and daughter-in-law Jerry Alan Wetherall and Purita Obispo of Honolulu, Hawaii; daughter Mary Ellen "Mellon" Zweig of Grass Valley and "adopted" daughter Clara Yang of Sacramento; grand-children Gurditta Singh Khalsa and his wife, Himat Kaur, Peter Owen Vodonick, Saori Orene Wetherall and Tsuyoshi Owen Wetherall; and one great-grandchild, Siri Parmeshar Singh Khalsa.

She was preceded in death by her parents and a sister, Ullie Emerson.

Memorial services will be held 10 a.m. Thursday, August 21, at the Nevada City Chapel of Hooper and Weaver Mortuary. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of the Foothills, Music in the Mountains or a charity of the donor's choice.

Bill's obituary is a slightly revised update of one he himself wrote in the late 1990s when, after surviving a colostomy, he began planning his own estate. A slightly different version appeared in the print and on-line editions of The Union on Friday, 28 June 2013.
The photograph of Bill standing at the start of the Orene Wetherall Trail, where it branches off the Cascade Canal Trail on Banner Mountain east of Nevada City, was taken by Gregg Schiffner during an outing with family and friends in March 2012.
The portrait of Bill was taken at the time of his marriage to Orene in 1938.

Orene's obituary is a slightly edited version of the copy published in the print and on-line editions of The Union on Tuesday, 19 August 2003.
The photograph of Orene with Bill was taken by this writer on the trail along the South Fork of the Yuba River upstream from Bridgeport during a family outing on 28 March 1999.
The portrait of Orene was taken at the time of her marriage to Bill in 1938.


Orene Wetherall Trail

The photograph in Bill's obituary, showing him standing alone by the sign marking the start of the Orene Wetherall Trail, was taken in March 2012 during an outing with family and friends, including Gregg Schiffner, who remembers the occasion like this.

Thoreau and popcorn

I remember the day we took that picture in March of 2012. We hiked the upper Banner ditch out to the trailhead where Orene's sign is posted. It was just after the winter storms had passed and Bill had to get out of the wheelchair and climb over a couple of big trees that had fallen across the ditch. He was more than up to the task. He was so pleased to see the shiny new sign that paid tribute to the love of his life.

I asked if he was up to hiking 50 feet down the trail to stand next to the sign.

"I think so."

Slow and easy, one shaky step at a time, we made it to the sign. Then after getting back to the wheelchair I recorded him talking about his favorite H.D. Thoreau quote. The little clip is in his life-story DVD.

We continued on down the ditch to a wide sunny spot where we had our picnic and I watched Bill slowly devour a good-sized bag of popcorn, one piece at a time. It was then that I made the connection that his love of popcorn came from his days of selling popcorn in the movie theatre in Knoxville that was owned by his best friend's family. He felt so privileged to have such a job, where he made a little money, got into the movies for free, and ate all the popcorn he wanted. I guess that was the first of many good jobs that would come his way.

Gregg Schiffner, June 29, 2013

Public dedication

Bill established the Orene Wetherall Memorial Endowment with the Nevada County Land Trust endowment (now Bear Yuba Land Trust) on 17 November 2003. Orene would have been 90 years old on 21 November. He presented a contribution of $30,000 in person at the NCLT office with a letter that, in legal parlance, he called an "instrument of gift".

Two acknowledgement letters are also dated 17 November. A third acknowledgement letter dated 1 December, from NCLT's treasurer, asks permission to use his letter as a model for others who wish to make such bequests.

The endowment's establishment was reported on the front page of the February 2004 issue of NCLT's Land News bulletin (Volume 12, Issue 1). Orene's children contributed to the endowment fund in the spring of 2004, in the same spirit in which the endowment was created by their father -- namely, that NCLT "shall have broad authority in management the endowment, but that income generated from investments "shall be used [primarily] for the acquisition, construction or maintenance of trails" -- provided that NCLT will have broad authority to use income for other land trust purposes so long as trail needs are given priority.

At some point, NCLT decided to build a trail to be called the "Orene Wetherall Loop Trail" in the Woodpecker Preserve area along the Cascade Canal Trail on Banner Mountain. Accordingly, the Orene Wetherall Loop Trail was officially opened and dedicated on 5 June 2010, about two months after Bill turned 99, and a few days before what would have been his and Orene's 71st wedding anniversary.

The dedication was reported in the Summer 2010 issue of Land News (page 6) and also in an NCLT-authored article posted on YubaNet on 18 June 2010. The Land News report notes that "The trail is currently an in-and-out trail, meaning when you reach the end you must retrace your steps back to the trailhead. The next phase of trail construction includes a loop through other areas of the Preserve." The YubaNet article lists "Orene Wetherall Loop Trail, Phase 2 at Woodpecker Preserve, Nevada City" as one of five trails then under construction.

Because the trail was not yet a "loop" the provisional paper sign, and the metal sign that later replaced it, read "Orene Wetherall Trail" and informed hikers it was 0.6 miles to the end of the trail, beyond which was private property, on which they were not to tresspass. As such it was an "out and back" trail, and so hikers were asked to return on the same trail.

The webpage for the trail on Bear Yuba Land Trust's website as of the time Bill passed away stated that "A full loop trail is scheduled to be opened in 2012." To the day he passed away, Bill would wonder when "Phase 2" would be completed so that the "out and back" signage could be changed to show that trail bearing Orene's name was now a loop as originally planned. He died on 19 June 2013 hearing rumors that "They were still working on it."

The trail is fully described and photographed on the website of the Bear Yuba Land Trust (formerly Nevada County Land Trust).
Orene Wetherall Trail, Bear Yuba Land Trust

Nevada County Land Trust publicized the dedication of the trail in an article posted on YubaNet on 18 June 2010.

The text of the article is reproduced below in a slightly different format. Bill's citation from the essay on "Giving" in The Prophet (1923) by Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) has been blocked and highlighted.

The YubaNet article shows a single photograph of Bill standing while addressing those present at the dedication ceremony. Here, the original photograph has here been replaced by three others showing Bill with his family and closest neighbors and friends (including the photographer).

Orene Wetherall Loop Trail on Banner Mountain
Opens with Public Donations and Volunteer Labor

Nevada County Land Trust Kicks Off 2010 Trails Appeal
for More Public Access Trails

Published on Jun 18, 2010 - 6:26:34 AM

By Nevada County Land Trust

Bill Wetherall with family Bill Wetherall with son Jerry
(Photo by Gregg Schiffner)

Grass Valley, CA – June 16 2010 – Residents in the Banner Mountain area now have a new neighborhood trail thanks to the volunteer work parties and the many donations made to the 2009 Nevada County Land Trust Trails Appeal. The opening ceremony for the new trail was held as a part of this year's National Trails Day, on June 5.

Against a rugged backdrop of soaring pines and fir trees, the new mile-long Orene Wetherall Loop Trail ventures through the 28-acre Woodpecker Preserve. This open space preserve has mixed conifer woodlands as well as wetland areas that together make this a prime wildlife habitat.

Work on the trail began last fall and was funded through a substantial matching grant provided by Holger and Tacy Hahn, who matched the $7,400 raised for trails. Funds in the amount of $1,000 were graciously donated by the Banner Mountain Homeowners' Association while other funds were donated by individuals in the community through the Land Trust Annual Trails Appeal. No tax or other public funding was contributed to this project.

Bill Wetherall with family Bill Wetherall with family
Purita, Jerry, Bill, Mellon, Clara
(Photo by Gregg Schiffner)

The trail has been named after Orene Wetherall who passed away in 2003. She was born in 1913, she married William B. "Bill" Wetherall, and they moved their family to Grass Valley in 1955. She worked in the office at Nevada Union High School and participated in many civic organizations. Bill Wetherall established an endowment in her name with Nevada County Land Trust, for the creation and maintenance of trails in our community. Bill attended the opening ceremony and read a poem in her honor, from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (the chapter, "Giving"):

     "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth."

Astonishingly Bill Wetherall, who is currently 99 years old, hiked the entire trail with about 30 neighbors along Woodpecker Preserve. The trail is currently an in-and-out trail, meaning when you reach the end you must retrace your steps back to the trailhead. The next phase of trail construction includes a loop through other areas of the Preserve. Persons interested in assisting with the trail design or construction should contact Bill Haire, Trails Coordinator with Nevada County Land Trust at 530-272-5994 x2.

Bill Wetherall with friends Bill Wetherall with friends
Jerry (son), Danny, Bill, Melo, Lou
(Photo by Gregg Schiffner)

Neighbors along the trail route would like to remind hikers to use the trail with care and respect. Unfortunately an issue has surfaced: neighbors are concerned about hikers and bikers leaving the trail, especially for access via adjacent private roads. While it's tempting to park one car at the trailhead on Grace Road and hike to a second car parked on private property, it is the worst thing hikers can do. Private roads are for use only by residents, who carry the full burden of road maintenance and very limited traffic volume.

The Land Trust has built and maintains over 13 miles of trails throughout our community. Trails are designed, built and maintained through volunteer work parties. Land Trust trails are open to all residents of our community to use for exercise and enjoyment of nature. When people walk on a trail they meet their neighbors and take pride in the beautiful place in which we live. Currently the following trails are under construction:

Hirschman Trail, Nevada City
Deer Creek Tribute Trail, Nevada City
Larimer Trail along Wolf Creek, Grass Valley
Orene Wetherall Loop Trail, Phase 2 at Woodpecker Preserve, Nevada City
Wildflower Ridge Trail at Kenny Ranch, Grass Valley

The Land Trust has kicked off the 2010 Annual Trails Appeal whereby people can purchase a foot of trail for $2.50. This is the second year we have a special Hahn Matching Grant that has been generously underwritten by Holger and Tacy Hahn. If we can raise the funds to build one-half mile of trail, the Hahn's will donate the remaining half-mile. That means your contribution will be doubled! Please help us to complete the trail projects listed above and provide more trails for our community.


The birth of "Bug"

Orene disliked her first name, Louida, though at times she used "L. Orene Wetherall" on stationery. Friends and neighbors generally called her Orene, though to her closest kinfolk and most intimate friends she was "Bug". Everyone who got to know her knew that her logo was a "lady bug". She acquired all manner of accessories and knickknacks -- from pins and buttons to scarves, stationery, and refrigerator magnets -- with red-and-black "lady bug" motiffs. And of course her very first car would be a Volkswagon "Bug".

She was "Bug" from the time she began to crawl as a baby, as the following letter from her father, Owen Hardmen, dramatizes. The letter is dated 21 November 1944, her 31st birthday. Her third child was due in a couple of months, and Owen hoped it would be a girl like her.

The envelope is addressed in pencil to "Mrs Wm Wetherall / 1922-24 Ave / San Francisco 16 / Calif." from "Box 43 / Peck / Id". It is franked "PECK / NOV / 21 / 230 PM / 1944 / IDAHO" but the stamp has been removed. The standard 6-7/16 x 3-5/8 inch envelope is upside down so the flap on the back is on the bottom.

The letter, too, is written in pencil, on both sides of a single sheet of standard 8-1/2 x 11 inch paper. The writing in all respects -- the penmanship, the spelling, the grammar, the puncutation -- is that of a typical man of Owen's generation who barely learned to read and write, as work on the farm was more important than schooling. His words prove why one should never judge a man's character by his literacy.

Owen's letter to Orene
Owen's letter to Orene

Peck Ida

Dear Little Bugs. it realy has been quite a few years since the material for this letter started. how well I rember the cold snow of that morning on the twenty first of november 31 years ago , and the hurry and excitement from 5 too 515 for thair was a baby being boren . it was first a tiney black headed little fellow very plump and beautiful for a baby so young , and on closer inspection was found to be a girl. it didn't even have a name at that time. but before the day was verry old a name had bein given . Louida Orene . kind of a funny little name for such a little girl . I dont know if she like this name or not. how ever as it may be . the little girl grew and became active and in a few months was traveling on hands and nees . was so tiney that she drew the name of Little Bugs and I guess that was suposed to of been her name as she has been called Bug ever since. I did not realize that morning


what a wonderful person had come to live with us, and how much pleasur and happyness she would bring . but looking back over 31 years , I cant finde a time or place that you didint give out hope and courage to mom and I. so after all theas years we have lernt to kind of lean on you . you had hands like Billy's and the same dark skin . soon an nother Baby will be born . yes with out a name for they cant be named before it seams, but I surley hope this baby will be an other Little Bugs .

happy birth day
I Love you

P.S. Charley and Mabel have a baby boy 2 or 3 days old.
Robert Cherla . is its name


Bug's story of her own birth

Orene Wetherall was a voracious reader of mostly fiction. For a while she was active in a local Grass Valley reading club, but reading for her was mostly a private journey into the worlds of the stories.

Along with her love of reading was a love of crossword puzzles. She was always working one in the crossword magazines she kept in the kitchen but sometimes left in the living room.

She was also a prolific letter writer as her children and other correspondents will testify. Her letters betray a sense of style that would have served her well had she ever herself written a novel or family history.

Practically all of her letters to me were hand written, but some were typed on a brown electric IBM Selectronic that had once been used in my father's law office but then was installed in "the boys room" -- the back bedroom my brother and I had shared when growing up in Grass Valley. Our parents converted the room into a "den" cum "study", and when my dad closed his office in Nevada City, he moved his practice into the back room.

Among my mother's detritus was a single sheet of ruled yellow legal paper on which, with a blue ballpoint pen, she had written her own version of her birth. The manuscript, which spills over to the back of the page, is undated, but I suspect she wrote it in the 1990s, perhaps around the time she answered my endless questions about the family photographs as I reorganized them. She was always ready to talk about her side of the family history, a favorite topic when getting together with her sister, mother, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

What I immediately noticed about the manuscript is the manner in which she edited it, seemingly on the fly, while writing the story, which reads like this.

Orene's account of her birth Orene's account of her birth

In the early morning hours of November 21, 1913, a light snow covered the sleeping wheat fields of the Nez Perce Prairie in northern Idaho. My mother had awakened to the snowy stillness and knew this was to be a special day in her life -- and mine. Very shortly the pains that had aroused her from a restless sleep became so sharp she could no longer ignore their urgency.

My father had helped in the birth of babies most of his life -- farm animals of all varieties -- but the prospect of delivering his own child was a terrifying reality. In spite of her own involvement my mother found his fright amusing -- but regardless of the unpreparedness of these two young parents, I made my arrival in short order -- at least 6 weeks early and my 4-1/2 pound body made a mere double hand full as my father held me for the first time. My maternal grandmother lived over a small hill almost one quarter of a mile away. As the story goes, my father had no more than hung up the phone from calling to say "Mrs. Hunter, would you like to inspect your new granddaughter?" -- when he looked out the window & saw her rushing over the hill with her apron flying in the snowy breeze. At the time my grandmother was in her third month of pregnancy with her 9th -- and last -- child, but she was still a young & vigorous woman. My mother was her oldest child -- daughter-sister relationship. My father, however, stood in great awe of his mother-in-law and was still trying to prove he was worthy of her daughter.

My mother, Ullie May (Hunter) Hardman was born in Missouri [abruptly ends]

The 1st sentence of the 3rd paragraph ends without a period, as though something had distracted my mother in the middle of the start of what might have been an full-length autobiography. She thought enough to fold the sheet in half and file it away, however, as though she might finish the story someday. But as Robert Frost said, "way leads onto way" -- and she never came back to it.

In just these few sentences, my mother vividly captured the personality of her parents -- who I knew -- and her maternal grandmother, about which Ullie and her siblings -- most of whom I knew, a few fairly well -- talked so much about whenever they got together. Some of their conversations in the 1970s I was able to record on cassette tapes (see Audio / video on "Wetherall family history" for details).

The many edits my mother made, on the fly it seems, are purely stylistic -- tightening up phrases, sharpening the diction -- to create a simpler, faster, more powerful, literary narrative. She was, in every sense of the word, a wordsmith.



"William" had been the name of the first-born son in the William B. Wetherall line of Wetheralls for at least 5 generations, beginning with no later than his paternal great-grandfather William Edwin Wetherall (1834-1914). WBW's first son, breaking tradition, named his son Tsuyoshi Owen Wetherall, no offense to the clan's tutelary gods intended.

William Edwin Wetherall (1834-1914)
William Franklin Wetherall (1858-1929)
William Riley Wetherall (1890-1936)
William Bascom Wetherall (1911-2013)
William Owen Wetherall (b1941)
Tsuyoshi (Owen Wetherall) Sugiyama (b1982)

The name "William" is one of the most common names in Europe, with variations in practically all European languages.

Since the 1970s, "William Wetherall" has also been a Japanese name, written ウェザロール ウィリアム and pronounced "Uezarooru Uiriamu" in that language, in which the family name comes first.



Orene called her husband "Bill" as did most of his friends and neighbors. His mother called him "Willie" in her early writing about him and he recalls her calling him this. He was also called "Billy" in his childhood. He named his first son William but called him Billy -- though sometimes "Willy" or "Billy Boy" and even "Will". Some relatives referred to him as "Big Bill" and now and then a neighbor or friend would call him "Bill Sr." to distinguish him from "Little Bill" or "Bill Jr." -- though their middle names were different. He was "W.B. Wetherall" on the sign over the porch of his Grass Valley home, and "W.B.W." on monogrammed handerchiefs.

Melo Pello, one of William B. Wetherall's best friends, however, liked to call him "Bascom". Melo, the first to speak from the floor at his 100th birthday party in 2011, recalled the day he first met Bill when visiting his Broad Street office during the early years of his Nevada City practice. Studying the framed law license on the wall, Melo was struck by the middle name.

"Bascom. With a name like that, he had to be an honest guy."

William "Bascom" Wetherall was actually born William "Bascum" Wetherall -- not that the spelling would have altered Melo's assessment of his character. "What's in a spelling?" the Bard might ask."

Baldwin headstones
Mr.  and  Mrs.  W.  R.  Wetherall
March the twenty fifth nineteen
hundred and eleven
Ames, Iowa.


How "Bascum" became "Bascom" remains a mystery. Bill might say "A funny thing happened to me on the way to the court house" -- paraphrasing Adlai Stevenson, his favorite politican before Barack Obama. Stevenson was twice on his way to the White House in the 1950s, but unlike Obama, he didn't make it. "William Bascom Wetherall" -- not "Bascum" -- was summoned to the Idaho Supreme Court in 1937 to take the oath for admission to the Idaho Bar.

WBW was unable to explain why the "u" became an "o" -- except to say that that's how he had come to spell it long before he saw documents showing that it was supposed to be "Bascum". By then it no longer mattered. Spelling errors or "variations" are commonly found on public documents simply because someone -- at times a family member, at times a teacher or registrar or clerk or scribe or typist -- makes a mistake. The customary "Bascom" is no less legal than the original "Bascum". Any authority comparing documents showing the particulars of the backgrounds of the "two" William B. Wetheralls, with seemingly different middle names, would see that they were one and the same person.

Bill's birth certificate clearly shows "William Bascum Wetherall". And his parents, on cards printed by his father, a printer by trade, announced his birth as "William Bascum Wetherall".

Baldwin headstones Baldwin headstones in St. Maries, Idaho
N. Bascum and M. Ellen Baldwin (center)
Ida Baldwin Wetherall (left foreground)
(Wetherall Family photo)

"Bascum" namesake

There is little doubt that "Bascum" was WBW's intended middle name.

First name from paternal grandfather

"William" had been the first name of WBW's father William Riley Wetherall (1890-1936), paternal grandfather William Franklin Wetherall (1858-1929), and paternal-paternal great-grandfather William Edwin Wetherall (1834-1914), and he would name his own first son William Owen Wetherall (b1941). This appears to have been the naming tradition in WBW's Wetherall line, though all known Williams in the clan have had different middle names.

Middle name from maternal grandfather

"Bascum" was the middle name, but the preferred social name, of WBW's maternal grandfather, Newton Bascum Baldwin (1862-1919). Similarly, WBW's first son's middle name -- "Owen" -- was the name by which his maternal grandfather, Owen Monroe Hardman (1890-1949), was most commonly known.

Baldwin family tombstones

The large "Baldwin" tombstone standing in the center of the Baldwin family plot Woodlawn Cemetery in Saint Maries, Idaho, shows "N. Bascum Baldwin / Dec. 24, 1862 / Mar. 22, 1919" above "M. Ellen Baldwin / 1863-1943". The names are those of WBW's maternal grandparents, Newton Bascum Baldwin and Martha Ellen (Steele) Baldwin. They, like Orene, perferred their middle names.

The headstone in the left foreground reads "Ida Baldwin / Wetherall / 1890-1823" -- WBW's mother, who died in Orofino, Idaho.


Variations of "Bascom" and "Bascum" include Bascombe, Bascome, Baskomb, and Boscomb. One enthusiasitc Internet peddler of geneological misinformation identifies the N. B. Baldwin in WEW's family as "Newton Bascomb Baldwin".


"Wether" and "all"

"Wetherall" is not a common name but neither is it especially rare. Like most names, it has many variations owing to differences over the centuries in dialects and literacy. There are numerous variations -- virtually all combinations and permutations of "Wether-" and "Weather-" and "Wither-" with "-al / all" or "-el / -ell" or "-il / -ill". Wetherald, Weatherald, Wetherilt, Wetherett, Wederell, Wedderall, and many others are also part of this fairly diverse group of related surnames.

Wetherall has also been used as a middle name but apparently not as a forename.

Weathering the misspellings

Everyone in the William B. Wetherall family is used to people hearing or remembering the name as "Weatherall" or "Weatheral". It's understandable, and generally forgivable, but not always tolerable. We've had to be vigilant when it comes to how people write our names in official records and newspaper articles.

The front and back pages of the Saturday, 5 December 2009 edition of The Union -- a local paper "Founded in 1864 to Preserve the Union . . . One and Unseparable" -- featured a long profile of Bill Wetherall under the banner -- "Weathering it all / Attorney still practicing law at 98". You might think the writer was just having fun. Yes and no. The name is correctly "Wetherall" in the caption, but "Weatherall" creeps into the body of the article three times, surrounded by "Wetherall" in adjacent paragraphs. You don't know whether to sigh or cry. This writer can testify to the fact that anyone named "William Wetherall" sooner or later gets called "All-weather Willy" -- among other things. You get used to it.


"Wether" in "Wetherall" definitely derives from "wether" -- "a castrated male sheep" most dictionaries say, though "male" seems redundant. A "wether" is thus the commonest of male sheep, deemed unfit for use as a breeding ram -- suitable only for mountain oysters, wool, and mutton, pretty much in this order. Fortunately, humans don't treat other humans this way. Usually. It seems to depend on which humans are regarded as human.

The etymology gets more complicated but interesting.

wether   Old English weðer "ram," from Proto-Germanic *wethruz (cf. Old Saxon wethar, Old Norse veðr, Old High German widar, German Widder, Gothic wiþrus "lamb"), literally "yearling," from PIE root *wet- "year" (cf. Sanskrit vatsah "calf," Greek etalon "yearling," Latin vitulus "calf," literally "yearling"). Male sheep, especially a castrated one. (etymonline.com)


A "bellwether" is a wether, usually with a bell, that leads the flock. Humans also use the word as a metaphor for a leader of a sheeplike crowd. As in "Follow the wether." Or perhaps "Take me to your wether." It's also used as a pronoun for something that suggests a trend or development, a new direction or style. "Nevada City was the bellwether of Mother Lode preservation."

bellwether   mid-14c. (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin; late 12c. as a surname), from bell (n.) + wether; the lead sheep (on whose neck a bell was hung) of a domesticated flock. Figurative sense of "chief, leader" is from mid-14c. (etymonline.com)


"Wether" is combined with other words like "field" as in "Wethersfield", the name of Connecticut's oldest town, founded in 1634. Some colonial records reportedly show the town's name spelled as "Weathersfield", which testifies to the sort of variations that inevitable arise when writing words. "Wethersfield" and "Weathersfield" are also surnames. And "-field" is also "-feld" hence "Wethersfeld" et cetera.

Both "wether" and "-all" have Indo-European roots.

Names beginning with "Wether-" or "Wethe-" or just "Weth-" seem endless. Some short (somewhat overlapping) lists include --

Wethampsted, Wethamsted, Wethamstede, Wethar, Wetharhead, Wethby, Wethear, Wethebroke, Wetheby, Wetheer, Wetheharm, Wethell, Wethemed, Wethenhale, Wether, Wetheral, Wetherald, Wetheralk, Wetherall, Wetherbee, Wetherberg, Wetherbey, Wetherbi, Wetherborne, Wetherbourne, Wetherbrooke, Wetherburn, Wetherburne, Wetherby, Wetherbye, Wethercock, Wethercote, Wetherden, Wetherdon, Wetherdwick, Wethere, Wethered, Wethereffelde, Wetherehl, Wetherel, Wethereld, Wetherell, Wetherelt, Wetheresden, Wetheresenecke, Wetheresfeld, Wetheret, Wetherett, Wetherfield, Wethergrave, Wethergrove, Wetherhagg, Wetherhall, Wetherhard, Wetherhead, Wetherheade, Wetherhed, Wetherhelt, Wetherherd, Wetherherde, Wetherhide, Wetherhill, Wetheril, Wetherill, Wetherilt, Wetheringsete, Wetherington, Wetheris, Wetherisfeld, Wetheritt, Wetherley, Wetherley-mein, Wetherly, Wetherlye, Wetherman, Wethermann, Wethernghey, Wetherop, Wetherow, Wetherrill, Wethers, Wethersby, Wetherseed, Wethersell, Wethersett, Wethersly, Wetherson, Wetherspon, Wetherspone, Wetherspoon, Wetherston, Wetherstone, Wetherton, Wetherwick, Wetherwll, Wetheryd, Wetheryngsete, Wetheryngton, Wetherys, Wethey, Wethfoten, Wethiel, Wethindon, Wethington, Wethir, Wethy


Since the early 1960s this writer (WOW) thought that "-all" reflected "stall" as in "sheepshed". He was under this impression when, in the late 1960s, he coined his Japanese handle -- "Yosha" -- a Sino-Japanese version of the Japanese word "hitsujigoya" meaning "sheepshed". "Yosha" thus became, and remains, his "house name" -- his "shop name" -- the name of his library. He's told hundreds of people its meaning -- and explained that it's merely a translation of his original English family name -- by way of easing their minds that he's not raising sheep in his yard and is not a missionary. Everyone laughs or giggles at the part about castration. It's been a great ice-breaker.

This writer had also conjectured that "-el(l)" and "-il(l)" were either dialect variations of "al(l" for "stall" -- or similar reductions of words like "dell" or "hill". This makes perfect sense in folk etymology -- an understanding of a word's origin based on feelings and hearsay -- great fun but fictitious.

The Oxford English Dictionary and other sources have more interesting things to say about the word. The suffix "-all" -- and other variations, including it turns out "-hal" and "-ald" -- seem to come from "haugh" as in "the haugh where wethers are kept" -- referring to an alluvial flat along a river, a low-lying meadow in a river valley, from Middle English "hawch" and Old English "healh" or "halh" meaning a nook, hollow, recess, or secluded spot.

Headwaters of "Wetherall" name

The geographical origins of "Wetherall" and its varieties are obscure but are said to constitute a "Yorks-Notts group of surnames" (Basil Cottle, The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames, London: Allen Lane, 1978, 2nd edition, 1967). The surnames are in fact not that uncommon in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and older graveyards in these counties appear to have plenty of "Wetherall" headstones.

If the York and Nottingham areas of English are indeed the source of the surname, then it migrated from there to Cumberland, which is northwest of York, and from there further west to the northern parts of Ireland. Wetheralls in North America seem to have migrated from both Ireland and England.

This writer had speculated that "Wetherall" might be a Welsh name. He can no longer remember where he got this notion, but he's certain he didn't make it up. He's not that knowledgable about British history. In hindsight, he admits his ignorance allowed him to lean toward Welsh because it sounded more romantic than English, Scottish, or Irish.

McWetherall? O'Wetherall?
Get outa here! If I've gotta be Celtic, I'd rather be Welsh.
With all respects to my Irish, Scottish, and English friends.

But apparently "Wetherall" is more Anglic than Celtic -- which puts yours truly in the awkward position of being at least partly related to the English imperialists who conquered other kingdoms on the islands before the United Kingdom and Ireland expanded around the world. To add to his everlasting shame, the conquering in the islands and territories beyond seems to have been aided and abetted by not a few Irish and other Wetheralls in uniform defending the Crown from native uprisings.

Yikes! I'm one of th, th, those bloody WASPs!
But why all the fuss about surname identity?
Patrilineal surnames are vestiges of patriarchy.
Thinking a name defines who you are is bad enough.
Defining another person by their name is worse.

Wetheral Priory

Wetheral ("-al" not "all") -- a village in the Cumberland area of England now called Cumbria -- has also been recorded as "Wetherhala" and "Wederhala". Today the village of Wetheral is a suburb of the city of Carlisle. It is best known as the site of the Benedictine Wetheral Priory, founded in 1106 in Cumberland. Only the gatehouse and a length of wall, which appear to be 15th century structures, remain. The gatehouse is designated a National Heritage site and is owned and cared for by English Heritage.

Carlisle city was built on the ruins of a Roman settlement immediately to the south of Hadrian's Wall. The wall was built by Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus (76-138 AD), the emperor of Rome from 117 to 138, to keep Scotish barbarians out of Roman Britain. For a while -- until the 11th century -- Carlisle was part of Scotland. Then William II (c1056-1100), the son of William the Conqueror (c1028-1087), the Norman who invaded England in 1066, drove the Scots north and re-fortified the ruins of Hadrian's Wall to protect the area, and England, against Scotland.

Wetherall migrations in England and Ireland

Some older Wetherall families in North America trace their surnames to Northern Ireland, where Wetheralls had migrated from the area of Wetheral Priory, near Carlisle, during the 17th century English wars involving Ireland. The first migration took place during the English conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) from 1649 to 1653, after which Cromwell granted some land to a Wetherall who had served in his army.

The second migration followed the Battle of the Boyne, fought across the Boyne river on the east coast of Ireland in 1690 between King William III (1650-1702) and King James II (1633-1701). William III, a Protestant, had deposed James II, a Catholic, in 1688, and James II was attempting to regain the English throne. William III won the battle and granted some land to a Wetherall who had served in his army. A number of descendants of this family served in Royal military units all over the world.

Wetheralls in North America

Though the jury is still out -- "Wetherall" does not seem to appear in North America until the 18th century. "Wetherell" appears as a surname of a few English migrants arriving at Plymouth in the early 17th century. Some apparently later settled in New London, Connecticut, where Daniel Wetherell, born in England, became a probate judge. He was a town clerk and commissioner around 1666-1676, and the custom-master for the port of New London until 1700 (Dictionary of National Biography, from notes written by Ullie Hardman, circa 1970s).

Three generations of Wetheralls who traced their families to the William III migration served in the growing empire's North American service in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Sir Frederick Augustus Wetherall (1754-1842), the son of John Wetherall, served in Royal British forces throughout in many parts of the far-flung empire, including the the West Indies and India. His military career began during the Revolutionary War in North America, in which he served in British regiments in the defense of Boston, and in actions at other British outposts. By 1799 he was serving on the staff of the Duke of Kent, who was then the Commander-in-Chief in North America, and in 1803 he raised a regiment in Nova Scotia. Much of his service would be in Canada. He had become a general by the time of his death in Castlehill, in England, the home of the Duke of Kent, who was Queen Victoria's father.

Sir George Augustus Wetherall (1788-1868), Frederick Augustus Wetherall's son, was Educated in England. In 1803 he served as a lieutenant in the Nova Scotia regiment raised by his father. By 1806 he had become a capitan, and by 1809 a brigade-major serving under his father at the Cape of Good Hope. He went on to become an aide-de-camp to the queen, a major-general and lieutenant-general, and by the time of his death, in Sandhurst, England, he had become a general.

Sir Edward Robert Wetherall (d1869), son of Geoerge Augustus Wetherall, joined the army in 1834 as an ensign in his father's regiment, and served in the Canadian rebellion. He served in number of overseas posts, including China in 1857 and India, and like his father, later become an aide-de-camp to the queen. He then served in Ireland, and was an under-secretary in Ireland in 1868 but died in Dublin the following year, shortly after he was promoted to major-general.

All this comes from notes this writer's maternal grandmother -- Ullie (Hunter) Hardman -- compiled in the late 1960s after doing library work on her own ancestral families. Her daughter, my mother, Orene, had married a Wetherall, but Grandma did not take an interest in the name until 1967, when my brother married, at a time when she was trying to reconstruct as much as she could of her own family history.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Grandma wrote the name of my brother's (then) wife on a small blue spiral-bound notebook, and proceeded to fill it with citations and paraphrases of information she found on "Wetherall" and related names, all cribbed from common library reference books, along with her own comments on the meaning of such endeavors.

Grandma Ullie's primary source was Dictionary of National Biography, which can now be perused on the Internet. See in particular 1885-1900, Volume 60 articles attributed to Ernest Marsh Lloyd.

She also culled the Dictionary of American Biography, compiled by the American Council of Learned Societies and published by Charles Scribner's Sons, originally in 20 volumes (1928-1936), and later in 10 volumes each comprising two of the original volumes (1946). The dictionary includes around 15,000 entries, mostly of people who had "made names" for themselves so to speak -- as it was essentially a "who's who" not unlike those that flood the market today.

And she consulted A Dictionary of the Family Surnames of the United Kingdom, endeavoured by Mark Antony Lower (London: John Russell Smith, MDCCCLX). This tome, which is part of the Patronymica Britannica, says of "Wetherell, Wetherall, and Wetherill" that "Almost all the families of this name trace to the county of Durham [] and there is little doubt of their derivation from Wetheral, co. Cumberland, remarkable for its priory." The dictionary also lists Wetherden, Wetherfield, Wetherherd, and Wetherley. (Page 378)

Surname vanity

My grandmother was typical of her generation in that, lacking easy access to vital records, she relied almost entirely on oral and written testimony from relatives, and whatever anecdotal material she could find. When talking about her family history research in conversations I tape recorded in 1973, she lamented how many documents concerning her own family had family members had discarded over the years. She said she was able to gather personal information for only about 3 generations, which she saw as limit of most families. Library work, she pointed out, was good only for general, not personal, information.

Grandma knew that, despite the hype about name fame, it really didn't matter, and she said so in the notebook.

All in all -- here is a very distinguished back-ground for the name you have married, Diana.

Does it really make any difference to you? I don't think so.

I did have more information to go on in searching my own family background but I did not want to slight you -- if possible.

Here are a few clues anyway, and I hope Jerry and you will find them interesting -- just for fun.

* *

The lives you make for yourselves, and how much you appreciate each other, is all that is important, I think.

* *

Ullie went on about "Wetheralls" and "Wetherells" and "Wetherills" here, there, and everywhere -- then returned to her philosophizing about the meaning it all.

The way those first colonies expanded was marvellous and fascinating.

* *

Will you forgive me if I can't run any more indexes at present? Probably someone in the Wetherall family has more specific information.

At least you know you are on the records in a creditable way that is interesting. No one in our family seems to give our own old records too much importance -- at present, anyway.

Your family and Jerrys seem to like each other, so you will make your own history.

It is over a year since I have spent any time at the library, but your suggestion, Diana, proved too much, and I could not pass it. So many human-interest stories in those old books -- but in such fine print! I'd love to spend more time on that kind of reading -- if I could.

William B. Wetherall admired his mother-in-law and credited Orene's energy, compassion, and sense of humor to her inspiration.