Category Archives: Genealogy

Easter Reflection

Easter blooom

Easter came and a few members of the family were able to gather with us for dinner. We ate well and talked long. Stories were told, travel adventure photos shown and messages shared from a distance. One from a long distance in time.

Since my Mom moved house in 1998, I have housed an old comforter made by her mother, Amelia.  I really can’t say why I’ve kept the old thing; it served no purpose. I decided to salvage the cover fabric. After dinner, I shared how I started to de-construct the blanket and saw the fine stitching and workmanship that set this utilitarian bed cover apart. This was the careful work of a skilled needlewoman, truly showing the Art of Work that she employed. I needed to share this glimpse of our Grandmother.


My sister rose from the table and returned with a tote bag. She carefully unfolded a packet of tissue paper and unrolled history. Amelia came to the table then —  young, the Amelia we could never know.

 Amelia   My sister and I talked of trousseau and my niece asked – what is that? A truly foreign word to this modern career woman. We examined the fine fabric, the tatted lace, the exquisitely hand stitched French seams and fine hem, the embroidery of this camisole… like a fragile page from a young woman’s diary… hours spent stitching in her hopes and dreams for the future. camisole

And again I felt the ache rising, the missed opportunities , the un-offered opportunities to sit, to learn from this master needlewoman,

                              hidden in plain sight,

                                                     disguised as my grumpy grandmother.

 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

These words from 1 Corinthians 13:12 do not mean window glass, but today, they seem to reflect how we move through this earth, seeing, but not knowing what we see, how none of us is really known by another. I’m changing the stories I make up about Amelia and pray that someday, I will see her face to face and know her as I never did. I’ll know what made her laugh, what touched her heart with delight, which dreams came true, her favorite music…

I know I will like her.

Searching for my voice in 1920

A few weeks ago I saw a notice for an upcoming on-line writer’s workshop. One evening, free, and an interesting topic – sounded easy and fun.

Marilyn Bousquin of Writing Women’s Lives posed thoughtful questions in the workshop, “Writing Our Grandmothers, Discovering Ourselves: Women, Silence & Voice. Before the workshop, she had us sleuthing our female heritage. What country did these women come of age in? What year did that country grant women the right to vote? Since I’ve done some family genealogy, those answers were easy to find.

I had been looking forward to the evening of hearing my voice as I analyzed their lives. I thought I would be exploring my life through Grandmother Anna. But then the second prompt came and I could only think of Grandmother Amelia. I didn’t want to think about her but it seemed important so I wrote my letter to her:

“Dear Grandmother Amelia,

This is Elaine. I didn’t know you well and I didn’t want to either. I was too young to know your story or have any understanding of your pain and loss. Your gruff voice and “children should be seen and not heard” attitude frightened my shy little self and hiding from you became habit. I don’t know that we ever had a real conversation, not even during those months when you lived in our home. I wish we had, I think.

When we cleaned out the garage at the home place, I found letters carefully saved in an old covered dish.  Two letters written by Bro. Albert to you and Grandfather. I was struck by his compliments to you on your writing.letter

I wonder now if his words of affirmation thrilled your heart. When this was written, you did not yet have the right to vote. I can’t find many facts, but based on records found, I suppose that you, like your 14 siblings, had an elementary school education before going off to the mills to work. I found that at 18 you had advanced to the rank of ‘weaver’ at the silk mill. I doubt you had many choices in your life until you married. 


Other things were found in that garage and I’ve come to admire your thirst to increase your home skills and crafts as evidenced by the pamphlets and instruction booklets carefully saved. 

I want you to know that the quilts you made for my siblings touched my heart with
comfort as a child. The long gone yo-yo quilt inspired me to stitch hundreds of
them for a coverlet. 

 yo-yo quilt project

The quilts you saved in your trunk were given to your great-granddaughters. And the unfinished top – for William? – I stitched a plaid floral medallion on it, quilted it, and your daughter used it in her final years. I like to think it brought you close to her. 

shirting quilt

I have lots of questions now. I wonder why you said “no” to the thought of your daughter attending High School. Was it your own insecurity or that need for each child to have the same as the others who went before? You know she chose to have her own voice and went to night school, graduating just shy of her 21st birthday.


Amelia, how I wish you had used your voice, told your stories, written a diary or journal. I would have listened. I would have known you and your family, my family. And me, I think I would have been free to have confidence as a storyteller and writer.”

I was surprised to find myself feeling emotional while writing this letter that night.  We went on through the workshop and the overall experience was very good. And the next day I started another program, Intentional Blogging with Jeff Goins. His webinar on Blogging Personalities had been very encouraging. I had my niche, I was happy. I was excited to sign on to this program, tweak a few things and move along as a blogger.

But things had been set in motion within my soul and I didn’t know it. And I was silenced.

Last Sunday, we drove to the river. One of the same roads led to my Uncle and Grandmother’s home. When it came time to turn off for the park, I was overwhelmed with such a longing as I cannot explain – oh, for one more chance to walk into her kitchen, one more chance to look and really see her. Amelia.  I wonder if she was a story teller, I wonder about her style of writing, I wonder if she wrote to her many siblings. I have only wonders and complex emotions churning. There is a power in writing I don’t always like.

Grandmother Amelia, gone from my life for 48 years and yet, not gone at all; I still don’t think I like you.


Secrets held close

Memorial Day, 2014

I’m thinking of my Uncle John today and all my now questions unasked and his stories never told.

     Uncle John      John

I remember my mother saying that he had been part of the troops of the Normandy Invasion and fought on through the end of the war. I really had no idea then what that even meant. I regret that I never took the time to ask, listen and understand his part in the events that shaped our world. I regret that I never thought to thank him and appreciate his heart of courage.

But what I do remember and so appreciate was his great smile that showed forth his joy of being with us. Maybe that is all that really matters now.


April love

I’ve been opening the genealogy files again and stirring memories. Holidays and holydays always stir them as well. I think my first awareness of extended family came at my Grandparents anniversary party. I was one of the youngest of their twelve grandchildren.Anniversary party Anna was six years older that her beloved August. There is a story that her family wanted her to marry his older brother, but she preferred to wait on August. Such a good choice! They had 60 years together.

In the good old summertime…

Summer holidays always take me back to the river shore places… sisters and brother and cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents…fishing, crabbing, floating, sunbathing, picnics, grilling, ice cream treats… Today I thought I would share some photos from the past before mine, in the good old summertime!

Photo_2004_9_27_21_39_51_editedGetting out into the countryside…I can see the water in the background…well dressed for the day’s outing! And yes, those do look like mugs of beer!

Aunt Annie Petersam SimonI love this photo of Great Aunt Annie. I never knew her but everyone spoke so highly of her kindly disposition, I’m sure I would have liked her very much. I particularly enjoy this photo of her in a row boat, so erect and holding her beaded handbag!

1919 - Bowling club outing - Clara Fangmann center ( Mary Olert, "Deceased")Dramatic entertainment circa 1919 – the Ladies Bowling Club Outing.

Grandpop One of my grandfathers had a shore place on the Bird River. Nothing fancy…two bedrooms, living room, outhouse and a separate summer kitchen. Need water? There was a pump. Who needed anything more? Friends and family filled the place every weekend.

Gone fishingAnother favorite of mine – my dad on the left in the only beach attire I remember – fully dressed, including shoes! Going fishing, crabbing? We would push the rowboat up to the pier and he would step down into it and off we would go. Never mind my sister and I had bare feet while he dropped the crabs into the boat bottom. They would scurry into the corners or under the seats while we sat cross legged fearing for our toes!

Watermelon! Cantaloupe! Cherries! Peaches! Plums! Blueberries! Blackberries!

All in the good old summertime! Enjoy your summertime!

Family History on Mother’s Day

My step into genealogy was cautious, but I was drawn in and now I look back over these last years and the binders of photos and documents produced. The many kindnesses of strangers in offering research data and suggestions has amazed and encouraged me. I’ve also been introduced to a number of cousins of various degrees and learned so much along the way. But still, it is like having just the corners of the jigsaw puzzle of family. Those corners are a thrill, but so many pieces still lie scattered about – a photograph, a name, a reference in a letter or newspaper – they draw me farther into the story of family.


Sometimes the most intriguing fragment is a bit of oral history passed along and casually mentioned. I have learned that these bits can be deeply colored by the pain of the teller or what they heard or assumed of situations.

Facts and story blend. In a small pristine prayer book kept carefully in a wooden box, I found a scrap of water stained paper. Initials and dates lead to archives and records and hard facts are added to the record.  The family history tells of a little boy raised in an orphanage. My only “photograph” is a hazy picture emerging in my mind of a distraught young father burying his young wife and then their second child and placing his very young son in the orphanage and while his family of parents and brothers move on to another state, he stays near to watch over this child. But I know the story doesn’t end there.

So I continued sifting through data, coming to dead ends, re-reading letters and clippings, searching records, just muddling along really and then one day a new thought came and I placed a phone call. We followed that with a trip to the cemetery office and while new pieces of the puzzle where scattered on my mind, we did find answers.


There was a certain rightness in finally standing at the grave site of this couple on Mother’s Day.  Proverbs 31 speaks of the woman whose children rise and call her blessed. Standing there I smiled into the past and blessed Mary Ann. Dear Mary Ann, Our present was worth your short life. We honor you.

The detour

The last time we went to the park, I asked for a detour on the way home. It would not take long to visit the past, I thought. So we drove down a country road where nothing looked familiar but the railroad tracks that ran alongside. The end of the road and a sharp turn left and instead of waterside cottages of the past, modern three story floodplain compliant homes confused us as we drove slowly down streets with only familiar names. Finally we saw it.


The tiny house with the separate summer kitchen shadowed by trees I hardly remember.

I remember countless hours splashing about in the river on summer days, long bamboo fishing poles, crabbing from a boat, blankets spread for reading in shade, chatting with cousins and aunts and uncles and the smoke of grilling burgers and hotdogs. There was freedom to run into the cool of the summer kitchen in wet bathing suits dripping on the concrete floor. Adults chatted late in the night while we chased fireflies and then dragged reluctant feet for the long ride home.

We grew up and brought our own young ones to play and enjoy the river. I could see and hear it all in the few minutes I leaned over the fence and breathed the air and captured this scene. The power of memory!


Like my Grandfather, we can hope to build a space in time for future generations to dream and create memories of laughter and family. It doesn’t have to be a cottage on a river; so many more memories came from simple city rowhouses and suburban back yards and porches. The important thing is to make time and space for those we love, isn’t it?

Table Talk

I’m hanging away the freshly laundered, pressed “for best” tablecloth. I hadn’t planned to use it, but I’m glad that I did.

I had set out the Grandparents’ anniversary china with all its golden fancy. I love it for the stories that came with it and as the years have gone by, I’ve used it for many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners enjoying the warmth and sparkle it brings to the table. The dishes make me smile. In spite of the elegance of gold, each piece is a little out of kilter and some are a bit flawed. In a way, they seem like family, all golden lovely but a bit flawed in the matching.

With the china came an exquisite hand embroidered table cloth – too special to use. This year when I went to the closet, I wondered why I was saving it. The size is perfect for the table and as I spread it carefully, I thought of the woman who invested countless hours creating such beauty in the later years of her life and I thought of her daughter-in-law who fearlessly gave tribute to occasions and her guests by using “the best” and most beautiful linens.


When we gathered round the table, the cloth was admired and I told a little of its story and mentioned that I wasn’t saving it anymore. In the quiet, my brother-in-law fingered the stitches gently with his work worn hands and thanked me for using it. I saw other fingers trace the stitched and as I looked at each face, I knew I had, in fact, saved it for the best. And, in a strange way it seemed as if the aged cloth imparted a kind of grace and dignity to the evening, a tribute to Thanksgiving and our guests.

I’m wondering what other things might be tucked in drawer or box or heart being saved “for best”. Best is now.

Family Connections

It all started with boxes of photos and a few bits of information. Then came internet searches. The thrill of finding bits of the puzzle began to seep into me. Cousin Anne and I met on-line and then came the phone call when she asked if I was a family historian or a genealogist? Wasn’t it all the same? No. Genealogy requires cold facts, documentation. And while the facts accumulated, the faces and their unknown stories that stare at me from photos or the cold pages of data stored on microfilm continue to draw me to understand and to love them.

There are mysteries and wonders, bravery and pain, joy and sorrow. Unforgettable faces and names for they are me, they are family. I find myself grateful to these who contribute to my life and blood.