A wise man once wrote, “In order to know where we are going, we must know where we’ve been.” In other words…learn about your past and then, perhaps, you can head in the right direction. These words really ring true, especially since it seems popular these day to rewrite history aka historical revision re: leaving out the Mayflower Compact’s true wording from school books. Or the elimination of stories about George Washington that show a deep leaning on Almighty God through out his entire life. Or the disappearance of Columbus and his voyages from modern history books.
However, in a personal way, knowing where you came from is a reaffirmation in many ways. Taking pride in your family and where they came from can add layers of confidence in the psyche of all of us human beings. Or…it can make you want to hide?! 🙂
That’s where genealogy comes in. It’s a new addiction. Relatively new that is. Let’s see. Where do I start?
I had always placed high value on family, especially the elders of the two sides of my family. Can you believe I had the pleasure of having two great-grandmothers around until I was 22 years old?! How lucky was I?! But did I have the good sense to sit down and ask Grandma what she thought the first time she saw an automobile? Or where she went to school in the 1890’s or what was it like to have 10 children, be widowed and have to figure out how to support her family? Nope. Never entered my mind. Color me regretful.
Sometime after the death of my husband’s grandfather, the genealogy addiction began to kick in. That would’ve been around the age of 45ish. The duty fell to me to go through all of his “stuff”…clean out desks, closets, chests.
Talk about overwhelming!! But I sat, hour after hour, going through desk drawers, deciding what to pitch and what to save. I just could NOT dump the drawers’ contents into the trash and walk away!
I was vaguely aware of some of Big Boss’s family history: A great-great-grandfather who came to Kansas in 1878 after serving in the Civil War; his son who was a preacher, teacher and newspaper writer; his grandson who learned to hitch up horses at the age of 5 so his dad could go preach/teach and who farmed until he was well into his ’80s; a father who was offered full basketball scholarships to several colleges but chose to farm and marry his high school sweetheart. That kind of history, I was aware of.
A distant cousin had researched the family well so it never occurred to me that I could play a part in furthering the quest for more family history. It was a done deal as far as I knew.
Then the cousin passed away. And Big Boss’s grandfather, Gramp’s died. And there I sat with piles of papers and photographs and deeds and ledgers. A bit overwhelming, to say the least.
And then…I got to the letter drawer. It seems Gramps, Charles Chester Silas, kept every letter ANYONE had written to him. And there were letters written to his dad, Charles Henry and for that matter, letters from and to Charles Chester Silas’s grandfather, Charles Chester. But one from Gramp’s great-grandmother. Let me repeat that…his GREAT-GRANDMOTHER. Which would make that a letter from Big Boss’s great-great-great grandmother. Wow.
What’s so special about that, you might wonder? Well, it was written March 6, 1907. I know that because it was dated by the writer in the upper right hand corner, just like etiquette required in those days. This was the grandmother who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and who had to learn the English language. In her very fluent handwriting with an exceptional grasp of English grammar, Great grandma’s letter to her grandson, Charles Henry, described the grandmother’s days of dealing with old age, widowhood and separation from her grandchildren. She missed them and longed to see them again even though they were 1,500 miles away and the only way to close that gap was a really long train ride. She mentioned how proud she was to know that he (her grandson, Charles Henry) was preaching God’s Word. Her closing line said, “Your poor old grandma will be eighty-six, Aug 3 if she lives.” And she signed off as “Mrs. Christina Gepbhart”.
I literally ran to find my copy of the cousin’s printed family history booklet in the house. I flipped through the pages and sure enough, he had no birthdate for Christina Gepbhart using only an estimated birth year. The last name “Gepbhart” confirmed the cousin’s research. I also realized that there was no death date for Christina Ferber Ruff/Ruoff Gepbhart. That was to be discovered at a later date during a trip to her hometown in Pennsylvania.
And there we had it. A birthdate for Great-grandma Gepbhart and a year, finally. Up until that point, all we knew was her name, where she lived and what country she had migrated from.
I think I yelled, sitting there on the cement garage floor! I was aware of the gaps that no one had filled in her life. And I had one of the answers written on a yellowed piece of paper that had been hidden away for decades! This was exciting stuff, people!!!
I was hooked and it was down-hill from that point. Well, up-hill in my view, but Big Boss was sure I had lost my mind and our sons were contemplating reservations at the closest asylum as their mother sat day in and day out filling out charts and drove to cemeteries 200 miles away to take pictures of headstones.
Yes, I was smitten with the whole “ancestry” thing. Big time.
All thanks to one letter. That could have been thrown away. Very easily. I shudder to think about it.
To be continued…