Heirlooms, or as I like to call them, remembering things!

FullSizeRender(4)My family has very few things that one would call an heirloom, which is defined as “a family possession handed down from generation to generation.” Since all lines of my family immigrated three generations ago, they brought very little with them from the old country. All of my lines settled in Wisconsin. My immediate family was one of the few to move away. A few of my cousins have some of these treasures. My mother, as an only child, received the bulk of those things called heirlooms from her parents, Ed and Ella Rachow. Grandpa Ed had almost nothing from his family. His father (and my great grandfather) William came from an unknown part of Germany as a young bachelor and his mother, Minnie worked as a young woman in her father’s tailor shop. I don’t know if some of things we have are from her family. Grandma Ella had many items from her parents, George and Mary (Neuman) Wolf. The Wolfs and the Neumanns immigrated to the US in the 1870s. The Wolfs from Holnstein, Bavaria in Germany and the Neumanns from Berlin, Germany.

Bavaria Place setting  IMG_4415

The family had porcelain china that was made in the mid 1800s in Bavaria. They also had many pieces of crystal including vases, candy dishes and salt cellars. These items have been divided between my sister and me … rather amicably I might add. They are beautiful pieces and a true pleasure to have, look at and use. I always think of my grandma Ella when I use them. They are precious from many perspectives.

 

While I use and enjoy these items, there is one set of things that I feel the most emotionally connected to perhaps because of my own life experiences. The items are a couple photographs, several postcards. two silver spoons, and an envelope with the words “Goldfield Postcards” written upon it in my mother’s handwriting.

Appleton Marble & Granite Works undated

In 1907, my grandfather was working for Appleton Granite & Marble Works. I should mention that his future father-in-law owned the company. They made headstones. Grandpa Ed was sent out West to search for sources of stone. In the course of his travels, he ended up in Goldfield, Nevada. Now, I have spent lots of time in Goldfield; first, as I traveled back and forth to attend college in Reno at the University of Nevada and then, secondly, when I worked for the Nevada Department of Education, I traveled all over the state with my professional responsibilities that included providing support to the school district in Goldfield. Now, perhaps, I should first describe Goldfield.

Goldfield is nestled in the central mountains of Nevada at 5690 feet elevation. At its peak in 1906, it had a population of 20,000 people. Its current population is 268. It has the feel of a ghost town. Few buildings have survived after a fire destroyed much of it in 1923 but several buildings did including the hotel, the school house and a few others. One of those that did is an old saloon with cribs out back. Cribs refer to the very small rooms that the brothel girls lived and worked in. I have eaten at that saloon in the 1990s, although I don’t know if it is still in operation. I might add that the saloon looks and feels like is it over 100 years old. I should also mention that Wyatt Earp came to Goldfield in 1904 with his brother Virgil, got pneumonia and died there six months later. He is buried in the Goldfield pioneer cemetery. I have seen his grave.

IMG_4404 Scan0246 (2) Edwin Rachow in Goldfield, Nevada 12 Apr 1907

So, back to Grandpa Ed. He journeyed there by stage coach from Reno back in 1907 looking for stone that might work for their headstones. I believe his search was not successful. What they were primarily mining back in that first decade of 1900 was gold not granite or stones. While grandpa was there, he did a little shopping (the postcards and the silver spoons) and had his photo taken. They are precious memories to me of a trip taken over a hundred years ago. And when I traveled the same route as grandpa many, many times have felt that I was walking in his footsteps almost a century later. It is a sweet connection. It is a precious memory.

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First Memories

As I write this, in my mid-sixties, I find that my memories of early childhood are fleeting sense memories for the most part. They come at me as an ebb and flow. Sometimes they are visual, sometimes a smell, or sometimes an emotion. I ask my sister if she remembers things as I do and find that her memories are vastly different than mine. I can’t remember hers and she can’t remember mine. So I realize the singularness of our memories and how important they are to record in some fashion. Here are some of my fleeting memories:

Memory #1 located in a wooden bungalow in Chula Vista, California that housed service families during WWII. I was about 3 years old:

The counter seemed to be insurmountable. It was there in front of me. I reached and reached and could not get a handhold to pull myself up. How to solve this dilemma? How to get my body up from the floor to the sweet treat I had seen in the cupboard? I pushed the short ottoman to the edge of the counter and stood upon it. It still did not give me purchase to climb aboard. What can I do? How can I get up there? Ah ha. The kitchen chair can be pushed from the table to the counter. My chubby little hands grabbed the chair rails and pulled. And pulled some more. Gradually, the chair was moving to the edge of the counter. Once it had arrived, now I was determined to stand upon it and reach for those hidden treats I had seen earlier.

My short legs helped me to stand on the chair. I was getting closer. Now, just to hop on the counter. Then reach into the cupboard for the glass jar filled with colored sweetness. I inched the door open and grabbed the glass jar. Ah sweet success. And now, I must figure out how to remove the lid solidly attached to the top and have just managed it when:

“Marsha! Marsha!! NO!!! Put that down right NOW. That is not for you!” As my parents rush to me.

“Those are dog vitamins NOT for little girls.” I am pulled close and let down to the floor. I can see the worry and fear in my parents’ faces. Has she eaten one or more? Will they hurt her? What should we do?

Roz with Marsha and PamRosalyn with Marsha and Pam outside their first home in Chula Vista, California

Memory #2 located somewhere in mid-America. Driving from Wisconsin to California. I was 2.

The sun is blinding me as I stand on the front bench seat of the station wagon. My little body is pressed against my father as he drives. I have visual memories of places I had never seen before. Desert, mountains and cacti. It has been days of driving. I reach my fingers out and grab my dad’s sunglasses. I do not remember the crash. Although, I have been told about it many times. I think the damage was minor. I don’t believe it hampered our travels at all. We continued on.

Memory #3 arriving by train into Appleton, Wisconsin .. perhaps around 5 years old.

The train ride was all about movement. Side to side. Clickity clack. The air stale. The bathrooms strong smelling. The black men who worked there were foreign but always very kind and gentle to me. The train stopped. My mother frantically collecting our things and shepherding my sister and I to the exit. I looked out the wide door and there was a wonderland right there in front of me. Snow covered every surface. The lights aside the wooden building shown golden light upon the whiteness. It was beautiful. It was piercingly cold.

This same trip, while staying at the Krull’s Mink Ranch, mom’s cousin Ruth family-owned business and home, we were able to play In the snow. I had no memories of being in the snow before. Pam and I played with Jimmy and John. We built a tunnel that snaked all over the front yard. It was so very cold. Would the snow collapse upon us? It was so very thrilling.

Marsha and Pamela bundled for snow in WI abt 1957Marsha and Pam thrilled to be playing in the Wisconsin snow at the Krull’s Mink Ranch

Memory #4 playing in the sandbox around 5 years old.

We are playing in a sandbox in a backyard. I’m not sure if it is our backyard are not but I know it is in the neighborhood where we bought a home on Billow Drive. Mom is with her best friend, Ethel Storm. She is very happy. I feel a sense of peace and comfort.

Memory #5 sitting on my father’s lap, early school-age.

Sunday nights were all about family. Everyone was home which was unusual. Dad worked two jobs. During the day he worked for Rohr Aircraft (in Chula Vista) as a jig builder. At night, he was a projectionist at the movie theater in Imperial Beach. Both places very far from our home in the then eastern portion of San Diego. Mom hadn’t started work yet but would soon, at Marstons Department Store. But this night, we are all together. We are getting ready to watch the Ed Sullivan Show. Every Sunday night we watched. It was so safe. It was so fun. We were together. I always was thrilled and happy to be sitting there but also anxious. Because I knew when the show was over, I would have to go to bed.

Rohr article Bill closeupArticle about Bill, the Jig Builder at Rohr

These memories seem so benign … sweet, little thoughts. My life is made up of such moments. It makes me who I am in part. Each of us have this bank of experiences, thoughts and emotions. Precious memories.

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Grandma’s House

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The riot of golden color outside the window captured my young imagination. The color, size, and beauty of a mature maple. This is my most vivid memory of grandma’s house. Everything was so foreign to this California girl beginning with … Continue reading

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Connections

Let me begin with some numbers. Four .. the number of states I have lived in; Eight .. the number of cities I have lived in; Sixteen .. the number of moves I have experienced; and finally, One .. the number of times I have lived near extended family. Did I mention I was 0 to 2 years of age when we lived near my extended family? What do these numbers add up to? A compulsion to connect … a compulsion for intimacy .. a compulsion for family .. a compulsion to find my family. Now that Rick and I live away from even our immediate family, I have searched for those connections.

Initially, it began with my work to find family through my genealogical research. In many cases, I began looking even for the most basic pieces of information: a name, a date of birth, a location where someone lived. Through the wondrous world of data: pieces of papers, vital records, census records, newspaper articles, cemetery records, ship manifests, draft registration forms, newspaper articles, photographs and obituaries, I slowly assembled the puzzle of my larger family. Yes, I found those names and, yes, there are more to find. But, I found my family. I found my Grandpa Bill. I found all of my great and greatx2 grandparents. I found the illusive Edith Erickson and her extended family, mom’s birth family. But, the greatest gift of all has been to make connections with my cousins, to find my family, to get to know them, to spend time with them. It really is all about connections.

There is something glorious about all of the online family tree sites. It could be Ancestry, My Heritage, Find My Past or one of the many others. Utilizing their platforms, you begin your search for records and suddenly, you begin finding others who have your family member in their tree. How can that be? Well, they are related to that person and thus, they are most likely a cousin. (A little digression here, a cousin is a cousin, I don’t care if they are your 2nd cousin 1x removed .. they are still relatives. They are part of my family!) So, you find someone with your grand uncle in their tree, well that necessitates an immediate message and thus, a friendship and connection begins! I have learned much from these cousins about my family, seen photographs I never would have known about, and heard wonderful stories, sometimes sad, sometimes silly, but always meaningful to me!
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This voyage has also created opportunities for a closeness to more immediate family, those 1st cousins I never was able to spend much time with as a child. Now, we correspond regularly. We have gotten closer. We share information and stories. We are becoming friends and sharing new experiences together. My cousins had pictures of my Grandpa Bill …  it was the first time I had even seen him! Moments that have taken my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. We are building connections we couldn’t have had before because of distance and day to day distractions.

My sister and I always felt my mother’s reality of being adopted very strongly. We wondered who and what were our genetic origins. Where did our people come from? Who are our people? It has been amazing to find answers to these questions. But, the greatest gift is the opportunity to make connections with family we never knew we had! It is very precious to us.065
We are also making connections by bringing family together for annual reunions. This provides a concrete opportunity for all of us to spend time with each other and especially to model for the younger generations that we are a family that is connected and can remain connected into the future. We are so lucky to live in a modern age of technology that makes easy opportunities for daily communication. I liken it to chatting over the picket fence. We have our Facebook group where we can post stories and photos and solidify our connections.

So, yes, it’s all about connections. And I am so very grateful for every single one.

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Holes in Time

When I began this search, there were so many unanswered questions and no one to ask. There were some pictures but many others couldn’t be found. In many instances, even a name was unknown. Both Rick and I came at the tail end of generations. That means everyone that I would have liked to talk with is already gone. I do have some pictures of people that I recognize but who do I ask to name those standing with them? Or where they were? Or what was happening? At the beginning there were three huge holes for me. Three people I didn’t know, had never had the opportunity to hear their full name or seen a photograph of, and certainly, had never had the opportunity to meet. Those three were my father’s father, William, and my husband’s grandfather, Thomas or was it George? And, probably the biggest hole of all, my mother’s birth mother. I knew her name, possibly. I knew that she was probably Scandinavian, thanks to my sister having her DNA analysis through the National Geographic Genome Project. And I had some clues. That is where I started on my journey with a few very precious clues.

I knew that my dad’s father, William, died when my father was away at a basketball game during high school. I knew that his older brother, Ollie, was at the train station to break the tragic news to him. I knew that his death changed my dad’s life in profound ways. That is where I started. Fortunately, I could find William and Anna in the 1910 and 1920 US Censuses. I learned a few new things: grandpa was a boilermaker for the railroad … whatever that is! Then, I struck gold … I found William’s World War I Draft Registration form that he signed with his own hand. His handwriting was similar to my dad’s. His middle name was Nicholas — not Nathaniel as others in the family thought. It confirmed his birth date, 29 Apr 1876 and birth place, Harrison, Calumet County, Wisconsin. These details led to a flood of other information … bit by bit. I found the details and people in his life. Then, I discovered that our cousins had a photograph of him. When I traveled back to Wisconsin to visit and explore and learn more, I saw my first glimpse of William Nicholas Miller. I was immediately flooded with emotion and tears came to my eyes. William looked like my son. He looked like my father. He was handsome. He was young and healthy. He was my grandpa.

We only knew two facts about Rick’s grandpa. He was buried in Hamilton, Ohio and his name was Thomas. Where do I even begin this search? We did know that Rick’s dad had been born in Kentucky so I knew that Thomas lived there at one point. Rick’s mom had written a Pedigree Chart for him and she listed bits and pieces of information that she had found so I was able to add a few more details. One key fact was Rick’s grandma’s name, Ida Ann, Thomas’ wife. Slowly, piece by piece, I once again was able to develop a sense of who Thomas was … discovering that probably his birth name was George Thomas. I guess he liked Thomas better! He was a general farmer (not a tobacco farmer) in Kentucky and worked as a laborer when the family moved to Ohio sometime before 1917 … again, a key piece of the puzzle was answered through his WWI Draft Registration form, by that time, the family lived in Hamilton, Ohio. Then, just this past week, I connected with a “cousin” on Ancestry.com and she had a photograph of Thomas and Ida with their first child, Henrietta. It is so thrilling to be able to put a face to the name and life that I have slowly been discovering.

Now, Edith, was a totally different journey. I had a photograph that my mother was told was her birth mother, I knew her full name, as mom had been told that. And, I had a postcard addressed to my grandmother saying “Oshkosh July 1 –17, Dear Madam, If you want a fine Baby Girl 2 months old come at once to No. 306 Division St. to A.H. Mantz and see it. Come right away and let me know. Dr. F.J. Wilkie.” It has surprised me that even being the second generation of adoption that I would question who I am, where do I come from, what are my people like? So, all of the information was too tantalizing for someone who has learned how to research through genealogy. I realized I could answer those questions using my abilities. I did get a copy of my mother’s adoption records to confirm what my mother had been told and add any salient details. I took all that I knew and I searched. And I found her family. I found that she still had a sister and brother alive. I sent each of them a letter describing my journey and conclusions. The brother ignored my correspondence and never responded. Oh, well. The sister is too ill and frail so her daughter contacted me, open to the possibility that her grandmother is also my birth grandmother. I have also talked with another cousin. She is willing to do a DNA test which hasn’t happened yet but hopefully we will work on that soon. I would like to see photographs of Edith as a woman and grandmother. I know that she lived until she was 97 years old … which is reassuring since my mother died at such a young age. She was from Norway so now I know that I am part Norwegian. I have letters that she wrote to her friend, Alice, the wife of A.H. Mantz listed in the postcard to my grandmother. Just seeing her handwriting and reading her thoughts to a dear friend were very comforting.

So, now I have patched these holes in my family tree. It brings me peace. It brings me joy. It answers questions. It helps me learn more about myself and my husband. Where we are from, what life has been like for those who have gone before. It also opens up new questions and new holes which I will be continuing to fill. It is a journey of love and life.

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The Missing Story

I am fascinated by family stories. I hear and see such rich family histories from friends and fellow genealogists. Some tell about great grandpa who stowed away onboard the ship to America and jumped into the water as the Statue of Liberty was sighted because he was coming in illegally, obviously. Or the day that Grandma saved the hobo on the tracks as the train raced toward him. Or how mom and dad met. The family divided by war. This list of stories are endless. And I haven’t mentioned the photographs. Beautiful photographs, saved in pristine condition, that describe every new car or every new holiday or special event in the family. Photos of the countless reunions with picture after picture of unnamed aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. There were very few stories in my family. I have wondered about this for years and I think I have it figured out.

My parents were both married once before they married each other. On my mother’s side, I knew the fact of it, but all I ever saw in a tangible sense were old photographs where someone had been cut out or ripped out in some cases. I remember as child, wondering, “Who is missing from this picture?” Now on my dad’s side, we had a rather interesting relationship with his first wife, Dorothy. I remember, as a child, that my mother, sister and I went for a summer holiday to visit my dad’s ex-wife and my sisters. As an adult, I realized how unusual that was .. but I always had a feeling of gratitude for it allowed me to be closer to my older sisters. But, I think that because my parents were divorced, there was more of a reticence to talking about their life before. I know that it created a vacuum of photos …. I only saw rare photographs of either parent as young adults. I did hear random stories about their early childhood. Dad was born at home up in his parent’s bedroom. He remembered as he was growing up in Wisconsin, the bitterly cold winters without central heating and he and his brothers would wake to ice on their bedroom window … on the inside of the window! Mom would tell the occasional story about her rather affluent upbringing in the depression years. But, real stories were missing.

There was another obstacle to stories. Our family was the only part of the family to move away. Far away. Cross country away. 2000 plus miles away. All, and I mean all, of our extended family remained in Wisconsin. So, no opportunities to have weekly dinners and card games together. No holidays spent at each other’s homes. No summer picnics together. I didn’t get to hang out with my cousins. Now, I did go back to Wisconsin several times during my youth and those are the very best memories of my childhood. Yes, I did see family. Yes, I did get to go to a few reunions. All of those memories are so very precious to me. And, I do have stories from those visits and you will probably read about some of those as I talk about my journey over time. But, it limited opportunities for family story telling. The family was rarely there together. My dad had to work so was unable to join us. Mom was helping with her aging parents. There just wasn’t that much opportunity to sit and reminisce.

The most profound reason for the lack of stories is my mother’s early death. Roz was only 60 years old when she was taken from us. I was expecting our first child, our beautiful Rachel. My mother did go to a fortune teller before she died and was told that a baby girl was coming (remember, this is before they could determine sex prenatally) and that this baby girl was coming to take her place. Rather amazingly, Rachel was born on my mother’s birthday. My mother was a fabulous grandmother … what a loss for my children. She loved babies. But, I think about all of the stories she might have told us over time. It is a loss that is incomprehensible.

This lack of story perhaps is the catalyst for me to so fully and actively fall into to this genealogical search. I am looking for my family. I am searching for the family stories. I am looking for family to connect to. I am looking to learn about and understand the lives of those who have come before. Every little piece of the puzzle brings tears to my eyes. I am learning about my family. I am falling in love with my family. I am celebrating my family. And certainly, this blog is my way of capturing and sharing those stories. I have found the stories. And I want to share them with you!

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Dale Minter

Dale Minter

A strong, kind and dependable man.

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Why do Genealogy?

Five years ago it never entered my mind to research our family history. I had a mild curiosity about who had gone before but had no one to talk to about it. Since 1996, Rick and I have been the “oldies” in our family circle. No more parents, no aunts and uncles (oh, there is a story here but that will be for another day!), and certainly no grandparents (ah, but is this totally true? This is part of that earlier story that I will tell you all about one day!) Both my grandmothers died in 1966 when the very last thing on my mind was learning about them or their lives — do I regret that? Yes, but I was a teenager then and oh so busy with teenage-dom! But, then I picked up Evelyn’s blue folder and became fascinated by Rick’s grandfather, Dale Minter of all people. He was a teacher as I have been; he served in World War I which was the setting of many historical novels that I have read; his older brother, Andy, died in 1913 of tuberculosis leaving a young family behind, how tragic; and most fascinating of all, Dale was Lucy’s second husband back in the day when divorce was very rare. What happened to that first marriage and husband? I was captured.

I still think though, why do genealogy? What is to be gained from this intensive, sometimes expensive search? What are the reasons to know about your family that no longer are with us? I have come up with a few that are compelling to me.

  • I wanted to find out who I was and where my family came from. This might be part of getting older and just starting to think about what we are going to leave of ourselves for future generations. It struck me that I in reality knew very little about my family, even my very own parents. Yes, I knew them and factual details about their life but there was still much that I wondered about. I wanted details. I wanted pictures. I wanted to know them in a sense of time and place.
  • I love a good challenge. And let me tell you, there are challenges at every turn as you look for kernels of information about your family members. You can’t find records. You don’t know where they lived then. You don’t know your great grandmother’s maiden name. I assure you the list goes on. But what fun the search is to find these facts.
  • I want to leave something tangible for my grandchildren. Like I was back when I was a teenager and just not so much into my grandma who was living with us at the time, I know that in the reasonable future, my grandchildren won’t be rushing to look at the pictures I have, or the stories I have written or the tree that I have researched but! I know that someday, one or more of them will be thrilled to find and read this information. It is my gift to my future family.
  • This is a little secret: as I researched my family, I fell in love with them in new and profound ways. And this even applies to Rick’s family. I so love the stories and the lives that I have discovered on my search. I love each picture I have stumbled upon. I have renewed admiration for the difficult lives that many of them experienced.

If you haven’t started this journey, I encourage you to do so. If you have already started, I would love if you shared it with me! It truly is a wonderful trip!

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And so it begins ….

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This is the photograph that started it all. The confirmation photo for my father from 1925. I grew up looking at this photo and of course, compared it to my own photo that was taken 40 years later. I was fascinated by the clothing, the hairdos, just the oldness of it. The photo includes my dad, Willis (top row, 2nd from left), his cousins, Howard (top row, 3rd from right) and George (bottom row, left). It astounded me that my father was once young. But, now I look at it very different eyes. Now, I see my son’s eyes and ears. I see life long friendships of cousins. I see a photograph that still hangs in the church in which it was taken. I see Pastor Worthman that my dad described as “a very big but a very gentle man. He taught me a lot.” I see a photograph that inspired me to begin this journey of finding out about our families, about our roots, about the places where they lived, loved and died, about our extended family that includes cousins that I have never met.

A few years ago I picked up a folder that Rick’s mother had given to him before she died. I discovered that she had been working on the Lakes family tree. I loved looking through this collection of mementoes, photographs, family group pages, pictures of headstones, and notes that she had kept. And, I thought, ah, I want to do that. I want to continue looking for our family. I want to find out who they are, how they lived, where they lived. I want to see them. I want to remember them. I want to carry them into the future. I feel incredibly honored to remember and celebrate those who came before us. I hope that you will be interested to join me on this journey. For me, it’s not about time, it’s not about place … It’s About Family!

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