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.