Simply a riddle

We all have those ancestors –  you know, the ones who are your continual brick wall.  August and Theresa Yess are my brick walls or I should say, ‘were’ my brick walls.  My 2nd great grandparents were from what is now Germany, but I couldn’t figure out where exactly or when. Every time I’d start down the path to discover their nativity, they would quickly frustrate me. Then I approached this riddle with a late 19th-century mind and I broke through the wall.

My mom had never heard the names of her great-grandparents before.  Her grandfather had died a tragic death overcome by gasses digging a well when her father was 11 months old.  No family stories were passed down from him, obviously.  Mom found this picture of her great-grandparents after her parents’ death in their attic.  It had only their names on the back.

Theresa Hanlach Yess and August Yess

Theresa Hanlach Yess (1824-1910) August Yess (1829-1905)

How do you solve a riddle like this?  We didn’t know any of my grandfather’s cousins very well.  Mom had never thought to ask them the family stories.  So, for over 30 years I simply knew Theresa Hanlach Yess was from Bavaria and August Yess from Prussia.  I had checked census records, city directories, probate records, marriage records, death records, obituaries, illustrated histories of Peoria County, Illinois, and other anecdotal information that was available.  No more clues than Bavaria and Prussia were available.  Yess is a relatively unique last name, much like my married name, Terstriep.  I had searched the United States census records and found some in Milwaukee, WI,. but believed my grandparents had come straight from what would become Germany to the Peoria county.

After feeling I had exhausted nearly every clue I had, I spent a vacation day at the local county clerk’s office hoping to find more information.  No luck.  I finally asked where the local genealogical society was and it was just a few blocks from the courthouse.  One quick lunch later, I went into the library and genealogical area to visit with a lady who worked there.  She helped me search several sources for more information: funeral home records, church records, cemetery records, etc.  No luck.

Then I began thinking like a Prussian and Bavarian immigrant from the 1850s.  “Who would care if I died?” I asked myself.  I thought about it and decided to check to see if there were any German-language newspapers in Peoria at the time of their deaths.  There were at least two – one wasn’t published at the time of their death.  The other newspaper, “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, was.  The lady helping me in the library said she didn’t read German and couldn’t be of much help.  I, fortunately, had taken a year of German and could stumble my way through it.  German Fraktur font, which most everything was printed in, is not easy to read.  Over time I had become a little more comfortable deciphering it while volunteering to transcribe old papers for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the National Archives and Records Administration.

She politely helped me load the microfilm and carefully explained how to advance on the film.  She shared what little knowledge she had of the set up of the paper.  As we visited,  I forwarded the microfilm to the day after my 2nd great-grandfather’s death and (I know you’re not going to believe this but, ) as if a light shone on it, I saw his name!


Enlarged copy of August Yess’ obituary in the Täglicher Peoria Demokrat, a German-language newspaper of Peoria, IL.


In the orange higlighted box is the original-sized obituary of August Yess.  You’ll note the German Fraktur makes the name look like “Auguft Deb” rather than August Yess.

I was so excited I couldn’t believe it! Did it tell where he was born and any other information?  I quickly snapped a photo of it, submitted it to the Facebook group I belong where group members translate all languages, and by the time I had made my 1 1/2 hour drive home, I had the answer.

Here is the translation: “August Yeß. 
August Yeß, who died in his flat/house, 203 Fischerstraße, yesterday morning, was born in the area of Stettin, Prussia, and came to America in 1852, where he settled at first in Milwaukee.  1855 he came to this area and earned a lot of wealth through a farm. He has been living in Peoria for 15 years. For a short period of time he was ill and his rapid death was very unexpected for his friends and family. He was appreciated in general and was an admired man. He leaves behind a widow and five children. The burial is on Sunday afternoon half 2 o’clock at the house and the Evangelical Trinity church. May he rest in peace!”

Stettin, Prussia?  A quick Google Map search told me Stettin, Prussia was today Szczecin, Poland!  POLAND!  Szczecin is very near the German border.  I hadn’t even considered this thought.  Today I would be considered part Polish because country’s borders changed so often.

You see, when I thought about it, I considered if  I was a Prussian immigrant, most people in the United States wouldn’t really understand the difference between Stettin, Prussia and Berlin, Germany.   It wouldn’t make much difference to them what town I was born in, it would make a difference whether or not I was an American or a German.  My great-grandfather did become an American before he died, but to his countrymen, they would understand and know the difference.  They would care to know exactly what town he was born in.  Looking for his obituary in the German-language paper opened that door.  Unfortunately,  “Täglicher Peoria Demokrat” was not published when my  2nd great-grandmother died.  What part of Bavaria she was from is still to be solved.

Just Read What You Have!


I’m an avid reader and it seems nearly everyone in my family is.  A set of historical fiction novels I love feature a character who is a historian.  He is a noted professor of History and recognized by his colleagues for groundbreaking research on a specific period of history.  This character is the author of many award-winning books, but for some reason, his family NEVER reads his books!  As I read these novels, I’m constantly saying to myself, “Why don’t you just READ Frank’s book!  It probably tells you the answer.” Recently,  I heard my ancestors saying almost the same thing to me.  “Just read what you have.”

I was putting together another list of documents I needed for different ancestors.  A small voice in my head kept whispering to me, “Just read what you have.”  I should have prefaced this by saying, my ancestors often talk to me.  I’m not always certain which ancestor it is, but I try to listen.  Again, the nagging voice kept saying, “Just read what you have.”

Out came the documents I had gathered decades ago to review.  I was quite certain I remembered everything about them.  They offered no new information,  but I was wrong. I pulled out a document for the marriage of my 3rd great-grandparents who were born in the 1820s in Germany.  I knew they had been married when they reached the shores of the United States.  The 1850, 1860 and 1870 US census showed them with their children.  Why did I have another marriage license for them dated 1887?

Christian Swise marriage certificate_marked

Christian Swise was listed as 64 years old and Mrs.  Louisa Swise was listed as 60 years old.  Why would they have another marriage license in Fulton County, IL ?  Clearly, they were married when they immigrated to the United States.  It listed her as “Mrs. Louisa Swise”, not by her maiden name. What did I have?  What was the meaning of this marriage license?

A quick message to another family genealogist brought the answer and a fascinating story with it!  What I had was the SECOND marriage license of my great-grandparents.  They were married in Germany when they came to the United States, but somewhere along the line and many children later, something happened and they divorced!  What?  Divorced?  My cousin had tracked down the court proceedings from their December 1886 divorce in all its legalese.  After the dissolution of the marriage, Louisa asked for the following items in the divorce decree:

  • one four-leaf table
  • one bureau
  • one feather bed, beadstead (sic) and bedclothes
  • one large brass kettle
  • one sewing machine
  • 1 rag carpet
  • 5 chairs
  • all the dishes bought in and from Nebraska
  • one large chest brought to this country from Germany
  • $50 payment of alimony, AND


That was it!  I could understand the frustration of Louisa’s situation when she DEMANDED the canned blackberries back….all 12 jars!  She had probably collected them, canned them, protected them and looked forward to making a pie with them.  She WANTED THOSE blackberries come Hell or high water!  Something had happened between them and snap, the demand for blackberries was the result!

You’re no doubt saying, “Well, they divorced, but what about the second marriage license?”  It seems to fill in the blanks of the rest of the story.

Article from The Fulton County Ledger, July 28, 1877

….Christian Swise, of Bernadotte, is sixty-five years of age and his wife sixty.  Last December they divorced, but soon got tired of single life; so on Wednesday of this week they were again united according to the laws of God and man.  The venerable couple Swiser than before, in all probability.


“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

I’ve fallen in love with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, “Hamilton”.  Something about it speaks to me as a historian, genealogist, family story collector.  Driving by the city cemetery today, I was listening to one of the final songs in the musical sung by Phillipa Soo who portrays Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton.  She’s singing about Alexander Hamilton’s legacy and how she kept it alive.  When addressing her own life, she sings:

And when my time is up Have I done enough? Will they tell my story?

Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story.

– from “Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast Recording”

Hamilton was a prolific writer and the musical uses the quote, “You really do write like you are running out of time.”  Much of what we know about him is from first-person letters he wrote.  Author Ron Chernow who wrote about Hamilton believes Eliza (Elizabeth) destroyed many of her letters to Hamilton due to personal strife, but she outlived him by 50 years and still was able to tell their story.

I looked at the gravestones in the cemetery and wondered who was telling their stories.  Did their family have diaries, letters, records they were using to tell their stories?  Who…was telling their story?  What wonderful stories are out there?

To me, nothing is as interesting as real life stories.  Irony abounds, love prevails and we are drawn closer to someone we may not ever be able to meet, yet we understand their soul.

We need to write down our legacies, our stories.  I’m very lucky to have so many first person stories of my family.  I have books about the Salmans family of Kansas, the France family of Pennsylvania, the Hulveys, Whites, and Sheets and copies of documents from the Civil War.  Someone was smart enough to write down their stories.


Michael France Pvt. Ohio Mtd. Militia, War of 1812, Oct 6, 1776 – Nov 1, 1867

I have other ancestors where I have only a photo of them, some census information and a note or two about something that happened in their lives.  It’s my job, as a writer and historian, to uncover these stories and find out more about these relatives.

My 2nd great grandfather, August Yess, came to the United States prior to 1855.  I know he lived in Peoria, IL as there are many documents about his life there.  However, I don’t know what the correct spelling of his last name really was.  You see, I actually studied the German language for one year just to try to understand what the correct spelling of “Yess” is.  Over the years people have suggested, “Gess, Goess, Jess” and many others.  In German the “yuh” sound comes from the letter J, not Y.  Somewhere along the line, someone unsure of the German spelling simply wrote what the name sounded like and thus the difficulty in finding him in Prussia.   I’ll find the information someday and I’ll tell more of his story.

I spent a lot of time as a young adult putting together information on the cemetery (Temple Cemetery, Fulton County, IL) where many of my ancestors are buried.  I was so very fortunate to still have my grandmother living at the time and her memory was rock solid.  I would often take census information, pictures, tombstone information to her and ask her what the connection was between people; what was their story.  The answers she gave me were priceless.  She had stories about people in the neighborhood, family connections, and some downright juicy gossip at times.  We marked the names of family members on the back of old photographs so I could later remember who they were.  I wanted to tell their story.

So, on those evenings when you’re tired of reading, watching television or cooking, take paper in hand or laptop on lap and write down your story.  Tell the details of what your life was like as a child.  Did you have chores? What were your siblings like when they were little?  Who was your favorite teacher?

Just tell your story.




On a Dare

Elzie and Vera head shot

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1921

All my grandparents were conservative people.  They grew up in a time when all your neighbors were your family and you tended to know everyone’s business whether you wanted to or not.   Grandpa Elzie’s dad often warned his sons about not visiting the taverns in Bernadotte and when they may have strayed, they found their father waking them earlier and earlier in the morning to go break mustangs brought in from out west.  Better to heed your father’s advice than have to break mustangs!  When visiting town, ‘stay away from the more “colorful” establishments and stick to good company,’ they were advised.

My Chenoweth grandparents lived in Fulton County, near Bernadotte, IL during the early part of their marriage.  Grandpa Elzie Chenoweth was 23 years old when they married in 1921; Grandma Vera France was only 19.  Like most farm families of the time, they worked very hard during the day. Most of the necessities of life were from the farm: milk, eggs, cream, butter.  Flour probably came from the mill at Bernadotte, but sugar for baking and material and thread for clothing came from town, often through barter.  They didn’t go to town daily for items they needed.  Friday or Saturday nights were often set aside for town trading eggs for other necessities and enjoying some entertainment with other family members and friends their age.

Grandma Vera often spoke of “The Lincolns”, friends of theirs from their Fulton County days – Floyd and Mildred Lincoln. Grandma Vera always claimed the Lincolns were directly related to “That Lincoln” meaning the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.  A direct connection is a little difficult to establish though.

Enhanced copy The LincolnsFloyd Lincoln was the second child of Bart and Alice Bollinger Lincoln. He was born 29 December 1899, less than a year after my Grandpa Elzie had been born.  In the 1920 federal census, Floyd is still listed as single, but by the 1930 federal census, Floyd is listed as married to Mildred.

Mildred’s maiden name was Reneau, pronounced “Ree-No”.  She was the daughter of Austin Sherman Reneau and Lucy Miriam Parks.  Mildred was born 3 October 1902 and was nine months younger than my Grandma Vera.

It seemed to me Grandpa and Grandma matched up well with the Lincolns.  They were very similar in background and age and they apparently struck up a fast friendship.

Grandma shared how one  Friday evening she and Mildred  were walking around the town of Table Grove shopping, admiring other women’s clothing, hairstyles, and such when they came upon a woman who had a very unique and new hairstyle.  Recall in the 1920s how Flappers were all the rage and this woman wore her hair in a “flapper-style” bob haircut.

Grandma and Mildred commented on how daring and trendy this new haircut was and how they liked it.  After discussing the hairstyle for some time, both women dared each other to get their haircut in a like fashion before they returned to town the following week.

Grandma Vera took Mildred at her word and during the week cut her long, flowing, brown hair.  According to Grandma, her mother, Belle, was upset and cried over the loss of her daughter’s beautiful brown hair, but Grandma Vera liked the style and couldn’t wait to see Mildred on Friday evening.

Friday came and Grandpa and Grandma gathered the eggs and other items they would barter in town and drove in to visit with the Lincolns.  When they got to town, Grandma discovered Mildred Lincoln had ‘chickened-out’ during the week and didn’t cut her hair.  Grandma couldn’t believe Mildred had done this to her!  To top it all off, someone told Grandma and Mildred the lady who wore the bob haircut was of “ill-repute” and most likely ran the town brothel!

Grandma never forgot this and she often commented on how her mother was so distraught over the loss of her long hair.  I often wondered if her mother wasn’t distraught over the fact her daughter chose to have her haircut like the lady who ran the Cathouse in town!  I was, however, very proud of the fact my grandmother followed through on her agreement and she was willing to make fun of herself by sharing this hilarious story.

52 Ancestors Challenge – 32

The theme this week refers to the number of the current week of the year…32 out of 52.  Difficult to believe more than one-half of the year has passed us by and I feel I still have many stories to share.  This theme was vague and left me to ponder many ideas.

I considered looking up important events that happened during different ancestors’ 32 year of life.  Fortunately makes this an option with their timeline feature.  Most of the female ancestors I looked up had given birth in their 32nd year.  Quite surprising when you consider 32 years old seems older than we usually think about for childbirth these days.

My other thought was to find important events ancestors had lived through in the “32 years” – 1632, 1732, 1832, 1932 and so forth.  Unfortunately, this was much more difficult than I imagined and I’m ready to send Ancestry a suggestion for another feature they can add!

I settled on 32 questions I would like to ask an ancestor.  Specifically, I chose 32 different ancestors and have one question for them to answer.  If somehow from the great beyond they are able to send me the answers, please do so-preferably in a typeset page and signed by you or a letter written in your best penmanship, sealed with your personal seal in red wax.  Asking too much?

Without further ado, here is my list of “32 Questions I Wish To Know The Answers To”

  1. 2nd Great Grandfather – August Yess – Why did you leave Germany and who were your parents?  You’ve always been a difficult nut to crack and I seem to be willing to go to all ends of the earth to solve this one.  I’m learning German language this fall just to find clues!
  2. 2nd Great Grandmother – Permelia Jane Ellis Chenoweth – You had brothers and nephews and cousins who were involved in the Civil War. What kind of impact did it leave on you?
  3. 2nd Great Grandfather – Elias Birdine Chenoweth –  In your business papers, I have found many papers where you lent money to others and deeds where you purchased land.  What was your secret of business?
  4. 2nd Great Grandmother – Mary V. Peroni – You were born in France. Where, who were your parents and where did you meet your husband?  (That’s only one question even though there are several parts if you are keeping score.)
  5. 2nd Great Grandmother – Eleanor Senate Lawrence – What is the importance of your middle name?  I don’t seem to find any other connection to tell me why you have “Senate” as your middle name.
  6. 2nd Great Grandmother – Veronica Bootz (Schmitt) Smith – Was my 2nd great grandfather your second husband?  Some records seem to indicate that might be the case.
  7. 6th Great Grandfather – Hammond Harrison – You were born around 1715 in Yorkshire, England.  What was your occupation and what was your day-to-day life like?
  8. 7th Great Grandfather – John Chenoweth – You were born in St. Martin’s, Cornwall, England. In 1682 at age 23, you had immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland.   How difficult was the journey and why did our family choose Baltimore?
  9. 3rd Great Grandmother – Mariah Sherman – Are you related to General WilliamTecumseh Sherman?
  10. 3rd Great Uncle – Jonathan McBride Brown – You served in the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, but your son in law served for the Confederate Army.  Did you ever meet in battle?
  11. 4th Great Grandfather – Michael France – You were born in 1776 in Virginia.  What did your family share with you of that historic year?
  12. 2nd Great Grandfather – Daniel Medi – You and Mary had eight daughters and everyone of them had the first name of Mary.  (Mary Josephine, Mary Victoria, Mary Margaret, Mary Augusta, etc)  Beside the fact you apparently were a devout Catholic, what were you thinking?
  13. Great Grandfather – Thomas Edward France – You were sent West for your health and you went to the middle of Kansas.  Why did you pick Kansas?
  14. 3rd Great Grandmother – Eliza Jane Hulvey Sheets – During the Civil War, you went west to Illinois and during the trip, you and your children became ill with diptheria.  Who cared for you and when did you find out that four out of five of your children had died?
  15. Great Grandmother – Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake – You lived in Kansas on the prairie as a young woman. What was your life like helping to take care of your siblings in those days?
  16. 3rd Great Grandfather – Christian Swise – You were born in Hanover, Germany, but by age 26 you were in the United States and getting married.  Tell me what brought you here and about the journey.
  17. Great Grandfather – Thomas Edward France – Please tell me the story about you holding my grandmother, Vera, and your sister asking you what “brat” that was?  How did that make you feel?
  18. 2nd Great Grandmother – Teresa Hanlach Yess – You and my great grandfather, Augustus, came to Peoria, IL in the 1850’s and amassed quite an estate.  You outlived him and five of your six children.  How did you hold the estate together and who did you rely on?
  19. 2nd Great Aunt – Amanda Yess –  Documents show you were in a mental hospital in Bartonville.  What challenges were you facing that caused this?
  20. 2nd Great Aunt – Sarah Alice Salmans Abbott – You were the oldest of 10 children of Levi Franklin and Rosa Jane Brown Salmans. Your mother died when you were 22 and you remained at home until age 33 to take care of your siblings.  When you did marry at 33, tell me what your wedding day was like after caring for this large family?
  21. Grandfather John E. Yess – You lost your father before you were a year old.  When you were two, your mother remarried.  What was your relationship like with your step-father?
  22. Great Grandmother – Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine – You lost your father and mother within the same year.  One year later you gave birth to your second child, and within another nine months your husband passed away.  What did you do to survive?
  23. Great Grandmother – Amelia Jane Harrison Smith – You were born in 1868 and lived 83 years.  You came from a large family.  How close did you remain to your siblings throughout your life and what did you do to stay in touch?
  24. 2nd Great Grandfather – Johann B. Schmitt – John Smith – You were born in Bavaria in 1828 and immigrated to the United States.  What were your thoughts when you changed your name from a German version to an English version in 1856?
  25. 3rd Great Grandfather – Solomon Harrison Ellis – You were born in Georgia in 1805.  Why did you move to Illinois even though it appears the rest of your family remained in the South?
  26. 4th Great Grandfather – George Ellis – You were born in Mecklenburg County ,Virginia; by age 11, your family lived in Rowan County, North Carolina. You died in Copiah County, Mississippi. Tell me about the journeys of your life and why you moved so often?
  27. 6th Great Grandmother – Alida Lydia Pruyn Logan– (1707-1788) You lived in New York until you were 40 and then you and Andrew show up in South Carolina.  What was happening in South Carolina in the 1770’s and 1780’s during the Revolutionary War and how did it affect you?
  28. 5th Great Grandfather – (Major) Francis Logan – According to a descendant’s SAR application, you served as a Captain in the camp at Ninety Six, SC during the American Revolution.  What did you witness there and during your 93 years of life?
  29. Grandmother – Jessie Smith Yess  – I was fortunate to have you to ask questions of for much of my life, but what did you enjoy playing when you were a child?  I think you were a tomboy, is that correct?
  30. Grandmother – Vera France Chenoweth – Again, I was able to ask you many questions first hand, but you were very talented at crocheting, tatting, and sewing.  Who taught you these skills?
  31. Grandfather – Elzie Chenoweth – You answered many of my questions about family when I was a child, but was your mother a good cook and what was your favorite meal for someone to make for you?
  32. To all my ancestors – Did you ever feel you would be forgotten, because you haven’t.

I’ll let you know if I get any letters posted to me with red wax seals on them.


Signed checks by Elzie Chenoweth, Wm. Chenoweth, Elias Chenoweth and Dollie Chenoweth

Signed checks by Elzie Chenoweth, Wm. Chenoweth, Elias Chenoweth and Dollie Chenoweth


Family history books of Salmans, France, Hulvey, and German families of Quincy, IL

Levi Franklin Salmans family

Levi Franklin Salmans family

They made it easy.  Really.  Whether it was asking questions to discover family members or tracing the genealogy of the family, they – my ancestors – made it easy.  They left records, notes, stories.  My Grandma Chenoweth had meticulously handwritten the names of her family on the back of photos.  She kept a diary also.   My Grandma Yess has handwritten the family genealogy. It was important we knew the stories of the family and knew where we came from. She wanted us to know how important it was we were related to the prolific Harrison family of Peoria county.  She wanted us to know even though her maiden name was Smith, it really should have been Schmitt.  Her grandparents had immigrated from Germany.

My parents are the current archivists of many of the family heirlooms.  This includes the old deeds, checks and pictures of the family.  It’s a true joy to rifle through the old family bible with records handwritten in German, read the letters written to my grandparents by a World War II soldier who used to work for them, and to gaze at the faces of family members.  Is it just me or do you see the same faces repeated over and over within a family?

One year for Christmas my parents gave my sister, my two cousins and I each a cancelled check from my grandfather, great grandfather and great grandmother and 2nd great grandfather.   I took those, along with photos of each of those individuals and a couple of the funeral cards from those family members and had them framed.  It’s interesting to see who the checks were written to and to compare the nearly identical signatures on the checks.

Many of the family photos have information typed or written on them much like the Levi Franklin Salmans photo above.  What a tool this is!  I can easily take this photo and compare it to the other loose photos within the box and separate out the different siblings and their children based on this photo.

The family stories are priceless.  Someone took time out of their busy day to reflect on what would be important to the family in the future.  They didn’t sugar coat the story, but told the reality of what life was like and the challenges they faced.  Those  pithy stories are what inspire us to persevere.

I’ve begun collecting recipes handwritten by my Mom, aunt, grandmothers and other family members . Recipes tell a surprising amount of information.  There’s Ethel’s Salad written in my Grandma Yess’ handwriting.  I’m not sure who Ethel was, but apparently Grandma liked her salad.  Other recipe cards refer to Aunt So & So’s German Chocolate Cake, or Cousin So & So’s bread and butter pickles. You can tell which recipes were the favorites by the stains on the card.

It may not seem very important to you today, but imagine how interesting it was for me to read my Grandma Vera Chenoweth’s diary and find out she had her FIRST decorated birthday cake at the age of 52!  I hadn’t ever considered the idea of how unique a decorated cake would  have seemed to her.  It gave me a perspective to think at age 54 how often I had a decorated cake for an occasion.

It was very easy to begin my journey to family genealogy thanks to those ancestors.  I vow to make it easy for my ancestors to find it easy also.  Hopefully this blog can be saved in perpetuity and someday my great great granddaughter can laugh at the picture of me in my high school basketball uniform.  My future grandson or granddaughter can grow to appreciate the stories of their ancestors as much as I have.

WRITE IT DOWN, please!  Write about your daily life. Write about your first experience at school, your first love, your first job, your biggest triumph or disappointment in life.  Share the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak.  The more honest you are when writing, the more people understand what a complex creature you are and a treasure.


E – Elaborate – tell as much as you can

A – Acknowledge – share who was important to you.  First teacher who left an impact, a coach who pushed you, or a friend who stood by your side should be acknowledge.

S – Spell it out!  Write so that the person reading can piece together the relationships of those you are referring to.

Y – YOU – only YOU can leave this legacy. No one else can tell the story like you can.  Write when the notion hits you or do it every day.  Either will work, but just make sure to write and reflect.


This week’s topic is “Challenging” and it is challenging, so to speak.  I have certain ancestors I don’t know much about and haven’t had much luck in the research of them.  I haven’t delved deep enough, so to speak, into their past.  I’m certain there are most likely documents to help me should I be patient enough to take the time to research further.

Mariah Sherman Clanin was my 3rd great grandmother.  She was born in Ohio in 1813 to Thomas R. Sherman (1792-1847) and Lavinia Barr (1791-1817).  I have always been a great lover of history and especially the American Civil War.  Obviously, my mind first went to the fact General William Tecumseh Sherman was born in Ohio in 1820 and I’ve wondered ever since if we weren’t somehow related.  I’m still wondering and searching.  Mariah married Edwad Clanin while living in Ohio and they later moved to Fulton County, Illinois.

William Tecumseh Sherman was born in February of 1820 in Ohio to the Hon. Charles Robert Sherman (1788-1829) and Mary Hoyt (1787-1852).  “Cump” Sherman as he was affectionately known to family members had several siblings: Hon. Charles T. Sherman, Mary Elizabeth Reese, James Sherman, Amelia McComb, Julia Ann Willock, Lampson Parker Sherman, John “The Ohio Icicle” Sherman – U.S. Senator and U. S. Secretary of Treasury & State, Susan Denman Sherman, Hoyt Sherman and Frances Beecher Moulton.

My great grandmother also had many siblings and half-siblings: John C. Sherman, Sarah Sherman, Lavinia Sherman, Margaret N. Sherman, Amanda Sherman, Andrew Sherman, Nancy Sherman, and James Sherman.  None seem to match up with any of “Cump” Sherman’s.

Several of the given names are similar between families, but they also are not that unique to be a factor in connecting the two families.

Edw and Mariah Sherman Clanin

Edw and Mariah Sherman Clanin

Mariah died in 1890, four years prior to Edward’s death.  She was 77 years old at her death.  I believe this photo was probably taken not too long prior to 1890.  She seems to be holding spectacles in her right hand.  Edward is holding some sort of paper.  It is known that he served in the Army during some war with Indians as a family member has a buffalo coat he gained during that war.  Perhaps he had difficulties with his hands due to age.

Mariah is pretty challenging.  I intend to keep working on her to match her up, hopefully, with William Tecumseh Sherman, but if I don’t find a connection, it certainly won’t change my interest in General Sherman.  Who knows…if I got back far enough, I might find the connection!


Standing in the Country Music Hall of Fame last weekend, I thought about how important music has been in my life.  It genuinely brings me joy and changes my attitude.  It doesn’t matter what kind of music I listen to, it all works magic.  I played the saxophone in high school and was pretty good by first chair standards, but Boots Randolph I was not.  I once told my sister if I could have any skill/superpower, it would be to sing beautifully.  Right now my enthusiasm makes up for my lack of ability.  That seems to be the theme of my family.  Let me take you through a magical journey of my family and music.

Elzie Chenoweth's fiddle

Elzie Chenoweth’s fiddle

Elzie Chenoweth

Elzie Chenoweth

This fiddle belonged to my grandfather, Elzie Chenoweth (1897-1986).  It has been hanging on the wall in my Dad and Mom’s house since 1970. It hasn’t been used at all.  No one in the family knows how to play a fiddle, but I remember Grandma Vera saying the Swise family (Grandpa Elzie’s mother was Dollie Swise Chenoweth) was a very musically talented family.  she said everyone in the Swise family could play an instrument.  Charles Henry “Tuck/Tucker” Swise was very good on a fiddle and he often played for neighborhood dances.

"Tuck" Swise Family

“Tuck” Swise Family

Grandpa Elzie had convinced himself he had inherited the genes for music talent also. Somehow he got this fiddle.  I don’t know if he taught himself to play or if someone else helped him, but Dad says he remembers Grandpa “sawing” on the fiddle.  He also remembers Grandpa Elzie wasn’t very good at it.

Grandpa Elzie Chenoweth's jew's harp

Grandpa Elzie Chenoweth’s jew’s harp

Grandpa Elzie did have SOME musical talent!  He often played this jew’s harp.  This instrument is also known as a juice harp or mouth harp.  I recall evenings staying at Grandpa and Grandma’s when he would pull it out to play.  He tried to teach us, but we weren’t very good.

Dad said he tried to play it when he was a youngster.  Even though he had been warned, he got his tongue stuck in the harp and quickly decided it wasn’t for him.    For a fascinating read on the history of this musical instrument, click here.

My Dad never played an instrument.  When we took band lessons he used to say, “I’m pretty good at playing the radio!”.  His mother, my Grandma Vera Chenoweth, played the piano, but I don’t really remember hearing her play.

John Yess (1896-1985)

John Yess (1896-1985)

Grandpa John Yess' violin

Grandpa John Yess’ violin

My mother’s father – my Grandpa John Yess, (1896-1985) owned the violin on the right.  Apparently playing fiddle or violin must have been the thing to do with young men in the late 1910’s and 1920’s since both my grandfathers owned one.  You can see Grandpa John’s violin wasn’t very worn leaving me to believe he used it very sparingly or not at all.  It had a set of lessons to go with the instrument and it’s in the original box from the company he ordered it from.  The violin is marked “Stradivarius”.  Unfortunately upon research we have learned this was a very inexpensive version sold through mail order!

Sharon Yess Chenoweth

Sharon Yess Chenoweth

Mom was a clarinet player in the band at Princeville High School.  She is an avid music lover and encouraged my sister and I to learn to play an instrument.  We both chose saxophone – plus is saved on purchasing more than one instrument!

Both Mom and Dad encouraged us to enjoy all kinds of music and entertainment.  Every summer my parents bought season tickets to the local university’s summer music theatre.  After each performance we’d discuss the characters, our favorite songs and try to recall the lyrics.  To this day I can sing the lyrics to many, many Broadway showtunes!

I admire those who can play an instrument.  I admire even more those who have mastered an instrument(s) including their voice.  I LOVE live music whether it be country, bluegrass, jazz, pop, blues, or just a good ole Sousa march!  Both of our children played in the band for a short time in school as did my cousins children and niece and nephew.

Today, we continue to have a great love for music, but the focus has changed more toward attending concerts.  One of my nieces has created quite a list of entertainers she has already seen in concert.

We may not be musically talented, but we still have a great appreciation for music.


“Which ancestor do you want to take a road trip to go research?”

The question posed by this week’s theme took little time to answer. My husband’s family is 100% German and a good portion of mine is either German or English.  I’ve always wanted to travel to Germany and England and see where my family came from.  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  I have taken the first step.

Map of Germany with tags for families

Map of Germany with tags for families

A very large map of modern Germany (4 1/2 ft x 3 1/2 ft) hangs on the wall in my office. I decided to begin marking where all our family’s ancestors were from.  There is something about seeing on a map the villages your family came from. You relate to it better.  You consider what is near that town: rivers, boundaries, other villages, mountains, plains, forests.  You begin to understand the culture of the place better when you see it on the map.   The picture above shows the home of four of my husband’s ancestral families.  They lived fairly close.  When I began to put into context where they lived, I realized how close they were to Arnhem and Nijmegan – both important World War II battle areas.  Our branch of the family had immigrated to the United States 100 years before World War II, but another branch remained in Germany.

The family lines posted above are the Terstriep family from Ahaus, Germany; Bernard Venvertloh from Eschlohn, Germany; Anna Maria Boeving, his wife, from Südlohn, Germany, and Henry Düisdecker from Munster, Germany.  All are ancestors of my husband and all had family members move to Quincy, Illinois in the mid 1800s.

Ancestral villages in Germany

Ancestral villages in Germany

This photo reflects more of my mother’s family.  The Bootz family is my 2nd great grandmother’s family who lived near Darmstadt and Bingen, Germany.  My father and mother-in-law’s families were from near Hanover, Germany.

I have tried to add to the map as I complete more research.  I can better see patterns of migration and how families interconnected.  I hope to add a map of England also.  My father’s family is from St. Martin, Cornwall, England.  Interestingly enough a recent PBS Masterpiece show, Poldark, is set in Cornwall and I have loved seeing the scenery of this part of England.  Our family actually came to the Colonies in the late 1680’s – preceding the Poldark story by a cool century!

So my wish is to travel to Germany and England and walk the land my ancestors walked.  I want to visit the Catholic church in Ahaus where my husband’s family were married, baptized and buried for over 300 years.  I want to see parts of Yorkshire where my Harrison side of the family came from.  Obviously I have no problem with English.  It’s my native language.  German is quite another thing.  I know only enough German to tell someone I don’t speak German!  To rectify this situation, I take the first step in my road trip by taking a beginning German class this fall.  Who knows. Maybe someday I’ll be able to take that road trip, study my family and speak German well enough to learn something new. It’s a first step on a hopeful road trip.

Happy 5th of July

Today I deter from my usual 52 Ancestors blog to talk about those brave ancestors of ours.  We really should be celebrating the Fifth of July and in this July 4, 2008 post, I’ll tell you why:

Happy 5th of July…that’s right!

I originally wrote this blog in July of 2008 and believe the message even more today.  Let’s thank our veterans for letting us celebrate this wonderful holiday and to our family and friends.   

As our country ponders what we will do to right the ship, we need to remember it is OUR country – we did not give the power to someone else.  Thus WE must be the change we want to see to paraphrase Ghandi.  

Happy 5th of July!

What? Happy 5th of July? Don’t you mean 4th of July? Nope…5th. Here’s my thought process.

On July 4th, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress . Actually on July 2nd, the Congress had already voted to declare independence from Great Britian. It was later published and signed near the beginning of August. 

So, why Happy 5th? 

On the Fourth, we actually made a statement as a country saying, “We’re not gonna take it anymore.” We listed the reasons why, what we believed to be the ideal nation, etc, but on the morning of the 5th, can’t you imagine those of the Continental Congress waking up to wonder, “What did we just do?” They had pledged EVERYTHING they had to see this through! 

It’s a whole lot easier to say, “I’m not gonna take this anymore and I’m changing something”, than it is to actually do it. Once you’ve made that public statement you have to begin to formulate how the action will take place; how you will change what you believe to be substandard. How many of us have said, I’m gonna lose weight, or I’m gonna finish school to wake up this next morning thinking, ahhh…maybe tomorrow. 

Well, these people had no choice. They had made a rather bold statement of independence and now they were known for it. People would be judging them on how they had achieved that goal or fallen short. They would judge them if they individually profited from the situation.

So, I believe it much harder to actually put the statement into action and today was the day of action for our country. We could no longer talk about doing something, we had to move, take action, change the world. And…overall, I believe it worked out very well.

But…I imagine for a little bit on the morning of the 5th of July, 1776 there were some men who wondered What the heck did we do yesterday? And today, July 5th, 2008 there will be more men wondering the same thing, but for different reasons! Happy 5th!