52 Ancestors Challenge – Commencement

COMMENCEMENT – the act or instance of commencing; beginning.

Eliza Jane Hulvey (b:5 April 1832  d:25 March 1885) was the 13th and last child born to Philip and Amelia (Walters) Hulvey of Augusta County, Virginia.  She is my 3rd great grandmother and she is wrapped up in beginnings and endings.  She ultimately had to face a commencement any woman who is a mother knows would be the last scenario you could withstand.  Indulge me while I tell her somewhat complicated story.

John Sheets WhiteA marriage license was issued on 24 August 1854 for Eliza Jane Hulvey and John Sheets White.  Eliza and John were both 22 years old at the time.  However, their first child is listed with a birthdate in 1853.  Did they not apply for the actual license till much after the ceremony was performed? That question is yet to be answered.

John Sheets White

Their children were Mary Agnes White (b. 1853), an infant that died at birth in 1855, John Newton Ellisander White (b. 1856), James William White (b. 1857), Pricilla Emma White (b 1858) and Della Margaret White (b. 1860).  Della was my 2nd great grandmother.

According to the book Hulvey Clan Historical Ties by Velma June Good Hulvey, (p. 301) “They left Virginia and lived for a short time in Ohio.”  But family documents show John Sheets White listed as a Prisoner of War on September 27, 1862 after the Battle of Antietam during the US Civil War. The Battle of Antietam was held September 17, 1862.

Oath of Allegiance Eliza Jane Hulvey White

Oath of Allegiance Eliza Jane Hulvey White

However, family records also show Eliza and the five oldest children were in Ohio during this same time period when they contracted diptheria.  Legend has it an Indian woman nursed the family during their awful illness. Unfortunately, the four oldest children — Mary Agnes, John Newton Ellisander, James William and Pricilla Emma — all died from diptheria between the 2nd and 9th of September 1862. Only Della Margaret, the youngest and Eliza, her mother survived.  Eliza went from having a family of five children and a husband, to a woman who was unsure where her husband was during the war and a mother who had lost four children.

Records don’t help to bring this story into focus, though.  We only know that on 25th September of 1863, Eliza and two small children were given an Army pass to travel to Winchester, Virginia.  Della would have been one of the children.  The next child born was Elly Walters White (b. 1861 d. 1865).  If Elly was born in 1861, why was he not with Eliza and the other children when they contracted diptheria?

The next record shows a pass in October of 1863 at Martinsburg, VA for Miss L. White on B & R Railroad good for one day only.  An Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America accompanies the pass she received.  The Oath describes her as “Age: 29, Height: 5 ft. 3, Complexion: dark, Eyes:blue, Hair:brown”.

Not long after this John and Eliza must have been reunited as Robert Franklin White was born in August of 1864. By 1877, five more daughters and one son were born to John and Eliza.  Their family moved to Illinois where they would someday be buried.

The gaps in the records are still to be filled, but we know Eliza ultimately gave birth to 14 children in 23 years.  The first four children died of diptheria.  Della, the youngest at the time, survived to become the oldest of the remaining eight children who reached adulthood.  The end of the Civil War was the beginning of a new life for Eliza and John where their family would set down roots and continue to grow.  The commencement of a new life for her was not without its pain.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Military

Memorial Day is a genealogist’s Christmas, truly.  It’s a time when we honor our ancestors by decorating their graves and also a very important time to recognize our military.  The day was established after the Civil War to honor the dead.  I struggled with this weekly theme.  Both of my uncles (my mom’s brother and my dad’s brother) served in the United States Army. My own dad served in the National Guard, but my grandparents, Elzie and Vera Chenoweth, made a great sacrifice in the name of military also.  They served in a unique way.

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

In 1981 I convinced my Grandma Vera Chenoweth to dictate the story to me of their farm and what happened when a military camp came into the neighborhood.  Fortunately it was printed in a lovely book titled, “Tales of Two Rivers II”, published by the Two Rivers Arts Council and Western Illinois University’s College of Fine Arts Development.  Rather than write my interpretation of the events, I decided to go back to the primary source and let Grandma tell the story.  So I present to you, from my Grandmother Vera Viola France Chenoweth, the following story — “US Was Written on the Cars”

It started in the spring of 1941. We would see strange cars going up and down the road.  Some of our neighbors said they saw “US” written on the cars.  This went on all summer and we all passed anything we heard back and forth. The in the fall, we saw men surveying for the roads and the sewers that ran under the roads. But you couldn’t get anything out of those guys.  They wouldn’t tell you anything.  Then one day, Elzie (my grandfather, Elzie Chenoweth — pictured above) went to bale hay at the neighbors, and he told everyone that he’d heard we were going to get a camp because he’d seen them unloading cats.  Well, everybody thought he meant “Cat” tractors, bulldozers, but after they questioned him, he jokingly said it was “tomcats”. 

Next thing, those men came to our house and asked Elzie to walk the farm with them.  They’d asked different questions and every once in a while, they’d scribble something down, but they wouldn’t tell anything either.

By the Spring of 1942, we had rented a Macomb farm, afraid they’d build the camp and we wouldn’t have any place to go.  Then we saw water towers being built between Ipava and Table Grove.We’d get up to milk in the morning, and we’d see the lights over by the water towers where they were working.  Then they started building some long storage sheds, and by September, the government had purchased 8,500 acres of surrounding farmland.  By the 10th of September, before the corn had even matured, they brought in bulldozers and plowed up the fields, corn and all, and were getting it ready for building.

We got a notice on February 1, 1943, that we had to be off our farm by March 1, 1943 — a month from then. We didn’t now where we were going to be.  So we had a sale.  Our sale was on Friday, February 26th. Things sold well.  People came from everywhere, because all the neighbors had to sellout, too.  We had a rubber-tired truck, built for us by Cecil Wright for $65 early in the year, and it sold for $200.  Woven wire fences went for $1 a rod.  We had to get our hay and straw out of the barns, because they were going to tear them down.  On Saturday, the 27th of February, one day after our sale, we had read bad weather, a blizzard.  We had planned to move that day, but didn’t know what to do.  Our boys weren’t old enough to help a lot.  Our oldest son was only twelve.  But Elzie’s brother and Oliver Smith came and helped us move that day to Macomb.  On Sunday, the government workers were in, tearing down our barns and letting the boards fall on our horses and tractor that we didn’t have moved yet.  

While it was going on, lots of newspaper men came in to do stories on the new camp. People in Macomb thought it was great. I was going to improve business for them.  Everyone around us told us to fight it, but we went to Illiopolis, and talked to them and decided it wouldn’t do any good; just one man fighting the government. 

When we were moving, it was every neighbor for himself.  Normally neighbors would hep each other, but all of us were moving.  Some folks closed up farming; some went to farm somewhere else.

On July 4, 1943, they had an open house at Camp Ellis.  They said there were 8,000 soldiers at the camp … on land that used to belong to us and our neighbors.

There are a few notes I need to add to Grandma’s writing. 

  1. First, my Grandpa Elzie was a big joker, so it was not surprising to hear he had tricked the neighbors with his cat joke.
  2. Cities mentioned in this article are all in Illinois . Macomb is in McDonough County.  Table Grove and Ipava are in Fulton County.  Illiopolis is near Springfield, IL.
  3. When Grandma mentions the neighbors, she is really talking about her extended family.  The Chenoweth and France family had lived and owned farm land in this neighborhood since the 1850’s. My father was the 5th generation to live in the house on the farm. The house was torn down when the camp came in.
  4. “Elzie’s brother” refers to Harry Chenoweth.  Oliver Smith was a cousin to Elzie on his mother’s side. Oliver Smith’s wife was Mazie Swise Smith. Grandpa Elzie’s mother was Dolly Swise Chenoweth.  Mazie and Dollie were sisters, however, Oliver was the same age as Grandpa Elzie — Dollie’s son.
  5. My grandparents purchased a farm near Macomb using the good word of the Table Grove, IL bank and the promise of the federal government to later pay them for the land.  In 1968, Grandpa and Grandma retired and moved into the city of Macomb to live — some 25 years after having to leave the original farm.

The most important part of this story was one I lived – it was the example my grandparents gave us.  Grandpa Elzie died at the age of 88; Grandma died at 93.  In all the years I had shared with them (25 with Grandpa and 34 with Grandma), I never once heard them speak with anger or bitterness over having lost the farm to the government.  This was war time — World War II.  Their cousins and neighbors were losing sons.  They would lose their hired man in France several days after D Day.  I distinctly remember Grandma saying they felt it was their duty to help in the war effort by giving up the land. Through their example of patriotism and sacrifice, I consider this the way my grandparents served in the military.  On this Memorial Day Weekend, please remember those who have served our country whether it be in uniform or in support of those in uniform.  God Bless America.

The Patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s Tree.  Thomas Campbell.

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – There’s a Way

Veronica “Faroneka” Sophronia Bootz  – if that really was the correct spelling of her name, was my 2nd great grandmother.  She has always been an enigma.  German-born with a German last name, although again I suspect it is incorrectly spelled on documents in the United States, she insisted my 2nd great grandfather Johann Bernard Schmitt Anglicize his name before she would marry him.  He became John Bernard Smith.  It was 1856 in Peoria County, Illinois when they married.

Veronika Bootz Smith

Veronika Bootz Smith

She is one of those story puzzles you work on in 3rd grade where several words are missing from sentences and you have to guess what will complete the story.  At this point, I don’t have the missing words to fill in much.  What I do know was she found a way  –  a way to leave Hesse-Darmstedt, Germany with one of her brothers, Peter,  and sister, Elizabeth, to avoid a physically abusive relationship with their father.

Family records are usually homogenized. If the victors of war write the histories, then the most politically-correct Casper Milquetoast individual must be the writer of family stories.  They are usually sugar-coated and boring. “George Edward was born in 1801, the third of five children….”  The truly interesting and rich family histories are those that reveal what life was really like –  REALLY like.

Fortunately some of those stories remain in the form of family letters written to an uncle in Peoria, IL.  For many years they were unreadable to my uni-lingual family.  We understand English and a few smattering of words from high school French and Spanish.  These letters were written in Old German- I don’t recall if it was Low German or High German.  A German professor at the nearby university translated them for my mother back in the late 1970s.  When we read the translation, we were stunned with the revelations disclosed to the uncle by Peter.  He blatantly states he and his sisters desire to come to the United States and live with their uncle as their father regularly beat them.  If you read between the lines it was obvious the uncle in the U.S. was well aware of it, but was much more kind to his nieces and nephews.  So physical abuse by their father – and the desire to see the United States and prosper in the new country led to a pleading letter.  There were a precious few letters between the two men.  Our family is not even sure why we have possession of them, but fortunately we do.

Peter, Elizabeth and Veronika Bootz found their way out of Germany and out of physical oppression at the hand of their father.  They found a way to get to Peoria, Illinois.  Veronika found Johann Bernard Schmitt and married him, soon to become Mrs. John Smith.   How ironic the brutal reality of their family letters wove a complicated tale about family relationships that was anything but simple or homogenized.  Yet, when she married and adopted the American spelling of her husband’s name, she became any other “Mrs. John Smith” in America.

She found a way to slip into the shadows of the new country perhaps to hide her abusive past.  Leaving the old country was not always about finding new found riches or abundant land, sometimes it was about blending in to the background or escaping your terrible past.  Most important was in a time when women had little decisions to make on their own and were often victims of their circumstances, Veronika and Elizabeth along with Peter found a way.

52 Ancestor Challenge – Live Long

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”
Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

The Egyptians put great emphasis on keeping the names of their pharaohs  maintained on their tombs, in halls and records.  They believed their pharaohs were immortal as long as their names remained for everyone to see. Genealogy is not unlike that belief.  In maintaining records and family trees, we believe we can give some measure of immortality to our ancestors.

My parents were children of the late 1930’s; my grandparents were born in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.  I was fortunate enough to personally know all my grandparents.  I was even more lucky to hear the stories they told of their parents and grandparents.  And with that set of memories, I easily move back to the 1830’s – almost 185 years in the past.

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

Elzie Chenoweth and Vera France Chenoweth about 1920

The picture above is of my paternal grandparents, Elzie Chenoweth (1897-1986) and Vera France Chenoweth (1902 – 1995).  Both lived long prosperous lives and saw their great grandchildren born.  With the blessing of videotape, I can still see them and hear them whenever I want. Grandma Vera was a daily diary writer and I still love to pick them up and read what she had recorded each day.  I hear her voice reading it when I see her handwriting.  She lives on through her writing. I hope to do that someday also.

Jessie Smith Yess  (1899-1990)

Jessie Smith Yess
(1899-1990)

John Yess (1896-1985)

John Yess (1896-1985)

These pictures are of my maternal grandparents Jessie Smith Yess and John Yess.  These youthful pictures of them remind me they once were young and just beginning their lives.  My grandmother had been a schoolteacher and quite frequently wrote down quotes or poems she liked.  We still have many letters and poems Grandma Jessie wrote.

Obituary of August Yess (1829-1905)

Obituary of August Yess (1829-1905)

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

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

The obituary at the left is of the man pictured on the right.  August Yess is my 2nd great grandfather and a German immigrant.  He became prosperous after immigrating to the United States and owned a lot of land in Peoria County, Illinois. The picture of August and Theresa Yess, as well as the obituary of August Yess, gives immortality to them also.

Immortality as defined by Websters dictionary, means “unending life”.  Pictures, stories, documents catalogued bring unending life to our ancestors and thus immortality.  It’s vital to honor our friends, relatives and ancestors by recording their names with photos.  We honor them when we repeat their names, when we tell their stories, when we remember them. They live long.

52 Ancestors Challenge – How Do You Spell That?

German is NOT an easy language!  Any language that would take the simple word of paratrooper and turn it into “fallschirmjager” is not an easy language to read or speak!  In 1981, I traded off my Cornish-sounding last name of “Chenoweth” – which means “new house” (Chy noweth) for the German grounded “Terstriep”  Yes, that’s right…TER STR IEP…No, Not EIP, but IEP….Once again, TER ST RI EP.  It’s not an easy name to spell.

Herman Terstriep family prior to Christina Tenk Terstriep's death in 1909.

Herman Terstriep family prior to Christina Tenk Terstriep’s death in 1909.

My husband’s 2nd great grandfather was Herman Terstriep. Herman’s father is listed in baptism records in Germany as either Johann Bernard Terstriep OR Johann Bernard Striepert.  The alternative name shows up in other records dating back into the 1700s.

The family story has always been that “Terstriep” is not actually the correct spelling of the name, but a schoolteacher a few centuries back changed the spelling. Really a schoolteacher? Of all occupations, one would assume the schoolteacher would spell the name correctly.

While I can’t corraborate that story, I can tell you the name has been misspelled and mispronounced by friends, teachers, clergy, neighbors and officials ever since.  “Tur-strip”, “Tier-strip”, “Tur-stripe” and a few other derogatory versions have been cooked up over the years.  Even my smartphone pronounces it differently – “Tur – STREEP”….ugh!

According to author Michael K. Brinkman in the book, “Quincy, Illinois Immigrants from Munsterland Westphalia Germany Volume II “Ter- is used as a prefix for surnames in many towns of western Munsterland.  In Dutch, the word means at, in or to.  Some examples are: Terbrack (at the fallow field), Terliesner (at the Liesner forest area between Gescher and Legden in Munsterland), and Terstegge (at a steep path or foot bridge). Every German immigrant in Quincy (IL) whose name began with the prefix “Ter-” came from western Munsterland.”

Western Germany is where my husband’s family came from.  Dating back well into the 1700s, there has always been a “Terstriep” in the parish records at Sankt Marien Roemisch-Katholische church in Alstaette, Ahaus, Westfalen, Prussia. It appears the spelling error was in vogue for a few years, but the rightful spelling was reinstated some time later.

So, once again, I went looking for clues as to how the name Terstriep came to exist.  If ‘Ter-‘ was to be paired with some other word to denote ‘at, in or to’ what was the other word?  That I’d have to ponder.

In previous blogs, I’ve referred to the fact I often “talk” to my ancestors.  While I don’t actually verbalize out loud to them , I internally talk to them.  I’ve asked them to help me find their gravestones, to tell me their stories and in this case, I’ve asked my husband’s ancestors to help me find the “Striep” in Terstriep.

While checking out what our German cousins were doing on a particular weekend (yes, there are still Terstrieps in Alstaate, Ahaus, Germany), I found one of them was visiting an island in the Netherlands.  Being the snoopy person I am, I looked the island up on the map.  Quaint, small, and honestly I didn’t realize there was this chain of islands off the coast of the Netherlands. They looked beautiful.  In some places, you are only allowed to ride bikes for transportation! Who knew?

As I scanned the map of the Terschelling Island, I found a very, very small town called (you guessed it) Striep. Somewhere in my investigation, I found this means “ditch”.  “Ditch” in Dutch. Literally, the name Terstriep must mean “at, on, or to the ditch”.  The ditch?  That’s it?  Misspelled, mispronounced and misunderstood and it just means “At the ditch”?

In 1867, Herman Terstriep (shown above) and his wife, Christina Tenk Terstriep, immigrated to the United States through New Orleans, LA.  They most likely took a steamship up the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois to join many other German immigrants from nearby Munsterland.  Every Terstriep in the United States, and there isn’t a great deal of us, can be traced back to Herman.

When you think of it, the Mississippi can be a wild and wooly river, but in reality it starts as a small stream…in a ditch…in Minnesota.  A ditch.   It all goes back to the ditch.  “Yes, that’s right T E R -S T R – I E P…we pronounce it Tur-strip.  Yes, I know it sounds funny.  It’s German.”

52 ANCESTORS CHALLENGE – FAVORITE PHOTO

Photography didn’t begin until the late 1820’s or early 1830’s.  A Frenchman by the name of Joseph Nicephore Niepce is generally credited with taking the first photo.  While I have many photos of family members, one of my favorite photos is not of an actual person, but instead of a simple military stone placed in his memory.

  • Michael France was my 4th great grandfather.  Born 6 October, 1776 in Frankin County, Virginia  to John France and Mary “Polly” McTier.   Michael France was born into the American colonies – a country that was in turmoil.
  • The United States of America wasn’t formed yet.
  • Nathan Hale had been executed a mere two weeks prior to Michael France’s birth.
  • George Washington had finally won his first battle victory in the War for Independence at The Battle of Harlem Heights.
  • The Marquis de Lafayette wouldn’t show up on the scene for another six weeks  to assist the fledgling rebels.

Michael’s father, John France, later served in the Virginia Line of the Continental Army from March 1781 until September 1783 during the American Revolution.  John was later awarded a pension of $76 per year beginning in 1818 when John France was 73 years old.  (U. S. Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications from 1899 to 1970 for Michael France)

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

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

Michael France married Rebecca Henry 5 February 1798 in Franklin County, Virginia.  They later  had eight children – four boys (Orville, John, Jesse, Thomas Henry A.) and four girls (Anna, Elizabeth, Susannah and Jennette).  Michael  was mustered into service of the Haines’ Ohio Mounted Militia in 1812, leaving Rebecca with eight small children to care for.

Michael France fought for Haines' Mtd. Militia in Ohio during the War of 1812.

Michael France fought for Haines’ Mtd. Militia in Ohio during the War of 1812.

In 1835, Michael and Rebecca moved to Illinois where they lived until their deaths. Michael died in 1867 at the age of 91 years old.  He had lived through the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and came to Illinois soon after the Black Hawk War. In his lifetime, he’d seen the Mexican War in 1846 to 1848,  the American Civil War and the beginning of the Indian Wars out west.

So what was the significance of the photo of the military stone for Michael France? To me it is a simple reminder of a sacrifice my ancestor made to develop this strong country.  It reminds also that John France served the new nation when Michael was only five years old.  Michael France served his country when six of his eight children were age 10 and younger. It reminds me of how much history passed his eyes during his lifetime.  It reminds me of the sacrifices of many military men during the many battles and wars America has fought.

It reminds me those sacrifices are honored with a simple stone – strong, graceful, unyielding to wind, water and time.  The photo reminds me I come from Patriot blood.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Different

Different, unique, outside the norm – we all have ancestors who can be classified as such.  Daniel and Mary V.(Peroni) Medi fill this category for me.  I don’t know much about them.  They are my only ancestors from France in my heavily English and German family. Little snippets of information dangle teasing me to spend more time finding them.  Little snippets – they were born in France in early 1820s.  Clues – Napoleon had just died; Young and Champollion had just broken the code of the Rosetta Stone. France was still in turmoil over who its true ruler should be.This is the world into which Daniel Medi and Mary Peroni were born.  Why did they immigrate to the United States?  What caused them to leave?  Where were they married?  Did they have siblings?  What was their backstory?

Daniel Medi's Death Certificate

Daniel Medi’s Death Certificate

Mary V. Peroni Medi's Death Certificate

Mary V. Peroni Medi’s Death Certificate

Somewhere along the line they were married and immigrated to the United States. Their first child – Mary Victoria Medi – was born in 1850 in France. Daughter #2 – Mary Margaret Medi followed in 1853 born in New Jersey.  Mary Augusta Medi followed the next year being born in New Jersey. Mary Rosa Medi and Mary Katherine Medi were both born prior to moving to Illinois.  Mary Louisa Medi was the first child born in Illinois. Mary Josephine was born in Jubilee Township, Peoria County, Illinois in 1866 as was the last daughter, Mary Caroline Medi.   Eight daughters – all named Mary XX.  Now that’s different and nearly a genealogist’s nightmare!

Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine

Mary Josephine Medi Yess Hargadine – my great grandmother

These 2nd great grandparents are different in that I can find little about them save a tombstone in Peoria County, Illinois.  They appear in the 1860 and 1880 Census for the State of Illinois, but other than showing their nativity as France, no other clues exist.  Peoria County, Illinois is a heavy German immigrant area.  Did the Medi’s live near the border with Germanic areas?  Medi and Peroni don’t seem to be traditional French names.  They lack the sound of a French ancestry.

All together, they are just different – the odd branch sticking out on the family tree.   One would assume they were Roman Catholic with eight daughters named Mary.  Could there be parish papers for baptism to fill in blank spaces?

I’ll have to leave that mystery for a ….different day.

52 Ancestors Challenge – Close

We often think the bond between parent and child is the closest human connection there is.  By virtue of the relationship, a child cannot share their parents’ entire life.  Years passed before the child came into the relationship.  We’ve all struggled to think of our parents as children and to know what they were like.

The relationship of siblings, in my opinion, has to be the closest human connection there is.  In most cases, siblings share their childhood, their DNA, their awkward teenage years, adulthood and such.  They also share tragedies and life experiences that forge a relationship into the strongest bond possible.

My grandmother, Jessie Eleanor Smith Yess, and her siblings always appeared to have the closest of sibling connections. She had four brothers: Frank Matthew(nicknamed Jake) Smith, Robert Wallace (nicknamed Bing) Smith, Orville Edmund (nicknamed Mike) and Merle George Smith.  Poor Uncle Merle didn’t have a nickname!  She also had an older sister, Blanche Vera Smith.

The children of George and Emma Jane Harrison Smith.

The children of George and Emma Jane Harrison Smith.

Life wasn’t easy for George Edward and Amelia Jane Harrison Smith’s children. Grandma used to share stories about how her alcoholic father would take the egg money from her mother and go to town to drink.  She remembers one time when her dad chased her mom through the house with a pair of scissors trying to stab her.  When the door to a room slammed shut, the scissors ended up in the wood of the door.

My great grandparents.

My great grandparents. Amelia Jane Harrison and George Edward Smith

But, Grandma also said her dad was a very nice person when he wasn’t drunk.  The kids used to stay up and play cards with their dad late into the night sometimes.  He had either asthma or emphysema and couldn’t breathe well. If he was sitting upright in a chair, he was fine, so card games with the kids seemed to pass the time.

The close sibling relationships seemed to help the family get through these tough times on the farm in Peoria county.  The siblings remained close throughout their lives.

A July 2006 Time magazine article entitled “The New Science of Siblings” said,

“…Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us. Our siblings may be the only people we’ll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.  ‘Siblings,’ says family sociologist Katherine Conger of the University of California – Davis, ‘are with us for the whole journey.”

The Smith children were a perfect example of that.  They played cards with each other, told stories about each other, went to church together, family reunions together, spent holidays and weekends together.  They were close despite the challenging childhood they faced.  They were close unto death.  That family bond continues on.

52 Ancestors Challenge: So Far Away

August and Theresa

August and Theresa Yess

“Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  This would have been a fair statement to have been attached to the photo my mom found in Grandma’s things. Mom and her only sibling, her brother Jerry, had the task most children do of cleaning out the family home in preparation for a sale to settle the estate.  There were photos…lots of photos and none filled with very much information, save a few.  “August and Theresa Yess” is what the handwriting said on the back of the yellowed image.

August and Theresa Yess – my 2nd great grandfather and great grandmother had kind smiles, wrinkles from a lifetime of adventures living and mystery behind them.  The first mystery was that name, “Yess“.  The whole family pretty much knew that wasn’t the correct name.  August had immigrated from Germany according to family tales and we’d never met any other “Yess” family in the United States that was related to us that weren’t of direct lineage from August and Teresa.  He’d married Teresa in Peoria county, Illinois in the 1850’s, bug what was THAT name?

Mystery #2: Why did he immigrate from what was to become Germany?  Was it the lure of family or friends who had previously come to Peoria, IL?  Was it some other decision that caused the journey?  Was he perhaps the second son, one who was required a lifetime of military service back in the mid 1800’s?

Mystery #3: Where were they buried?  Somehow we had lost them?  Few clues were in the papers to indicate where their mortal remains were.  Maybe there was more information on the tombstones that would help us to put “clothes on their tombstones” as my Mom puts it.

Mystery #4:  What happened to their daughter, Amanda?  She was fourth out of six children.  In some papers it appears she was married to a mysterious Mr. Bontz.  In other papers, I found her committed to a mental hospital in Bartonville, IL.  What was her story?

These people seemed closer than they really appeared because it has taken many years to unravel the stitches in the fabric of their lives.  Family stories, genealogical study, tramping around in cemeteries, and talking, YES TALKING to my ancestors has helped to bring them closer.

As for Mystery #1, our best guess and study of documents seem to point to August’s last name as being Gess.  It would be an easy error made by some English-speaking form filler.  Couldn’t understand the Bavarian?  Well, it sounded like he was saying Yes and it would be too confusing to spell it “Yes”, so add another S and be done with it.

Mystery #2 was not as easy to solve. Asking fellow researchers and studying more about church documents from the area that would become Germany will eventually solve the why of the immigration. Most likely that lifetime military service caused him to take a ship to the United States.

As to Mystery #3, I had finally narrowed down a very large cemetery in Peoria, IL where August and Teresa were buried.  I stopped by one spring day when I was in town for a meeting….little time to spare in a true search for their tombstones.  I had some help in pointing me in the general direction and as time continued to tick down, I finally said out loud to them, “If you want me to find you, I’m going to need some help.”  Lo and behold, a beam of spring sunshine came down to light a gravestone over near the trees in the ravine.  I chuckled to myself thinking, “Oh sure…yeah, right,…I BET that’s their stone.”  And as I walked over toward it, there was YESS on the canopy of the stone with “August Yess – Born: Jan. 24, 1829 Died: Oct. 6, 1905″ “Theresa his wife, Born: Apr. 23, 1824  Died: Mar. 1, 1910” on it.

All life’s mysteries shouldn’t be easily solved. The journey of our lives is piecing together what happened to our ancestors, sharing their stories, admiring their tenacity and bravery.  Sometimes the people appear much closer to us than they actually are.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge: Love

For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary.  It is all.  It is undying. And it is enough.

Diana Gabaldon

Salmans, Lena Belle Salmans France WestlakeLena Belle Salmans France Westlake 

She would see a lifetime of loving – more than many would experience.  Ten siblings who lived to adulthood; an infant brother who died at birth which led to her own mother’s untimely death within the year.  Two husbands, five children, step children, grandchildren and love and admiration from friends and neighbors filled her life.  Her love was romantic, self-sacrificing, heart-wrenching, late-blooming, but Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake, who was my great grandmother, wasn’t one to talk about her love, for as Diana Gabaldon says, “the speaking in unnecessary”.

She was born on a farm in Ohio in 1870, the third of 11 children.  How difficult for a farmer and his wife to have three daughters as their oldest children back in the late 1800s.  Boys were needed for labor on the farm.  The girls would have to learn to work like men to help with the farming.  They learned not only the physical labors of the farm, but the knowledge of running that farm as well and four boys, including twins, followed the three girls. Grandpa Levi and Grandma Rosa Jane Salmans had their labor.

Salmans, Levi Franklin Family adults

Levi Franklin and Rosa Jane (Brown) Salmans family

No doubt there was an overflowing bin of love on that farm.  Ten children and two parents in a small farmhouse in the late 1800’s led to intimacy not known by today’s modern families.  The yearning love of seeing wide open prairies without the hint of smoke from the neighbor’s chimney called to my 2nd great grandfather to keep moving his family west – eventually to the middle of Kansas.  The death of the eleventh sibling and her mother caused Lena to take jobs doing laundry and baking bread to help make ends meet.  It would also lead to her next love, my great grandfather, Thomas Edward France.

France, Thomas Edward

Thomas Edward France

Ed bought bread and brought wash for Lena to do since his bachelor skills were found wanting.  Love bloomed and two daughters and a son were born before fate took them back to Ed’s home farm in Illinois.  Ed’s mother had died and his father asked Ed and Lena to stay on and run the Illinois farm for him.  Lena’s love for Ed must have given her the strength to leave her close-knit family in Kansas and move back to Illinois.

Two more daughters followed in Illinois and the daily living of a marriage  kept the family going.  The death of her only son, Lee at age 14, wrenched her heart and she put her love into the remaining children she had left.

Lee France

Lee France

In four short years Ed would be gone to pneumonia, leaving Lena with the girls to run the farm.  A widower down the road, Milt Westlake, worked the farm with Lena. Her strong will, savvy farm business mind she had learned from her father and love helped her persevere through the troubled times.

Westlake, Milt & Lena Belle Salmans France

Milton A. and Lena Belle Salmans France Westlake 

Six years later, Milt and Lena married.  She had once again found love at age 46.  They ran the farm together.  She and Milt were able to make a few trips back to Kansas to see her family and nieces and nephews.  The love of her family never left her.   She and Milt would be married 32 years before his death.

Many years after having baked bread in Kansas, she was still known for her baking. Her grandchildren loved her cookies.  Grandma Westlake’s cookies were prized above all sweets. They loved her upstairs bathtub too!  Running hot water in the upstairs bathroom led to baths at Grandma’s house on Saturday nights.

Love letters didn’t survive her.  Most likely the love was hidden in the day-to-day details of life on the farm and family doings.  Admiration of her family, love of her grandchildren, love of the children and husband she had lost likely never left her, but love persevered and shown through.  It was undying and it was enough.