Asking the Right Questions on a Cemetery Visit

Yes, it is the time of the year to visit cemeteries. Recently while researching in the Chicago area I decided to check out Mt. Carmel Cemetery located in Hillside, Cook, Illinois. Purportedly, my husband’s second great grandparents, John and Mary “Mollie” O’Brien Cook were interred there. No one had made a Findagrave memorial for them so I stopped at the office first to ask for the location of the graves. I was the first one there when the office opened so they weren’t busy. The clerk could not readily find them. I had their birth and death info and various spellings (Cook and Cooke) but she insisted there were too many Mary’s and didn’t find John by his death date. Then it hit me! John had originally been interred in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston when he died in 1894. Some of his children had him moved to Mt. Carmel in 1918. The clerk found him with that burial date that had been entered as his death date. The clerk said she found no one on the record besides John which I found odd as I would have thought his wife, Mary, was buried by him.

I was given the printout you see above. Interesting that there was a QR Code to use to find the stone. Except, it wasn’t. The QR supposedly took you to the cemetery section. I got confused following it on my phone as it wanted to take me out of the cemetery. This turned out to be correct as the cemetery is so large that it continues across a main street. I had entered a different way and did not see that initially.

After 10 minutes and discovering that GPS wanted me to drive across grave stones, I found an alternate route and arrived at the correct section. It was a large section and I wasn’t sure of the alignment because I couldn’t be sure I was facing south. I thought I was and decided to use the compass of my car to double check.

I started at the first row and went up and down and moved on to the next, and so on until I was midway through the section. Something wasn’t right. The Cook family was Scotts Irish. John had been born Protestant in Scotland before emigrating to the US. Mary was born Roman Catholic in Ireland. They met in New York City, eloped in New Jersey and took the train west to Chicago.

My father-in-law loved to say that all of his side were raised Protestant. Except, after his death, I discovered they weren’t.

Molly, according to one of my husband’s aunts, made a deal with her husband John. All boys would be raised Protestant and the girls, Roman Catholic. What no one in the family had discovered (but me!) was that Molly had gotten the boys baptized Roman Catholic, too.

What a gal! Takes a special kind of woman to do that back in the 1850s.

Part of what I was trying to discover in Chicago was which church John belonged to. I wanted to see if they had membership records that included the boys as the family tale states. Haven’t found that yet.

I know the church where Molly had her children baptized, Old St. Mary’s. Her sole daughter, Mary Ellen, married James Hanlon at Old St. Pat’s Church on 26 May 1880. But I digress! Remember the Hanlon name because I’m going back to the cemetery story.

I quickly realized that 95% of the section I was looking at contained Italian names. This could not be right. There was no stone for the Cooks anywhere. The grass hadn’t been cut and I was getting dehydrated and exhausted from bending over flat stones trying to remove dead grass to read the names.

After an hour of this I returned to the office. Quite an interesting experience when I returned. The clerk who had helped me was waiting on someone who was screaming at her that the customer’s mother had been buried in the wrong lot. This conversation was not going well.

Meanwhile, another clerk was helping an older woman and what was likely her daughter understand the cemetery rules. I had other places to go that day so I was impatient but it was nice and cool in the office so I chose to wait.

Eventually, I was called by the second clerk. I showed the paperwork and explained I had walked the section for an hour, knew I was oriented correctly but could not find the grave stone. I explained I had left at 4:45 AM to get to this cemetery, traveling for over 4 hours and I really needed help in locating the graves. I also mentioned that the first clerk insisted that there were too many Mary Cook’s and she couldn’t find the one I needed who had died in 1901.

I’m not sure what magic the second clerk used but he readily told me that Mary was indeed buried next to John, along with several members of the Hanlon family. This explains why John’s body was moved from Calvary. Mary Ellen Cook Hanlon must have wanted her parents buried with her and her husband so John the Protestant, long dead, had no way to object to being moved to a Roman Catholic Cemetery. I’d love to know if Molly ever confessed to him that she had baptized their sons. Something I’ll likely never discover.

Anyway, it turns out the reason I could not find their tombstones is because they don’t have any. Memo to self:  Next time ASK IF THERE IS A STONE! This would also explain why the memorials were never created on Findagrave. Whoever transcribed this section of the cemetery without records would not have known they were buried there.

Speaking of records, I also mentioned to the second clerk I would like to get the records corrected since the cemetery had John’s death date wrong. He told me there was no way to correct the records. He also informed me I could not see the original burial records as that was not allowed by the Diocese. Wonderful, not! They have wrong records they won’t correct and family members aren’t allowed to see the records. What a policy of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

The second clerk, however, kindly told me who the family was buried next to the Cooks. I was able to find that stone quickly and took a pic of the lot to upload to Findagrave.

Here’s reminders for the future:  Sometimes you have to ask more than one person at the site to get the full story. Always ask if there is a stone. Allow for more time as the unexpected could throw off your schedule.

I notified family that there was no stone as that was news to me. None seemed interested. If I ever win the lottery I will be spending the winnings on purchasing stones and restoring those that are there. Next week, I’ll be writing about my Swedish dilemmas.

Verifying a Family Story in Pullman, Cook, Illinois

After returning from Sweden, I spent four days researching in the Chicagoland area. Both my maternal side and both of my husband’s sides lived in Chicago for a time and the Swedish trip unveiled some new mysteries that made me want to find answers there. Nothing online so boots-on-the-ground was needed. The next few weeks I’ll be writing about my discoveries and the steps I took to get the answers.

Today, I’ve shared the photo above that was taken in Chicago circa 1919. From left to right is an unnamed  neighbor of my family, Great Uncle Joseph Koss, Maternal Grandma Mary Koss, and my mother’s Godmother, known as Kuma. The little girl is my mom. The photo was undated but I know it is from the spring of 1919 for several reasons.

First, my mom is standing on her own. She was born on 14 April 1918 so she is likely about a year old. My grandmother was pregnant in the photo but barely showing; her second child was born in November 1919 in Gary, Lake, Indiana. The family moved shortly after the photo was taken. By the way they are dressed, it is spring – no heavy coats but long sleeves and my mom in a little jacket.

My grandmother had told me it was taken outside of their Pullman apartment building in Chicago. The family story was that both my great grandfather and his son-in-law, who was to become my grandfather, emigrated separately from Dubranec, Croatia with the intent of settling in Pennsylvania where they had heard there was work in the steel mills. When they arrived, however, the mills weren’t hiring so they became employed by the Pullman Company. (This is problem #1 – Pullman didn’t hire in Pennsylvania). They worked on the lines all the way to California and when the job ended, were shipped back to Chicago to work on the canal. (Problem #2-Pullman only hired for working on the cars, not on the lines). It was at that time when my great grandfather sent for his wife, Anna, and two children, Mary and Joseph, to come join him in America. The story goes on to say since he was employed by Pullman he was able to take the train to New York to meet his family and escort them back to Chicago. (Problem #3 – nothing shows that this was a perk of working for Pullman). Well, Gary, actually. He was afraid the big city would intimidate them so he moved them for six months to Glen Park, which eventually became part of Gary so that they could learn English. My grandmother finished 8th grade, the family reunited and lived in Pullman housing in Chicago until they relocated back to Gary because there was work at U.S. Steel in 1919.

I love verifying family stories and I thought this one would be a no brainer. Many of Pullman’s employment records exist at the South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society in Hazel Crest. Newberry Library also has some ledgers and a box full. How hard could this be?

The librarians at South Suburban were absolutely wonderful! I had not completed a form for them that is required for lookups and I did not expect them to drop everything to help me out. There were several John and Joseph Koss’s but none were my relatives. One was Russian, the Austria-Hungarian became employed in 1925 long after my family had moved on, and another was Slovenian. Sigh.

I had shown the photo and that was when I learned that Pullman had once been its own town but over the years, became a part of Chicago. I also learned that Pullman did not hire laborers. Oh, dear, that was what my ancestors were considered. Another fallacy in the story is that Pullman was somehow involved with the canal building – the Illinois Michigan Canal – but that wasn’t the case.

Pullman did need working railroad tracks, however, and it was thought that perhaps my family had been hired by a company to maintain the rail lines. This makes sense as my immigrants would not likely have understood the concept of subcontractors.

These findings redirected my research question from Finding the Pullman Employment Records for Joseph and John Koss to Finding The Names of Company’s Who Maintained Railroad Tracks in the Pullman, Chicago Area between 1912-1919.

Apparently, no one has asked that question to the many archives where I looked – South Suburban, Chicago History Museum, Henry Washington Public Library, Newberry Library, and IRAD. So, this item remains on my to-do list!

I was also  interested in finding the location of the photo as my mother was said to have been born in that apartment house. My grandmother did not trust hospitals; she swore they stole babies. My cousins and I kidded her for years about that only to discover with DNA, that she had been correct. Too many babies had been switched at birth.

For locating the address, I turned to city directories that were not online. There is nothing like physically touching an ancient book that just might provide the answer to your burning question! Luckily, I discovered that there was a listing for Joseph Koss, laborer, who lived at 12311 South State Street in the 1917 edition. Better yet, he was the only Joseph Koss. I had been told that the whole family lived in the same apartment so by not finding John, the narrative was confirmed. In this particular city directory, only one name, typically a male, was listed per address.

Having an address was wonderful as by checking Google Maps and the Cook County Property Appraiser we quickly determined that the apartment building was still in existence and hadn’t changed much in the last 100+ years. I finally have the location of my mother’s birth! The location even ties in with the church, St. Salomea’s, where she was christened. The church wasn’t far and looking up the church history on flickr explained its need to be built in the Pullman area.

Distance from Apartment to Church, Google Earth

More work is needed to find the company that employed my ancestors. Newberry’s ledgers had Koss’ but they weren’t mine.

I have a request in with IRAD for contractors who worked in 1918-1919 on the Illinois Michigan Canal. I’d love to check out their perks, did they provide discounted train tickets? How did my great grandparent get an apartment in Pullman housing if he wasn’t employed with the company? Sometimes one find leads to more questions! Next week, I’ll tell you about what I learned at a cemetery.

A Little Bit of Genealogical Luck

Photo by Lori Samuelson

As the year closes, I’d like to reflect on some luck I had this past year. I was able to find the school enumeration records for my husband’s grandmother by getting a tip after writing a journal article. I hired a genealogist in Croatia who knew someone I could hire as a driver who just happened to have had a Ph.D. in archaeology and just happened to have done her dissertation on the area my ancestors once lived. Another lucky strike was writing to a small library in Ohio to ask if they had a list of Masons from the 1820s and getting a response they did not but they had in their vertical drawer notes from an unknown researcher that provided the source for a lost deed that hadn’t been filed until years after it was made and hadn’t been included in the index.

Those were all wonderful unexpected finds but I think the best luck came when I went cemetery hunting.

The photo above is just one of many that I took this past summer as I traveled across Ohio and Indiana searching for ancestor’s graves, then cleaning and photographing them. The one showing in the right corner is for my husband’s second great grandfather and his second wife, Maria Erickson.

Notice where the car is parked? I had no idea where in the cemetery the stone we were looking for was located. I only had a map for one cemetery, Graceland in Valparaiso, Indiana, but the sections weren’t marked in the cemetery so the map was useless. Somehow, my ancestor GPS was fully on as except for Graceland, hubbie and I found every grave in record time. I just drove in and something told me to STOP!!!! So we did.

Usually cemetery hunting is a spring-summer-early fall activity but two weeks ago one of my adult kids and I went to Chicago. The weather was frightful – sleeting, windy, and bitterly cold. We had wanted to go to the Field Museum but they had closed the parking lot close by, there was no street parking left and I didn’t want to pay for the parking garage down the street so we decided to go to the cemetery.

I realize that is a tad weird to those who aren’t interested in family history but this worked for us. I’ve written about Drusilla Williams DeWolf Thompson before and I’ve shared the also lucky find of the picture below in an attic in Dayton, Ohio where Dru never once set foot:

Dru is the woman with her head on her hand under the tree. Husband Thomas is impersonating Abe Lincoln. Daughter Mary is to his right, that’s my husband’s great grandmother.

You would think this stone on a bleak December day would be easy to find but it wasn’t. We had a map, too. We could see it was close to the cemetery office so we decided to just park there and inquire where to find it. The sweet office clerk donned his jacket and said it wasn’t far and he was right. It was just a few yards from the office. I wouldn’t have discovered it, though, without his help as the limestone is now barely readable. The trees are gone, as is the fence. The stone is off kilter as the base has eroded. It’s missing the top. It’s also filthy:

Photo by Lori Samuelson Dec 2023

You can see that other stones surrounding it are also gone.

The cemetery does not allow families to clean stones so I’ve consulted with a company who will go out next spring and take a look.

I had always wanted to visit these folks as their story fascinates me – arriving in Chicago by wagon in the 1840s, surviving the fire, and watching Chicago grow into a metropolis. If only they had left their memoirs!

As a new year peaks around the corner I can’t wait for more exciting finds. Hope your holidays are delightful and that you continue to follow my fabulous genealogical adventures next year. I’m planning to take another AI course through the National Genealogical Society and two more heritage trips. Lady Luck is who I’m hoping to accompany me. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Creepy October – Music on My Mind

This is the last in my annual genealogy coincidence series. It was July 18, my maternal grandmother’s 123rd birthday. My family and I decided to go to the DeKalb County Fairgrounds to enjoy an evening concert given by the 38th Infantry Division Band from Indianapolis. One of my family members who attended is an Indiana Medical Guard.

I was a tad late in arriving as one of my book clubs happened to have been meeting immediately before the concert. Two of our local book clubs are held off-site from the library; one is at a microbrewery and the other at a vineyard. I typically don’t drink alcohol when I attend but driving through the vineyard to get to the group meeting site, I decided, in honor of my grandmother’s family vineyard that I had visited in Croatia earlier in the year and her birthday, I’d get a chardonnay.

After the book discussion ended I hurried on to the fairgrounds. The National Anthem was playing as I located my family. Hubby had brought me a sub sandwich and I devoured it while the brass quintet and then the big band played. Our outdoor theatre hosts many events throughout the summer and always has snacks to purchase with donations going to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. Hubby wanted popcorn so he left us to get some. He arrived back as the big band began playing Back Home Again In Indiana, a fitting number as our family had relocated back to where our pioneer ancestors had settled in the 1820s and 30s.

The conductor mentioned that the solo performer would be SSG Ewigleben. I almost fell out of my chair! My favorite teacher was my kindergarten teacher, Bethel Ewigleben Mattingly. We remained connected until her death. She sometimes would call me when long distance was still a thing and leave a voice message on my answering machine to call her back. She’d always say she hoped I was being a good girl. My husband kidded me for years about those messages. I somehow knew she wasn’t going to leave many more voice messages in the future and luckily, I saved the last message. It’s still wonderful to hear her voice.

I have no idea if the Staff Sergeant is related to my kindergarten teacher but it did make me tear up to hear a song so appropriate to my family situation soloed by someone with the same unique name as my first and most favorite teacher in Indiana.

But of course, the way my coincidences roll, that wasn’t the end of it. The big band took a break while the concert band could set up. During the intermission, the first song they played was Almost Heaven, West Virginia. My family member who is in the Guard had done residency in Morgantown and our Duers had lived nearby when the area was still called Virginia. Weird!

Music often helps remind us of memorable past events, though on that beautiful summer night as the fireflies twinkled in the cool breeze, my thoughts turned instead to those departed family members, some of whom I never met. Without their choices, I likely wouldn’t have led the life I lead. I’m forever indebted to them and glad that they had once decided to make Indiana their home.

Creepy October – A Website Connection

Courtesy of Adobestock.com

I had just returned from traveling to Croatia in April when I received the email below:

Hello,

My name is [  ]. I am a Family History consultant. For a few years I have been trying to find the parentage of Joseph Emory DeLong 1814, married to Caroline Patterson about 1844 in Portage, Livingston New York. Joseph had a son named John, before Caroline, with Meritheue.

Could I ask, have you heard of any of these names? Joseph was a Blacksmith, as were his sons with Caroline. John died in the civil war. his mother’s name is unusual but I have not found anything.

I came across this website and to a shot in the dark to enquire.

Definitely, this was a shot in the dark and I was initially confused. The email came to my website email address and not through one of my online tree messages. I hadn’t recalled writing about anyone named DeLong on my blog and the subject of the email, “I have a question about someone in Nunda.” was even more intriguing because I knew where Nunda was located, having written a report last year for a client. That wasn’t anywhere on my website, either. I thought maybe the client had given my email to the writer but no, the message said it was from my website.

I went to the website and looked for a blog I had written about the DeLong family. Nada. I had written about the Long family but they were from Indiana. The name nagged at me so I went back to the research report I had done in 2022 for the Nunda location but no DeLongs were there.

Where had I heard that name? I’m good at remembering surnames from years of researching and I knew something about this name but I couldn’t place what it was. I turned to my Ancestry.com personal tree and discovered that I did, indeed, have a DeLong in my tree. I hadn’t researched her, however, as she had married into my husband’s Harbaugh family. Here’s where it gets weird…

Born in Ohio, she relocated with her parents to the small rural Indiana county where I now live, as did her soon-to-be husband who I had extensively researched because he was part of a surname study I had done in the early 2000s. I didn’t recall he had lived in my current county. They married in the courthouse less than 5 minutes from where I live. Gave me the eebie jeebies!

How did this individual take such a wild shot at emailing me about a name that I didn’t have on my blog and I was able to connect the unique surname to someone in my personal family tree that just happened to live in the community I just moved to? The frequency of that surname in the U.S. is 1:13,755. I have no idea why the writer connected to me but her shot in the dark had a great aim.

Creepy October – The Castle Connection

Fountain on bottom middle. Photo by Lori Samuelson

Last week I wrote about the painting that resembled my mom in our first hotel room in Croatia. My grandmother also chose to haunt us on that trip!

We had signed up for a Gate 1 tour that began in Zagreb, Croatia and took us also to Slovenia and Monte Negro. My grandmother had visited Croatia with her singing group in the summer of 1960 and brought back the picture above of a castle. As a child, she told me the story of our family defending a castle but made it clear the castle in the wood cutout picture was not the same one. I had no idea where she bought the picture but a clue in the bottom corner said Bled.

On our third day, we arrived in Bled and sure enough, there was a castle that closely resembled the picture I inherited from my grandmother. We toured it and learned it had been built in 900 AD. We shared a glass of wine with a monk on the top floor, visited the museum with artifacts from over the centuries, and shopped in an adorable beehive-themed room that had a live beehive in the middle.

I remarked to my husband that my grandmother must have also visited this site as in the gift shop were wooden angels that resembled the type of wood used in the castle picture we have. I inquired if they had available larger wooden pictures but they no longer do.

We returned to our hotel, which had the exact same view as the one from the picture I had and I remarked to my husband it was uncanny. The only thing missing from the woodcut was a large fountain that had been in front of the lake that our hotel faced. I mentioned this to a hotel employee who told me the fountain is still there, across the street from the hotel, behind a fence. Hubby and I went on an adventure to find it. Sure enough, obscured by overgrowth, water trickled from this ancient fountain:

Photo by Lori Samuelson

I then learned that our hotel, built in 1980, had replaced a hotel that had been on the same site. Likely, we were staying on the same land that my grandmother had stayed in 1960! Nothing like following in the footsteps of your ancestors, even when they were just on vacation.

And because it’s October – here’s a night picture of the castle:

Creepy October Begins – Mom’s Return!

It’s Creepy October and of course, I’ve had several weird, unexplained happenings as I researched my family this past year. One of the creepiest was on April 13 when my husband and I checked into the Zagreb Croatia Sheraton and were assigned a room with the painting shown on the left. Our flight from Munich had been delayed by over 5 hours and we were exhausted when we finally made it to our hotel room. I had wanted to spend the afternoon researching at the Croatian State Archive but unfortunately, with the flight delay, that wasn’t an option. As I unzipped the suitcases to take a quick shower before we went out to explore Zagreb, my husband said,“Lor, you got to see this.” I looked up and he was pointing at the picture. I immediately noticed the resemblance to my mother. It was her birthday eve, too. It was one of those pictures whose eyes seemed to follow you wherever you went in the room. Although those Halloween pictures creep me out this one didn’t. It was comforting to think of my mom, whose parents were both from the nearby village of Dubranec from where we were staying. Pic on the right is of my mother from her communion at St. Marks Roman Catholic Church in Gary, Lake, Indiana..

Her hair darkened as she aged and she always wore it short. Her brown eyes seemed to get bigger and brighter, too. Her long face, slim nose, and lips that never smiled broadly reminded me of the painting. The white attire also caused my brain to make a connection. Of course, I had to take a picture of the picture and share it with all of you!

A Foreshadowing of Creepy October

Courtesy of SoundCloud

Fall is just around the corner and I’ll be posting my October blogs about the weird, unexplainable happenings that occurred while I researched over the past year soon. I typically write them down as they happen and save them to present in October. I’ve got my four done so what happened to me this week is too good to wait for a whole ‘nother year so here goes. . .

On Thursday I attended a local genealogy club event at a library. We were supposed to be researching early residents of the town for a timeline poster the library was making. This was a continuation of what we had begun the previous month.

It was pouring and cold. Yes, I know most places are under a heat dome but we were not. It was in the 60s and I don’t do cold. I considered not going but I had promised to be there so I donned my raincoat and drove off through flooded streets.

Luckily, there were two parking spaces available close to the library door. I took one and a male patron took the other. I sat for a moment debating if I should just pull my hood up or wrestle with the umbrella. It was lightning so I opted to just make a run for it as it wasn’t more than a few steps. The man chose the umbrella and was struggling to get it open without getting soaked.

I stood in the vestibule shaking off my raincoat when he approached but he was carrying items in one hand and the umbrella was in the other so he couldn’t open the door. I noticed and held it open. After some pleasantries, we went on our separate ways.

I happened to be the first to arrive so I was talking with one of the librarians about the project. She said if anyone came who needed genealogical help we’d do that first. I love helping people with their brick walls so this sounded great to me!

Moments later a woman came in with a question; how accurate are death records? She had found some inconsistencies. We talked about, how family members are often distraught by the loss of a loved one, and provide incorrect or incomplete records. I gave an example of my Maria Duer Kuhn who was born in Ohio but her son had stated she was born in Germany on her death certificate. Nope, that would be his dad. Dad had been active in the immigrant community so Maria had an obituary in both the English and local German newspapers. Her son was just confused at the time of her death.

Next, the umbrella man arrived; those papers he had been carrying were death certificates for two of his Hull ancestors and he was stymied by the oldest which stated that the deceased had been born in Virginia. He could find no records in Virginia for this man.

I pointed out that the northwest territory had once been assigned to Virginia and that at the time of the man’s birth, the late 1700s, it was possible that the named location was somewhere else but under that jurisdiction. Seriously, once upon a time, in what is now Indiana, deeds were to be presented to Williamsburg, Virginia. Crazy, huh?!

I asked him if he had looked at online family trees for clues, warning him about unsourced or poorly sourced trees. He hadn’t. I brought up Ancestry but my personal version since the library edition that is available doesn’t give patrons the option to search public member trees.

I knew I had a few Hulls in my tree as my Revolutionary War patriot, John Duer’s sister married a Hull. I figured a lot of people would have the Hulls in their tree as it sounds to me like a common name.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at public trees and discovered my tree contained the information he needed.

Umm, yes, we were distant cousins. I then brought up FamilySearch.org so he could see the will which named parents and siblings. I’ve complained about that will for YEARS as my John’s will omit his deceased children and I wished that he had done the same as his brother-in-law – named everyone.

I then showed him I’d taken the Duers back to Merry Ole England and that he was eligible for several lineage societies. He had no idea and needed time to process this. Nothing like showing up in a downpour with two documents and leaving in the sunshine with hundreds more already nicely packaged for you.

But that’s not all. I decided to stop at another library on my way home to look at a book that the deceased author’s daughter had emailed me about that might be of help for a cemetery project I’m working on with a local high school. I went directly to the librarian and told him I didn’t have the name of the book but knew the author and publisher’s date. He found it for me in seconds. Yes, it had EXACTLY what I was looking for. Pleased, I put the book on the cart to be refiled. Then I stopped at the cemetery but no one was in the office. Sigh.

I didn’t check my email until I got home but I could hear it pinging. Sure enough, an email, related to what I had just accomplished.

It was sent by the author’s daughter while I was in the library. She had pulled out the copy she owned and sent me a list of former residents I could use in the cemetery tour. While reading the email I got a call from a friend and fellow member of our local genealogy society. A few minutes after I left the library she had arrived with the intent on looking at the same book as she had read in the newspaper that a barn was being moved from a neighboring county to our county to use for horses during the fair. The barn was coming from one of her great uncle’s farms. That family had lived in our county but relocated to a neighboring county in the 1800s. She remembered while reading the article she had intended to confirm a burial date on the now unreadable stone for this several times great aunt buried in our county.

When she arrived at the library she couldn’t find the book on the shelf so she went to the librarian and he told her Lori Samuelson had just used it. They went to the cart and there it was, right where I left it to be reshelved. See, they know me well in this library and I always return the items to the cart for reshelving as that is their policy.

Moral of the story – genealogical connections are integral and coincidences are icing on the cake. Were my Duer ancestors and the local deceased author giving us a nudge? Possibly though I can’t prove that. Sometimes we just need to appreciate the findings, however, they occurred.

Combining Genealogy With a High School Reunion

In late July, graduates of my husband’s now-closed high school held their 50th reunion. Only about 60 of the 352 graduates attended. Some didn’t care to attend, others probably didn’t have the time or funds to make the pilgrimage home. The remainder had no choice; about 18% of their classmates are deceased.

I heard a lot of stories about those missing members. A memorial had been created for them – a 1970-style school desk in the corner of the Pavilion, the same location where Senior Prom had been held. Upon the tabletop were listed the names, birth, and death dates of the individuals. The first died barely two months after graduating and the most recent, three months ago. There was an increase in deaths between 2020-2022. Was it aging or the pandemic?

This reunion made me aware of the folly of youth. At 17, when I danced the night away in that very same room, I hadn’t thought much of the prom’s theme – Stairway to Heaven. I hadn’t even remembered that was the theme until my husband’s close friend since kindergarten mentioned it. This was the same friend who had introduced me to what would become my husband. It was the same song that just happened to play on the radio when hubby and I were meeting at a city cemetery in Florida to select our grave sites. We’ve since sold those back to the city and are now in the process of deciding AGAIN where our final resting place will be.

So, being frugal (you can insert cheap in here, no worries on my part!) and time conscious, I decided we would visit cemeteries of deceased family members during our trip to our old hometown which is now a two-and-a-half-hour drive from our new city. I was thinking we might want to be interred there eventually and could save if we combined trips. We hadn’t visited some of the gravesites in over 20 years and in other cases, have never been. This seemed like a good time to check them out.

When I was thinking about the reunion I wasn’t thinking at all about those that weren’t going to be attending because they had passed away. I guess I was still thinking as we did at 17; aging and death would happen but not any time soon. In those days anyone over 30 was over the hill and we were far from that. Funny how fast time passes. Appropriate that we sometimes get a jolt of reality during a regular humdrum day.

I planned to visit seven cemeteries during this two-day trip which would include five hours plus of driving and four hours for the big party. I also wanted to drive by our old haunts, like our childhood homes, schools, friends’ homes, and places that held special memories – our first date, our favorite beach, and so on.

They say you can’t go home again. That’s not true; you can and you should. Does it look the same? Definitely not. Without the people you knew, like Mrs. Chellich who made the best grape jelly every summer, or Vera Shobach, who owned the corner store, the visit wouldn’t be the same as returning to an earlier part of your lifetime. Life goes on and it is worth the travel to your origin, to remember, reflect, and both laugh and cry.

Did I record any of the conversations that were held during the reunion? Nope. I was a guest. I heard apologies, regrets, and lots of memories of good times. I hope the attendees return home and someday write or record their memoirs.

Perhaps they’ll change their minds in ten years but it sure sounded like many had decided this would be their last reunion, which could explain the depths of some of the conversations that occurred. Well, at least at the table where we sat that I have labeled the Nerd Table, where we talked about philosophy and what colleges give seniors free classes online. The jocks seemed to still be interested in their past glory days and who got drafted for what major league team today. The ladies seemed to be comfortable with their old friends; most came alone, kicked off their shoes, and danced together as they once did. There was also the smoker group that convened outside. I guess some things never change!

This was the first high school reunion event I ever attended. None of my schools are in existence today. I left for Florida two weeks before my senior year in high school was going to begin in Indiana as my mom had been transferred. I graduated early by attending a school that no longer exists in St. Petersburg, Florida; it’s become a condo. My Indiana high school was leveled in 2014. It was tough to see that beautiful building gone.

Luckily, my husband’s former elementary school is now an art antique mall so we were able to visit. I took pics of him standing in the doorway of every one of his classrooms. On the main floor behind the cash register are three class photos hanging on the wall and he is in every picture. One of the vendors had attended the school a few years before my husband so they reminisced about the teachers, principal, and students. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the greater community who had experienced a shared past.

Friends – Associates – Neighbors enrich our family stories. Make the most out of your upcoming reunions to reach out and gain new perspectives on your past events.

Way Down Upon the White River…

Photo by Lori Samuelson

Earlier this month, hubby and I joined other Society of Indiana Pioneers (SIP) at an Intergenerational Day at Mounds Park, Anderson, Indiana.

We had never been to the park and after a short hike, the ranger explained research findings about the constructed mounds on the premises. We then trekked back to the nature center and had an informative hands-on wildlife experience with reptiles and amphibians. After a box lunch, pioneer activities were scheduled – butter churning, broom making, weaving, flint knapping, candle making, archery, and visiting a historic home. We also observed volunteers who were making a dugout canoe for a museum exhibit.

SIP’s program is helpful in getting a younger generation interested in history.

It wasn’t just the kids who were excited nor was intergenerational just for attendees. My husband’s Hoosier Pioneer was Jacob Troxell, born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on 2 October 1797. By 1810, he had emigrated with his parents to Bear Creek near Miamisburg, Montgomery, Ohio. There he married first Catherine Ranck/Raunk on 29 December 1819.

By 1822 Jacob, Catherine, and their first of eight children, Elizabeth “Betsy” moved to the then-new state of Indiana. They settled in Harrison Township, Fayette County, one mile north of Waterloo.

Jacob first farmed his property that was adjacent to the White River. The growing community had a need and he met it by erecting a saw and grist mill. Later he opened a dry goods business and became a County Commissioner.

After Catherine’s death, he married widow Mary Jane Carlton Port. The couple had one daughter.

Jacob died on 6 April 1885 in Fayette and is buried in Robinson Chapel Cemetery there.

Of my to-do plans is to visit where Jacob lived. Between speaking engagements, renovating our landscaping with native plants, and volunteering, it’s not likely we’ll get to visit this summer. The SIP program, however, enabled my husband to experience the White River for the first time. In this preserved park setting, it likely looks much as it did when his 3rd great-grandfather came in the 1820s. Wow, 200 years ago. Five generations ago. Now that’s really intergenerational!