52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Resolution

So seriously, it is NOT my family tree that has that huge, I mean huge, research-defying brick wall. That dang wall has been staring me in the face for 7 years now…and it is not even my third great grandparents…they belong to my dear husband. So here is the scoop and the resolution.

Benjamin Haffner was born in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1791. His family emigrated from Germany in 1745. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Lutheran church. Benjamin was raised on a farm…all a typical family history for that time period. Along the way, Benjamin settles in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia, where he becomes a plough maker. He marries Rebecca Beason in 1825, and they become the parents of six children. In the 1850 Federal Census, he is listed as a “pauper” which was a special notation recorded in that particular census. In the 1860 Census, there he is again in Martinsburg. In 1861, the Civil War will come to call in that part of the Shenandoah Valley. General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson will come knocking to commandeer the railroad. There will be unrest. Two years later, that western part of Virginia will join the Union and declare that they are the newly-born state of West Virginia. Benjamin and Rebecca disappear from all records…they cannot be found. They are not living with children. Their names cannot be found in any cemetery records. They are gone.

My resolution: I will find them by researching Lutheran Church records. Their two maiden daughters were buried in Martinsburg as their death notices declare. The girls’ parents are most likely buried in the same place. I will get copies of their death certificates, issued in 1912 and 1917. I will find them.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Nice

Emilia Slabik and Joseph Jaworowski

Big sister Emilia and her smiles had no limits. Her two brothers were typically rambunctious and playful boys. She loved them and kept them tucked under her angelic wings of caring. Her brother Stanley was two years younger while brother Edjui (Polish for Edward) was nine years younger. When she and Stanley went to school each day, her little brother Edjui would tap on the window and wave good-bye to them. Emilia would blow him a kiss. All of them could not wait to be reunited on the return home when Edjui would be looking out that window for them. They were growing up in the ethnic neighborhood in the area of Nicetown in Philadelphia in the 1930s. Along with their Polish immigrant parents, the children were learning the value of caring for others and seeing to their needs. Emilia grew up to be tender-hearted and loving.

As the 1940s came, America was going to war. Her two brothers had enlisted in the Army and were headed for overseas…Stanley to Europe and Edjui to the Pacific. She was the letter writer in her family as her parents’ skills in writing were poor. She was now married to the love of her life, Joe; together they had two boys. Her mother’s health was poor so Emilia and Joe welcomed her parents into their home. Helping her husband run a family business kept her busy, too.

When her brothers returned from the war, Emilia and Joe welcomed them to their home so they could reacclimate themselves back into civilian life. Brother Edjui would entertain her boys with exaggerated war stories, suitable for the ears of four and six year old boys. Her tender heart reached out to her brothers who would soon depart to marry and begin careers. She nursed her mother Anna until she passed away. Emilia was always the perfect hostess in welcoming others to her family home.

In the 1950s, Emilia and Joe bought a new home in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia…a large beautiful home with big rooms and a grand garden. Emilia took up gardening and landscaping while she favored caring for her roses. It was not unusual for Emilia to have company, overnight guests, and family gatherings. Such a sweet, generous lady who was loaded with smiles, hugs, and kisses. As a child, I loved visiting with my aunt and uncle and my boy cousins. It also gave me the opportunity to visit with my Polish grandfather. What a treat to be with them all!

Aunt Emilia always remembered everyone’s birthday and sent them cards and letters. I treasured the notes she sent me. My beloved Aunt Emilia passed away in 2008, a year after her baby brother Edjui who became my father. I miss them all…I wish we could spend one more Christmas together.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Winter

Yes, m’am…yes, sir…our little group of Southern belles rocked the Forest Hills neighborhood of Winchester, Virginia, during the 1960s. We were like sisters, and we were attached at the hips. If you saw one of us, you would quickly see the rest of us. Peach, Smitty, Cleo, and I were a solid four. Sometimes, a few other girls would be tagging along; but we were the core group.

When the snow would fall and accumulate a few inches, we could be found dressed in layers and heading with our sleds to our famous Feagans Hill. Other kids in the neighborhood went there, too, and there was plenty of fun space for us all. The hill was right in the center of the street, but few if any cars drove down it during the day…the dads had driven the cars to work.

The fun would begin right after a breakfast of Cream of Wheat and hot tea. We had to get our insides warmed up. Putting together the warmest layers of clothing we could fit together: undershirts, flannels shirts, sweaters, pajama bottoms, pants, scarves, hats, and gloves. We were the forerunners of the Stay Puff Marshmellow man (from Ghostbusters) trudging up the hill. Sometimes, we were unrecognizable to each other. Our gang would be gathering.

The first flight of the day was the most exciting. We would line up and with our hands and arms gives ourselves a starting push. We were laughing, we were screaming, we were singing, we were propelling ourselves down the hill.

When we reached the bottom, we would all cheer and salute the hill. We were having the time of our young lives…not realizing the memories we were making. Off we went to take another ride. Around noon, we would head home for a short lunch break and to change into dry layers. Mom would be ready with warm bowls of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.’

Our afternoon session would begin when Cleo would stop by for me. We would pick up Smitty and Peach. We would sled until dads started coming home from work. Being wet and cold played no part in our snowy playtime. We were the queens of Feagans Hill, and we rocked that neighborhood.

Postscript: This blog is dedicated to my best friend Cleo who died unexpectedly two years ago. I just know she is laughing it up by the side of the Lord reliving our girlhood escapades. Love you, girl!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Next To Last

Mina Storer’s next to last choices, her next to last decisions…was that how newly created widows thought? When some decisions had already been made for her, what would happen next? First, there were the grief and the shock of Wash’s sudden death. Second, there were widow’s weeds to place like a mantle over her shoulders. Third, there were family members to rally, consult, and console. How was the 74 year old farm wife expected to continue on her own?

Mina’s husband, Wash, had been ill for several years due to emphysema. It came from harvesting crops, and the small grain dust that invaded his lungs. Doctors could offer no relief, and suffering from the hardship of struggling for breaths had worsened Wash’s will to fight this condition. Evidently, he made a secret plan that would help himself and his wife. No one knew of the secret. The plan would unfold in time.

The spring of 1946 had brought visitors to the farm. Their son Leslie and his family were visiting from sunny California. Three of their eight children had moved off the farm when they reached adulthood. California was touted as the place to live with year-round warm weather and better jobs. Leslie had urged his parents to relocate, but his pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Osborne County, Kansas, was Wash and Mina’s home…they would not leave their farm.

During the last week of the visit, Wash put his plan into action. One morning when the rest of the family was out of the house, he left this Earth to find peace in the next life. He knew that without him by her side, Mina would chose to leave with son Leslie. Maybe with three of her children  with her in California, she could have warmth and sunshine in her final years.

And so, Mina made her next to last decision. She would go to California to live with three of her children. The remaining five would care for the farm and make it prosper. Sometimes, newly created widows find comfort and solace in those next to last decisions…maybe.

Postscript: Mina (Sarah Almina Nickel) and Wash (Washington Irving) Storer were my great grandparents. I never met them, and I have only two pictures of them. Mina lived for 11 years with her daughter Hattie in Fullerton, California. She died peacefully in her sleep after which she reunited with her beloved Wash.