Dear Diary, today I listened to a message on our answering machine. The content left me stunned and teary-eyed. The gentleman caller stated that he was not sure if he had the correct number. He was calling from Colorado. He had found our phone number in his desk as he was cleaning out. He said he was trying to reach Merna Mae Storer. Would Merna Mae please call him back as he wanted to chat? He did not state his name.
Merna Mae is my mother, who passed away five years ago. I knew from some of the caller’s clues that he was my mother’s cousin Mitch…my cousin, too. I decided to call him back, but first I had to regain my composure. He answered on the first ring, “Hello, this is Mitch.” I introduced myself and told him about my mom. He stated that he had wondered why he had not heard from her. They had graduated from high school together and would meet up at their annual reunions.
He went on to tell me that he is now 96 years old. His wife died in 1977, and he has remained unmarried. He works in his yard. His favorite activity is volunteering weekly at the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum in Denver. Staying busy has helped him remain young in body and spirit.
We only talked for 10 minutes or less. He baited me…little did he know…when he said, “That Merna Mae was a real little lady growing up.” I am calling him back soon. My gentleman caller knows stories and tales about the Stevens side of my family! I am collecting questions for Mitch.
Good gosh, many grandmas are blessed with grandbabies named right after them. What an honor to look into the sweet eyes of a tiny one and call that bundle of preciousness by one’s own name! Why examples can be found just by viewing this picture of a 50th wedding anniversary celebration!
In the front row is Grandma Isabella Anna Couchman Stevens. Born in England, she married her sweetheart William in New York City. (Their first daughter was named Isabella Anna Stevens.) In time, they moved all the way to Kill Creek Township, Osborne County, Kansas. The young girl standing in the row behind the children and beside the lady in the striped dress is Isabella Mary Boultinghouse Storer, Grandma’s namesake. Grandma knew the fine art of dressmaking while Granddaughter knew the fine art of quilting and crocheting. Both ladies understood the value of hard work with their hands.
Now the lady in the striped dress is Naomi Ruth Stevens Boultinghouse…yep, you got it…she is Isabella’s daughter and the young Isabella’s mother. She is named after her grandmother Naomi Orme Stevens, who remained in England. The “Kansas” Naomi had a talent for growing roses and landscaping beautiful front yards. She and her husband ran a small grocery and cafe.The “England” Naomi was a clog maker: she made the pattern cards for jacquard weaving looms. Both ladies understood the value of hard work with their hands.
When I was born, I was named after both of my grandmothers: Isabella Mary and Anna. No, my first name is not Isabella. My parents used her middle name to christen me Mary Anne, which is my first name…I have a middle name…another story will explain that…another time. Unlike my Grammy, I was not given the talents for needlework. I was given the talents for teaching and writing. I understand the value of hard work with my creativity.
Now, raise your hand if any of you gentlemen are named after your grandfathers!
Mary had heard tell that these grounds had once between beautiful beyond description…more than her small town Pennsylvania mind could imagine. She heard tell that the land had been taken in retaliation for a decision that the owner had made. Leaders said he should pay for turning his back on the country that he loved and served…his decision had been to be loyal to his state of Virginia. Therefore, leaders decided his home and grounds would be changed so that he could never return and enjoy this place again. Now here she stood on his property. She and husband David were not here to enjoy the gardens and admire the views. They were here for another type of visitation.
A year earlier (1863), her family had been intact in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She and her husband parented nine children: eight sons and one daughter. The War Between The States had taken a toll on the nation. Their home was close to Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the Battle of Antietam took many lives in September, 1862. Gettysburg was situated in the next county over where three days of battle claimed more lives in July, 1863. In fact, General Lee had retreated through their town and stopped in the town square to get a drink from the pump for himself and his horse Traveler. In that year, her boys were safe at home and far from battle. Six of her sons were eligible to join the army. In the autumn of that year, five would enlist.
Now here in Arlington, Virginia, she and her husband came to visit the resting place of their son Calvin. As a member of the 126th and 149th Pennsylvania Regiments, 22 year old Calvin had been wounded at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia. Because of the extent of his wounds, he was transferred to Armory Square Hospital in the District of Columbia. Calvin passed away on 18 May 1864. The army had run out of burial spaces so it was decided that the grounds of the Lee-Custis Mansion across the Potomac River would be converted to a cemetery. Calvin was one of the first to be buried there. It had taken a great deal of planning for the family to visit Calvin’s grave. They were here now…paying respects to their beloved son…thinking of the day they would be reunited in the Kingdom of God.
Mary and David Bowman are my husband’s third great grandparents. Calvin is his third great uncle. Today, they are all reunited in the Kingdom of God where no wars rage and where grief grips no one. At peace…
Just what was the nature of his intentions? His first wife Abigail and son had died during childbirth. He was alone. Men in his day needed a wife and children to build a homestead. Why, the very answer…the very person…was right in view. Mary Etta was a yard girl at the brickyard where he was the foreman. It was the Wisconsin territory, and women were few. Miss Mary Etta proved herself to be strong and hard-working. So, he took a chance and asked her if she would become his wife. She consented. Andrew Storer and Mary Etta Soule were united in matrimony on 24 July 1852 in Watertown, Wisconsin. She was 19, and he was 35. They pioneered together through many territories and “baby states”.
Just what was the nature of his character? As a young man growing up in Maine, he grew wanderlust in his heart and soul. He moved onto Boston where he worked on the docks but lost his health. He moved back to Maine to regain his strength…that he did. He moved on to Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa before he finally settled down in Osborne County, Kansas as a homesteader. He was known for being neighborly, steadfast, relentless, and a chance-taker. He planted these character seeds into his nine children.
Just what was the nature of his business as a farmer? After all, the years of his youth had been spent as a dock worker and brick maker. For a time, he was a successful sheep farmer, a vocation many in Osborne County did not undertake. He earned a grant from an agricultural college in Mississippi so he could grow trees on his property. On the plains, trees could be few and far between. Cottonwoods thrived on his grounds.
Just what was the nature of his legacy? To me, he was my second great grandfather. He left his descendants the abilities to try more than the obvious, the philosophy to move and grew where one is planted, and the courage to be strong-willed.
That is the nature of Andrew Storer’s heart and soul.
The trio of girls had several things in common: they came by ship from Europe; they entered this country through New York City; they were children at the time of their immigrations. One was 10 years old, another 12 years old, one 14 years old. One of the girl’s father was a house painter, another’s a peasant farmer, one had an unknown occupation. One child spoke French and German, another English, one Polish. Two were being trained in the arts of needlework and dressmaking while one learned how to be a charwoman. When the girls first came to New York City did they feel out of place? The one girl from London must have felt somewhat at home in Manhattan…bustling, energetic, noisy. The one from France must have felt homesick for the castles nestled along the river of her hometown. The one from Poland must have been mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the huge city. How do children really adjust when they are out of place?
One of the girls had come to America with her mother and her siblings. Her father had died three years before. One of the girls had come to America with other young girls from her town as their parents had all passed away…they were orphans. The remaining girl left behind no records of her New York arrival and parentage. How do children really adjust when they are growing up without a parent/parents…out of place in this world?
The girl from France arrived in New York in about 1840. No records can be found to name her parents. When she was 15 years old, she married a private in the U. S. Army who was ten years her senior. Her name was Maria Magdalen Kramer. In time, she and her husband would settle on a farm in Osborne County, Kansas. She was my second great grandmother. At times, she must have felt out of place in this new country. Eventually, she would feel at home.
The girl from England arrived in New York in 1854. She lived with her mother and siblings. In time, she would marry a Civil War veteran who would also take up farming in Osborne County, Kansas. Her name was Isabella Anna Couchman. She was my second great grandmother. At times, she must have felt out of place in this new country. Eventually, she would feel at home.
The girl from Poland arrived in New York in 1906. Her brother met her at Ellis Island so he could escort her to her job as a housemaid in Connecticut. In time, she would relocate to Philadelphia where she was also a domestic. She married a fellow Polish immigrant and remained in that city. Her name was Anna Mroz. She was my paternal grandmother. At times, she must have felt out of place in this new country. Eventually, she would feel at home.
Two of the girls would meet one another: Maria and Isabella. Their children would marry each other. As for Anna, her son would marry Maria’s and Isabella’s great granddaughter. A golden thread ties and binds their families forever, no longer out of place…eventually at home.
Sunday, May 26, 1935: 11 year old Edjui walked devotedly to the altar rail to receive his First Holy Communion. His proud parents Franciszek and Anna witnessed his reception of the Blessed Sacrament at the morning Mass. His old siblings Emilia and Stanley were also seated in the pew. The prayers of the liturgy were spoken in Latin, but the homily addressed to the children was spoken in Polish. Many of the parents were first generation Polish Americans, and they savored the belief that their children were becoming Catholic Christian Americans. Receiving this sacrament was further proof of their deep faiths and commitments to the Lord who had delivered them safely to this new land. The families rejoiced also in the fact that their home parish of Saint Ladislaus was a neighborhood church where the immigrants could worship and serve together.
That special day, Edjui was dressed in his best clothes. It was the Polish custom that the First Communicants wear white ribboned armbands that their mothers had sewn together for them. Some ribbons were embroidered with religious symbols sewn with gold threads. He wore a boutonniere as part of the traditional dress. Each child received a religious scapular and rosary. At some time, Edjui’s mother took him to the local photography studio to have a commemorative picture taken. The studio was staged with a white Baptismal candle for Edjui to hold while a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus rested on a small table. The picture would be printed on penny postcards for Edjui’s family to send to family and friends.
The parish and neighborhood would celebrate the day with cakes, baked by the proud mothers. Small presents of holy cards and coins were received by the children. What a blessed day for the parishioners of this Polish-American church!
Note: Twenty-two years later, Edjui’s little daughter would receive her First Holy Communion. The Mass would be prayed in Latin while the homily was preached in English. Her parish was located in a small Southern town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. What a blessed day for her and her family!
Cryptic…that was the flavor of the first email that I received. Suspicious…that was another flavor added to the profile. Annoying…that topped it off. The taste in my mouth, as they would say, was bitter. Who was this strange woman with her questions and insinuations? Where was her evidence? Should I brush her off, not respond, pray she would go away? She wanted to know if my grandfather was her mother’s natural father.
Her first email wanted information about where my grandfather and his brothers lived and visited in their youth. Had they ever gone to a certain Kansas county? Did they have relatives there? Was one of them the father of her mother? No, they had not lived in the area to which she referred. I thought that would end that.
The second email revealed her reason for asking. Her own mother had been adopted. She was bound and determined to find her natural grandfather of whose identity she had no clues. She had located her natural grandmother, but she was not willing and was determined not to reveal the identity of the father of the child she had given up for adoption. Could my grandfather be the father? Was it ever discussed within the family circle? No, I never heard any stories. I wanted her to go away…as fast and as far as she could travel!
About a year went by and the third email appeared. She had had Ancestry DNA done. According to the results, we were a match…dear heavens, help us all…third-fourth cousins. I decided to dig into my tree and see if any males in my grandfather’s family had lived in the area she was searching. My grandfather’s uncle and his family had lived in that location. There were two sons in the family. I supplied her with the names and any information I had which was sketchy.
She reached out to the family and told them her story. The sons of the sons allowed her to interview them. One of the sons, she asked him if he would submit to an Ancestry DNA test. Consent was given. They were a match.
The final email shared with me who she believed her natural grandfather to be…my grandfather’s uncle. She created a story about the two people involved: they met at a social gathering one summer. They dated for a short while. When the girl discovered she was pregnant, she did not know the whereabouts of the boy. She decided to go it alone and place the baby in an orphanage. I answered her email with a note of congratulations and well wishes…
DNA is a marvelous tool in identifying family. However, it does not carry forward stories, truths, and all answers.
Imagine that the paternal side of your family tree has seven…yes, count them , seven…leaves. This is true for me. A six word sentence explains it all: I am third generation Polish American.
Once upon a time, I set a goal to find my grandparents, Anna Mroz and Franciszek Slabik, in the Ellis Island records. After a year, I had found both of them as they had come separately and unknown to each other. My grandmother’s brother Antoni Mroz was listed as her contact/escort person. Supposedly, he lived in Greenwich, Connecticut. She came in 1906, and she has not been found in the 1910 Census. Also, no Antoni in sight. My grandfather came in 1912, and he was meeting his brother Jan Slabik. He has never been found in any census. No siblings and their families can be located. My grandparents never spoke about their parents to their children. No aunts and uncles came to visit, call, or write. My grandparents and their children lived in Philadelphia.
Once upon a time, I set a goal to find out the names of my great grandparents who remained in Poland…all I sought were their names. I sent for my grandparents’ death certificates. The informant, my aunt and their daughter, only knew the name of her mother’s father: Stanislaw Mroz. The rest of the names were a mystery. I thought about any document that might bear these names. I sent to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for a copy of my grandparents’ marriage certificate. Yes, the names were there! Jakob Slabik and Agata Kendra were my grandfather’s parents while Stanislaw Mroz and Teclas Goruyk parented my grandmother. When the marriage was celebrated in 1914, Babcia’s parents were deceased while Dziadek’s were farmers.
Once upon a time, I yearned just to know where my grandparents were born in that big mess of a country Poland…a country that was not a country for over 100 years. That has been very difficult to research. In reading through research hints by professional genealogists, I may as well be trying to translate Polish without a translator. It is truly overwhelming to me. Will any part of this brick wall come tumbling down…ever?
Ancestry DNA has yielded only one cousin…my first cousin with whom I grew up…his kids got him the test as a gift.
Truly, I am a positive person. I long for the day when someone will say, “Czesc kuzynie…hello, cousin.” Then I can write, “Once upon a time I longed to meet a cousin, and there was a text from her.”
The stroke of paralysis sustained by A. H. Boultinghouse, of Tilden township, resulted in his death, Saturday morning last, at 9 o’clock. The venerable gentleman was well along toward four-score. Funeral services took place Sunday and were largely attended, deceased having been widely known and universally esteemed. Osborne County News, Thursday, 23 November 1893
A whisper of a mention in the local weekly paper when he went home to God was paid the venerable gentleman. No obituary was ever published. His wife and eight of his nine children remained along with grandchildren. Why was printer’s ink never applied to newsprint to tell at least a noble fraction of his story? What caused this writing to never have been composed?
So…here is a simple obituary for A. H. Boultinghouse who died in the 19th Century but has been written in the 21st…126 years later.
In 1818, Amos Howell Boultinghouse was born on the Illinois plains to Daniel and Rhoda. He was named after his maternal grandfather. His father died when Daniel was five years old so he was raised by his mother and older siblings. At the age of 19, he joined the U.S. Army. While stationed at Fort Columbus, New York, he met and married Maria Kraemer who was a French emigrant. He was 25 years old while she was 15 years old. (She lied about her age when applying for her marriage license. She stated she was 22.) Together they became the parents of nine children. When the Civil War rocked the country, Amos reenlisted at the age of 43. He served in the 55th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company E. Under the orders of General William T. Sherman, he became a wagoner. He was honorably discharged and went home to his beloved family. In 1871, the family moved westward to Kansas and settled on lands provided by the Homestead Act. The family were residents of Bloomington and maintained their farm there. At the age of 75, Mr. Boultinghouse went home to the Lord on 14 November 1893. He rests in Bloomington Cemetery.
Much more could be shared about the venerable gentleman, but this obituary is just a footnote. May my second great grandfather enjoy all that heaven does allow!