52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Air

In June, 1875, the morning air felt crisp and clean to homesteaders Andrew and Mary Etta Storer. In the night sky the evening before, the stars had shone like diamonds. This was one of the bonuses of living on the plains…the glory of the stars. It reminded them of God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars. Would they receive the same God-given gift?

Today the morning air brought its own set of promises. The promise of light and air in which to move the sheep to another pasture…the promise of air to dry the clothes on the line…the promise of air to sweetness the inside of the house…the promise of air to fill the children’s lungs as they helped with chores and played in the sun. These were just some of the promises of the new day.

Since coming to Osborne County, Kansas, four years ago, the Storer family had experienced several terrifying ordeals brought through the air. Several times, the family had to hurry to the storm cellar for shelter when cyclones would soon bear down on them. Thankfully, all the family had remained safe. The year before, grasshoppers has invaded the air so thickly that the skies appeared black. The hoppers had destroyed property, crops, and even curtains at the windows. They soon learned that the air could bring blessings, or it could bring damnation.

In June, 1875, the air was filled with the newness of the day. It was filled with breakfast chatter as family members set out to work. The air was filled with the clucking of Mary Etta’s hens and chicks. The air was filled with the bleating of Andrew’s sheep. The air was filled with familial love and strength.

Andrew and Mary Etta Storer are my second great grandparents. They were the parents of nine children who would all live to adulthood, marry, and parent their own children. So, yes, God’s promise to Abraham reflected His promise to them.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Fire

As soon as it touched his lips, he knew he had never before felt as if he were on fire. It burned going down his esophagus…it burned his nostrils…it was potent and intoxicating. The after effects were brain numbing, and he could forget his worries. He heard the beat of a different drummer from the rest of the men in his family. He was not quite settled. He did not yearn to follow farming. Hunting and fishing were the fires in his soul. In some ways, he felt trapped…the fire of the whiskey stoked his fears and insecurities.

As time went by, he became a functioning alcoholic making a living and supporting his family by being a carpenter and storekeeper. Did his family feel the backdraft of that fire? His business was a success although it was his wife and children who handled most of the duties at the store. From time to time, he would leave for hunting trips to Idaho and Wyoming. Packed with his gear was a bottle to quench the fire within. Somehow, he managed to keep his hands steady and his aim true during the day, but around the campfire at night…

From the time he started drinking, he had to find sources for the whiskey as his county was dry. Bottles and money changed hands. Identities of the distillers were secret and names not to be repeated. Local law noticed his frequent intoxication…where was he getting the firewater? The sheriff questioned him to find out his suppliers. With his feet to the fire, he caved in and revealed a few names. When authorities started to watch these men, the accused took notice. To teach the informant a lesson, they set his house on fire. They had waited purposely for the accuser to leave the homestead with his family so no one would be home. This would teach him to keep his mouth shut! Later, he recanted his story to the police and denied everything. But small towns harbor gossip and insinuations.

In time, the house was rebuilt. As a carpenter, he was able to build a better design…make it cosier for his wife who loved to care for her flowers and gardens. He cut back on the amount of alcohol that stoked his inner fires. He spent more time at his favorite fishing holes. Maybe, at last the fires had burned out and left his soul at peace.

The man in the story is my great grandfather whom I never met…he died the day after I was born. My mother shared this story with me. May his sweet soul rest and be at peace.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Water

The vastness of it did not terrify her. The majesty of it did overwhelm her. She and the other orphan girls from her village would stand at the rail and pay homage to it for hours each day. She, the girl Anna, shared that the only water she remembered was the stream in the woods near her home. How cool the water seemed as it touched her ankles! How she enjoyed splashing her brother! Now each day she and her girlfriends were surrounded by passels of strangers and the ocean water.

Anna and her friends talked each day about the lady they would see once they reached land in this new America. The lady had been described to them: tall, stately, welcoming. Was she as beautiful as the statue of the Madonna in their village church? How would they know it was she? The lady would be standing in the harbor with a light. She would signal to them that their journey across the water would end. They would make their ways across a gangplank over the water…a new home…a baptism of freedom.

Fourteen year old orphan Anna Mroz made her journey across the water from Poland via Trieste, Italy. It was May, 1906. She was listed on the ship’s manifest as 16 years old. Why the deception? She had $9 in her possession, and her brother Jan would be meeting her at Ellis Island. She would be working as a domestic. The water had brought her to a new life.

Anna Mroz is my paternal grandmother. She died two years before I was born. Oh, how I would have enjoyed her stories about crossing the great water!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Forgotten

As she lay dying, she decided to reveal a secret. A deathbed confession that could ease the guilt…a cry for forgiveness for the duplicity…a pathway to a hidden truth? Was this truth best forgotten, or should the family know? Once it was revealed, it would not be forgotten but unforgettable. So she told her daughter what she believed to be the truth about her older daughter’s paternity. The dying woman did not, however, reveal the child’s father’s name. Pandora’s box had been opened.

Through time, the daughter kept the secret hidden and forgotten. Life went on while the people who could be hurt by the secret continued to live their lives. The daughter did realize that her father knew the secret and had lived with it during the length of his marriage. Should the daughter tell her sister about her paternity, or leave it forgotten and buried? The truth would be far reaching with its emotional damage.

Through time, the daughter decided that the truth should be known. She would be the revealer of this truth. (What her motives and intentions were in proclaiming this secret are unknown.) She released the secret to selected family members. How did she perceive the shock, the disbelief of the listeners as they internalized what was spoken? Did she ever wish that all was forgotten and not revealed? Pandora’s box had been opened.

Families are the repositories of secrets that can linger and overcloud their members. Should the real truth and secrets be shared or forgotten? As time goes by, what really is the truth?

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Same Name

It was obvious…right there at my fingertips…right in plain view. Yet I did not see the real connection. I did not feel it. It took a couple of years before I had that “aha” moment that should have occurred instantaneously upon discovery. He was named after his grandfather, a grandfather he never met or knew.

The grandfather was born in Maine when it was still a part of Massachusetts in 1817. His parents were farmers. He, however, had wanderlust in his blood. As a youth, he headed out for Boston to work on the ships. Ill health drove him back home to his family. When he regained his strength, he took off again as he traveled through the territories of the Midwest: Minnesota and Wisconsin. For a time, he lived near Chicago. He tried his hand at different occupations. He married, but his wife and newborn son died. He was restless and itchy…he made his home for short periods of time in many places. While in Wisconsin, he managed a brickyard. He met a mother and daughter who were the first women to settle in the village. He had his eye on the daughter and admired her work ethic and strength. They married, and together they roamed through Iowa. Finally, they settled in Osborne County, Kansas. He became a successful sheep farmer. They parented nine children. He was finally putting down roots. His name was Andrew Storer…no middle name graced his name. He died in 1895.

The grandson was born in a cave on his parents’ farm…the year after his grandfather’s death. He had a twin sister. The family farm eventually expanded and included a real home, a real farmstead. The grandson learned to farm and to acquire a love of the land. He loved horses and dogs. He was shy and soft-spoken. He remained in Osborne County for his whole life…wanderlust was not part of his inherited genes. He married a local girl and raised two daughters. His name was Andrew Earl Storer…a middle name did grace his name. He and his grandfather shared the same name. He died in 1977.

What was it like to be named for someone he did not know? Were stories told to him of the feats and fates of his grandfather? Did he ride his horse on his grandfather’s land to survey all that his namesake had settled? Did he tell his daughters about his namesake? All the voices are quiet now as the wind blows through the wheat fields of these farmlands. All is just speculation, dreams, and questions.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Close To Home

Across an ocean and across a continent, they all wait to introduce themselves. Their faces are hidden in a mist. They are surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and forest lands. Most of them lived as peasant farmers; perhaps, they were serfs. They were under educated…they were hanging on to survive. How did they learn about the American dream? Who shared that with them? How many actually reached the shores of America? And the ones who were left behind and the ones who came before them, just who are they to me? I only know of nine of them. Through the mist, I cannot reach the thousands of others. They remain unknown to me.

Returning from this quest, I consulted the wise matriarch. I shared with her the unfulfillment of my journey. Her advise was to look close to home, for there I would meet thousands…right there at my fingertips. So I reached out…they were exactly where she said I would find them…close to home.

In the first part of my journey to look across an ocean and a continent, I searched for my father’s family. They were Polish peasants. On that half of my family tree, I grafted two branches and nine people. That is all I know…hidden in the mist. Can you imagine a genealogist with only nine people on one side of her tree?

The wise matriarch, my mother, told me not to despair. She guided me to look close to home right here in America. She bragged that we are related to everybody. Family stories stated that a grandfather was a Pilgrim right off the Mayflower…George Soule himself. Other grandfathers fought in the American Revolution, Civil War, World War I. There they were! There were pioneers, cowboys, housewrights and carpenters, seamstresses, teachers…strong men and women. This half of my tree had many branches and thousands of leaves. Can you imagine a genealogist with such a delightful assortment of ancestors…bet one can?!

Lessons learned: first, look close to home before checking the far horizons. Discoveries await right here. Second, listen to Mama…she flows in wisdom.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: The Long Line

They left more than 50 years ago. They took with them pieces of my heart. Their partings were sudden and unexpected. What were you thinking, Lord? I was young…a teenager unformed in maturity and experiences. They were guiding lights and beacons to see the world out of the shadows. Why did they have to go? I was learning so much, and the lessons seemed to be abruptly cut off. Or were they? They left me a legacy, one of a social conscience and one of an attitude of gratitude.

They left more than 50 years ago. They are part of the long line of fallen heroes who graced my life and touched it. Forever grateful and forever remembering John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Favorite Photo

Daniel Johnston Haffner and Anna Rebecca Flegel
April 1918

Hiding in a drawer…tucked away from view…longing to be discovered…just waiting for someone’s intake of breath when viewed…I had never seen a photo like it. Was the photo taken to celebrate a wedding? The couple had been married on 27 April 1918 so the picture was more than 100 years old. In studying the photo, I was wondering why the bride was not facing the camera? To me, that added an exquisiteness to the pose. She appears to be wearing engagement and wedding rings when I look closer. The photo was taken at the Bennett Studio in downtown Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The couple had been married in Hagerstown, Maryland, about 15 miles away. Daniel Johnston Haffner, 22 years old, and Anna Rebecca Flegel, 20 years old, were touted as a much loved and popular young couple according to the newspaper. They would be married for almost 40 years before Anna passed away in 1957. They would parent four children.

This little gem of a photo was discovered by me last year. The couple are my husband’s grandparents…it is a favorite of mine.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: A Fresh Start

What was the question…what was the answer…what was the explanation? Who was involved in the decision-making? Who planned the moves forward and eventually westward? What compelled them? What led them? Were these moves each obviously a fresh start?

William Henry Stevens was born in London in 1844. During the Civil War, he immigrated to America and joined the Union Navy. Was that meant to be a fresh start in a new place? His assignments as a landsman were documented in his military and pension records. He was a mere 22 years old when this adventure began.

At the age of 24, he married Isabella Couchman in New York City. They also resided in Jersey City, New Jersey. They would parent a total of ten children…some born there and the remaining in a final start over location. Was this meant to be a fresh start in a new place?

For while, the family lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where Will worked at the gas company. Was this move to the South meant as a fresh start in another new place? It was a city albeit smaller in size than New York.

Will’s final start over was in Osborne County, Kansas. He became a farmer. A London-New York-Tennessee transplant making yet another fresh start in the early 1870s. What prompted this move when he knew very little about farming?

None of Will’s and Isabella’s real thoughts and ponderings have ever been discovered. Are they just dust in the wind?

Stevens Farm on original Homestead Act claim…
Kill Creek Township, Osborne County, Kansas

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: You

You are a leaf on a family tree whose branches touch and caress one another. You are the child of your grandparents’ child. You have DNA that was engineered by the Creator. You can claim hundreds of surnames that are a part of you. You can look up at the stars and count your ancestors. You can find a document that tells the exact time of the moment you first drew breath. You have ancestors that traveled hundreds and thousands of miles to bring you to where you are today. You are a collection of all of your experiences and life lessons. You are a library of information radiating from your talents. You are your family historian and author. You are the treasurer of family stories and memories. You hold sacred the lives of those who came before you. You reverence the past. You are a record keeper, a document expert, a researcher, an archivist. Perhaps, You will meet yourself for the first time when the 1950 Federal Census is unveiled in 2022. You are a marvel of your generation…You.