The biggest treasures I have ever uncovered…that still make my heart pound and bring tears to my eyes…are black and white family photos. Beautiful, stunning, memory-raising, they escort me back to their given time periods. I can envision that snapshot of a moment as I notice the details all around me. Once again, I can hear the sounds of voices, the glee of laughter, and the vastness of smiles.
My favorite photo, I am asked to share. Which could it be? Who will be there with me? When I think of my father, Edward Joseph Slabik (1924-2007), one definite picture comes immediately to mind. My guess for the year is 1954. We lived in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. My mom, Merna Mae Storer (1924-2014), took the picture in our living room. I was my dad’s little girl, and he always took time to play with me. We would laugh and carry on. Always, he showed great affection and talked with me. He would teach me little lessons in how to throw balls, pat the dog, and run through the backyard. This photo is a summation of the joy we felt with each other.
Two years after my father passed away, I made a scrapbook about his life as part of my grief therapy. The album I chose had a cutout for a photo on the front cover. What would be placed there? I knew exactly what photo…our photo together…a piece of a golden memory from my treasure chest.
Among the treasures of my oldest childhood memories is my first home in Falls Church, Virginia. This is where I came home from the hospital after my birth. This is where I met and bonded with my first playmates. This is where I learned to roller skate and ride a bike. This is where I made mud pies and played in the dirt. This is the Westlawn neighborhood.
I decided to take an online journey back after discovering old photos. It would be simple to just type in the address of 1008 Westlawn Drive and my old home would magically appear. What!?! The house numbers had all been changed to digits beginning with 6700. (Weird since my part of the street started Westlawn Drive…a current map even showed that.) How would I mentally retrieve images of the houses on the street by thinking of old neighbors down to the corner? I could not do it. Where to go now?
I googled the street name and tried to find where my home could be. I looked at real estate listing and Zoom. No answers. I typed in “neighbors on Westlawn Drive”…bingo I found a listing of names. I remembered that our next door neighbors had never sold their house and had passed it on to their daughter. Their daughter had never married. I knew their last name started with a P and was Italian in ethnicity. Well, double bingo! There was their name…yes, the daughter still lived there. At our house, the people that bought it from my parents in 1956 still lived there. Well, holy cow! I looked at the houses on Zoom. My home had 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and was a rancher. The current owners had added a second story, 3 more bathrooms, and 3 more bedrooms. My parents had paid $7,000 in 1950. This home was valued at over $850,000! My parents always said that if they had to buy that house again, they would not have been able to afford it…true.
In looking through my first neighborhood, many houses had been updated on the outside while others had not. My old neighbors had not updated the outside. I had remembered that there was a big rock at the end of their walkway…the rock was still there.
My next question about my oldest memories…why did the city of Falls Church change the house numbers…and where is that answer? I am going to find out.
PS I did use Ancestry to see if I could find any of my first neighbors. I found high school yearbook pictures of some of my friends. I could a death certificate for my neighbor, Tony P, in addition to his marriage certificate. I found neighbors on FindAGrave. I thank them for being such good people.
Well, bless my bloomers…nobody ever told me that. I had to figure it out all on my own. The clues were right there calling out my name to pay attention to the details. Right there, by golly! Why was I so slow in figuring it out? So here is my story.
Climbing up the family tree is an awesome adventure. Gathering names, dates, and locations fills out the branches. Getting the big picture of how we all fit together in our families is an honorable task. It is only natural to notice who is named after whom as names are often repeated. For some confounded reason, I never gave thought to these ladies. I was too busy checking out the male namesakes.
There she stood, my maternal grandmother. Her name was Isabella Mary Boultinghouse. She was the baby sister of the four children…three girls and one boy. Her two older sisters were both originally named…first time that there were a Pearl and a Helen. The boy’s first name, Edward, was shared with his father’s middle name. It wasn’t until I looked over a picture from 1916 when a family photo was taken of Isabella’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Her maternal grandparents were William Henry Stevens and Isabella Anna Couchman…Isabella, Isabella. My wheels were turning. What about her middle name of Mary? Why, her paternal grandmother was Mary Magdalina Kramer, who had married Amos Howell Boultinghouse! Now, my brain was making the connection. It was clear how she was named.
When I was a little girl, my mother told me that I was named after my grandmothers. Hmmm, how could that be…their names were Grammy and Babcia? I was too young to know that those were their “grandma names”. Later, I would make that connection of Mary (Isabella’s middle name) and Anna, my father’s mother. I am Mary Anne Slabik-Haffner. The connections one makes as she touches the leaves on her family tree.
Discovering family legends is like finding a gold nugget. Some nuggets are right on the surface and staring the finder in the face. Some are buried beneath the surface and waiting to be assayed. Some are merely pyrite, fool’s gold, with no great truth or value.
The journey taken was not a call to the gold rush of family discoveries. The little nuggets of stories were hidden among bedrocks of facts and dates. Nothing shiny lie on the surface. It took a keen eye and focus to spot the nuggets.
The legends were discovered in sifting through digitized copies of a small Kansas county weekly newspaper, The Western Empire. The print was so tiny that it needed enlargement to view the sparkle of the nuggets. The nuggets belonged to my second great grandfather. He was touted as a pioneer in having settled newly established territories in what would later be the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kansas. On those Kansas plains, he was recognized as a sheep farmer, who prospered by selling parts of his flock each year along with their fleeces. Raising hard working, God fearing children was a sparkling character trait of both him and his wife Mary Etta. Using a grant from a Mississippi agricultural college, he raised cottonwood trees on his property as the plains yielded only a small amount of tree groves. Tiny nuggets of his life story that may have gone unnoticed…undiscovered…untapped.
These nuggets of truth and value were left behind by Andrew Storer (1817-1895). He came with his wife Mary Etta Soule and family to Osborne County in the 1870s. One tiny nugget was that he brought the first pig to the county…that little piggy rode in a covered wagon to its new home.
A lesson learned is that flecks of gold and little nuggets of truth lie right in front of the genealogical miner…find your treasures!
The beginnings of love affairs are always revisited, recounted, and remembered. Over 65 years ago, I experienced the beginnings of such an affair. To this day, I remain in love. This love has grown to a vastness all its own.
It all began when I was a toddler. There was something magical that lived right in our home with me. I was curious as I longed to discover what was hidden inside my toy chest. My mother treated those treasures with respect as they were carefully laid in the top of the chest. When they came out at bedtime, they were glorious in holding my attention. Excitedly, I looked forward to each nightly visit. I was in love! They were picture books whose story lines and illustrations cast a spell over me. The objects of my affection were Mike Mulligan who had a steam shovel named Mary Anne…that was my name, too. My other new love was a bull named Ferdinand, who was a peaceful soul. When my mother presented these stories to me, she was cracking a code called reading. I could not wait to be able to do that on my own.
As I grew in age, I fell deeper in love with reading. We had our own secret rendezvous spots. A favorite meeting place was my town’s library. What a sacred place that was! It was filled with the most glorious books. To add to my thrills, I received my own library card which entitled me to borrow my selected treasures…only to return them to savor more.
Since my childhood, I have never stopped loving my books. The beginnings of my literacy journey have taken me far and filled me with the joy of reading.
What would a second grade girl know about music in 1957? Oh, she knew Elvis, Little Richard, and the early rockers. Yes, she had seen Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. She could sing and dance along to the music. Her babysitter would squeal and sigh as she spoke of Elvis.
Then, 1957 became an unforgettable year for her. It was that year that her family moved in a brand new house in a recently developed neighborhood. With a bigger house, her dad wanted a hi-fi system. A console model with radio was purchased…suddenly, the house was filled with the sound of her father’s records. Her dad sang along with the music, and she did as well. One of the first albums he purchased was “Love Is the Thing” by Nat King Cole. Nat’s rich voice reached out and invited them to sing along to “When I Fall In Love”, “Stardust”, and “When Sunny Gets Blue”. It was magical and unforgettable for the girl. Nat became one of her favorite male singers. But Nat’s voice was not the only one to fill out the house. The girl met Joni James, Keely Smith, Frank Sinatra. It was unforgettably heavenly!
1957 also proved to be unforgettable for the young school girl. She loved going to school! She loved to learn and wanted most of all to read and write. A new Catholic school opened in her town. She was in the first second grade class there. New friends and friendships awaited her. Also, her new neighborhood had a whole gang of kids her age to run around with and enjoy.
It was just a small detail, and it was just a small lie. The bigger picture was that he had been called to serve by Mr. Lincoln himself. It did not really matter…he was 14 years old, but he swore he was 17. He was small in stature at only 4’11” with a dark complexion. He was called to be a drummer boy in the 87th Regiment, Illinois, Company I. He was ready to make a contribution. Yes, sir, Private David W. Grubbs was ready to serve! He enlisted in August, 1862.
At first, David was required to learn many drum calls. These calls would direct his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. David was intelligent and could easily memorize these. He would not be carrying a weapon. Second, he had to prepare himself for other duties on the field. When the battle commenced, he would move to the rear to stay away from the shooting. He could be killed or wounded. He could be asked to assist medics in getting the wounded to safety. He could be asked by the surgeons to assist in amputations and other surgeries. He could be asked to hold down patients. He could be asked to dispose of discarded limbs in piles. David was a farm boy and had witnessed butchering on his homestead, but he had never before witnessed the slaughtering of other humans. The young boy was required to be mature and steadfast…no small tasks for anyone.
In July, 1865, Private Grubbs was mustered out. He was 17 years old. He went back to his family’s farm. Seven years later, he would marry and start his family. Did he tell his children any war stories? He would die at the young age of 47.
A large hole in the family was left by his death. His obituary stated the usual facts as far as birth, death, name of wife and children go. But hidden between the lines of writing was a larger story.
Born in Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, in 1848, Jeremiah Frederick Bowman was one of eight sons. Five of those sons would go off to fight in the Civil War…three would come back. Jeremiah enlisted at the age of 16. At that time, one brother had died in a hospital in Washington, D.C., with burial in the newly planned Arlington National Cemetery. Another brother had died and was buried at Andersonville, Georgia. The other two had been wounded. Did this inspire him to enlist and lie about his age? Could his parents sacrifice another child? Jeremiah survived the fierce fighting with no wounds or injuries.
Jerry, as he liked to be called, married Martha Bell Shatzer. They were the parents of six children. Martha died at the age of 27. They had recently moved to Ohio. Now a widower, he had the large duty of raising children and managing a farm. But he would not remain alone for more than two years with his marriage to Sarah Matilda McFadden. Together, they would have 10 children. All of the children reached adulthood which was unusual for the times. Jerry was surrounded by many hearts and souls.
Jerry lived to be 88 years old with his wife Sarah always by his side. In total, he would have 98 grandchildren. What stories did he share with them about his life? What little scraps of grandfatherly wisdom did he impart to them? He left behind a large family with a large legacy.
Note: Jeremiah is my husband’s third great uncle. In locating his obituary from 1936, I was inspired by the largeness of his life to relate just a small part of his human story.
When I first saw the face of the lady in the harbor, I knew I would never go back to the old country to live. Her face was beautiful to me, and it held such promise. No longer would I be a Polish farmer owned by the Kingdom of Prussia. My country of Poland did not exist in August, 1912…it did not exist on a map, but it did exist in my heart. It was the motherland of my people. My people had passed along family stories of Catholic kings and princes who loved us. What hardened my heart against the old country was that I was conscripted into the Prussian army…I did not want to serve greedy men. I longed for freedom…freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from oppression. My brother Jan went to America where he lived with other Polish emigres in Philadelphia. He had a job. He had a family. He had a roof over his head. I made a decision to leave my remaining family, including my parents, for a new country. I left with a little money in my pockets but big wishes in my dreams. I was 25 years old.
In May, 1906, I was 14 years old. I was an orphan. I was alone, but for the family members who took me in. I had nothing, and I had nothing to lose. I was of Polish extraction. My brother Antoni lived in a place called Connecticut in America. He begged me to leave the old country and join him. He found a family for whom I could work. I would be a charwoman in a large household…I did not know what that meant. My country was suffering from labor strikes so I had no future. If I could get from my village in Austria to Trieste, Italy, I could board a ship to this America…that was almost 600 miles to carry my belongings on my back and find a way to get to the ship. Three other orphan girls from my village traveled with me. I had little money on my person. I was leaving the old country to claim a new home.
In 1914, we (Francizek and Anna) were neighbors in a Polish neighborhood in Philadephia. Much of our lives centered around our Catholic parish of Saint Ladislaus and its activities. We grew to love one another so we married. We had three children: Emilia, Stanley, and Edward. In raising our children and educating them, our goal was to guide them into being American citizens with a love of their country and its people. We spoke little about the old country to them and followed little of our Polish traditions. We wanted them to learn English and make their way in this America, our new country. Our lives were simple, and we were a simple family. Anna died 20 years before me, and she never returned to the old country. I, however, returned for a simple visit with remaining family. I experienced the old country through different eyes. My homeland had been desecrated by two world wars. In returning to my beloved America, I lived the last of my days in my beloved new home.
Note: This is the story of my paternal grandparents, Anna Mroz and Franciszek Slabik.
Imagine taking a journey thinking that others will soon accompany you. Imagine them being so excited to join you that they cannot wait for the next leg. When you get ready to leave the station, the reality is there is no one joining you on the platform. Not one single soul is standing there with ticket in hand and luggage beside her. You are traveling alone…you are going solo.
As you travel from place to place, you are thrilled to become acquainted with small towns and farmland. You reach out to family you have never met. You look for their stories and clues left behind to explain exactly who they were and how they lived. With enthusiasm, you share with your folks back home all the family you have newly embraced…none of these folks is truly listening. To them, you are speaking of strangers that they have no intentions of welcoming. You are adventuring alone…you are going solo.
You choose to write poems and letters about these newly embraced ones. You design scrapbook pages to lay out photos and newspaper clippings. You are making a picture book that will showcase their memories. You share with the folks back home who merely glance at the pages. You have resurrected these lives only for yourself. You are creating alone…you are going solo.
Then, glory of all glories! You met newly found cousins. You join an online group. You talk with others who have gone on journeys of their own research travels. You have an audience that wants to know your stories. You have a comradeship with others who cherish their ancestors, too. You have come home and been welcomed. Now, you are traveling in the company of kindred spirits…you are not going solo.