Growing up, my Pop rarely told stories about his childhood, but when he did I was riveted. I think his stories caught my attention because his childhood was so different from mine. You see, he was taken from his parents and raised by various foster families. He and his siblings grew up in three separate houses around town.
I couldn’t conceive of a childhood like my Pop’s: without siblings and parents. I marvel at the strength and independence necessary for him to reach adulthood. Because of his childhood, he never knew the basic facts of his family most people take for granted: the names of his grandparents, where they came from, and what kind of people they were. About ten years ago, I started asking him about his tumultuous (my word, not his) past. It wasn’t until his illness a while back (He’s fine.) that he told me the first clue I needed to find his relatives: his mother’s name.
So I set myself the task of finding out about her and her family. Suddenly, towns I’d never thought twice about before became important places: Council Bluffs, Iowa; Hensall, Ontario; Portsmouth, Ohio. These were the communities my family was a part of for generations. These towns were springboards for where my family is today.
“When a man’s stories are remembered, then he is immortal.” ~ Daniel Wallace, Big Fish
In my research, I’ve discovered mysterious and intriguing characters on both sides of my family. So, recently, I found myself telling a friend about a spinster great-grandaunt who left her small Iowa town in the 1910s to marry a cigar manufacturer in Oregon. A half hour later, my mouth was dry from talking and my friend was volunteering to help me research.
That made me think it was time to get these stories ‘on paper.’ This blog will be my funnel for the people I encounter in my research and a recommitment to my love of writing. Hopefully, this internet thing isn’t just a craze and my words will be available to future family members who share my curiosity. I will also include some of the history involved, as well. For instance, I found myself researching exactly what a 1910 cigar manufacturer did for a living. But, more on that later.
This is how I see this blog working:
Nothing will be posted about living relatives, except an occasional reference to my parents. Some of the posts will be my thoughts on actual documentation: census records, random certificates, photographs, and articles. Other posts will be fictional stories with names changed, if necessary. The stories will be edited for dramatic effect, but they will all fall somewhere on the ‘truthy-ness’ spectrum between the plain facts of a Civil War pension document and the outlandish tales of the book/movie Big Fish by Daniel Wallace. They will be cobbled together as my imagination interprets the information I have at the time. As I gather more information, the stories may change, but that’s the beauty of history.
My ancestors were mostly Midwestern farmers— not the most exciting bunch on paper, but their stories and relations often surprise me. If I find such interesting people in my humble family, I’m sure everyone else’s families are just as interesting. So I hope my stories and research will inspire others to look into their own pasts and share the stories they find.
Among other things, I’m working on telling what I know of the man who lost his government job because of Roosevelt’s New Deal and the significant ripple effects of that case of unemployment across my family tree. And the story of my sweet grandfather’s dahlias. And, of course, that great- grandaunt who found her cigar-smoking love, Hank Ruffe. The article at right is a hint at what’s to come. It is the obituary of Hank’s employer and sister-in-law, who seems to merit her own post based on her big-game hunting skills alone.
And with that, I’m off to write, Lord help me.