The Joy & Fury of Genealogy Gifts

Family Historians live for those five precious words: I have something for you.

Let’s all just take a moment to remember that the amount of “stuff” I have (and believe me, I’m trying to eliminate a lot of it) in no way diminishes my deep longing (and yes, need) for mementos of familial significance. I may have no idea where I’ll put it or how I’ll document it or how to share it. Yet, I absolutely need it. Make no mistake.

Sometimes you expect it. Sometimes you almost plan it. You know that if you ask enough questions about a person or a situation, you’ll be offered a photograph or a letter or some striking piece of history that ties him into the fabric of your story.

And then, sometimes, it catches you totally off your guard. You are driving someone home after a Thanksgiving visit, and someone you haven’t seen in months greets you at the door with a brown envelope and says, “I have something for you.” Your heart races. Your pupils dilate. You feel the blood rush to your face. You couldn’t be more enthralled if it had four wheels, a hood ornament, and a bright red Christmas bow. This is the moment for which you didn’t even realize you were longing. For a moment, you even forget that your name is misspelled on the envelope. It doesn’t seem to matter at that moment.

What’s inside? Is it a letter? A death certificate? An ancestor’s attempt at a pedigree? Naturalization papers? Civil War records? Photographs? A lock of hair?

What’s inside?

What’s inside?

What’s inside?

And then you remember: It doesn’t matter.

The contents of a small brown envelope or the contents of a trunk that’s been rotting in the attic. It doesn’t matter what’s inside. What matters is this: It’s been entrusted to your care. Someone, with some appreciation of the family history, feels that the best place for this treasure is in your keeping.

That’s a humbling realization.

I’ve had two moments like this in the past year. Both situations left me silent, soaking up the incredible information that was being gifted to me. Both situations left me stunned, overjoyed, silenced. The first came about at the Schmitzer Family Reunion in August. A woman I’d never met (who, ironically, had emailed me prior to the Reunion but I didn’t read the email until afterwards) handed me a brown paper bag full of Reunion logs, letters, and other information that I will be sifting through for a long time yet. I can’t wait to share it with my family.

But yesterday, when my dad handed me this small brown envelope of papers, I could hardly stand the 6 hour drive home so I could rip it open and sort through it!

I confess that I was frustrated at first. Several of the pages have apparent coffee stains, which is certainly not worth complaining. Except the two pages of handwritten notes (my secret genealogy obsession) where the coffee stains are more like blobs, making much of the document illegible. I need someone who can pull an Abbie Sciuto on the pages and separate the coffee from the ink, or something. I was also frustrated, initially, because the pages didn’t seem to make sense in context of one another. It seemed like random information, but I’ve been doing family history long enough that I should’ve known not to jump to conclusions! The pages actually belong together.

The first two pages document the marriage and children of Joseph and Jane Moore, my Scottish (according to this person’s research; Irish, according to some others) 3xG grandparents. The pages that follow document the descendants of his children, my 2xG grandfather, Thomas, and his brothers.

The Edward clan (on of my 2xG grandfather’s brothers) has been problematic for me for some time now. I’ve connected online with one or two of his descendants, but I have better questions than I have answers. Ironically, it is the text on his family that has the Coffee Blobbing.
Coffee Blob
The experience is further complicated by the lack of authorship. It is an excellent reminder to myself (and any genealogist, regardless of experience level) to byline and date my work. As it stands, most of the information corroborates what I already know, so it’s not problematic; the information regarding Edward, however, is obviously a photocopy of a handwritten account without apparent author at present.

What is a Family Historian to do?

Simple, folks.

She rolls up her sleeves, makes a fresh pot of coffee, and begins transcribing the documents before her while she waits for her father to call and answer some of her questions about where the information came from and whether it can be replicated or attributed to anyone.

Is there a better way to spend a Friday evening? Nah. There isn’t. There really isn’t. The truth is–frustration or not, we get sucked into genealogy because we love the puzzle. And we love new pieces, even if it’s a sky blue piece and you’ve already filled in the sky.

Pax,
Sar

Reflections on a Reunion

Has it been four weeks already? It seems like yesterday, I was hugging my cousins. I think Steve said it best in an email the other day: “I guess you’re back on your busy, crazy schedule, huh?” I suppose I am, because life seems to be rushing past me with few moments to reflect, rest, refocus. I confess it freely, but not as complaint. Life is great. I am doing well. This weekend is the first chance I’ve really had to be alone, to be quiet.

I would trade it, of course, if I could spend the weekend with my relatives again. Since I can’t, I will opt for the next best: I’ll finally settle myself long enough to write about the Reunion and my excellent family.

To be fair, I have to tell you that for all my excitement and anticipation, I was incredibly anxious about the Reunion for several reasons. My nephew’s condition was growing worse and my brother and sister-in-law were trying to coordinate a trip to Mayo in Rochester; my sister gave me some good, but difficult to handle (for me) news; work was a bit overly-dramatic in several regards; another sister was visiting; I was feeling a bit depressed because we were nearing the two-year anniversary of Rodger’s death; I was on a new medication that was making me very sick to my stomach (I just couldn’t wait to get to the Reunion and vomit up everyone’s wonderful food). On top of all this, I had an irrational fear that no one was going to show up for the Reunion. So you can see, the Reunion came with much “life.”

We gathered in Frankenmuth, Michigan–home to our Schmitzer roots. We rented a pavilion at Heritage Park, right along the Cass River. It was beautifully situated, with many trees and a nearby playground for the kids. It was also tucked away a little bit so we weren’t right next to any other event that was happening over the weekend (and listen, there was a lot going on at Heritage Park). We had worried about being out in the summer heat on a July afternoon, but incredibly–we had a beautiful day, warm enough to enjoy, splashes of sunshine, and intermittent rain showers. It could not have been better!

Food? Oh, there was more food than we could have eaten. I still can’t figure out how it happened. When we were planning the Reunion, I asked Uncle John what he remembered about Reunions from his youth, and one thing he said was that there were always “tables lined with every kind of food imaginable.” I remember his exact words, because I remember thinking, “Okay, I get it–there was a lot of food.” But honestly? I think his words were an accurate depiction of our food situation at this Reunion. There was so much. So, so much. And we didn’t even cut into the watermelon!

I can’t tell you exactly how many people attended the Reunion. I mentioned that I had an irrational fear that no one would attend. This was intensified by folks asking me how many people I expected would come, to which I hopefully replied, “Thirty? Forty? I hope?” I figured that if only those I knew about would attend, we’d have around thirty. Well, here’s what I can tell you. I know there were several people who (unfortunately!) had to leave before we took the group photo (yeah, this is something we’ll have to coordinate better next year). And how many were in the group photo? Sixty. Sixty heads in the group picture.

I have to admit, I was relieved with the turnout. There were so many Schmitzers there!

But enough for the logistics of it all. What were some of the highlights? I’ll try to give a quick recap of some of my favorite mentions:

  • Uncle John’s hugs. I can’t explain why, I just love his hugs.
  • The twins: Jamie and Travis’ daughters were (I think) the youngest in attendance, and they were adorable! It was wonderful to have some young faces at the Reunion.
  • Aunt Verna was my grandpa Herman’s cousin on the Trinklein side. Okay, so she isn’t “technically” a Schmitzer. But you know what? I am so glad she was there! She was one of the best parts of the Reunion for me. I heard stories of my grandparents, and my great-grandparents. What a blessing! What a beautiful woman! I think she said she is 96 years old.
  • We brought a large print poster of an old Schmitzer Reunion (unsure of the year, but some seemed to think it was in 67 or 68) and spread it out with markers, asking people to identify anyone they recognized. In the end, there were only a few names on the poster, but it sure generated a lot of discussion, and it was so cool to see people pointing and talking around the poster!
  • Dori. What an incredible woman.
  • My siblings and cousins. Wow! What fun…I can’t tell you how cool these people are. If you knew, you’d be jealous!

But what tops everything? What was the highlight of all highlights?

My Mom.

I wish I could explain this. I have known my mom my whole life (right?), and she is one of my closest friends as an adult. But when family started to arrive, I felt like I saw my mother for the very first time. She opened up, like a beautiful flower that had been waiting for the sun to shine–she just unfurled, right there, with her family. She told me that she was nervous about the Reunion because we had been talking about names of cousins, etc, and she would say, “I know the name, but I can’t quite picture them.” And all of that resolved when she saw people at the Reunion. It was as if she became this woman I never knew she was. Or…she was able to be herself, more than I’d ever witnessed before. It was absolutely wonderful.

So…there you have it, folks. I leave you with two photos. The first is my niece and me; the second is our beautiful group photo.

Pax!

Sarah

schmitzer reunion 375

schmitzer reunion 291

How did you get here?

How did you get here?

The weekend that my Uncle Wayne passed away, Mom and I had been to Lower Michigan to brother my visit, Jeremiah. It is always so much fun to spend time with him. He is the most laid back, easy to hang out with person I’ve ever known. Truly, I like him a  whole lot (I would like him even if he weren’t my brother–and that is saying a lot). He doesn’t realize it, but he blesses me so much. I have very unique relationships with each of my siblings (as each of them are, indeed, unique!), but Jeremiah really connects to my geeky-genealogy side in a way that my other siblings don’t. I mean, they are all interested in the family history, and they all encourage me in that pursuit, but Jeremiah gets involved in it with me. It’s a lot of fun to have him (and Mom) to get into the nitty gritty stuff with.

During our short visit, Jer took us to a blast from our childhood: East Jordan. Listen, if you don’t know where East Jordan is, don’t feel bad–I don’t really know, either. You just drive and drive and drive…and then you DON’T BLINK. I digress. On our way, Jer showed us the corner where Grandpa’s brother, George, was killed in a car wreck when he was young (my dad’s sister, Aunt Georgeine, was named after him). Though I don’t know the story well, and I never knew my Great Uncle George, it was moving to see the place where he died. I know I’ve seen it before. For some reason, I remember Dad showing me once–but I can’t remember when I would’ve been driving there with Dad.

Aunt Millie, my Grandpa’s only living sibling, still lives in that house in East Jordan where we used to visit as children. Honestly?–her house looked vaguely familiar, but it was the nearby playground that I remembered. We must have walked there from her house to play. We didn’t visit with Aunt Millie, because I am not a fan of popping in unannounced–even though I know she would’ve welcomed us (Aunt Millie was always a favorite of ours). Next time, we will visit and listen to her tell stories. I can’t wait!

But the really moving part of the journey was our visit to Sunset Hill Cemetery. Now, I knew that Uncle George was buried there, along with his parents–my great-Grandparents, Fred and Lillian. Seeing their graves was emotional enough. I know very little about these people. I wish, so much, that I had asked my grandpa about them before he died.

Jeremiah had mentioned that there were a few other Moore’s hanging out at Sunset Hill, so he drove the truck to the other side of the lawn and I walked over to meet him and see if it was anyone we knew. What we found there left me speechless for several minutes. It was Fred’s father, my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Moore, who had come to the United States from Canada as a child. Buried near him is his wife, Ellen [Parker Green] Moore, and between them is their daughter-in-law, Beryl (who married Fred’s brother).

Jeremiah asked me who they were, and I told him all I could remember–which was (embarrassingly) not much. For a moment, all I could recollect of Thomas was that he’d been a mail carrier. But if we’d stood there all day, I would not have recollected much more. The truth is, I just don’t know these people. I don’t know their stories. I don’t know anything about them.

And that, more than anything, breaks my heart. I know, as a searcher of family history, I have to accept my fate: I know that I will never get to the root of each family line; I know that there will always be elusive and mysterious stories; I know that there will always be people I can’t find.

But I don’t want it to be Thomas and Ellen. It can’t be Thomas and Ellen.

As Jeremiah removed to the truck, I stood there at Tom’s grave, trying not to cry, but it just overwhelmed me. This man was my immigrant ancestor, and all I knew about him was that he carried mail–which is more than most of the family knows, I dare say. Still, it is not enough. I heard myself asking him, “How did you get here?” And then I was praying. Or talking. Or wishing. I’m not sure, really. Maybe it started as a prayer but grew into a promise. I promised Thomas that I would not let his name be forgotten, that I would search and I would find him.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we–as a culture–are forgetful. We don’t remember one another as we should. We don’t remember our heritage as we should. We don’t remember how we came to be here. And if we don’t know where we’ve come from or how we’ve come, how can we know where we’re going?

Pax.

semmie.

 

The best thing about Christmas is…

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The best thing about Christmas is…

 

The best thing about Christmas is the gifts. I’m not even joking.

I told you two weeks ago that the best gifts are those we give, and in a world where we are less and less connected with each other, where we trust so few of the people around us, where families and friendships are broken over silly trifles, perhaps the greatest gift you can give someone is yourself, your love.

It doesn’t always evidence as a big gesture—you don’t have to change the whole world all of the time (though I admire the spirit that wants to). Sometimes it breaks through a cloudy day with just a smile and an arm around another. Sometimes it is listening to someone dream. Sometimes it is a cup of coffee well past your bedtime that allows you to share your heart with another. Sometimes it is a game of Scrabble, decorating Christmas cookies together, watching the John Wayne marathon, tossing a football around in the yard, unwrapping four bags of Rolo’s together to make pretzel turtles, or shopping for yarn. The point isn’t necessarily what we do, but that whatever we do—we do it with others. When you give someone your time and attention, you give them yourself, the greatest gift you have.

Those really are the best things about Christmas—the memories we create by spending time together. This Christmas has been such a blessing for me. Though my heart has been heavy with those missing from our gathering (Steven’s family, Rodger, even Sanka), my heart has been birthed with new hope. We have each other. We belong together. God gave us the gift of this family—however difficult it may be to unwrap at times.

As always, kids…keep writing. Keep remembering. Keep living. And keep giving.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

One Winter, it snowed so hard that…

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Winter, it snowed so hard that…

In spite of the fact that I’ve lived in Upper Michigan, all of my life, I don’t have many good Winter stories. Okay, okay—there was the time I got the Ford Escort stuck on a drift of snow with all four tires off the ground; and there was the time the bank sign across from the high school read 60-degrees-below and they had to send us all home from school (except they couldn’t, because the busses wouldn’t start); and there was the first Winter I spent in Hancock, when the ceiling caved in; and the Winter a few years ago that your Grandma and I drove through the McDonald’s drive-through in a storm (the sides of the truck were pressed against the walls of the snowdrifts—we were jammed in like sardines!); and there was something about a washing machine with a full load of clothes (frozen) and your Uncle Donuts. If you really want a good one, you should ask your Grandma Heidi about the Winter her brother John was born (that makes him my uncle, your great-uncle). Now that is a “one Winter, it snowed so hard that” type of story.

But as fun as it is to tell those stories, my heart is more enthralled by Winter than entertained by Her. I always love to look at the trees in Winter. With the heavy snowfall and the forceful winds, I’m amazed that trees have the strength to just stand. That’s all—they just stand. It reminds me of what Paul wrote about the armor of God. He had just finished telling us that our struggle was not just in this world, in the day-to-day, but in the spiritual world as well, and he writes:

          Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

And after you have done everything, to stand. As a family, as individuals, we have seen many changes this year. We have faced struggles and sorrows that we could never have anticipated. Are there any magic words that will help ease our sadness? Are there any special prayers that will move God to take away our trials and make life easy? I doubt it. But He does give us the example of the trees. I hope that every time you see a tree, its branches weighed down with white, you will remember to stand—no matter what life brings your way, no matter how you feel, no matter how you want to give up. Just stand.          Somehow, sometime, in some way, Spring will find you.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

The best Christmas gifts are…

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The best Christmas gifts are…

There are several gifts (not only Christmas gifts, but birthday gifts, rainy day gifts, no-reason-at-all gifts) that were so special to me that I’ll never forget them: The decorating tips that Steven gave me; the night sky bandana from Maggie’s clan; the opal ring from Momma; the socks from Jesse (when I jokingly asked for thick socks and was surprised to find that it was exactly what he gave me); the journal that Jenn gave me for my birthday—she had remembered it from an outing some time past and that I had fiercely coveted it. Those (and others) are the gifts I love.

The best Christmas gifts (the best gifts, period) are those given from the heart. Why did I love those gifts? Because they showed that someone knew me well enough to know what would bring me delight. Great gifts are chosen with care, are a result of sacrifice, and reflect the giver.

I forget that. A lot. Just today, I was feeling discouraged because I don’t have cool gifts to share, and those I do share—I feel insecure about. I want to be the person that everyone gets excited about receiving gifts from! I want my friends and family to be trembling with anticipation as they wonder what I came up with this time. But I’m not. I’m just me. And maybe I’m weird, but I really enjoy giving the gifts that I give. They really are chosen with care. They really are a result of sacrifice (have you ever tried stitching a journal together?—trust me, it’s a sacrifice; so is dipping bags and bags and bags of pretzels without eating them all). They really are a reflection of me (well, maybe the pretzels aren’t a reflection of me, but…you get the idea).

Those are the best gifts—not the ones we receive, but the ones we give. My hope for you this Christmas is that you’ll know the Giver of all good things and the great Gift He gave to us, and that you’ll find ways to give to others—whether tokens or time or fellowship—that truly reflect the giver (that’s you!) and the Giver (that’s God!).

Happy Gifting (that’s Christmas!)!

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

What’s in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning…

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What’s in my Christmas stocking on Christmas morning…

 

When we were young, our Christmas stockings were filled with treats. There was always an apple or orange stuffed down into the toe, and then layered on top were peanuts (in the shell) and candy canes and whatever candy was our favorite at the time. Somewhere, I still have that old red stocking from my childhood. I believe mine had one of those iron-on pictures of Santa giving gifts to some girls and boys.

But Christmas stockings didn’t become something to rave about until a little bit later in our lives. When I was a teenager, Mom decided to knit or crochet a Christmas stocking for everyone in the family. I can’t tell you what any of them look like anymore, except mine. For some reason, in my teenage years, I thought it would be wonderful to have a striped Christmas stocking—a nice, long one—with my favorite colors. Great idea, right?

Right, well, you see…no one told me that a nice forest green would look ridiculous with hunter orange and royal purple. Well—maybe that’s unfair of me. I think Mom did actually ask me if I was sure those were the colors I wanted. And I, in my great teenage wisdom, insisted that I was. Perhaps it’s been my pride that hasn’t allowed me to admit what a bad combination those colors were!

But, then, perhaps it is something else. The truth is that growing up with six siblings, I struggled for years with feeling like nothing was “mine.” Even the things I was interested in belonged to my siblings first (ie: music). As awkward as my stocking looked (looks), it is mine. It was made for me. It was given to me. It is about as bold and awkward and out of place as I am!

I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us. We look at our gifts, our strengths, our interests, and our struggles, and we wonder: How could all of these things work together? How can they meld together to make me something unique? How can they help me change the world? How, indeed! But they do.

I used to believe that God gave each of us one really big gift—like art, or teaching, or athletics, or making balloon animals. I think I was very, very mistaken when I believed that! Maybe you are better at one thing than many others, but please don’t believe that’s all you’re capable of. Please don’t believe that’s the most important thing in your life. It may just be that your passion for music will go hand-in-hand with your love for teaching. It may be that your gift for making balloon animals will help you in your missions work. It may be that your delight in reading will aid you in photography. You never know how those different interests and passions are going to complement one another.

That’s why I love my Christmas stocking. That’s why I can’t bring myself to tell you it was a bad idea to put those colors together—the same reasons I can’t tell you it was a bad idea for God to give me a passion for music and theology and writing. Though they have battled for my attention (and affection) for years, I am beginning to see more clearly that they are just different colors in the Christmas stocking that is my life. Together, they make me uniquely gifted to accomplish whatever it is God has for me.

So what’s in the Christmas stocking? A little bit of green…a little bit of orange…a little bit of purple…

…and sometimes peanuts.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah