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

Schmitzer Family Reunion

In fourteen days, I will be in Frankenmuth, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my dear cousin, Cindy-Loo-Hoo.

It began last year. When Cindy’s father, my dear Uncle Wayne, passed away in September, Cindy began planning to honor his wishes and bring him home to Michigan and to celebrate his life with the family here. As we began talking and preparing for the event, as Cindy’s travel plans began to solidify, it seemed the only logical thing to do was to take advantage of the opportunity and have a good old-fashioned Family Reunion. After all, if Cindy — whom I have never met in my 30-some years of life — was going to make the trip all the way to Michigan from Florida, we had better make it worth her while and gather as much of the family as humanly possible.

In some regards, the past ten months have been a blur. The brainstorming, the planning, has taken more time and attention than I expected. In my mind, it was just yesterday that we decided to really open up the reunion and send invitations to cousins outside of the immediate clan. It was just yesterday that Cindy told me she just wanted to make it through the holidays and get to the summer, so she could hug all of her family. It was just yesterday. And now suddenly–we are fourteen days from Cindy’s arrival; fifteen from the Reunion.

Am I excited?

I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment. There is still so much to plan, to think about, to prepare (not to mention the food). And in the midst of all of it, there are personal things happening that are vying for my attention. I just want to enjoy this Reunion. The Schmitzer heritage is such an enormous part of who I am, and the family history I can glean from a gathering like this is going to be heavier than a February blizzard. I have to be prepared and be smart about recording information.

In spite of all the time and thought already invested, I feel very, very unprepared.

Still, I know that once we get on the road, I am going to be overloaded with excitement. Until then, I just need to keep focused and keep working through the wrinkles…

Pax Christi.
Sarah

The Three Loves of Herman Schmitzer

January 19, 1973.

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. Though he died several years before I was born, he is a man who continues to shape my life, as well as (I know) the lives of all my cousins. In a world where being remembered requires that we be the very best at something, score the most points in a game, make the most money in our field, come up with the newest and bestest fad diet, write the seven-book series that the world is waiting on with held breath (GRRM, this was for you…get writing), having the most “friends” on the f@cebook, etc., ad nauseum, there seems to be less and less legacy; more and more fame.

Legacy is something greater. Legacy changes the way people think, changes the way people behave. Even thirty years after his passing, Herman Schmitzer changes us.

When asked about his teaching career, he was quoted as saying, “The three loves of my life–and in this order–are my religion, my wife, Margaret, and music.”

Herman Schmitzer

I thought of this quote last Monday at our first rehearsal of Choral Society for the semester. We are singing a compilation of Lutheran choral works, which means that two of my own loves are melding into one: my Lutheran faith and music. If you don’t know already, I believe there is a strong connection between theology and music, so to have these two things coming together in a semester of song is really overwhelming for me–overwhelming in a good way.

I wish, more than anything, that he could be in the audience this April as we perform these pieces. He would, I imagine, take such delight in it. I know I will.

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.

 

My parents always say…

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My parents always say…

A few things my Mom has said more than a few times in my life:

  • I wish I were as disciplined about writing as you are (which is ironic, as I’m writing this prompt two days late).
  • We should make an apple pie.
  • You would have liked my dad.
  • I am Jesus’ little lamb.
  • Make sure you lift the stuffing from the bottom of the pan. If you just stir it, it will get all mashed up.
  • Many hands make light work.
  • What color socks should I make for…? (Yes. Take this as a hint. She doesn’t remember what colors she’s made for all of us, and I think it might help her if one or two of us gave her a color request.)
  • I am covered with feathers.
  • The trees are dancing!
  • I don’t need anymore snowmen.
  • When you laugh, it encourages him.
  • I love you.

There’s a handful for you! What about you? Are there certain things your mom and dad say? Are there things you remember hearing your grandparents or aunts and uncles say? Are there things you hope others remember hearing you say?

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

Places I’ve lived include…

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Places I’ve lived include…

 

I’ve only lived a few places in my life, and most of them have been here in Michigan.

I was born in Manistee, which is a city anyone interested in our family history should be familiar with. Manistee was home to your Grandma’s family. While your Great Grandma Schmitzer’s house is no longer there (the one my siblings and I used to visit when we were children), there are several other homes, churches, and rocks (okay, only one rock—but it’s a big one!) from our family’s past that still dwell there. There is also an elderly man living in Manistee—90-some years old—who was your Grandma’s godfather (and also her first cousin, once removed). Your Uncle Steve and Grandma (and Grandma’s mom, and both of Grandma’s grandparents) were born there as well. Your Great Grandpa Schmitzer (the musician!) taught for many years at the Lutheran school in Manistee. He and his wife are buried in Manistee. Lots of family history in Manistee.

But there’s a lot of family history in Marquette, also. In 1984, our family (your grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles) moved to Marquette—to the big green house on Ridge Street, just across and down the street from Peter White Public Library. Most of my childhood memories revolve around that house, that neighborhood, that Peter White parking lot where we used to roller skate around and around and around that center island until we collapsed, that white house on the corner where the funny old lady swept her grass with a broom, the Campbell’s house—which was first Sarah Jean’s grandma’s house, who was my very first best friend (Sarah, not her grandma)—where the boys played and the girls were teased, Jim’s Party Store where we used to buy Tootsie Rolls for a penny apiece, the walk down Ridge Street—through the oldest and wealthiest homes in Marquette—on warm summer days to pass the enormous green flower pot and go swimming at McCarthy’s Cove, the hill behind Parkview where we used to sled in the winter…

I have lived few other places—Hancock, Houghton, Munising—but Manistee and Marquette hold special places in my heart. I hope you always remember your hometown and all the things and people there that make up who you are.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah