9/11 at 15 Years


I don’t want to remember, but I can’t forget. Those arches and palisades that would be beautiful architectural pieces in a cathedral but are horrific in the rubble.

I didn’t want those images seared into my psyche forever, but there they are.

It has been 15 years, and there is certainly nothing to celebrate – except for the heroism that followed this horrific, inhuman attack on America.

Those two things, the most horrific scenes I have ever seen paired with the most incredible examples of humanity I have ever witnessed. I guess it takes a tragedy to make heroes – and this was a tragedy of immeasurable proportions, never experienced before, and thankfully, never again since.


Before I go any further, let me say that not only does my son work in the line of public safety, but so do many of my family members, friends and former clients.  Many went to New York to help in the following days and weeks.

As I listened to this horrible event unfold on the radio, driving to a public speaking event at the Michigan Municipal League Conference, I couldn’t help but think of the police officers, firefighters and EMTs that would be responding and by virtue of their chosen profession, would also be in harm’s way. I said a silent prayer for them. In the end, 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and 55 military personnel would perish in addition to almost 3000 innocent people on planes and in buildings struck by the terrorists. And that’s just the immediate count, not counting those who died later, and continue to die, as a result of those attacks.

As I listened, I had no idea, absolutely no idea, of the magnitude of the devastation that would follow. When the towers collapsed, I was physically ill, because I knew what that meant. I prayed everyone who would die, died quickly. What a terrible prayer to pray.

I stopped at a gas station to fill up, take a break and see if they had a television, because I wasn’t sure I believed what was on the radio, although the descriptions were incredibly graphic and I could tell that the reporters were in shock themselves.  I guess I didn’t want to believe it was true. The clerk at the gas station didn’t even notice me walk in, because she was absolutely glued to a small television.  I joined her and we stood, motionless, in stunned silence.  It was true, and was getting worse minute by minute.

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I assumed it was some small privately owned plane that made a grave error.

When the second plane hit, I knew it was something much worse. I called my husband immediately, who works in an industry very concerned with security, and he was already “in motion,” so to speak. He wanted me to turn around and come home. I kind of thought he was nuts, and I didn’t. Later, as all of the gas sold out of stations, I wasn’t sure I could get home.

I know this makes no sense, but I wanted to know where my family was. I wanted to gather them to me, regardless of their age. I wanted us to be together, because as the nightmarish proportions of that day unfolded, I think we all came to realize that we had no idea where the next shoe would drop, that there were many shoes, and we were suddenly all vulnerable and at some level of risk, as were our loved ones.

I called my elderly mother.  She was sobbing and wanted to know where I was.  I told her to pack a bag, take the cat and all the cat food she could buy, fill her car with gas and go to my brother’s who lived an hour distant.  I didn’t want her to be alone, no matter what happened.  I was 6 hours and 2 tanks of gas away and I wasn’t sure she could get to me, given that we didn’t really know what was happening.  She would be safe with my brother.

The traffic on the interstate was horrendous on my drive to the conference. In fact, it was dead stopped. Apparently people had been so dumbstruck by the news that they stopped paying attention to their driving and had a series of accidents. I could certainly understand that. I drove cross-country, taking the back roads in the beautiful sunshine.  It seemed so wrong for such a terrible day to be so beautiful.  In fact, it all seemed impossible and surreal.

I gave my presentation at the conference, which was normally packed, but on that day, was very sparsely attended. I could tell that no one’s mind was on what I was saying at all. My mind wasn’t on what I was saying either. Finally, we all went out to the lobby and watched CNN together. And we cried. We shook our heads in disbelief as we watched those images over and over again, waiting for the next piece of horrific news. We hugged. Men and women alike. It was the most somber group of people I have ever been with, all funerals included. Each person there served a municipality, and we all knew that anyone could be next. Who would be next? What did we need to do? What could we do?

Air traffic ground to a halt. Never in the history of aviation have such drastic measures been taken. Our skies were eerily silent and fighter jets replaced normal commercial air traffic, especially for those living near borders and “high value targets.”

Never has America been so unprepared for an attack, with no warning, on our own soil. In Michigan, bridges and tunnels were closed due to concern over safety and the fact that some of our bridges lead to other countries. Some bridges are just exceedingly long, and none were prepared for the possibility of terrorism.

Terrorism. What a terrible word. A dark soulless word.

9/11 was the day that terrorism was introduced into our collective psyche in a way that no one alive on that day will ever, ever forget. Terrorism, unfortunately, at one level or another, has been a part of our lives ever since – not only in the US, but also in Europe and other parts of the world. It has spread like a deadly disease – the Zika virus of  radicals bent to destroy us.  They tried to break us, but they failed.

Terrorism also called us all to be patriots. And we answered in such numbers that there were no American flags to be purchased, anyplace.


It galvanized us in our resolve to be Americans, to be brave, and not to be held hostage by terrorists, terrorism or fear. Yes, we live our lives today, still in a heightened state of vigilance, but we do live our lives. They inflicted a grave injury, but they did not and have not won.

Thinking Further Back

As we approach this black anniversary, I realized that there are few things that have had the level of impact on my life, aside from personal anniversaries like births, marriages and deaths, that 9/11 has had.

Another event that probably falls into that same category was the assassination of President Kennedy. That was the day that Americans collectively lost their innocence and 9/11 was the day we became enmeshed in a war that won’t end in our lifetimes. We can’t even see the enemy. They don’t wear red coats anymore.

Vietnam, not a day, but an era, was also very defining for my generation.

On a more positive note, defining moments in my lifetime include the election of a black President and the nomination of a woman by a major party for President. It doesn’t matter whether you like these particular politicians or not – the very fact that our country and society has progressed to the point where people who couldn’t even vote 100 years ago now can and do lead our country is incredibly iconic and liberating. We have gone from “Hell no” to “maybe” to a token “yes” to “absolutely” within two or three generations – mostly within my generation. When I was a child, girls could only be secretaries, waitresses, teachers or nurses. My, how things have changed.

Being a genealogist, I think regularly about the lives of my ancestors, and the 52 Ancestors stories that I’ve been writing allow me, really, force me, to think about their lives individually. I ask myself what things in their lives would have been defining events that shaped their lives, meaning culturally or historically, as opposed to those personal milestones and dates that we typically associate with genealogy.

Some of those milestones stand out as not only life-changers for the ancestors in question, but events that precipitated changes that reverberated down through the generations and changed future lives too. The biggest difference is that that news was carried by Paul Revere on horseback, a town crier or a pony express rider, not by CNN, the internet, cell phones, texts, messages, Facebook and e-mails.

There was no immediate notification across the country, so the news was slower to spread, and reaction took much longer. There was no mass shock. But then the problem couldn’t spread itself by airplane either. Of course, the news might have been much less accurate by the time it reached the most distant cabins and was generally “old” by the time it arrived.

As I write my ancestors’ stories, I try to look for these types of events in their lifetimes. Several come to mind and I’m sure there are many more that could be added to this list:

  • The French and Indian War
  • The 30 Years War
  • The Inquisition
  • The London Fire of 1666
  • Indian Raids on Various Frontiers
  • The Acadian “Grand Derangement” or Removal
  • The Revolutionary War
  • The Civil War
  • The War of 1812
  • The Enslavement of Native People
  • The Genocide of Native People
  • The Trail of Tears
  • The Emancipation of Slaves
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • The Holocaust
  • The Atomic Bomb
  • Women’s Right to Vote
  • The Introduction of Antibiotics
  • The Introduction of Electricity, Telephones, Radio and Television

I asked my mother, before she died, which things had the most profound personal impact on her life and she said that wiring their house with electricity and World War 2.  Those answers didn’t surprise me, except that I hadn’t realized that at one time, she had lived in a home without electricity.  Mother’s fiancé died in WW2 and that clearly changed the entire path of her life.

I ask myself, how did these types of events affect the lives of my ancestors? Did they change their lives by virtue of direct involvement, like fighting in a war, or did they change their lives by virtue of a cultural change, like electricity in homes?

Did they too live in a time of terror?  Did tragedy make heroes of them?

Who were the heroes? Who sacrificed? Whose lives were changed and how? Who died for the cause?

I wonder if they, like us, 15 years later were still living in a “state of heightened vigilance.” I know those types of event changed many forever.

Never Forget

The experience of 9/11, for those even remotely involved will never be forgotten, and for many, especially in New York and for the families of the victims, it doesn’t even fade.

For those of us more remotely involved, being supportive from a distance in whatever capacity we could, those images remain and will remain forever seared into our psyche. Only death will remove them.

We all grieve and mourn in our own way and time. This is the memorial quilt that I started but could never finish, because, well, I just couldn’t.


Perhaps it’s time to finish this now and title it, “They Didn’t Win.”  What do you think?

I wonder which images remained for our ancestors for the duration of their lives? How did they cope?  I wish they had told us, written something about their life and times.  While these memories remain vivid for us, anyone under the age of about 20 has no personal memory of this event.  If we don’t tell our stories, and record them for posterity, they will forever be lost.

Where were you on 9/11?  Which images remain for you?  What is your story?

The Death Watch and Harkening Back

Have you noticed that I’ve been a little quiet lately? My publishing goal is for one genealogy related DNA story each week, typically a 52 Ancestors article, and one other technical article as well. I’ve been a little shy recently, and will be a for a little while longer.

In my world, August has been a brutal, brutal month.

I have trouble with August anyway, truthfully. August 26th is when my father was killed in an automobile accident when I was 7, and my dearly beloved step-father died over Labor Day weekend 31 years later. Those kinds of deep wounds never heal entirely, they simply scar over a bit and we remember them with both sadness and fondness forever. But in reality, we never forget, either the person or the pain of their absence – or the circumstances surrounding their death. In the vernacular of days gone by…the death watch.

In early August, this year, we received news that a family member had been diagnosed with cancer after a routine colonoscopy. Now, that could even be construed as good news, if you’re a glass-half-full person, because it means they found the cancer early enough to do something about it. In other words, while cancer is horrible and terrifying, finding it early increases the survival odds dramatically.

At that point, I did what quilters do – I set about making a “care quilt” for the family member, Mary, with help from my quilt sisters – to let her know the family is thinking of her, to send positive energy her way, to let her know she is loved and to give her something to take with her to the hospital, rehab, chemo…whatever. Being wrapped in a quilt is being wrapped in love. Need a hug, grab a quilt.

I’m glad we made the quilt and shipped it when I did, because little did we know time would be so short.

Mary with quilt

The Dentist and Never-Ending August

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate going to the dentist for dental “work?” Well, I do. It almost never goes well and there is always some complication. That could partly be due to a car accident many years ago, but whatever the reason, it’s always some flavor of quite unpleasant.

So, of course, I was on the way to the dentist’s office when I received the text on August 9th that subsequent scans indicated that the cancer was more advanced than originally thought, but that surgery was scheduled for the 17th. Not good, but still hopeful. I was a bit shaken, understanding how unsettling this news must be to her immediate family members.

A few minutes later, standing IN the dentists lobby, I found out that my friend’s house had burned to the ground that morning and her son did not escape the fire and perished. The terrible irony is that my friend is a firefighter. I will also say that thankfully, Andrew, her son, did not burn to death, but died of smoke inhalation. I know, that is small consolation but it is some. Additionally, I later discovered that the family pets perished as well. Needless to say, it was a horrible, horrible day that rocked this entire community.

I had what I think is known as a meltdown, right there, in the lobby. Thankfully my friend works there. They graciously rescheduled me because the dentist cannot work on a sobbing blob.

The next few days were consumed with trying to figure out how to help. How to help the family who lost everything in the fire. How to help my family member with cancer and the other family members caring for her.  How to be useful but not in the way or overbearing.

And truthfully, I felt like a zombie. I spent some time with my friend’s daughter and her fiancé who had escaped the fire. Loren, the fiancé, had tried to rescue Andrew, but a middle-of-the-night fast moving fire offers very little opportunity to do anything – even to escape yourself. The family members who survived barely escaped – with maybe 30 second to spare. If not for Loren, they wouldn’t have escaped either.

And so, two more quilts were delivered, and I am still finishing the third.

A four quilt week, in total. I never, ever want to live to see another four quilt week. But I wasn’t done yet.

My cousin’s husband had a stroke. This isn’t a distant cousin I’ve never met, but a couple we’ve traveled with. We saw them last fall at a reunion. Yep, a fifth quilt is in the works.

On the 17th, Mary, the cancer victim, underwent surgery which, as they say, did not go well. She was consumed with cancer and died eight days later, August 25th. Needless to say, this was not the result we expected and two days before her death, optimism and hope turned to resignation and immediate family received the “come now” call. Thankfully, most of the family did make it in time, by the skin of their teeth, and she retained enough consciousness to know they were there.

Mary had asked for her quilt to be brought to the hospital. The quilt was doing its job, bringing her comfort.

Andrew’s memorial took place in the midst of all of this, and I discovered that another friend had lost both her husband and father within the past few months, on Christmas Day and Father’s Day, respectively.

And of course, the anniversary of my father’s death was mixed into this painful brew.

Is August ever going to end???

The Death Watch

I’ve been thinking a lot about death this month. It’s OK to laugh at this slight understatement.

My last ancestor story that was published, about Daniel Miller, recounted that his death, on August 26th, was probably unexpected. (I told you August was a rough month.)

Unexpected. The norm then. Aside from accidents, few deaths are unexpected today.

My ancestor Joseph Bolton reportedly got up from the breakfast table and walked out to the fields to work and died of a heart attack. That’s rare, very rare today. He was probably having warning symptoms long before that fateful and fatal attack, but had no way to recognize them, and nothing to do medically in 1920 in Claiborne County, Tennessee if he had.

At that time, most deaths weren’t protracted. Today, it’s a different story.

The following death information was extracted randomly from a dozen chronological Claiborne County, Tennessee death certificates from 1917 beginning in May and ending in late June. 

Name Cause of Death Duration Contributory Cause Duration Comments Death Watch
Nancy Roark Asthma 30 years Acute indigestion 10 days Probably a heart issue 10 days
Demis? Cosby? 7 month child No medical attention 0
Lonie Cosby Tuberculosis No medical attention, mother of child above ?
Esker Brooks Whooping cough No medical attention ?
Shrelda Yeary Dropsy No medical attention ?
Child Fulty Stillborn No medical attention 0
Ansel Ellison Diphtheria No medical attention ?
Alexander Welch Homicide by shotgun Right groin, left side chest 0
James Carr Pernicious anemia 2 years Was a physician ?
Jordon Welch Suicide by shotgun Heart wound 0
Gareth Overton Bowel complication 4 months Tetanus 1 yr 4 months 4 months
James Kivett Drown 0

Looking at these records, it’s easy to see how many of these deaths today would have been preventable, or the disease curable or at least treatable.

When I first started visiting Claiborne County, Tennessee in the 1970s and 1980s, many people still eschewed going to the hospital in Knoxville, about an hour away. When antibiotics were first introduced, people began to seek doctors and medical attention more routinely, but by the time you were bad enough to go to the hospital, it was assumed you were going to die anyway. People gave reasons like “didn’t want the family to be split apart,” but in reality, it was hopelessness. Hospitals, at that time, couldn’t do any more for the ailing family member than the family could do at home, and hospitals were viewed as simply places to go to die. Then, it seemed that going to the hospital “assured your death” and people became even more afraid and superstitious with the stigma of a “wives tale” attached.

Looking at Indiana death records which began earlier than Tennessee death records, we find the following for Elkhart County, Indiana beginning in 1902 where records were clearly kept in alphabetical order:

Name Cause of Death Duration Contributory Cause Duration Comments Death Watch
Elizabeth Miller Inflammation of bowel 12 days Valvular insufficiency of heart Several years 12 days
Harry Miller Typhoid malaria 3 weeks Typhoid ? One week 1-3 weeks
Baby Miller Premature birth 4 hours 4 hours
Jacob Miller Typhoid Intestinal hemo??? ?
John David Miller Senile gangrene 7 months ?
Joni Miller Inflammation of bowels 10 days 10 days
Ruth Miller Malignant jaundice 2 weeks 2 weeks
Solomon Miller Abscess in liver 2 months Probably cancer ?
Rettica Minnich Collapse 10 hours 10 hours
Sadie Michler Bloody flux 11 days Followed by cerebral meningitis 3 days 3 days
Jessie Mitchell Cancer of stomach Don’t know ?
John Mitchell Brain lesion 14 days 14 days
Rebecca Mitchell Old age Dysentery One week One week

In terms of the length of the death watch, Indiana records are more informative.

Today, medicine can “save” many, and I put the word save in quotes on purpose.

Before I say what I’m going to say, I want to be very clear that I am an advocate for medical care, both preventative and remedial. However, sometimes medical care simply extends the death, not extending a useful, meaningful life that has quality.

I was speaking with a physician this past week who is also a friend. She told me that she had “finally” lost her father. She is not an insensitive woman, but it took her father 10 years to pass away. His life was repeatedly “saved,” only for him to go back home to wait for the next medical disaster to befall him. He was immobile, diabetic, had kidney failure and finally died of sepsis. His life had no quality – and the family literally had a 10 year death watch with no hope of real recovery. Should I even mention what that, along with 10 years of 24X7X365 caregiving, did to her mother’s life???

Our generation is the first generation to experience these truly prolonged death watches. In my own family, my 4 grandparents passed as follows:

  • Mother’s mother (1960) – heart attack, death watch 4 days
  • Mother’s father (1962)– liver cancer, death watch about 10 days
  • Father’s mother (1955) – congestive heart failure, death watch probably days to weeks
  • Father’s father (1971) – old age, heart failure, death watch just days

Contrast that to 10 years for my friend’s father, or two years while my brother died of cancer, multiple surgeries and chemo rounds one after another. I surely wonder, in retrospect, if my brother wished that he had foregone all of that and lived just a few months, but pain free and with some quality of life as compared to two years of one bodily insult after another. I guess the price of opportunity and possibility was surgery and chemo.

My other brother spent 18 months on a liver transplant list and then died of liver cancer, without a transplant. My sister had surgery for breast cancer which had returned when she died of a heart attack.

These protracted deaths make for an extremely long and draining death watch for anxious family members who so desperately want the person to be healed, especially if more than one death watch is in process concurrently.

More Deaths Than Births

As my physician friend and I continued to discuss this situation, we were talking about how our generation is the first to routinely experience this phenomenon of the extended death watch.

The death watch used to be characterized by the family sitting by the bed of the person who was going to pass over shortly – usually for hours or a few days, generally after they were too sick to get out of bed anymore. Today, the death watch is very different and often significantly prolonged.

One observation we made is that there just seems to be so MUCH death now. It surrounds us. We realized that this is, in part, because of the lifesaving measures that are underway. We never had these opportunities before, and yes, they do turn into death watches in many cases. But not always. My sister-in-law has had cancer twice and remains cancer free today – 15 years later.

Another observation is that there are a lot fewer births today. That same sister-in-law has 7 siblings, and only one has passed away. My step-father had 12 siblings and my father was one of 10.

By comparison, my sister-in-law had 3 children, I had 2 children that lived, my mother had 2 children that lived, my uncle had 2 children and my other brother had 2 children. Much smaller families today.

By virtue of simple math, in our generation, there are simply more deaths to experience and fewer joyous events like births. The scales have tipped, for now. In the next generation, the balance should be more even, although that doesn’t make the deaths any easier to handle – but there should be fewer of them. That also means fewer family members to love.

Another item of note is that when a joyous event like a birth or marriage does occur, it’s over rather quickly and everyone goes back to what they were doing. Death watches have become prolonged, along with the grieving.  So yes, it does often seem that there is much more death than before, and that the negative outweighs the positive.  In terms of the number of days we are feeling the immediacy of grief through a death watch as compared to the joyful days, the number of grief days has increased while the number of joyful events has decreased with smaller families.  This phenomenon isn’t imagined, it’s real.

How does this stack up in your own family?  How has it affected family members?


Empathy, according to the dictionary, is the distinctly human ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Sympathy is when you feel sorry for another’s misfortune, but empathy means putting yourself in their shoes.

How to we acquire empathy? From experiencing those same things ourselves. Those experiences are what give us the ability to be empathetic. Sitting those long days and nights in an uncomfortable chair by a hospital bed holding a death vigil ourselves – watching the breath becoming shallower and shallower, more irregular as the hours and day pass, until there are no more breaths and the heart beats for the last time – as the last bit of life slips from our loved one and we know they are gone.   Passed over to the other side.

As my husband said, tears welling in his eyes, on a particularly difficult day this past week, “I can’t hear about this without harkening back to my own experiences of when my parents and grandparents passed away.” That’s empathy.  Harkening back.

Empathy is how we know how the other person is feeling, not just feel sorry for their misery. In essence, it’s how we make lemonade out of the lemons we’ve all experienced and continue to experience as humans.

Based on this, the current generation of older adults should be extremely empathetic, helpful, understanding and willing to lend that helping hand.  I find that empathy often increases with age, as people experience more of these events personally.

Empathy – it’s how we know that people need care quilts, and why we make them.  Many times, it’s all we can do.

In Summary

August is nearly over, thank goodness.

Please bear with me as I catch up with my hundreds of unanswered e-mails and write new articles – along with finishing those two quilts and a sixth quilt that is needed now. I’ve used all of my reserve – emotional, blog articles and quilts.

On the other hand, I’m very grateful that I can write these articles and make care quilts. I much prefer this to being the person in need. It’s just that I have not yet figured out how to forego sleep entirely to harvest those extra hours.

There are exciting things that have happened and come my way over the past couple of weeks that I haven’t been able to attend to. For example, I have finally had my 23andMe account transitioned. I need to look at that, along with a new tool developed by a genetic genealogist. I’m looking forward to getting back in the groove. I miss the sanity/insanity of genetic genealogy.

As I said to my husband yesterday, “You got to work.” He replied, “You say that like it is a privilege.” It is actually, especially when you can’t for whatever reason.

Thank you everyone for your understanding during this difficult period and while I catch up from under a seemingly bottomless pile. I’m back at work!

Memorial Day – All Gave Some, Some Gave All

For Memorial Day, I wanted to take a look at my ancestors and see just how many served our country, or the colonies that would become our country. I was surprised, and a bit overwhelmed, to discover just how many veterans I have for ancestors.

“Our fallen heroes are the reason we live in a privileged nation where we get to sleep safely and soundly in our beds every night. This is one of many reasons they deserve this one day to remember their service and sacrifice.”

Seana Arrechaga, widow of SFC Ofren Arrechaga, killed in the line of duty, March 29, 2011, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, just days before the end of his tour of duty.

When I was young, I thought of Memorial Day as the gateway to summer, and Labor Day as the gate on the other end. Of course, Memorial Day in Indiana was associated with the end of the school year, always a happy occasion, picnics and the Indy 500 Race.  It wasn’t until I got older, much older, that I realized the significance of this day.  That’s odd, in a very strange way, given that I have the triangle shaped flag from my own father’s coffin.  I just never knew or understood its significance…that is…until Vietnam.

Dad's flag

I still, to this day, cannot talk about the human losses in and due to Vietnam. Our men came home, if at all, so broken and to an unsupportive, even hostile, country.  Mental and physical illnesses have plagued them in the decades since, and along with them, their parents, wives and families.  Not all died in Vietnam.  Many died years later from the scars inflicted upon them in Vietnam – both physical and mental.

Perhaps Vietnam was no different from any other war – it’s just that Vietnam was the war I witnessed. Boys going to the recruitment center, proud to enlist, returning months or years later as men, broken and ravaged by an invisible disease, nightmares that woke them screaming from what used to be peaceful sleep, and horrors the rest of us can’t begin to imagine.

I knew Greg growing up, before we dated and married. After he returned from Vietnam, he found a job and tried to pretend all was well, but the mental demons would consume him, inch by inch, day by day, month by month, year by year – until he was gone.

I found a photograph in my former husband’s belongings that explained it all. It was a picture of him and two other men in military fatigues in Vietnam, eating lunch sitting in the front bucket of a bulldozer.  Then I looked closer.  The piles waiting to be bulldozed were human corpses, stacked like cordwood. It is any wonder mental illness consumed him and stole his life?

Then I understood why he hated returning to active duty from leave.  It didn’t have so much to do with what he was leaving as what he was returning to.  What few stories he told me were utterly horrific.  Mostly he didn’t talk about his time in service in the Army’s Green Beret unit.  He never discussed it while it relentlessly ate him alive.  There was no escaping.  Yet, he was proud to serve his country.

He is the first veteran to honor.

Greg Cook

Greg happy times

This picture was taken one Christmas in happier times.

David Estes

Dave uniform for blog

The second veteran is my brother, David Estes, a Marine, shot down as a tail gunner, injured and contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion in Saigon.  Yes, it took him 27 years, but he too succumbed to his injuries.

William Sterling Estes

Dad in uniform for blog

My own father, William Sterling Estes, served three tours in the Army as well, in both WWI and WWII, and he too was injured.  At one point, either during or after his service, he worked at Oak Ridge, TN, on “the bomb,” and he was just never right again.  Alcohol consumed his life.  He died in an automobile accident that we believe was suicide after what would be his final relapse.

John Y. Estes

John Y Estes

My father’s great-grandfather, John Y. Estes, was a Confederate prisoner of war during the Civil War, captured after he was injured and eventually released north of the Ohio River to make his way back to Claiborne County, TN, as best he could.

John R. Estes

John R. Estes restored

John Y. Estes’ father, John R. Estes, served in the War of 1812 out of Halifax County, VA.

George Estes

John R. Estes’ father, George Estes, served three tours of duty in the Revolutionary War, two in Virginia and one in what would become Eastern Tennessee.

Moses Estes

George Estes’ grand-father, Moses Estes, served in the French and Indian War in Amelia County, Virginia.

Henry Bolton

Henry Bolton, my great-great-great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War in Maryland and may have looked after George Washington’s horse.

William Herrell

William Herrell, my great-great-grandfather served in the War of 1812, walking from Tennessee to Fort Williams in Alabama, and back.  He called this the “War with the Creek Indians.”

Samuel Claxton or Clarkson

Clarkson, Samuel Civil War

Samuel Claxton, my great-great-grandfather served as a Union soldier in the Civil War, contracted tuberculosis, never recovered and died after the war.

William McNiel

William McNiel, my 4th great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War from Spotsylvania County, Virginia and fought at the Battle of Brandywine.

Reverend George McNiel

William’s father, the Reverend George McNiel served in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of King’s Mountain, even though he was in his 60s at the time.

John Francis Vannoy

John Francis Vannoy, my 5th great-grandfather, may have served in the French and Indian War.

William Crumley Sr.

William Crumley Sr., my 5th great-grandfather, provided supplies for the Revolutionary Army, gathering supplies in Frederick County, Virginia, and submitted a Publik Service claim.

Edward Mercer

Edward Mercer, my 6th great-grandfather, father-in-law of William Crumley Sr., fought with George Washington and was defeated at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, during the French and Indian War.

Marcus Younger

My 5th great-grandfather, Marcus Younger, provided brandy and other supplies in King and Queen County, Virginia during the Revolutionary War.

Lazarus Dodson

My 4th great-grandfather Lazarus Dodson, served in the Revolutionary War, in the same unit with George Estes in what was then North Carolina, but later became Tennessee.  Their grandchildren would marry in Tennessee.  Their descendants are shown below at the celebration honoring Lazarus by setting his gravestone.

laz descendants

Raleigh Dodson

Lazarus’s father Raleigh Dodson, may also have served in the Revolutionary War. His name is on the same roster.

Jacob Dobkins

My 5th great-grandfather Jacob Dobkins served in the Revolutionary War as a scout.  He is believed to have participated in the Battle of King’s Mountain as well.

John Harrold

William Herrell’s father, John Harrold, my 4th great-grandfather, served two terms in the Revolutionary War out of Botetourt County, Virginia serving in Virginia and North Carolina.

Michael McDowell

My 4th great-grandfather Michael McDowell served three tours of duty in the Revolutionary War out of Bedford County, VA.

James Lee Clarkson/Claxton

James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, my 4th great-grandfather, served in the War of 1812 and died in service in Alabama at Fort Decatur.  He was buried outside the fort, but his grave has been lost to time.

Nicholas Speak

Nicholas Speak, my 4th great-grandfather, fought in the War of 1812.

Joseph Workman

Joseph Workman, my 5th great-grandfather, served in the French and Indian War.

Col. Robert Craven

Col. Robert Craven, my 6th great-grandfather, served in the French and Indian War.

Abraham Workman

My 6th great-grandfather, Abraham Workman, served in the French and Indian War.

Charles Beckwith Speak

Charles Beckwith Speak, my 4th great-grandfather, served in the Revolutionary War in the militia in Maryland.

Gideon Faires

Gideon Faires, my 5th great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War.

Samuel Muncy

Samuel Muncy served in 1774 on the frontier in Moore’s Fort in what is now Lee or Scott County, VA.

Mother’s Side

On my mother’s side of the family, there are fewer men who served to defend the US or the colonies, in part because many of her ancestors immigrated recently, in the 1800s, from both the Netherlands and Germany.

Some of my mother’s ancestors were Brethren, a pietist religion, opposed to warfare or violence in any format, to the point they would not defend their own family against attack.

One of mother’s lines was Acadian, so spent their lives in Canada, not the US.

Joseph Hill

Joseph Hill, my great-great-great-grandfather may have served in the War of 1812 from Vermont.  There were two Joseph Hills and we have been unable to verify his service.

John Hill

Joseph Hill’s father, John Hill served in the Revolutionary War from New Hampshire.

John Drew

John Drew, my 6th great-grandfather, was a Sergeant in the military organization of New Hampshire in the 1600s.

Capt. Samuel Mitchell

Capt. Samuel Mitchell, my 5th great-grandfather, served in Maine in the 1600s.

Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins, my 11th great-grandfather, served at Jamestown, returned to England, then sailed on the Mayflower and served in the Plymouth colony.

Militia Service

Many men’s names are omitted from this list, not intentionally, but often due to lack of records. The Revolutionary War was the first war that offered land as pay, or land as a benefit of service, as well as both veterans’ and widows’ pensions.  Therefore, service records become critically important.

In the previous wars, specifically the French and Indian War, the only records we have are county records if the soldiers happened to be recorded.

During this timeframe, and earlier, all men were expected to serve in the local militia which functioned to protect the community as well as serve on the frontier to defend the region, if called upon. Therefore, we can assume that all men prior to the Revolutionary War did in fact serve in some capacity in their local militia and community.  Did they see warfare defending the frontier?  Perhaps, but we’ll never have that documentation because in most cases, there are no lists of militia members, nor records of what types of activities the militia was engaged in, aside from regular drills and practice.

In many cases, we don’t know when, why or how men died, so we don’t know if they died in the service of their country, as a result of that service, or of some unrelated cause.

Thank You

For all of my ancestors whose service goes unmentioned, my apologies, but more importantly, my sincere thank you. Without those hearty men who all served as a normal part of their citizenship, we would not be here today as a nation.  And thank you to the wives, left at home with the children who persevered and carried on, doing both the man’s and woman’s work while the husband was gone.

I am honored to carry the history of such a long list of patriots, stretching from Jamestown and the Mayflower to my brother and father.

My son, while not serving in the military, serves as a public safety officer, providing both fire and police protection for his community, risking his life daily to do so – and has for more than 20 years.

radio in squad car

Thank you, one and all, for your service.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, but don’t forget who made it possible and those in active service today who keep it possible. Many are unable to celebrate with their families this weekend either because they made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, they are currently deployed or because they are working to protect the rest of us.

Just One More Summer Sunday….

I wasn’t able to work on my 52 Ancestors story this week, so instead, I’m sharing something different with you.

I started writing “Sunday Stories” years ago. This is my way of sharing history with my family and descendants, the kind of history I wish I knew about my ancestors.  The daily, “what was my life like” kind of history.

I’ve been rather lax lately. My family doesn’t know it, but the 52 Ancestors articles ARE their Sunday stories for right now.  Still, from time to time, I write a separate Sunday story when something strikes my fancy.  This week, I’m sharing my Sunday Story with you in the hopes it will inspire you to do the same.

Years ago, a man named Mickey used to write Sunday Stories about his life in Italy before he immigrated. He faithfully took the hand-written letter to a copy machine every Monday and mailed a copy to each of his children.  Many didn’t even bother to open the envelopes – too busy – just threw them in a drawer.  Some even lost them.  But when Mickey died, all of a sudden those letters became precious, to the point that the kids had to make a list to see who had which letters and if any, God forbid, were entirely missing.

Mickey would have smiled. I don’t know if he had a father’s intuition and knew that’s exactly what would happen – but he told me he knew they weren’t being read when he sent them.  That made my heart sad for him, because I knew how neglected and unappreciated he must have felt.

I saw what happened in Mickey’s family after his death.  It was actually kind of humorous in a sad way – all the frantic scrambling.  I know they all wished they had paid more attention to Mickey when they had the opportunity.

I decided that Sunday stories were a wonderful idea – and it really doesn’t matter that they aren’t read today, even though I hope they are, because I’m writing them for posterity too.  Someday they’ll be read, maybe….and if not…it wasn’t for lack of trying on my part.

Please join me today for “Just One More Summer Sunday” and a peek into life on the farm in the Midwest with my Mom and step-Dad, who I have forever called my Dad.

Just One More Summer Sunday

Summer Sunday

What I wouldn’t give for just one more summer Sunday.

Not that Sunday’s were particularly special on the farm, it’s just that we were all home on Sunday. Even if we had moved to town, everyone came home on Sunday afternoon.  We talked and joked, sometimes played games like gin rummy, aggravation, dominoes and Yahtzee, and did whatever needed to be done.  And we ate, of course.  Life on the farm revolved around eating.

No one ever talked about coming home on Sundays, or planned it particularly, it’s just what we did. It evolved.  Everyone looked forward to Sunday family time to catch up with what everyone else in the family was doing.  It was Facebook face to face.

Sunday afternoons in the summer in Indiana were hot and sticky and uncomfortable. Fans were involved.  Sometimes a completely ineffective electrical fan for the entire house, and always, personal fans being waved back and forth made up of anything that moved air.  Magazines, cardboard, whatever.

So we sweat together. Sweat bonds people, ya know.

We also cleaned green beans together and shucked corn together, sitting on the metal glider under the old maple tree out back, with the corn silk sticking to our hands and arms because we were “moist,” as my mother used to say. Women didn’t sweat, for Heaven’s sake.

We took the kids along and picked out the best watermelon or musk melon from the melon patch that we had planted one Sunday afternoon in the springtime and brought it to the house. If it was particularly large, the child rode in the red wagon to the garden and the child got to pull the wagon back to the house with the melon in tow.  Often, we cut the melon outside to keep the mess out of the kitchen – plus – it was cooler out there in the shade.

We always had a “slop bucket” where any food waste, like melon seeds and rinds, got deposited with a splat. After dinner, we got to go out and feed the hogs who had been looking forward to the slop bucket “treat” since we began the food preparation process.  Hogs are a lot smarter than people give them credit for.  They knew.

Dad had an old red barbeque grill with the paint peeling off from years of cumulative heat. He put charcoal in the bottom and lit it using lighter fluid with enough time left before “dinner time,” which was lunch on the farm, or “supper time” which was late afternoon, about 5, for the charcoal to ignite, burn bright, then burn down to grey ash with the heat inside.  Dad somehow magically knew when the coals were “about right.”  Then he put the burgers on the grill.  It was a long, involved process and you could easily die of hunger waiting!  It didn’t make any sense to me that the coals were better for cooking than the fire, but I’ve learned a lot since then about cooking heat and the fires of life as well.

Before Dad had the red barbeque grill that we got him for one Father’s Day, he had an old barrel cut in half with some kind of grill or wire thing that he had rigged up that sat across the top. Sometimes food fell through the rigged mesh into the charcoal, and you just picked it back up with the tongs and put it back on the grill, after brushing it off of course.  If it was too bad, it went in the slop bucket.  Nothing was ever wasted.

Much of our life on the farm was “rigged up,” but we never viewed it that way. Today I look back at all of those things Dad made personally and cherish them along with the time he took to make them.  Then, they were just life, the way it was and what we did.  Nothing special.

Mom and I made the hamburger patties inside and put them on plates and took them outside to Dad to grill.  Yes, we used the same plates to bring the grilled burgers back inside, and no one died or even got sick.  We made potato or macaroni salad and cut up whatever vegetables were ripe in the garden.  By August, we had fresh corn to shuck and together, at the table, after one of the children said Grace, we ate buttered corn on the cob, grilled hamburgers and fresh warm tomatoes from the garden.  Life couldn’t have been better.  To us, then, it was just normal.  Nothing unusual or special.

We chatted about what happened during the week, plans for the next week, school, teachers and oh yes, about the crops, what was ripening next, or was wilting in the heat…and rain, always rain, or lack thereof. It was a farm, after all.

The women discussed who was dating whom, who was potty trained, who was sick,  what was on sale this week in town, and church doings of course.

Everyone talked about funerals, births, who bought a new car, or far more exciting, a new tractor, and who was going broke – and in farm country, someone was always going broke.

Oh, and pass me another burger and some of that “mater” too please…

There is absolutely nothing like a plump bright red tomato, fresh picked from the vine, warmed by the sun and sliced, its flavor exploding with the juicy hamburger and a slice of sweet onion too.

Sometimes we had buns, sometimes not – depended on how much we could get at the grocery that week for our $20 bill. Sometimes the choice came down to chocolate or Oreos or buns….and let’s just say that we often ate without buns.

And speaking of chocolate, the best was yet to come. Dad planned ahead and sometimes, on particularly hot Sundays, he would make homemade ice cream for dessert.  He churned it by hand, the churn sitting on the back step.  Actually, we all took turns since it was no small task and your arms got tired really quickly. He always helped the kids and absorbed way more than his share of the work without anyone noticing and without saying one word.

Because making ice cream was a slow process requiring patience, dessert usually happened about mid-afternoon.

We always made banana ice cream. It was Dad’s favorite, so somehow it became the entire family favorite. No one even suggested any other flavor – ever.  That would have been heresy…and besides that…no one even thought of it.

I remember company one time asked about chocolate ice cream and we all just stared at them like they were speaking a foreign tongue we couldn’t comprehend. They said they didn’t like banana ice cream.  Mom told them they would like this banana ice cream, because it was “special,” and that was that.  I don’t know if they liked it or not, but nary another word was spoken about other flavors!

It seemed like it took FOREVER for that ice cream to set up. And the more you had to crank, the hotter you became, and the more you wanted some of that ice cold ice cream.  Sort of seems self-defeating doesn’t it – but ironically – no one ever tried to get out of their turn at the crank.  Everyone thought it was fun – a novelty – at least for a little bit – until your arm got tired.  Then Dad would come over and “spell you for a bit,” because that’s just the kind of man he was.  In reality, we were all “spelling” Dad for a bit, giving him a little break, but we though we were really doing something special!

After what seemed like an eternity, the ice cream would be declared “done,” Dad would crack open the churn and we would finally get to eat the ice cream, whether it was done, meaning set up, or not. Sometimes it was nice and hard.  Sometimes it was more like soft serve and I distinctly remember once when it was almost runny, more like pudding, and Dad suggested we put the lid back on and crank some more.  He got soundly outvoted and we ate the ice cream just the way it was…with one important addition of course…chocolate topping.

But not just any chocolate topping. Nosireeeee…special hot fudge topping.

You know those buns we sacrificed? Well, instead we bought chocolate fudge topping and then we “doctored it up” by heating it and adding both bittersweet dark chocolate and fresh percolated hot coffee until the fudge topping was thick and rich, but not too sweet.  I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense, but it was TO. DIE. FOR.

I wish I had taken some pictures of those days, but back then, picture developing was an expensive luxury and photos were saved for “special occasions,” like when my grandmother’s last living sister, great-aunt Eloise, visited.

Note that by this time, the walkway to the outhouse, visible behind the garage, was semi-paved and Mom and Dad were wearing “good” summer clothes – translated to mean not threadbare and no holes or large stains – at least not that my mother spotted or my Dad would have been sent to change:)

Summer Sunday 2

Even though film and developing was expensive, we did of course take photos at Christmas, birthdays and when we had “special” company, but Sunday afternoon on the hottest day of the summer, sweating, eating burgers and cranking ice cream on the farm was nothing special, so not one picture.

Nothing special at all.

Oh, what I would give for just one more summer Sunday afternoon at home with Mom and Dad on the farm….

Summer Sunday 3

Rachel Barbara Estes, The Invisible Child, 52 Ancestors #118

It was an oppressively hot summer day on a Midwestern farm. There was no breeze and the sun was baking the corn on the stalks.  We hadn’t seen rain in weeks but the humidity level felt like water should be dripping out of the air.

I was 22 weeks pregnant, just past the half way mark.

The point where mothers begin to breathe more easily because they successfully passed that first trimester mark with no complications and things should be smooth sailing from here forward.

I was all too familiar with complications, as my early married life was punctuated by several miscarriages. Some bearing the grim reality of horrible timing in grey concrete industrial restrooms with gripping pain – one at work in those circumstances.  I drove myself to the hospital at the end of my shift, not wanting to tell my male supervisor what was wrong and risk losing my job.  “Female problems” were one of the excuses used to justify discrimination against the hiring and to justify the firing of women – and you certainly didn’t want to give anyone ammunition.

Miscarriages in that time and place were treated pretty much like a fact of life, no different from someone getting the flu and then getting over it. You marched forward, went on, didn’t look back and never let yourself think of that child that might have been.  Actually that child that was, that you carried, but just for a little bit, unable to shelter them long enough for them to enter the world as a child.  You would never know why, what was wrong, but you would always wonder if there was something you could have done, should have done or might have done differently, or maybe not done.

The prevailing school of thought was that you could always “get pregnant again,” in essence depersonalizing that “individual” pregnancy and reducing “it” to a commodity that could be replaced shortly.

If pressed or if you were “too upset,” you would be patronized and told that it was simply “God’s will,” “meant to be” or that “God needed the baby” and that was supposed to comfort you and make the fact that your child died alright. If nothing else, you very clearly got the message that it was time to be “over this” now and to either get over it or shut up.

Getting past that 3 month mark, and then the half way mark of 20 weeks, gave you permission to start dreaming, to start buying baby clothes, a new bassinette, making curtains and thinking about what color to paint the baby’s room.

The baby started to move around and kick, asserting its individuality. “Hi Mom, I’m here” with little fluttery butterfly wings that made you smile to feel them.

You started to guess and attempt to divine using all of the folklore and midwife tales available whether the baby was going to be a boy or a girl. Everyone had an opinion too – and stood a 50% chance of being right!  Those were happy, joyful days ripe with laughter and stories, often of family members.

That was long before parents knew the gender of the new baby, before ultrasound, back in the days when, after that first cry, the first thing you listened for the doctor to joyfully proclaim was “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!”

On that sweltering summer day, with the windows wide open, the sun beating mercilessly on the landscape and no air conditioning, because it was before the days of air conditioning in homes…I was doing laundry when I felt something run down my leg…sweat probably. I looked down to see a rivulet of blood, dividing into branches on my calf, already soaking into my shoe, and I knew I was in trouble.

I began to cry and left a message for my husband at work. No cell phones then.  Someone went to find him.

I called my mother and asked her to meet me at the hospital. She was coming from the opposite side of the county.  The hospital was between us.  I was hopeful that if I got to the hospital quickly, that child could somehow be saved.

Maybe I was further along than I thought.

Maybe the child would live.

Maybe they could get the bleeding stopped.

Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.




Hope against all odds.

I remember in the emergency room, laying on the table when my mother walked into the room. She looked at me and began to cry.  I didn’t realize how badly I was bleeding by that time, but she did.  She knew.  When I saw her face, I knew too.

They took me to delivery, because that baby was going to be born. I was hemorrhaging.  I vaguely remember someone talking to my mother about blood types and transfusions.  I remember seeing my mother standing in the hallway, clutching her purse and mine, sobbing, but trying not to, as they wheeled me inside and the doors closed behind the gurney, separating us…and how utterly terrified I was.  I desperately wanted to reach out to her.  But that was before the days of “family birthing” and even before the days of fathers being allowed in the delivery room.  So, I was alone in the room with a doctor and nurses and deathly silence except for the noises the equipment and I made.

The baby was born alive, but barely, a fraction of an ounce less than a pound. The doctor was anything but joyful when he said to me, “It’s a girl. She’s alive.”  There was no cry.  No sound at all.  In the brief glimpse I caught of her, she was grey.  The team of nurses was working frantically.

They immediately gave her oxygen and put her in an incubator. They took me to a recovery room and another doctor explained the situation.  This child was too small to survive.  The only extremely slight chance that she had was to be put in a 100% oxygen environment with the hope that her undeveloped lungs would function enough with the assistance of a ventilator.

The result of that environment were she to survive? She would be blind and probably severely “retarded,” in the vernacular of that time.  Regardless of what they called it, the meaning was very clear.  The chances of her surviving at all were extremely minimal – or in the stark reality of the doctor’s painful words that felt like anvils on my heart as he spoke each one – “this child will not survive.”

The question quickly became one of her comfort in the time she had before death.  We discussed options.  There weren’t many.

In order to provide the neonatal environment she would need to attempt survival, she would have to be taken to the children’s hospital in another city, and I could not go with her. So, in essence, she would go alone and she would die alone after some number of painful medical procedures.  The doctor held out no hope beyond a few hours or days.  She was just too small.  The future was horribly bleak, a life sentence or a death sentence, one or the other.

I could not condemn her to that fate.  I knew without any doubt that if she stayed with me, she would pass over, but she would pass over being held by her mother who loved her and not alone.  She was so tiny and fragile.

Today, some babies of about that size do survive, or at least have a fighting chance, but that just wasn’t possible then, and everyone knew it.  I chose to accept the inevitable with as much grace as I could muster and do what was best for her.

I held her.  My mother held her.  We kept her comfortable.  We loved her.  We cuddled her.  We talked and sang to her.  She died, quietly, peacefully, without any needles or struggles…just slipped away and passed over wrapped in a soft blanket where she could hear and feel her mother’s heartbeat, surrounded by love.  That was all I had to offer her.

I was grief-stricken that she died, but I had and have no regrets about my decision, although to this day, I can barely even write about it. I made the right choice for her, but it’s one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult decision I’ve ever made.

Oddly, I remember snippets of that time vividly, like they are burned in my memory for eternity, but much of the rest is extremely blurry.

After she died, they took me to a non-maternity floor of the hospital, thankfully. The nurses tried to be extra nice to me, bringing me books, flowers, boxes and boxes of tissues, and medicine.  I fell into a fitful, medicated sleep.

The next day, I asked about funeral arrangements to be made for the baby. The nurse looked at me strangely, said she didn’t know and would ask.  The doctor visited and I asked him.  He said he would check, but I was unclear who he was checking with, or why.

He left and returned, telling me that the baby had already “been taken care of.”

“Been taken care of????”

What did that mean?

They told me that because the baby was under a pound, she never officially “lived” so she never “died” so the body didn’t need to be buried and has already been “taken care of.” They tried to explain it in a way that inferred “this is really for the best,  you know.”

No, I didn’t know.

I became hysterical. They gave me a shot of some kind.  I was still hysterical but in a slow motion blurry dream.

I screamed and wailed.

“NO, NO, NOOOOOoooo.”

It was bad enough that my child was born too early and died. It was bad enough that I held her in death.  It was bad enough already.  But now this too?

They disposed of her like trash – never even thinking to ask me or anyone else in the family?  Really????  How could they do that???

I was insistent that they find my child, again hysterical.  My mother told me it was “too late,” whatever that meant.  They had what, already emptied the trash and couldn’t go through the dumpster?

They gave me another shot of something. They gave mother, who was also very upset, a pill.  My husband had gone back to work, or someplace, leaving me and my mother to deal with the aftermath.  It was over as far as he was concerned and this was all “women’s drama.”  He was soon-to-be an x-husband.

As far as the medical community was concerned, I was the problem, and I needed to be sedated. I should have gotten up and walked out to search for my child, but I had lost too much blood and was too weak and ill and traumatized – not to mention, I was already sedated and hooked up to IVs.

I went home a few days later. My doctor’s final words to me were to wait 3 months to get pregnant again.  Just like nothing had happened.

There was no birth certificate.

There was no death certificate.

No funeral or graveside services or comfort of any kind.  She somehow had slipped into never-never land – a purgatorial hell between miscarriage and live baby.

No validation of pain or loss of either her life or her body afterwards.

No closure.

And somehow, I had become “the problem.”

“It” wasn’t a child, just a medical procedure. Under a pound was just another miscarriage of sorts.  I should be used to this by now, right?  Right???

Going home and seeing the baby clothes for the baby who would never come home and the half-finished nursery. Used to this?


I never got to bury that child. I never got to properly grieve, to say goodbye, to set a gravestone to visit at holidays or to honor her existence.  I didn’t know when the nurse gently took her tiny body wrapped in the blanket after her death that I would never see her again and that she would unceremoniously be tossed away, in the garbage.  Did they even leave her in her blanket or did they strip her of that too?

Maybe no one else needed to grieve, but I did. She was a part of my body.  She was alive inside of me, until the unthinkable happened, followed by the unimaginable.  She was and is my child, ripped from my heart and life way too soon.

Nothing eased the pain, made her death “alright” or compensated in any way for what happened. No one at the hospital even said, “I’m sorry.”  The problem in their eyes was clearly “me,” not what they had done with her tiny body.

I felt then and still feel that their disposal of her was at best betrayal of trust and in reality a horrible dehumanizing violation of that child’s remains about which they did nothing when they still could. They could have found or recovered her body had they made the effort. They didn’t.

I named her in my mind and heart – the name I had selected for her, only to discover that my x-husband would one day name another child the same name – as if she had never existed. So, she got robbed of that too.

That daughter I generally think of as “the baby” would be approaching middle age today, had she lived. I think of her often in a positive light with a tinge of melancholy, of course, and wonder what life path she would have taken, given a chance.  I wonder what she would have looked like and what her voice and laugh would have sounded like.  Would she have married?  Had children?

I think of all my children playing together in the warm sun of my parent’s farm, chasing in the sunlight and shadows of years now long gone. She is with my parents now.  She is not now and never was invisible to me although she “never existed” to others.

There were no grief support groups then, no grief counseling…nothing. You simply went on.  The bills had to be paid, the barn had to be cleaned, the crops had to be planted and harvested, someone or something always needed to be fed…there wasn’t time for anything else.  Time for or “wallowing in” grief, as it was perceived, was a luxury no one could afford.  One foot in front of the other…day after day.  In time, it became less smothering, but it never went away.

Today, every funeral home has booklets and flyers about the stages of grief, how to handle grief and what to expect. Perhaps we were stoic then or simply in denial.  Everyone seemed terribly uncomfortable with the topic.  It wasn’t until then that I learned that my own mother had lost a child too at about the same stage of pregnancy.  When I asked her what happened to that baby’s body, she didn’t know and I don’t think she had ever thought about it.  Or maybe she was haunted by it and no one ever knew.  Women suffered these tragedies in isolated cocoons of silence.

Every time I see a “missing” child on a census, that blank space of 4 years between children that silently screams of pain and loss, I think of the mother whose child died. And when I see 3 or 4 or 5 of those spaces, my heart grieves so for that woman.  How did she survive that kind of devastation?  How do you lose half your children and remain sane? Maybe for the sake of the other half, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and go numbly on, fumbling through the haze of grief, going through the motions of life through rote memory because you can’t do anything more.  After all, someone else is hungry and there is always laundry to do…

Today, there are local support groups everyplace. Even on Facebook, there are groups for everyone to find a kindred spirit.  People grieve publicly, through articles, blogs and social media – sometimes too publicly.  If anything, we’re awash in “help” today.  Maybe the pendulum has swung the other direction.

The only kindred spirits then were the whispered voices of older women, more experienced, urging you on, to forget, to get pregnant again because “you’ll feel better.” They shrugged and said, “It happens,” and that was that.  And to not accept that edict was to rebuke or question “God’s choice.”  Not something one did in the Bible belt.  So the grief became lonely, silent and unspoken, but never gone.

In a way, because I never buried her and she doesn’t have a known final resting place in a normal cemetery for me to visit, I have always kind of felt that she “went along with me.” Kind of like ashes I don’t carry but would if I could.  In an odd sort of way, it made it easier to leave and make a life elsewhere, because there is nothing to tie any part of my heart there.

I’m glad that today women don’t have to go through such a dehumanizing victimizing experience when a premature child dies. The grief over her death was exacerbated and magnified exponentially by what happened afterwards.  I’m still haunted by the thought of what happened to her tiny body and stunned at the inhumanity of that choice that I was never allowed to make, especially given how warm and caring the nursing staff was to me.  It was just so shocking and unexpected.  Who would imagine even for a minute your baby that had lived would be or even could be thrown away?  And worse yet, it wasn’t a mistake and no one was willing to address the issue.  Nightmare on top of nightmare.

I suspect that the employees in the hospital morgue simply looked at the birthweight or weighed the corpse and checked the appropriate box on the paper and did what they did under those circumstances – which was not to call the mortician. Nothing more or less.  No thought at all. Just routine.  Less than a pound = trash can.  If they thought about it at all, it was probably that they were doing us a favor so we didn’t have to spend the money on a funeral and burial.  I don’t believe that anyone’s acts were malicious in intent, just an unthinking and uncaring system in total with a devastating outcome for an already grief-stricken young mother.  There was no compassion or humanity built into that system.  And no one cared.

I can’t change any of that, today, but I can still do one thing.

That child existed.  She lived, even if not legally or for very long.  She lived for a few hours.  She deserves a permanent name, her own name, not one stolen by someone else later.

So, I’ve named her.

Her name is Rachel Barbara Estes.

Rachel because I’ve always had an affinity for that name and I was pleased to discover that it’s ancestral. Rachel Hill on my mother’s side would have been her great-great-grandmother, a woman who lost many children and understands grief. Perhaps she comforted baby Rachel after her too-early arrival on the other side.

Barbara for my mother who was named after her mother, Edith Barbara Lore, and her mother’s grandmother, Barbara Drechsel and two great-grandmothers, Barbara Mehlheimer and Katharina Barbara Lemmert. Mother was always my anchor, always there, until she wasn’t anymore.

Estes because Rachel is my child and Estes is my birthright name.

Rachel Barbara Estes is no longer invisible.  This is the story of her life, no matter how short, and her name.  She will live until at least my death.

Rachel Barbara Estes

Frank’s Ring Goes Home – 52 Ancestors #106

Sometimes the rest of the story is still unwritten, even 70 years later – seven decades after an untimely death.

Sometimes we don’t even know there is a “rest of the story.”

Sometimes we are granted breaths of life we never expected.

Sometimes our faith in humanity is restored.

Sometimes those who have gone on can reach across miles, decades and generations.

And so it has come to be.


Frank Sadowski

Frank Sadowski

The man who was supposed to be my father – but was instead killed saving others in WWII.


The man who had no children, no legacy, no future because he gave everything for another human in need. He made the ultimate sacrifice.


The man my mother loved with all of her heart.

Frank’s ring was what she had left of him after the war.

That was all.

Just the ring.

Nothing else.

Life was harsh.

That ring comforted her and nourished her soul for the next 61 years.  Then, she joined Frank and left the ring with me.

Frank's ring

Life was not kind to my mother.

Mom spent the decade after Frank’s death just trying to patch her life back together in a large city where she had no family.

Mom dance

Mom continued to dance professionally in Chicago, with the Dorothy Hild dance troupe at the Edgewater Beach Hotel and performing across the country in major cities. It sounds glamourous, but it was a brutal life.  Mom said they practiced all day and performed all evening until late at night.  She said she often lost 10 pounds a day and she had to work hard to keep her weight up.

Dorothy Hild Dancers slick

To give you some perspective, a few years ago, some of the former Dorothy Hild dancers were interviewed.

Alice Ann Knepp, Dorothy Hild dancer: Dorothy Hild was terrible to work for. She was very unpopular, but she got results. Every month, she would always have some kind of big production number with a big band. Our job included room and board and our salary was $30 a week. If you lived at home, the girls got $40 a week. We were free to choose what we wanted from the menu.

When you’re young, you can do it. I think we were ahead of our time with aerobics. Dorothy was very strict. During the summer she would prohibit us from getting suntans, and we weren’t allowed to mix or mingle with the people in the hotel. The costumes were just awful.

Ruth Homeuth, line captain, Dorothy Hild Dancers: It wasn’t as glamorous as it looked. It was like a reformatory. We used to wear uniforms and we were supposed to go to our rooms right after the show. We did get by with things, though. We had a little door on the side of the hotel that went through the garage where we would sneak out. Once in a while we used to catch Dorothy coming in the same time we did.

Ironically, the key to how mother met Frank is held in that interview. Frank’s sister was a dancer too – and Mom went home with Frank’s sister to visit.  Or maybe Frank came to see his sister dance.  But the “mingling” rules didn’t apply to Frank, because he was a dancer’s family.

After Frank’s Death

After Frank’s death, Mom just lost heart…in particular…she lost her spirit for anything. Mom went through the motions but part of her had died with Frank.

Nearly a decade later, she would meet my father. Let’s just say that relationship was rocky and doomed from the beginning.  When it ended, Mom found herself alone once again, but now with a daughter.  Then in her 30s, Mom was no longer dancing, but trying to make her way as a bookkeeper, what she had always wanted to do as a profession from the beginning.

I have vague memories of my mother wearing a ring on a chain under her clothes when I was young. After my father died in a car accident, she dated a man for a few years and was “hopeful” but thankfully, they never married.  After the split with that man, I noticed the ring again, but I never said anything.

When I was about 10 or so, I found the ring in a ring box in mother’s “special” jewelry box.  Not realizing it was a ring with special significance, I took it out, put it on and came waltzing out into the kitchen wearing the ring and waving it around on my hand like a diva princess. Until just recently, it’s the only time I ever really handled that ring.

Mom whipped around like she had been shot.  I was stunned by the intensity in her eyes.  She snatched the ring away from me.  I began to ask questions, but she was very clearly unable to answer.  That wound wasn’t healed at all…it was still very raw and open, more than 20 years later.  I really didn’t understand what I was seeing, but I certainly understood the depth of those emotions.

I had no idea about Frank at that time except for some passing references.  She would share the painful story later, much later.

A Second Chance

Mom met my step-father in the early 1970s. He was a widower with a son about my age and their relationship began simply as friends.  That friendship blossomed and they married in the fall of 1972.  Dean was a wonderful man.  I loved him dearly.

Mom began to act differently after she married Dean and moved to the farm. She began singing little ditties as she would cook in the kitchen.  She danced too, mostly kicking up her feet in the kitchen as she moved from stove to sink and back again.  Sometimes, she danced while she vacuumed.  I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy:)

Mom laughed, and smiled. I never realized, before talking to Curtis about Frank, how sad Mom had been, for years and years.  I never really put two and two together before, realizing the stark difference.  When I did, I felt desperately sorry for my mother.  She did what she needed to every day to support us, she put one foot in front of the other, but never did I realize what a joyless forced march life was for mother for more than 27 years after Frank’s death and before she married my step-father.

The Dancing Stops

Then, in 1994, after 22 years of marriage, Dean died, leaving Mom alone once again. The dancing stopped, the singing stopped, the smiling stopped, and once again, Mom went through the motions.  She tried, but it was simply never the same.  This time I realized she was unhappy and lonely, but I had no idea what to do about it. There are simply some wounds that cannot be healed.

I realized once or twice that she was wearing something around her neck on a chain again. Sometimes it was a conglomeration of “stuff” my step-father had…like the bullet he accidentally shot himself with.  (No, that was not what killed him and the entire incident became a huge family joke.)  But sometimes, it was Frank’s ring again.  Sometimes she wore both.  By this time, Frank had been gone more than 60 years, yet my mother still grieved for Frank, for their lost life, for his lost opportunity…for those dreams…hers and his both – and theirs of course.


She was lost.

Mom’s Ring

Mom wore one particular ring all of her life. Her parents gave it to her when she turned 16.  She wore it literally until her last hospital stay when I took it off of her hand for safekeeping because she was in a coma.

A few months before Mom had the stroke that took her, she decided it was time to give me some valuable things. Not valuable in terms of money, but valuable to her – and me.

One of the most difficult discussions I ever had with mother was the “end planning” discussion. Oh God, spare me from anything like that ever again.  Mom told me she thought she had maybe 6 months left.  She was very close to right.  After a discussion about her wishes, Mom picked up a ring box from her vanity.

Frank ring box

I knew the box well. After all of the years of opening and closing, the hinge was a little worn and the top slightly crooked.

Frank's ring in box

Mom tried to give me both Frank’s ring and her ring, the one on her hand I had never seen her without – ever. That was probably one of the most difficult moments of my entire life.

I simply gave them back to mother, put her ring back on her hand, even though the ring was by then far too large as she had become very frail, and told her those rings needed to be with her.

It wasn’t time yet.

Time would come all too soon.

It arrived in late April of 2006.

Some years earlier, I had chosen to inherit the small modest ring Mom wore daily instead of the “valuable” diamond cluster ring that went to my brother’s family. Money means very little to me and I knew how much the ring my mother wore meant to her.  That’s the ring I wanted.

After Mom’s death, I wanted to wear her ring, but I didn’t want to have it sized. I wanted it to remain much like she wore it.  I had my local jeweler attach loops on the shank for a chain which allowed the ring to lie flat…and I wear it…you guessed it…beneath my clothes next to my heart.  Not every day, but often. And especially on difficult days.  Mom goes with me that way.  It feels good to have her along.

Mom's Ring

After Mom’s death, Frank’s ring remained in Mom’s special jewelry box, it’s home for the past many decades. Of course, that jewelry box is now mine.

I didn’t really know what to do with Frank’s ring.  It felt far too personal for me to even handle the ring – like I was intruding into a very private and sacred space.  I knew what a hole in my mother’s heart Frank had left…and conversely…how blessed she had been for a very short time to have known love to that depth.  That love and grief was just too private for me to intrude, even by handling Frank’s ring after her death.

I looked at the ring in the box from time to time and then put it back away, wondering what my children would do with it. There was no evident answer.

That question haunted me.

Memorializing Frank

On Memorial Day 2015, I felt the unexplained need and inspiration to memorialize Frank. True, he was not my father nor any relative, but still, he was near and dear to my mother’s heart…and if I wasn’t going to do it…who would?  There was no one else.  Frank deserved at least what little I could offer.

I wrote the article, “Frank Sadowski (1921-1945), Almost My Father,” about his service, his life and his death.  I felt like I had done what I could do for Frank.  I included every tidbit of information I had or could find about Frank…except one thing.

What did I leave out?

A photograph of the ring. Somehow, I just couldn’t.  I don’t know why.  It still seemed so raw.

Little did I know about the rest of the story…that part yet unwritten that would unfold shortly.


On June 26th, one day less than a month after I published the article about Frank, a man named Curtis Sadowski in Illinois got a strange urge to type his uncle’s name into a google search engine.  His uncle, Frank Sadowski, had been dead since before Curtis was born.  Frank was killed in WWII, in 1945 – so why Curtis suddenly decided to google Frank in 2015, 70 years later, will forever remain a mystery.  But he did.

In Curtis’s words, he was utterly stunned when my article was the first item returned in the Google search. Curtis clicked, and for the first time, saw a photograph of his grandparents.

Frank Sadowski and father

Due to a family situation beyond the control of Curtis’s father, Frank’s brother, the family had no, and I mean no, photographs of their grandparents, or of Frank.

Curtis told me that for years after Frank died, on the piano in the living room in Frank’s parents’ home, a single photo of Frank in his military uniform “watched” the goings-on of the family and household. Curtis’s father told him that it seemed that Frank’s eyes followed you everyplace you went.

Frank’s sister lived in her parents’ home after their death, and her husband continued to live there after her death. They had no children, and when the sister’s husband died, all of the Sadowski family photos and memorabilia bit the dust – or more likely the trash can by the road.

That just made me sick to hear, but it’s not an unfamiliar story and happens all too often.

So imagine Curtis’s shock when he clicked on my blog to see his Uncle Frank, his grandfather, also named Frank Sadowski, and his grandmother looking out the door in the background.

Curtis posted a comment on my blog which started an intensely emotional back and forth exchange lasting several days. Both of us had to take breaks from time to time to gather ourselves.  Frank’s siblings joined in the conversation, and so did his son, Bert.

Bert, short for Robert, posted the following:

“Thank you for sharing this touching story with the world, I know it must’ve been hard. My name is SPC Robert Sadowski. PFC Frank Sadowski Jr. was my great uncle (my grandfather’s brother). I heard the he died as a medic during WWII, but no one in my family had any more details than that. I’m glad I got to learn more of the story, even if it’s so sad. I’m proud to be carrying on his fight.”

But there is more to Bert’s story that he didn’t share.


Before Bert enlisted in the Army four years ago to serve our country, he drove with his father to Chicago from central Illinois specifically to visit Frank’s grave. For some reason, Bert draws inspiration from his great-Uncle, Frank.  Bert had never seen a photo of either his great-grandparents or the man, Frank, who inspires him so.

Bert told his father he was taking up where Frank left off and he was going to “get it right.”  Bert is assigned to the medical corps…but right now…he’s on special assignment in the honor guard – laying to rest fallen soldiers and bringing a modicum of comfort to their families.

Bert is extremely proud to be assigned to this detail, having volunteered for a second “tour.”  A soldier can only serve in the honor guard twice.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of this exemplary young man.  I wish I had a younger unmarried daughter:)

Bert Sadowski in uniform

Here’s Bert on his way to a weekend funeral in Texas – proud to be serving.

I was also struck by how much Bert looks like Frank. Now, I do realize they are in the same family…but still.

Bert and Frank Sadowski

I knew in my heart as this scenario unfolded like scripts from a play in front of me where Frank’s ring needed to go.

Beyond any doubt.

I knew.

Yet, it was so hard to do…to wrap my head around…that I was considering giving away the ring so valuable to my mother. Without doubt, one of her most cherished possessions.

I spent several agonizing days going back and forth… talking to myself…taking both sides of the argument. Playing devil’s advocate.

I asked mother what she wanted.

I asked my quilt sisters what they thought.

I asked my daughter, my son, my daughter-in-law, my husband, my friend in NC, my friend in SC – all people who are my family of heart.

Yes, I was pretty much a wreck over this decision.

Curtis knew nothing of this. I didn’t share any of this with him.

My husband, always the pragmatic one, asked how I knew that someone in the Sadowski family wouldn’t just hock the ring. It is gold.

I told my husband that if Curtis was willing to drive half way, to meet me in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to pick up two original photographs, one of Frank and one of Frank and his grandfather…both of which were already scanned on my blog and free for the taking…that they would never hock the ring. That trip represented a several hour investment over 2 days and an overnight stay.  The photos on my blog were already there and free for the taking with no effort, at least not as compared to a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Not exactly a tourist mecca.

So, that was to be the test.

I offered Curtis the original photos but told him I was not willing to mail them. He never suggested that I should.  We discussed arrangements and decided to meet in Fort Wayne on July 15th.  By this time, we wanted to meet each other…it wasn’t just about the pictures.  The trip was a several hour drive for both of us, and Curtis is not in good health, so it was a real commitment for both he and his wife, Janet…far more than I realized initially.

Curtis never asked me about the ring, even though I mentioned it in the original article. So he had no idea if I even had the ring.

Rings Reunited

As long as I was going to visit Fort Wayne, I was going to research at the Allen County Public Library – a world-class genealogy research center.

I left for Fort Wayne the morning of the 15th and was planning to spend half a day in the library…but what to do with Frank’s ring during that time?  I wasn’t about to leave it in the car.  I couldn’t check into the hotel at noon and I wouldn’t leave it there anyway, and I was even afraid to leave it in my purse in case I turned my back in the library.  If anyone was ever going to steal my purse, it would have been that day.  I’m down to only one option – wear the ring.

Yes, wear the ring.  The sacred ring.

Would lightening strike and would I turn to dust?

I took the ring out of the box and put it on the chain around my neck with Mother’s ring. Somehow, to let the rings spend one last day nestled together, touching, as they must have when Mother and Frank held hands, seemed somehow very fitting.

I could feel their combined warmth, next to my heart.

I also took the opportunity to photograph Frank’s ring. His initials, FS, are engraved inside the band.  Frank graduated in 1940.

Frank's ring initials


Curtis confirmed that Frank was in medical school at Northwestern University when he enlisted. Franks death not only tore my mother’s life apart, it did the same thing to Frank’s family.

Frank’s mother blamed his father for encouraging Frank to enlist.  Their other son, Curtis’s father, also served in the war and survived, but suffered terribly from survivor guilt.  Curtis said the family never really recovered.  Neither did my mother.  It’s a real testimony to Frank that he was so deeply loved, but I know that Frank would not have wanted his death to destroy the lives of those he left behind.  That’s not the kind of man Frank was.  I think Frank was the shining star, the “brightest hope” of many who loved him and he took a lot of light out of the world when he left.

The night before I left for Fort Wayne, I realized I had to SAY something to Bert. Bert doesn’t know, as I write this, that he is going to receive the ring.  Curtis is waiting until Bert comes home on his next leave, probably at Christmas, because Curtis isn’t willing to ship the ring either.

The letter to Bert began:

“Dear Bert,

You’re probably wondering what kind of crazy woman would give her mother’s soul mate’s ring to someone she doesn’t know. I’ve been asking myself that very question now since I met you and your father online after your Dad reached out to me when he found the article about Frank.”

I explained to Bert that Frank was still alive to my mother, through her memories and Frank’s ring that she cherished so dearly her entire life. By passing the ring to Bert, and along with it, the torch, I can in a small way give Frank another breath of life.  Frank can be the wind beneath Bert’s wings, his guardian angel, his inspiration.

Bert wants to live to carry on what Frank could not do.

Mother would want Frank to live on in this way. It’s the only way left to give Frank life, through a legacy of inspiration and hope.

And like I told Bert…it’s up to him now. Frank did his part, Mom did hers, I’ve done mine…and now…it’s up to him.

I have sent Frank home.

Life has come full circle.

I know, beyond a doubt, Frank’s ring is once again right where it is supposed to be. You see, it fits Bert perfectly.

When I saw this picture, it literally took my breath away, and still does every time I see it!

Mom needed Frank’s ring, but I was only it’s keeper for a little while. It has a job to do, a life of its own.  I hope Bert wears it with honor for the rest of his life and cherishes it like Mom did.  I hope that Frank’s, now Bert’s, ring continues to inspire the Sadowski family for generations to come.  What better legacy for Frank.  For Bert to achieve what Frank could not.

God Bless and protect Bert as he serves his country, and after, and may he walk in the Grace of protection, with Frank as his guardian angel. May Frank truly be the wind beneath his wings and his protector as Bert is deployed shortly to Kuwait.

Bert, may Frank raise you up so you can stand on mountains, and may you be that same inspiration to others. The torch is now yours, for a while.  Then, someday, in some way, you too will pass it on.

But until that day, may you and Frank walk together as partners in silent camaraderie.

God Bless you both.

army seal

January 2016 Update – Bert’s Comments:  I shed a few tears when I read the letter, and again just now as I lie in bed, about to get up to face the day. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I’ll try to do Frank’s memory justice. The ring is currently with me in San Antonio, and while I haven’t worn it since that picture was taken, I see it every day on my dresser, and it fills me with determination. Thank you, Roberta, for this gift that was so hard for you to part with. I’ll treasure it and keep it safe until it’s time for it to inspire a new Sadowski. Until then, it’ll remind me that I’m fighting with the willpower of two men, and that I’ll always have someone watching my back, even when I feel alone.

2017 Update – Bert is now deployed in the Middle East, with Frank’s ring.  May it bring him protection and comfort.

Giving the Gift of Memories

The holiday season is so chocked full of memories. We don’t realize as we celebrate these seasons, as children and young adults, that we’re making memories, but we are.  They will come back to warm us as we age.  In the end, the memories of those early years will be all we have – so cherish every shred of them.

A few years ago, after my mother passed away, I took all of the old family photos I could find and sorted them into categories. I have since written several “books,” but I don’t think of them as books because the idea of writing a book is too daunting.

So, what I did instead, is grouped the pictures into logical assemblages and then wrote the family stories about them.  I then printed these and gave them as gifts.

What “books” do I have now?

The Family Christmas Book

I bought this book for Mom in 1987.  It’s a “blank” book that you fill in every year.  Mom did more than answer the questions, she included photos and clippings of interest for that year, mostly about her grandchildren.  She kept this faithfully, in her own handwriting, until she couldn’t any more.

This book is incredibly valuable, an heirloom, and makes me cry every time I see it. I scanned this book and gave it as a Christmas gift to her grandchildren after her passing.

christmas book page 2

What a year this was.  Two trips, awards, ribbons, a tornado, my Dad shot himself……and then a hilarious episode wherein my daughter, Mother and I rescued a baby bird.  I won’t bore you with this, but I guarantee you, my daughter will burst out laughing at the mere mention.

I must admit, some of these are exceptionally difficult for me to read, still.  I must be my mother’s daughter, because I cry more at Christmas time than any other time of the year. I don’t want to paint the Christmas memory book as negative though, because as I look through the book, I smile at the good memories she recorded from her perspective.  And I am exceedingly, exceedingly grateful to have her stories in her words and in her own penmanship.

Mom included lots of things that happened during the years.  For example, when her grandkids hit home runs, or even just managed to hit the t-ball, were on the honor roll, or won a ribbon at the local 4H fair.  She even recorded which grandchild came over and helped her decorate her Christmas tree, the weather at Christmas, which made a huge difference in who visited when, and everyone who came by to visit.

In the photo below, Mom and I are at an awards banquet together.  Someone must have taken this photo with her camera, because I never saw it until I opened this book after her passing.

Mom Me Awards 1988

Mom’s Recipe Box

Everyone’s all-time favorite book is Mom’s recipe box. I used it just this morning.  There was only one “recipe box” and Mom had two children.  Those recipes are so full of memories.  I scanned each one and then wrote about my memories of that recipe.  Of all the gifts I’ve ever given, I think this one, from me and Mom, is the most utilized.

Mom's recipe box

One of our favorite recipes – gingerbread of course.

gingerbread original

This recipe card may look dirty and messy to you – but to me, it’s the spice of my mother’s life as she made this recipe repeatedly over the years. It even reaches back to my grandmother’s generation with Mom’s note about what her mother did.  Yes, there is a second copy on a newer, cleaner card – but I love this vintage one.

Later this weekend, we’re making new memories by having a holiday “taste-off” between Mom’s traditional gingerbread recipe and a newer one. Both, however, will be topped with home-made whipped cream – so everyone wins!

Family Christmas Ornaments

I photographed every single Christmas ornament and wrote what I know about its history. I also assembled the various heritage tree photos. This picture, from 1956 is only one of two photos in existence of my grandparents 4 grandchildren together.

Grandmother's tree grandkids

This ornament was one of those on my grandmother’s tree, above.

grandmother's tree ornament

I have photos of it on Mom’s trees and now of course, on my own as well. My new family tradition is that I let each of my grandchildren select an ornament from my tree each year and I tell them the story behind that ornament.  They have a special ornament box to hold all of the “grandma ornaments.”

The Dancing Years

Mom Dancing slick crop

My mother was a professional tap and ballet dancer. Her early years were spent in Chicago and touring with a professional company.

My mother and grandmother both kept scrapbooks of this time, full of newspaper articles, reviews, ads, theater billboards and photos.

My Mom, especially in later years, was a bit embarrassed by all of the attention and few people really knew about her early dancing career.  Not what one really expects from a Baptist church Deacon with Brethren grandparents.  She was truly one of a kind.

Mom was a dance student for years, then taught, then was a professional dancer. This book isn’t just about her dancing, but intersperses the rest of her life during that time, like church camps and high school events.  It was interesting to discover that one of her dance “reviews” was the same day she graduated – and she performed – probably going from her graduation directly to Fort Wayne to the Masonic Theater.

One of my favorite stories from this timeframe was when my uncle painted my mother’s face. He was supposed to be painting the screens on the front porch with black paint to keep them from rusting.  Mom and her cat were in the way, so he dobbed the cat’s nose with paint.  Mom was furious, cleaned up the cat and started yelling at him – which of course was the entire point of his actions – to upset his sister.

He finally slapped her across the face with the paint brush, full of black paint – and thought it was hilarious.

However, later that afternoon, Mom was supposed to perform on the courthouse lawn for some event in Wabash, Indiana.

Mom ran screaming to her mother, who got the turpentine and started scrubbing Mom’s face. Needless to say, her brother was in a heap of trouble and by the time my grandmother got done with him, no longer thought it was funny.

And yes, Mom did perform, but she said she had never worn more stage makeup for any event – ever.

I wish we had a picture of that.

Kirsch early gen

My mother’s grandfather was Jacob Kirsch, a German immigrant and founder of the Kirsch House, a tavern and hotel in Aurora, Indiana on the Ohio River. This book documents that side of my mother’s family with history and photographs.

Mom went along for much of this research, although I published it after her departure.

Kirsch House 2008

Mom and I found the original building, and at the time we visited, the original bar was still there.

Kirsch House Bar

During that visit, we found a local man, Telford Walker, then in his 80s, who knew Jacob Kirsch when he was an old man, in the 19-teens. Jacob, it turns out, had a glass eye.  He used to pop it out and show it to the local children, including Telford, making them all scream and run away.  Of course, they all came back and he did it all over again.

Mom and I stared at each other dumbstruck. We had no idea. Amazing what you discover about your ancestors!!!!

The Lore of the Lore Family

My grandmother’s maiden name was Lore. Her father, Curtis Benjamin Lore, married Nora, the daughter of Jacob Kirsch.  When I started researching genealogy, Curtis, known as CB, was a mysterious handsome man with no history.  But we found his story, and what a story it is.

Lore of the Lore

CB, shown above at the bottom beside Nora, was a bit of a scoundrel it seems, a rogue – two wives, at the same time, children showing up on his wife’s doorstep after he died, and a family history of Acadians and French voyageurs that would make a soap opera producer jealous. Ewww-la la.  My daughter-in-law just loved this book for the story line.  And I suspect my grandchildren won’t be allowed to read it until they are adults.

I brought this to the current generation, although perhaps I should have split this into two books. There didn’t seem to be a good stopping point.

3 gen quilt crop

My mother’s grandmother, Nora Kirsch Lore, was an extraordinary quilter. My mother, my daughter and I are standing in front of her quilt that represented the State of Indiana in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

I included lots of family stories in these books, like the story about when the family visited this quilt at the World’s Fair. It was during the Great Depression, so they could not afford an overnight nor to buy food along the way.  They packed picnics and ate in the car or at roadside tables, which were common then.

My grandparents, Mom, her brother and Nora left in the middle of the night, in an old Model T Ford, and drove from Silver Lake, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois, visited the fair, saw the quilt, and drove back home.  In all, a 24 hour round trip.  Exhausting, yes, but the experience of a lifetime and something none of them would ever forget.  Mom talked about seeing her grandmother’s quilt in the Sears Pavilion for years.

Mom dna report

Of course I wrote a Personalized DNA Report for my mother before she passed.  I’ve updated this a couple of times since, with new discoveries as more people tested.  I have given copies to all of her grandchildren.

Mom absolutely loved this report, written in an understandable story fashion and including our family photos.  Her last Christmas letter was all about what her DNA told her about her ancestors.  And yes, these reports are available as Personalized DNA Reports today either through my website or through Family Tree DNA, although I only accept a very limited number of orders, which is why I seldom mention them.  One of Mom’s extremely prophetic comments after she read her report was, “You should do these for people.”  Well, Mom, thanks, and I do.

Holiday Giving

No matter what faith you practice, and no matter when you celebrate – the gift of memories is the best gift you can ever give. Make good ones, memorable ones – and then document the ones your ancestors left behind.  If you don’t, no one will ever know that your great-grandfather had two wives at the same time, that your German great-great grandfather tortured young children by removing his glass eye, or that your great-grandmother was a world class quilter.

And don’t forget those DNA tests either, because they can reach further back in time than stories ever can.

What family stories and legends are waiting for you to document and pass them on in your family?

Have a wonderful and joyous holiday!!!