Genealogy

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After a number of years of wondering what happened after the writing of my Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren’s journals, or my reading of them…I have wondered about so many things. Bertha’s journal was so detailed and so interesting, but it left me feeling a little bit “at loose ends” about the lives of my aunt, and the Carl and Albertine Schumacher family, of which I am a part. I knew some things of course, like the fact that my Aunt Bertha had breast cancer, and that Aunt Mina had rheumatoid arthritis, as did her mom, my great grandma, Albertine Schumacher, and her siblings, my grandma, Anna Spencer and my Uncle Fred Schumacher. It left me wondering why it is that so often our lives come down to what illness we might have had? And then Aunt Bertha answers the question I had, when she said, “Only deep impressions are held in the conscious mind…ever present, while the sub-conscious may retain all experiences.” I suppose that our lives are marked by events, but surely there must be things that are more important that what disease a person had. Nevertheless, Aunt Bertha was “in my opinion” and that of my family, an excellent writer. She told the human side of history, and not just the historical events. Without the human side, history can be very boring, but you put in the hopes, dreams, feelings, illnesses, and everyday lives of the people involved in the history being discussed. That is when history comes to life.

My Aunt Bertha and her sister, my Aunt Elsa took care of their parents who were ill, and in doing so, they gave up the chance to have a family of their own. They “adopted” their sister, Mina’s children as a replacement for children of their own. They both assumed that marriage was also one of those things they would have to give up, but in their latter years, both were given back that part of their lives, when they met and married their husbands, Arthur (Bertha) Hallgren and Frank (Elsa) Lawrence. Unfortunately, neither marriage lasted long, with Elsa’s ending in Frank’s death after 6 years, and Bertha’s ending in Arthur’s death after 2½ years.

Aunt Bertha fretted some when Elsa got married, not because Elsa was getting married. Bertha was happy for her, but she and Elsa had lived together all their lives to that point…42 years in all. Bertha said that it felt like a divorce…dividing up the household, “you take this and I’ll take that.” Bertha had never lived alone before. I’m sure she felt lonely…even before Elsa left. Then, after Elsa returned home when her husband passed away, when Bertha was ill, she worried about how Elsa would do when she was gone. Bertha was really very protective of her little sister, who had never lived alone. In the end, Elsa would live 17 years beyond Bertha’s life. She was ok, but I know she missed Bertha terribly.

I knew that my great grandparents were Christians, and had raised their children as Christians, and that teaching came down through the generations. Nevertheless, I was very moved by the way my aunt expressed her faith and trust in God. She knew that her life would not have been nearly as blessed as it was, if it had been lived without God in her life. I don’t know why it seems new to me, but I guess it’s because people don’t often talk about their faith, here she was, telling about the deep relationship with God. It was very moving, and sweet. Bertha was a woman who had been single for all but 2½ years of her life. She learned to depend on God…to trust Him. She loved her Lord, and I love that.

While listening to an audible book about World War II, called “Flak,” I heard one of the men being interviewed by the author for the book say, “History is told by the survivors.” It occurred to me that in most cases, at least in eras gone by, that was the truth. In order to know what really happened, there had to be a survivor. Even today, in an era of DNA, forensic science, black boxes, and phone video, there are events that cannot be definitively explained, and causes that remain a mystery.

In World War II, survival was one of the main necessities to properly make an account of events. One might be able to look at pictures an know that the attack was bad, but in order to understand what it meant to fly through flak, someone had to really explain what the flak looked like up close, and tell us how hot it was when it got close enough to put a hole in the fuselage of the plane. We can imagine the fear the soldiers of World War II felt, but only because someone has “painted” a picture of just how bad it was to be pinned down in a foxhole with bombs raining down all around you, and bullets flying past if you tried to get out and run. No amount of modern technology can explain how a soldier might have felt upon looking at his helmet to find a hole in it where shrapnel pierced it, and the soldier received only a small scratch. All of the “facts” that can be gleaned from the modern technology we have simply can’t tell us about how people felt.

My dad, Allen Spencer was a top turret gunner in a B-17G bomber stationed in Great Ashfield. He told once about the ball turret gunner being shot up, and the desperate and futile effort to save his life. It was something Dad would never forget. The bombers that crashed taking all hands down with them, left no witnesses to tell if it was shot down or had engine trouble. If the plane could be found today, they might be able to guess at the cause of the crash, but it still might not be definitive. As to the soldiers who went missing in action, it was not uncommon for their body never to be found, and so no one could document their death, unless a buddy survived. All of the war stories we have today from World War II were told by the men, and women too, who survived. We know from the ones who witnessed the planes being shot down, blown up, or crashing with engine trouble. On the battlefield, the only witnesses were the other soldiers in the area, because the civilians had run far from the area.

Even the non-war events of history had to have a “survivor” to tell about the event. It may not have been a violent event, but the Gettysburg Address would never have been known to anyone, if it had been spoken aloud in President Lincoln’s study with no one present. The speech might have been found later, but the depth of it’s meaning might have been completely lost had one witness not been so deeply moved by the speech. I wonder how much history was lost because no one was there to see and then survive to tell about it. It’s something to think about.

My great grand nephew, Jaxx Harman is the youngest on my grand nephew Jake Harman and his wife Melanie’s three children. Jaxx is their only son, and having two older sisters can be awesome, or it can be a fight. Thankfully for Jaxx, he has great sisters. While there are those minor disagreements that all siblings have, they are pretty great to have around. For most of his life, his older sisters have been showing him the ropes of life, but Jaxx is getting to be a big boy now, and his own attitude is starting to present itself into the family picture. A boy with two older sisters has to get a handle on things before he gets too old, or they girls will push him around.

Jaxx can’t have that. At the grown up age of three, he has to start asserting himself…or at least that’s what he has decided. Jaxx is all boy, and like many boys, he loves to wrestle, fight, and in general, be ornery. According to his mom is a little monkey. I can totally picture that too. From jumping on the bed…when Mommy isn’t looking, to climbing on every thing he can think of. It’s every “boy-mom’s” stressor. Still, when Jaxx looks at his mommy, her heart just melts too, because he is, after all, her boy and she loves him!! While Jaxx is ornery, he still is just so sweet too. It’s all part of his charm.

Jaxx loves his sisters, but he is the brother, and brothers must tease sisters. I think that is an unspoken rule!! His favorite argument with his sisters is, “Who is Daddy’s Favorite!!” Of course, his daddy loves each of his children equally, but it’s a fun argument to have, and Jaxx is just figuring that out. Jaxx may be the youngest child, but he can still give his sisters a “run for their money” when it comes to a fight. His sister Izabella fights and wrestles back, but his oldest sister, Alice takes it pretty easy on him. I’m sure she worries about hurting him. That could change as he gets older, and bigger.

Jaxx is learning about manners and etiquette. He is very careful to follow some basic rules. If someone sneezes, Jaxx is quick to say, “Bless you.” He is learning things like please, thank you, and excuse me too. One of the very sweetest aspects of his personality, is that Jaxx loves to pray at bedtime and before eating. His little spirit loves God so much, and he wants to know more about Him. His parents are active in their church, and Jaxx wants to be just like them. He has good role models to follow after all. Today is Jaxx’s 3rd birthday. Happy birthday Jaxx!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My Uncle Larry was born during the years of the Great Depression, in an era of big families. He was the 4th child and first son of my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer. While times were tough, the one thing that George and Hattie had plenty of was love. The family was rich in that. My mother, Collene Spencer, followed Uncle Larry in quick succession, arriving when he was just 20 months old. Following Mom, Uncle Wayne arrived two years later. Their childhood would be spent as close friends and allies, along with the associated sibling arguments too, I’m sure. While I’m not sure how the boys felt about Mom tagging along in things, they didn’t really complain too much, and defended their sister when needed. For her part, Mom considered these brothers, the only ones she had, to be…maybe her charges too somehow. She might very well be prone to protecting them, whether they needed it or not, even against their mother…to her detriment sometimes, because it earned her the same punishment that Grandma Byer was dishing out to her sons. Still, my mom looked up to and loved her brothers. I suppose that to a degree, being the girl between the brothers made her a bit of a tomboy, but it also shaped her into the wonderful woman who became my mom.

Uncle Larry was a determined man, who wanted something better for his family. I believe that land ownership was a part of that desire. I remember wondering as a kid, why he and my Aunt Jeanette chose to live in the country. The rest of the family at that time, were city dwellers (though Casper wasn’t a large city) and it always seemed strange to me that they lived in the country. Lots of land, however, gave them the ability to have a big place to entertain, and outbuildings to pursue any other activities they might be interested in, such as ceramics. They proudly hosted ceramics sessions with any of the family who wanted to join in. Grandma and Grandpa Byer were some of those who loved going out to get their “Crafty Side” on.

All of my grandparents kids lived most of their lives in Wyoming, most of them in Casper, so when Uncle Larry took a transfer to Louisiana with Texaco, I remember being quite shocked. I’m not sure why I should have been, because my own mother had lived for 5 years in Superior, Wisconsin, where my older sister, Cheryl and I were both born. Still, at the time, I felt kind of shocked. The refinery where Uncle Larry worked, here in Casper, closed, and he wasn’t old enough to retire, so he could take the transfer or take a layoff. The choice was simple really. They mover to Louisiana and lived their until his retirement before returning to live the rest of his life in Casper, where both of their children, Larry and Tina both live too. I remember being quite happy when they moved back here. I felt like having the family back together again. My husband, Bob and I loved running into them on occasion, often at a home improvement store, where we were both looking for some new item we needed for our houses. When he passed away, I felt very sad that those impromptu meeting would now be over. Uncle Larry passed away on December 22, 2011, and I still miss him very much. Today would nave been Uncle Larry’s 86th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Larry. We love and miss you very much.

I first met my husband’s Aunt Charlys Schulenberg, years ago at a family reunion. There were so many people there that I barely got to know anyone very well. I remember most of the people but I can’t say that I had a chance to get to know any of them well. More recently, Bob and I had a chance to visit Uncle Butch and Aunt Charlys again, after many years in between those visits. I knew I liked them just from the times we had connected following my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg’s passing. Uncle Butch and my father-in-law are half brothers. I felt a close connection to Uncle Butch, but still didn’t know Aunt Charlys well.

Then we went for a visit, and then for another, and I really got to know Aunt Charlys. She is a sweet, beautiful person, inside and out. She is friendly and loving. She is a great cook and tends to spoil those she loves…not a bad thing for those she loves either. When Bob and I went to visit the second time, we stayed with Aunt Charlys and Uncle Butch, and it was a wonderful visit. We had such a great time getting to know them better. They live in Forsyth, Montana on the edge of town, overlooking the Yellowstone River. It is a beautiful place, and very peaceful. We loved it, and wished the visit didn’t have to end so soon. We looked at old pictures, and they told us great stories from the past. We laughed and maybe shed a few tears over people who had gone to Heaven now. Nevertheless, even through the tears, we felt blessed to know the old stories about family members now gone home. We learned a lot about the family in those visits.

In those visits, I would kindred spirits in both of them. I know that in the future years, we will have more great visits, and I look forward to them very much. I wish that there had not been so many years in between the first time I met them and now, because I am not a fan of “lost time” in any way. Nevertheless, I will work toward making up for the time we have lost, because I love these very special people. Today is Charlys’ birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Charlys!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My Aunt Doris Spencer is a wonderful woman who has always had a great sense of humor and a great imagination. When my mom, Collene Byer Spencer married my dad, Allen Spencer, they moved from Casper, Wyoming to Superior, Wisconsin. Dad’s family was from Superior, and most still lived there, so Dad was quite comfortable going home again. Mom was a young bride, who didn’t know anyone there, but found a new sister-in-law and best friend in Aunt Doris. They quickly became inseparable. They lived across the back yard from each other…there was no ally to separate the homes, but rather, just a fence and a gate. It was a great place to raise cousins, their children, together.

I am reminded sometimes, of my aunt and uncle’s cabin at Lake Superior, and all the fun we had there over the years. Everything from time spent in the Lake, to the drive out too the lake. Wonderful memories all. My sister, Cheryl and I were talking about a particularly funny incident the other day. Our Uncle Bill was already at the cabin, and Aunt Doris and my cousin Pam, their daughter, were coming out later. As she drove, probably is a hurry for the weekend at the cabin to begin, she wasn’t really paying close attention to the speed of the car. Before she became aware that she was speeding, she heard sirens coming up behind her. Like most of us the feeling of immediate dread leapt up, but I don’t think Aunt Doris had ever received a ticket in her life. She was really very shook up about it. I’m not sure she even knew how shook up she was, but I’m sure that her daughter knew how shook up she was, because Aunt Doris mentioned later that Pam had said, “Are you afraid of that man, Mommy?”

The police officer, told her she had been speeding, and that he was going to have to give her a ticket. He went back to his car to write the ticket. For her part, Aunt Doris simply drove away. I can only imagine what went through the police officers mind. I’m sure he knew that Aunt Doris wasn’t any kind of a criminal. No one, whether they knew Aunt Doris or not, could possibly have though she could be a criminal. She simply wasn’t the type…couldn’t possibly be the type. So, he didn’t go after the woman who, being shook up, had driven away instead of waiting for her ticket.

Aunt Doris arrived at the cabin, and told Uncle Bill about the police officer and the speeding ticket. I’m sure that it was very clear to him that she was very shook up about the whole incident. After listening to her account of the traffic stop, Uncle Bill said, “Well ok. Let’s see the ticket.” Aunt Doris asked, a bit shocked, “What ticket?” Uncle Bill said, “The ticket he gave you!!” Then the realization came, probably to both of them, that there was no ticket, because she had simply driven away. Of course, my Uncle Bill, being quite mischievous, began to tell her that the police were going to be after her for leaving, and I can just picture my rather innocent aunt “freaking out” at the thought of the police showing up to “haul her off” in handcuffs. Of course, no such arrest ever took place, because the police officer, simply passed the event off as the actions of a woman who had never received a ticket before, and was terribly shook up about it. Besides, just imagine going back to the station and telling the guys that a woman drove away when he was trying to write her a ticket. Would he become the laughingstock, or maybe he did tell them, and they all laughed at the situation, and agreed that he couldn’t give her a ticket now…he just couldn’t!!

Today is my Aunt Doris’ 96th birthday, and while she like most people in the United States is under lockdown, it isn’t because of any arrest, because that arrest never came. She is living quietly, still in Superior, Wisconsin, and doing very well indeed…clear in mind, and healthy in body, for which we are all thankful, Happy birthday Aunt Doris!! Have a great day!! We love you very much!!

As my Aunt Deloris Johnson’s birthday approached, I wanted to get a different aspect of the woman who was my aunt, and who we lost so long ago to brain cancer. So, I contacted her oldest child, Ellen Bremner to ask her for her memories of her mom. Some of what she told me, I knew, of course, but some of the things she told me were new to me, because they were treasures from her daughter’s heart.

Aunt Deloris, like most of the Byer family to which she was born, was always late. That fact drove her kids crazy. Most of my grandparents George and Hattie Byer’s grandchildren could relate to that fact. The family had a running joke, that our parents operated on Byer Time, and they were always at least half an hour late. Nevertheless Aunt Dee, as we all called her, tried her hardest to be on time, even attaching a watch to her running shoes so she could keep track of time while working. Her second child, Elmer Johnson, always said that she was the true inventor of the “shoe watch.” Nevertheless, time was a concept that always eluded her, and the shoe watch did nothing to change that.

Aunt Dee loved red lipstick, a part of the time she grew up in I’m sure, because my mother, her sister, Collene Spencer wort red lipstick a lot too. Most of the kids of my generation went much lighter with our lipstick, although the darker colors are back now. Aunt Dee loved black coffee, and as I recall, drank it all day long. Black coffee is a little much for me, and I always use cream in mine. She also loved sweets, except candy, which she never ate. She grew up in a household of singing, and loved to sing all her life, her favorite songs being ballads, most of them sad songs that made her children cry.

Ellen told me that her mom was a real germaphobe when they were young, and I found myself thinking that she would have been on the cutting edge of situations like the Coronavirus Pandemic, already doing what needed to be done to fight the virus. Ellen said that she bleached and Lysoled everything, to make sure that the germs didn’t take hold in her home, and she used the many home remedies she knew to keep her family healthy. Aunt Dee was a caring, sensitive, loyal, and loving person. Her family and her husband, Uncle Elmer Johnson, whom she loved deeply, were her life, and she protected her children at all costs. She loved each of them equally. Her own fear of the water, caused her to decide that her children would not take swimming lessons…something she may have softened on after the two oldest children. Aunt Dee was a very good cook, even though it was not her favorite thing…I can relate to that. Nevertheless, she learned a lot about cooking from her mother-in-law, and added that to what her mom had taught her to make her an excellent cook.

She had an altruistic and caring heart, and hated injustice, a fact that inspired her daughter, Ellen to choose service oriented work. Aunt Dee was a dreamer, and a bit of an artist. She loved crafts, painting, and knitting, and indulged in these pastimes whenever money allowed. She was a collector, which went along well with the craft idea, but like most of us, who are collectors, thinking we will “find a use for such an item” down the road, it can create clutter. Still, I bet she had some very cool things in her stash.

Ellen tells me, “Mom had so many plans for her retirement years! So many things she wanted to do and try! She wasn’t afraid to challenge herself in her later years. It broke her heart when she realized that her dreams would not come to fruition. But she left this world knowing she was loved, and telling her family how much she loved them. We miss her quirky, generous, loving, dreamers heart and soul!” As do we, her extended family. She was a wonderful woman, and a very special aunt to all of us. Today would have been Aunt Dee’s 89th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Dee. We love and miss you very much, and can’t wait to see you again.

In the years since I first became interested in my family history, so much has been revealed to me. Sites like Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, GedMatch.com, and others have made my journey and the journeys of so many others, not only easier, but possible. DNA testing finds matches that no one could find before, and for those who were adopted, that is a very big deal. For the rest of us, it connected us with lines we didn’t know about that tore down some of the “brick walls” we had come up against.

All that was just amazing, but there was one thing that I still lack…the stories my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles could tell me. I have started to remedy that now, with my aunt, Sandy Pattan, but we both have found that we have regrets about the missed opportunities of the past. We have been kicking ourselves about the family who have gone to Heaven and taken with them the stories of our past. We have talked about why we have allowed that to happen. Of course, the answer is simple. As kids, we didn’t care about the past. We were looking to our future. We wanted to be grown up…to be 16, 21, 25 and so on. Those were the important things, not what happened 20, 50, or 100 years ago. None of that seemed even remotely real to us. More’s the pity, because looking back now, I wish I would have been more “forward thinking” as a kid. I know that as we get older, we suddenly find that our parents are gone, Then almost as if something strange was triggered, the questions we should have asked years ago, come flooding in. Suddenly we think, “I need to call Mom or Dad, and ask them about that.” Then, as if we just woke up from a long coma, we recall that they aren’t here. They are in Heaven, and our chance to ask them this or that is gone.

I think this happens to everyone who has lost a parent. The realization is slow to manifest, and habit makes us think we can just pick up the phone and call them with our questions. Then there is a “catch in our throat,” a “pain in the pit of our stomach,” and that “ton of bricks” realization that our parents are gone. Then, while we wonder why we hadn’t asked the questions of our parents that we wish we had, we also find that it’s our parents themselves that we miss the most.

I was listening to a book recently about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and a thought came to my mind that really made me quite sad…though definitely not as sad as when I consider the loss of life that took place in those many wrecks. My Uncle Bill Spencer told me years ago that the Great Lakes are littered with ships that were lost in some of the worst storms on the lakes. In fact, he told me that if you fly over Lake Superior, which is the lake near where he lived most of his life, you could actually see the ships on the bottom of the lake. That thought always made me want to charter a small plane and go see for myself.

Shipwrecks aside, the book told of the different reasons that ships went down, and how the safety regulations were often extremely inadequate. From not enough lifeboats, to lifejackets that were stored to far from the posts to be reached, to companies who regularly pressured their captains to take their ships out in terrible storms, the life of the sea was very dangerous. Of course, there are still shipwrecks today, although the last sinking on the Great Lakes was on November 10, 1975, when the SS Edmond Fitzgerald went down in a horrible November gale. With more recent safety regulations, the Great Lakes have been able to stave off shipwrecks in the last 45 years.

Still, it is not the number of wrecks, or even the lives lost, that has me considering a loss that is even greater…and least from the viewpoint of genealogy. As I was listening to the book, I heard that in several situations, they could not get an exact count of the lost, even if they technically knew how many were on board. The ships manifests had gone down with the ship. My mind raced. If there were people on those ships who had immigrated here, and their names were not recorded somewhere, they could virtually disappear and along with them, their line in the family tree they came from. I know that the many genealogy fanatics, like me, would just cringe at the thought of one of our ancestors simply vanishing. There are so many ways for a family line to get muddied. Name changes, marriages, undocumented deaths, as well as those who just left without telling anyone, are all among the lost ones, but I hadn’t considered those who meant to stay in touch, but who were never heard from, and their family back in Europe or wherever they came from, had no idea what happened. All they knew was that they were lost forever.

My grandfather, George Byer was always a rock hunter. In hard times, when trips were not possible, he shared his love of rocks with his family. You didn’t have to go far to look for rocks…you didn’t even have to leave home. Still, when you raise a family of rock lovers, the back yard gets picked over pretty quickly. Nevertheless, there was always someplace that he could take his family for a picnic and rock hunting excursion, and every one of the kids became rock lovers too, as did many of his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the list has continued long after his passing.

If you aren’t a rock lover, you could so easily miss the beauty that is found in many of the stones around us. On the outside, they may look like they are just a plain black, brown, or white stone, but when it is cut or broken open, you find a stunningly colorful stone inside, even a gem in some cases. Of course, these days, we have to be careful where we do our rock hunting, because there are rock hunters who have staked and registered their claim on certain areas. But as long as you steer clear of those areas, rock hunting is a free way to get out and find nature’s best treasures.

Grandpa Byer loved his rocks so much that he later bought a rock polisher, and made beautiful jewelry and key chains from the rocks he found. I think many of his grandchildren have been blessed to receive such a gift as a memento of the treasure that was our grandpa. These pieces are precious to us. Somehow, they are filled with all the stories our parents have told us about the joys of rock hunting with their family. I think most of them loved rock hunting all their lives. I’ll never forget my mom telling me about their rock hunting trips, sometimes to Independence Rock, sometimes by the river, and sometimes the kids went by themselves. Wherever they went, they always came back with the treasured rocks.

The rock stories remained even after my grandparents were in Heaven. Of course they did. My aunts and uncles were so blessed to carry those memories in their hearts for their entire lives, and we were blessed that they could pass them along to their own children and grandchildren. I don’t think I ever grew tired of hearing about their trips to find rocks. My mom used to tell me all about how much fun the had. These are the kind of memories that stay with you long after the people in them are gone.

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