While in Wisconsin to visit relatives, we stopped at the graves of my grandparents, my dad’s parents. It was very strange to be standing in the very spot where they lie resting…to be so close to their physical beings. I never knew my grandparents. Grandpa died before my parents were married, and Grandma when I was six months old. I always had only one set of grandparents, and I always felt like something was missing. My friends had two sets of grandparents, or at least they had known their grandparents, before they had passed away. But I didn’t. That always felt strange to me, and maybe a little bit lonely. I only had a picture or two, and the memory of seeing my grandmother in old home movies.
In studying the family history my Uncle Bill put together, as well as the pictures taken by my grandparents and their families, I am starting to put together a picture of what they might have been like. While they had the chance to experience some of the more modern things, like cars and television, they also knew of times when the only mode of transportation was horse and buggy, and radio was the entertainment of the day. They were pioneers of sorts, traveling to places around the nation to follow their dreams. They lived in the freezing Northwoods of Minnesota, and the sweltering heat of Texas, but Superior, Wisconsin was, I think, the place where their hearts lived. I believe it was for them, the place they would always call home.
It’s hard for me to picture my grandfather and my Great Uncle Albert setting off to the Northwoods area of Minnesota to make their fortune trapping for the winter. Of course, like most of this type of adventure, while they had success in trapping, they also almost froze to death. My mind can picture these two young men huddled in their blankets near a dwindling fire, trying to look tough to their partner, but finally both had to give up and say, “I quit!!” They would head in to town to find jobs elsewhere, finally settling on the lumber industry. While the work might have been harder and still very cold, it was very likely much warmer at night.
As to my grandmother, who always seemed so tough and capable. She ran a farm and raised four children…often alone, because my grandfather worked for the railroad all week. She made hay, planted a garden, purchased groceries and other supplies for her family and managed to keep her kids out of any real trouble. She lived in the woods, on a farm, and even ran a hotel. She traveled to several areas of the country with her husband and kids, and yet I can see in her face, the gentle and loving mother that she was to her children. I know that she was, because her children always loved and respected her so much. They would rush home from out of town jobs at the end of the summer to help with the haying, and when my dad was in the war, he would do whatever it took to protect the feelings of his mother. He did his level best to keep her from worrying, whether that was possible or not.
My grandparents on my mom’s side were always known to me and I felt the love they had for me. They were sweet, kind, and always glad to see us, but the grandparents on my dad’s side always seemed sort of larger than life. My mom’s parents lived in the same times as my dad’s parents, but since they also lived in modern times, I could see what modern conveniences they had. So it really didn’t seem like they had lived it the old western times, like my dad’s parents had. It didn’t really seem like my mom’s parents could have understood what it was like, but they did. I guess it’s similar to a teenager thinking that their parents can’t possibly know what they are going through…like they were never teenagers. I have discovered that both sets of my grandparents were multi-talented people, who lived in several eras of history, and I believe that in reality, they are all larger than life…or maybe they just lived to the best of their ability.
As we have traveled through six states in ten days, we have not only been connecting with family members, previously known and those previously unknown to us, but we have been somewhat following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our travels have taken us to several of the places that our ancestors lived and died. Some graves have been easy to find, and some not so much. I think it is sad that more of the records have not been put into sites like findagrave.com, and I think I will set myself to the task of putting as many in as I can, so that more of my family members can find the graves of their ancestors, should they decide they would like to do that. The graves that had been listed and included the plot and block numbers, were so easy to find. Such was the case with my dad’s parents’ graves. We thought it was going to be hard to find them, even though Mom thought she knew where they were, and was actually very close, but in the end, Find A Grave told us exactly where it was, and we found it easily.
Our trek then took us to Webster City, Iowa, where my great great grandfather, Allen Spenser was buried. We aren’t sure why his stone spells Spencer with “s” or if that was simply an error that was made when the stone was placed, but it was definitely the wrong spelling, since his wife, Lydia’s stone in Oklahoma is spelled Spencer. This grave was a surprising find in that while I had seen a picture of the stone, from when my Uncle Bill made the trip, I had no block or plot number. We started into the cemetery, and I remembered that the picture showed a building in the background. I saw a building and a hillside, and decided to take a little walk. I didn’t have to go very far before I found what I was looking for, Allen Spenser’s grave. The odd thing was that while the stone was standing up when Uncle Bill was there, it was laying down when I was there, and while the picture taken by someone else years earlier had an old house in it, Uncle Bill’s picture had none. Think what you would like, I personally think it was God’s guiding that found that grave at the first place we stopped to look.
The next memorial we found was the United Airlines Flight 232 Crash Memorial, and while it was not a grave, I must say it was beautiful. My Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in that crash, and since we were going right by there, I wanted to stop at the memorial the people of Sioux City put up in honor of the victims and the brave people who saved as many lives as possible. That memorial had a deep impact on me. Aunt Gladys’ tragic death was something that I felt deeply, because I had always loved her very much. To find a place that was dedicated to her memory was so heartwarming. It felt like a place of peace and reverence. No, the victims aren’t buried there, but they are remembered there, and it is a beautiful, well maintained place to remember them…and one I’ll never forget.
We stopped in Gordon, Nebraska and were again guided by Mom’s memory and a picture of the stone. Before long, we were at my mom’s grandfather, Cornelius George Byer’s grave. The record I had also showed his dad buried there in Gordon, but we could not find that one, even with the directory, so the records I had found could be wrong. I really wished that we could have found that one too, because it would have cleared up some possible errors in the spelling of the Byer name too, but I guess that one will be a story for another day and another trek.
I have been researching our family history, and recently I came across a site called Find A Grave. I know that seems odd, but it has been quite exciting to me. I have found the graves of several of my grandparents and great grandparents, and great great grandparents, etc. These are people I have never met, of course, such as my grandpa’s dad, Cornelius George Byer, who died in 1930, my grandmother’s mother, Estella Shaw Pattan, who died in 1959. I have also seen links to many other members of their families, as well as other branches of my family and Bob’s, and I look forward to exploring those links as well.
I also found pictures of many of these grandparents, which I had never seen before. They weren’t all real clear, but it was exciting to see the faces of my ancestors. And some were pretty clear, so I got a very good look. There was some history about some of them too. I felt like I had just found a hidden treasure chest. I knew about the site for a little while, but I hadn’t explored it much. I thought I would need a lot of information on the burial site and dates in order to find a grave, but found that I could search a last name and when I did…well, I was amazed at the treasures I discovered.
I found out that my grandmother who married my grandfather on December 24, 1927, shared her anniversary with her great grandmother who married her great grandfather on December 24, 1872. That anniversary date is also shared by my cousin, Raelynn and her husband on December 24 as well. Sorry, I’m not sure of the year on that one, but maybe this story will bring me that information.
There were also stories that I knew about before, like my great great grandfather who, to me seemed to be eccentric…even in his young years. He served in the Civil War twice. He was also married twice, but forgot to divorce either wife, and after 17 years away from his first family, his son saw him wandering around town and brought him home where he spent his remaining years. I suppose many people would think he was a scoundrel, but I think maybe he experienced an injury that caused amnesia, or that his memory was in some other way compromised. No matter who or what he was, he was my great great grandfather, and that is the way it is.
The history of one’s family is such an interesting thing. We don’t know what factors and events in our background played together to make us the people we are today, but the experiences they had were passed down to the future generations nevertheless. We can’t separate our experiences for the way we raise our own children. Our past affects our future, and the future of our kids. I have found so many things out about my family from this and other sites, and my research has been interesting and exciting. I feel like I know my ancestors a little bit. And that is worth the search.