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.
As I contemplated today’s story, I thought about one of my biggest fans…my mom, Collene Spencer, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I was researching a part of our family tree, after a conversation with a co-worker, Carrie Beauchamp, who had the opportunity, while living back east to visit one of the Vanderbilt mansions. I knew that my 2nd great uncle was named Cornealius Vanderbilt Spencer, but I didn’t know if there was any real connection, or rather maybe his mother just wished there had been a connection. So, I set out to look. I was pretty sure I had seen the Vanderbilt name somewhere else in my tree. My research brought me to Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married Charles Richard Spencer Churchill, who is my 15th cousin once removed.
I knew that I was related to Winston Spencer Churchill, who is also my 15th cousin once removed, and I knew how his name had been changed from what should have been Spencer, when his 4th great grandfather, Charles Spencer married one Anne Churchill, in a merger that was mutually beneficial to both families, and changed the name to Spencer-Churchill. Through the years some of that branch of the family went on to stay Spencer-Churchill, eventually dropping the hyphen, making the Spencer name appear to be a middle name. Others dropped the Churchill name, going back to Spencer, and still others dropped the Spencer name, deciding to stick with Churchill. Nevertheless, they are all my cousins at some level. In my search, I found where Consuelo Vanderbilt was indeed my 15th cousin once removed, and so my 2nd great grandparents, Allen and Lydia Spencer did have the actual connection to the Vanderbilt name, and were justified in naming their son Cornealius Vanderbilt Spencer. And since there was an actual Cornealius Vanderbilt, who built the Vanderbilt mansion in New York City, I guess the first name was after an ancestor too.
As I thought about that connection, my mind instinctively thought of how much my biggest fan…my mom would have loved that story. Of course, when those thoughts of my parents, and my desire to tell them something surface, my mind, in its ability to fool itself, thinks that I really can’t wait to tell my parents what I have found, or to have my mom read this story. She would have been so excited to hear that new information. It wasn’t that she ever wanted to be snobby, or even that she would have cared about being related to the Vanderbilt family, but rather that she would have found the information very interesting, and in fact, as amazing as I did, because it really is a small world, when you think about it. I’m sure there are many other famous, rich, or even infamous people that our family is related to, because there are so many branches that split off of the originals, that it’s bound to connect us to someone famous at some point. I just always find it rather surprising every time it happens, and I think my mom did too. I wish I could have told her about it…but then I suppose she already knows.
It’s strange…how often society prefers old money to new money. Maybe these days it’s not as common, but in the late 1800s, it was a little bit more common. That was the world Margaret Tobin grew up in. Who is Margaret Tobin, you might ask. Well, we didn’t really remember her as Margaret Tobin, but rather as Molly Brown…or more likely as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. That’s because on this day April 15, 1912, Molly Brown not only survived the sinking of the Titanic, but she heroically saved other people in the water, and kept the people in the lifeboat calm with her stories of life in the west.
Molly was born the daughter of an impoverished ditch-digger. As a teenager, Molly went West to join her brother, who was working in the booming silver mining town of Leadville, Colorado. While there, the manager of a local silver mine, James J Brown, noticed her, and they fell in love. The couple married in 1886, and a short time later, James Brown discovered a large deposit of gold. They quickly became very wealthy. They moved to Denver, and tried unsuccessfully to take what should have been their rightful place in society, but the high society of the time…old money, just weren’t prepared to let these unstart, new money people with little social grooming into their ranks. Apparently Molly was a little too flamboyant for the stuffy, old money high society people. She was a little too much for her husband too, because they soon separated, and with her estranged husband’s financial support, Molly was able to live comfortably…for a time anyway…until most of the money ran out.
Molly left Denver and decided to travel. The Eastern elite, didn’t seem to mind Molly’s flamboyance, and soon accepted her as one of them. Socially prominent eastern families like the Astors and Vanderbilts prized her frank western manners and her thrilling stories of frontier life. It was her friendship with these people that brought her to the Titanic, on that fateful trip, but it was Molly herself and her heroic ways that brought her fame, even though she obviously wasn’t the only woman who survived the sinking. After the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, Brown was tossed into a lifeboat. She took command of the little boat and helped rescue a drowning sailor and other victims. To keep spirits up, she regaled the anxious survivors with stories of her life in the Old West. One the newspapers heard of her heroics, she gained national fame. She was dubbed “the unsinkable Mrs. Brown” and she became an international heroine. Before very long though, the money ran out, and she faded into obscurity, dying a woman of modest means in New York City in 1932. It was the Broadway musical that would revive her claim to fame, and change her title to The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
A while back, I wrote a story about a house in Massachusetts that was built by our ancestor, James Noyes, who is my husband, Bob’s 7th great grandfather. Almost immediately, a cousin of ours, Paul Noyes told me that he had been there many times, and yet another cousin, David Noyes had been invited inside and had pictures. Of course, this was exactly what I was hoping for, because I wanted to talk about the interior of the home, but could not find any pictures online. So, I want to thank David for these beautiful pictures, and Paul for forwarding them to me, so that I can tell a little about the inside of this grand old house. My husband, Bob was sure that the interior had probably been renovated several times since the 1646 date that the house was built, but other than what has been documented, there is no indication of a massive remodel.
James Noyes, moved to and was co-founder of Newberry, Massachusetts in 1635, bringing with him, his wife Sarah Brown Noyes. Little was documented about where in Newbury they lived before the Noyes home was built in 1646, but the family grew by five children…Joseph, James, Sarah (who died at an unknown young age), Moses, and John. I would assume that their growing family was the reason for the large home to be built. Even with that, the home was not what we would consider large these days. The current home has five bedrooms, but it is my guess that the original probably had only three, a master bedroom for the parents, a bedroom for the boys, and a bedroom for the girls. The house was only one room deep in those years, and while it might have been somewhat small, I can only imagine what stories those walls would tell, if they could talk. My guess is that there would be stories of laughter, sadness, and crying as new babies joined the family. The family grew, with the additions of Thomas, Rebecca, William, and a second daughter named Sarah, after her mother and the first Sarah, who had passed away.
James and Sarah lived in the house for the remainder of their days, during which time the house saw children come into the family, and children marry and move away, returning now and again to share their children with their parents. Then on October 22, 1656, just seven months after his second daughter named Sarah, was born, James passed away. The house saw the sadness of a family in mourning for its patriarch. Sarah became the head of the family then, and so it remained until her passing on September 13, 1691. James and Sarah were blessed with at least 47 grandchildren…not all of whom lived very long unfortunately. Not much is said about what the children did with the home after their mother’s passing, but while it has been home to a number of families over the many years since it was built, it remains an important historical home and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. There were some changes, which added size to the home making it a five bedroom home at this present time. The last time the home was sold was in 2010, and it is my assumption that it was the current owners who allowed our cousin David Noyes to have a tour and take the pictures I now have of this beautiful home.
Being the youngest of my grandparents’ nine children, my Aunt Sandy Byer Pattan, has become my go to person for family history information. She probably got to hear all the stories more than the other kids, because when parents are busy raising a large family, there are always other priorities. Of course, story time was a big priority in their family too, because it was something they could all do together. I’m sure the other kids heard all the stories about their family too, but Aunt Sandy seems to be the one who was especially interested in the family history. There always seems to be one or two who can easily be named the family historian. For the Byer family, the family historian would most definitely be Aunt Sandy.
In some ways, Aunt Sandy almost got to be that “mouse in the corner” listening to what went on in history. She may not have been there experiencing it, but the family she knew and loved, were there, so it felt real. Some of the family history stories were in Aunt Sandy’s time…not that she lived in ancient times, but that she lived during times in our history that were economically tough. She witnessed times when people often showed up at their doorstep…hungry, and they had heard through the grapevine that generous people lived in that house. Aunt Sandy recalls that no one was turned away, because her mother always made a way to feed more hungry mouths. I can’t imagine living through some of those times, and not have it affect my interest in family history.
Aunt Sandy always has a bit of a unique take on the family and it’s members. She often sees a side of them, good or bad, that I would have never known about. Every family has its rebels, and every family has its conformists. That is just a part of life, and for me, each is interesting. The runaway husband story she told me about my second great grandfather, David Pattan left me wondering if he was a cheating husband or just a little bit insane. Unfortunately, those are questions without answers. She has told me about grouchier family members, Some of these, I suppose, were just naturally grouchy, but others, I think might have been overwhelmed. Each will be remembered for the choices they made, I guess.
As to my Aunt Sandy, I will always remember her for the insight she has given me into the great big family that I am honored to be a part of. I think that every family really needs someone like Aunt Sandy in it. She spent many years listening to, and remembering the details of the stories of the family. Her amazing mind allowed her to remember the stories without writing much of it down. If someone is interested, she is willing to share. That, in and of itself, is a big part of the blessing she is. I think everyone of the family members should take a few minutes to sit down with her and find out about all the amazing information she has. Today is Aunt Sandy’s 70th birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
A few days ago, a man commented on one of my stories, saying that he was Mary LuLu Taylor Leary Begier Warren’s great grandson. Joe Brown comes from her marriage to James Begier, the man she married after James Leary passed away. LuLu and James had three children, Minnie, John, and Mable. Mabel Claire married Edward Anthony Brown, and they had three children, Charles, Frank, and Mary. Frank Brown married Mary Lou Conway, and Frank Joseph (Joe) Brown is their son. Joe is my husband Bob Schulenberg’s second cousin once removed. Finding a new cousin is always exciting for me, but with the discovery of Joe, comes so much more. Joe brings with him a Gold Mine…a true Gold Mine. Joe has sent me pictures of his family, and his own drawings too. In return I have sent him pictures of our family and my in-laws family, so we are working on getting acquainted.
Joe has been researching his family tree too, so we have a lot to talk about and a lot to share. He has access to a bunch of pictures from a part of Bob’s family that I know…some well, some only from my own research and stories from Bob’s grandmother, Vina Leary Schulenberg Hein. Joe, however, has much information, and many pictures…pictures of people I didn’t think I would ever have and pictures of people I know well, when they were just children. I am so overwhelmed by all this and his generosity, that it brings tears to my eyes. What a gift he has given me and the rest of the family too, as this story will serve to inform them of this amazing gift we have received. Overwhelming and amazing!! Receiving these pictures was like being given a part of our family back. I have often wondered what Bob’s grandma, Vina Leary Schulenberg Hein looked like when she was a girl. Now I know. She was a pretty girl with long ringlets. I have never seen a picture of her brother, and now I have several of them, including one with his wife, Rose Schulenberg Leary. And the only picture we had of Marion Chester Leary was the one I have used in stories in the past. My father-in-law only knew of that one. Now I have several of him too. And I have pictures of Chester’s half siblings Minnie Begier Morgan, John Begier, and Mable Claire Begier Brown. I have pictures of the history that has taken place in Forsyth, Montana, where much of Bob’s family history is centered. Of course I can’t include them all here, so they will be used in a future story. I simply could not feel more blessed.
Joe has told me that he has much more information to share with me, and while I thought I didn’t have very much to share in return, I am finding that I have the continuing story on the Schulenberg side, at least, and he has the continuing family of his side. That is an amazing combination, and with the history that he knows, I hope that I will be able to contribute some history too. Neither of us live in the area that we are talking about…Forsyth, Montana…and yet a lot of the family history took place there. What I do have is the stories told to me by my husband’s grandmother, our beloved Vina Leary Schulenberg Hein, and the stories told to me by my in-laws, Walt Schulenberg and Joann Knox Schulenberg. I am eager to share all of this history with Joe and his family, my family, and my readers. It’s going to be an incredible journey.
So many of us would love to know more about our family and the stories from the past, but by the time we realize that we are interested in those stories, the people who could tell us about them are gone, and it is too late. I feel very blessed that my grandparents had nine children, all spaced roughly 2 years apart. My aunt, Sandy Pattan was the youngest of those children. While the older children lived some things that Aunt Sandy was to young to have lived, she was nevertheless, not to young to have heard all the stories, and she was just curious enough to be a willing listener. While her older siblings were growing up and doing all the things a kid sister finds very cool, Aunt Sandy was watching with curiosity. She wanted to grow up just like her sisters, and she loved watching her brothers’ antics, as well as, their kindnesses. She also watched her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents…and she listened to the stories that were told.
Flash forward to today, and to her niece…me, who is curious about all those events from the past. I have asked other family members about those events, and received a little bit of information, but my Aunt Sandy has an amazing mind. Not to brag…but I think I take after her in that area. Once a story is told to her…she stores in I her memory files for all time, and she can pull it out and accurately pass on the details to those around her, who want to know, and are blessed enough to realize that she is an such amazing store of information. There is just no need to be in the dark about our family history, because if the information is out there, Aunt Sandy probably has it.
Aunt Sandy retired a while back, and is busy with a lot of projects, but she has it in her heart to put some of this information on paper, so that it can be passed on to other interested family members. I really hope she does that, because it is so easy for those stories to get lost and forgotten in time. Those who remember them pass away, and if they didn’t tell others the stories, they are lost. Aunt Sandy has a real talent for remembering the events as they happened, and for telling them in a way that makes them interesting to the listener. I have very much enjoyed listening to her accounts of the events of her life, and the ones that shaped it…as well as mine, and the rest of the family. Next time you get an opportunity, I strongly recommend that you take the time to talk to her about your history. You will be amazed at what you might find out. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
So often we think that toddlers don’t have the ability to remember things that happened when they were so very small, but the mind is an incredible thing. If our toddler’s mind has deemed something as important enough to remember, we will remember it for the rest of our lives. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting with my mom, Aunt Sandy, and my sister, Cheryl at my mom’s house, while we scanned some pictures, and talked about family history. We talked of many different family stories, but one that stood out in my mind was Aunt Sandy’s account of the entrance of my grandparents’ first grandchild, my cousin, Susie. For any grandparent, the moment when you actually become a grandparent for the first time is amazing…a moment you will never forget. But, what of the small children? Most of us assume that there really won’t be small children to consider when it is the first grandchild, but sometimes, the aunts and uncles are barely toddlers themselves. Such was the case with Aunt Sandy when Susie was born.
When she became an aunt, my Aunt Sandy was just three years old…too young to really remember much about it, right? Wrong! This would be an event that Aunt Sandy’s three year old mind knew was a life changing event. She was never going to be the same after that November day…she wasn’t just a little girl now…she was an aunt. I can’t say for sure that Aunt Sandy knew what being and aunt really meant, or that she understood that there was a new baby in the family now…at least, not at first. Then came the moment when the baby was to be brought over to meet her family.
The house was filled with all the family members. That wasn’t such an unusual thing for my grandparents’ home, so it probably didn’t seem like anything new to Aunt Sandy. Then my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George brought the baby into the house. Everyone gathered around the new little family. There were the usual ooo’s and ahh’s, as everyone vied for a position where they could get a good look at the baby. But, standing in the back of the crowd, momentarily forgotten in all the excitement, stood my Aunt Sandy, her eyes as big as silver dollars, as she took in this incredible scene. Her little three year old toddler mind was trying to figure out what all this meant, because it didn’t take an adult to know that everything in her world had changed…she knew it, she just didn’t really know how much it had changed.
Feeling maybe just a little bit nervous about all this activity, Aunt Sandy went up to her mom, and put her little hand out and touched her mom. Grandma turned around, perhaps realizing for the first time that the prior youngest person in the family had been momentarily forgotten in all the excitement. As she looked down at her youngest daughter, her youngest child, she knew just what was needed. She said to Aunt Sandy, “Do you want to see the baby?” Aunt Sandy nodded, Grandma picked her up, and she was able to get her first look at the baby that had changed her life forever…the baby that had made her an aunt. She now knew that something amazing had happened in her family, and this was a moment she would remember for the rest of her life.
As we talked about the way that such an early memory could stay with a person, I could see on Aunt Sandy’s face, that the picture of that day was very clearly imprinted in her mind. It was almost as if she was that three year old toddler again, standing in back of the crowd of family members wondering what was going on. That earliest memory had so completely imprinted itself on her mind that she could still see it as if she was back there again.
As the youngest of my Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s family, my Aunt Sandy got to hear all the stories of her family’s lives, starting at a very young age. Her siblings were already out there doing things with their lives, and it all sounded so interesting to her. I suppose that is why she has been the one that was most interested in the family stories, and my go to person when I need information on this person or that person for a story I’m working on. I really need that kind of a person, because there are many stories I hadn’t heard before. I have enjoyed our talks so much, and look forward to the next one. It’s funny, that sometimes when I ask my mom about something to do with one of her siblings, she will say, “I was married by that time, but Sandy will know.” And mom is right.
Of course, eventually Aunt Sandy began to have stories of her own unique experiences, such as the traveling peddler of sorts, who was allowed to take a picture of Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt Sandy, or the trip she and grandma took to Wisconsin to visit my family, when we lived there. And as a little girl, she became an aunt at an early age when my cousin Susie was born. They would be almost like sisters in those younger years, and at least, great playmates. Every life has a story to tell, and Aunt Sandy paid attention to all the stories, keeping them safe in her memory files…just waiting for someone to take an interest in all of those little treasures waiting there. Some people have a knack for remembering the really interesting stories of a family’s past, and Aunt Sandy is one of those people. She has an amazing memory for the details of situations that happened a long time ago, and she can relate them in such a way as to keep her audience spellbound throughout her story. That is a great skill to have.
These days, Aunt Sandy has retired from the job she held for many years, and she is taking life a little easier. She and my mom have been spending a little more time together, and that has been such a nice thing for my mom. She hasn’t gotten out as much is the last few years, so those get togethers with Aunt Sandy have become very special. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you very much!!
Bob and I went out to the nursing home to visit his mother on Saturday, and very uncharacteristic of her, since she got Alzheimer’s Disease anyway, she was very talkative. She was telling us about her day…at least as she remembered it. Her story moved from one scenario to another, making little sense, unless you knew some of the characters, and the places she was talking about. The other problem with her story was that it spanned at least 6 decades, and they were all intermingled. Probably the most disconcerting part of the story, however, was the fact that she was talking about Bob and me, almost like we weren’t there, and yet at other moments, she talked to us, knowing who we were. It was very strange to feel the need to speak of myself, as someone else, so it didn’t confuse her. It was also strange to shift gears, when she asked me what I was making everyone for the dinner she had decided I was cooking.
I’m sure a lot of people would have been a little bit freaked out by this strange visit, but with Alzheimer’s Disease, that is somewhat normal. The main reason it isn’t very normal, is that many Alzheimer’s patients, including my mother-in-law, don’t usually talk so much. It was quite an interesting conversation, really. She mentioned several family members, including Bob and me, our daughters, Corrie and Amy, and two of my grandsons, Chris and Josh. She also mentioned my brother-in-law, Ron, and my nephew, Barry as well as my sister-in-law, Jennifer. Then she mentioned the names Adolph, Brady, and Cody…names that made no sense to me, and two of which will most likely always be a mystery. Adolph and his wife Loretta, apparently were good friends of my in-laws, a long time ago.
It was very strange to know that she knew who we were, and yet also had a picture in her memory of what we looked like 30 years ago. The two pictures seemed like two different people in her mind, so it made perfect sense that she would be talking to us and about us at the same time. I suppose many people would find that sad, and think of Alzheimer’s disease as a horrible thief, and to a degree, they would be right, but so much of this disease…if looked at with the right mindset…can be found humorous. Yes, she makes up her stories, but they are about things in her past. Yes, she doesn’t always know us. But there is a lot to be learned there too. I never knew about their friends, Adolph and Loretta, but maybe someday she will tell me a little bit more about them…perhaps, in another story session.