Everything’s Relative May 2008

Everything’s Relative May 2008

The lighter side of family history.

No Place Like Home

As newlyweds in 1921, my parents set up house in northwest Iowa near Ashton, on one of my paternal grandfather’s two farms. When my widower grandfather died in 1937, his will called for the farms’ sale, with the money divided among his seven heirs. My family couldn’t afford to buy the farm where we lived and it didn’t sell due to the Depression, so we remained there until it finally sold in 1940.

Over the years, my mother would talk about leaving the farm: “The night before we moved, I found Frank sitting in the barn, crying. He had 65 cents in his pocket. I don’t think he ever got over losing the farm. At least we had food on the table, and when things got really bad, Frank sold a pig and we got by. We struggled for years, then had to leave just about the time farmers were beginning to make a profit again.”

The new owner once told my brother Daryl, “When your dad left, he took everything that wasn’t nailed down. He didn’t leave as much as a scrap of lumber.”

But he did leave something — something that wouldn’t be discovered for 55 years. In 1995, on a visit to Iowa, Daryl drove out to the farm. When the owner said he intended to raze the dilapidated barn, Daryl asked permission to take some boards for souvenirs.

Daryl searched inside and outside the barn, looking for pieces suitable to use as picture frames. He finally spotted a board that seemed right. When he picked it up he noticed the letters F.D. carved into the wood. Our father’s initials.

When had he done this? Maybe as a kid, trying out a pocketknife Christmas gift? Or before we moved away — leaving his indelible mark on the farm? We’ll never know. Had Daryl made his trip even a day later, the barn might’ve been gone, and with it the slab bearing those initials.

I have a piece of the wood (not the initialed one) in a frame, with pictures of the barn and farmhouse where my father was born, raised and began a family. It hangs above my desk, grounding me to a place and time that meant a great deal to my father. And to me: It’s where my life began.

Madonna Daries Christensen
Sarasota, Fla.

Roots Race

I’d never experienced serendipitous discoveries of ancestors who seem to reach beyond the grave to help us tell their stories — until one day at the Library of Michigan in Lansing. I was scrolling through micro-film in search of the petition for citizenship of my brother-in-law’s Croatian paternal grandfather, Peter Sertic.

At one point, I lost count of the volume breaks in a Gogebic County reel. Because I was using an automatic microfilm reader, I pressed the high-speed rewind button to start over.

But then I stopped and looked on the screen. A record for Martin Christensen stared back at me. For months, I’d been searching for a Martin Christensen in Minnesota and Wisconsin indexes. Since his last name was often misspelled, I wanted to see how this Martin Christensen spelled his name. I scrolled down to the list of Martin’s children. At the top was Dorothy Louise Christensen, born in Duluth, Minn. Dorothy is my brother-in-law’s Norwegian maternal grandmother.

Cherie Bowers
Byron, Mich.

January Winners: Holiday Hoopla

Some families hang stockings by the chimney with care; others set up scavenger hunts with stuffed animals. With their Footnote <footnote.com> subscription prizes, the winners of this challenge can research the relatives who started these holiday traditions.

When my grandmother died and we went through her things, I brought home an ancient pair of binoculars. Grandma, frankly, was a tightwad, and though the binoculars had seen better days, she’d refused to buy new ones. After trying to use them for several months, I bought my husband new binoculars for Christmas. As a joke, I put the old pair in the new box, wrapped it and put it under the tree. He thought it was so funny he wrapped them for my brother-in-law for my family’s Christmas and signed the tag from someone else. For 27 years, we’ve passed the binoculars around the family, never knowing where they’ll show up.

Katherine McArthur
Benzonia, Mich.

About 50 years ago, my mother started tying gag gifts to our Christmas tree, and my sisters and I would draw numbers for them. I continued the tradition for my children, wrapping gag gifts in red tissue paper (but I no longer tie them to the tree). One of the presents 20 years ago was an adorable stuffed beaver. When my son unwrapped it, his sisters were upset they hadn’t gotten one. The following Christmas I rigged the drawing so each would end up with a different stuffed beaver. They had so much fun, I did the same thing the next year. My children are in their 20s now, and I still rig gag gifts with three different stuffed beavers.

Nancy Garrelts
Duluth, Ga.

For Christmas 1977, my husband and our town’s other merchants agreed each store would have exclusive gift wrap. Several beautiful designs were available on huge rolls, but by my husband’s turn to choose, only two patterns remained. He selected what he thought was better — a colorless, unexciting collage of old-fashioned ice skaters. Many large items were clad in the wrap over the next three years. Still, the roll of paper was enormous. In 1980, we closed the store and moved — with that gift wrap, which our children had dubbed “the skater paper.”

We decided we had to use up that paper. At first, I didn’t use it for our children, who’d always shown distaste for it. Then it became a running joke, and our children were disappointed if none of their gifts were wrapped in skater paper. This holiday marks the 30th anniversary of the paper in our lives.

Linda K. Hayes
Terre Haute, Ind.

From the May 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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