In 2004, we helped organize the Smith family reunion and invited attendees to bring old family photos and mementos to share. Connie Conradt, the daughter-in-law of a cousin, had never attended a Smith gathering, but she brought a postcard showing stores in Steinauer, the small southeastern Nebraska town where she lived. The card was postmarked there in September 1911, and addressed to a Smith at Norcatur, a Kansas town about 300 miles west. Connie’s mother had bought the postcard at a flea market in Des Moines, Iowa — some 200 or more miles east of Steinauer — because it showed Connie’s town.
Connie thought the addressee on the card was Harry Smith and showed it to her mother-in-law, Dorothy Smith Conradt, who realized the name wasn’t Harry, but Harvey Smith — Dorothy’s grandfather who lived in Kansas on the date the card was postmarked.
In November 1911, Harvey, with his father, brother and their families, left northwestern Kansas for southeastern Nebraska in a covered wagon. They ran into a severe snowstorm that caused them to send the women and numerous children, including a tiny baby, ahead on the train. The men arrived with their wagons shortly before Christmas.
Our questions: How did the card survive that trip, and what were its travels from there until it ended up in a Des Moines flea market? What are the odds it would be purchased by the mother-in-law of Steven Conradt, the great-grandson of Harvey Smith, to whom it was originally sent nearly 100 years earlier?
Movin’ on Up
I contacted the James River genealogy club in Wells County, ND, to request some research on my great-grandparents Will and Rose Thurston of Heaton, ND (now a ghost town). Will Thurston owned a farm north of there, but not being a successful farmer, he went into the hardware business in town.
This Heaton, ND, hardware store has been relocated and reincarnated as a house.
A volunteer researcher from the genealogy club said her neighbor grew up in Heaton. When she asked him about the hardware store, he said he knew it well. It had become a bank where his mother worked. When it closed, he bought the building, moved it north to Fessenden and turned it into his house. My researcher was standing in Great-grandpa’s store! She e-mailed me a picture of the house. Apparently, the building’s narrow end — now the side of the house — fronted to the street when it was a store.
A few weeks later my mother found an old picture taken inside the store with my great-grandfather at the counter. Sure enough, it was a long room with the entrance on the short side. I scanned the photo so the neighbor could have a picture of his house in its hardware store days.
Just Her Cup of Tea
Sopha Obas Widmer, the wife of my dad’s first cousin, was a small child when she immigrated to the United States with her parents. Late in her life, Sopha journeyed to her birthplace in Fuzine, Croatia. She visited with several residents, and as she was about to leave one home, the old woman who lived there gave Sopha a cup and saucer. The woman said many years before, the pretty dishes belonged to a woman who had a husband from another town and a young daughter named Sopha. The family was going to America and had to leave behind many belongings. From this information, Sopha, whose father was from Poland, realized the cup and saucer had belonged to her own mother.
Better Late Than Never
My wife’s stepfather, a soldier in the German army during World War II, had been imprisoned in a Russian camp for a couple of years when her mother received a letter from a neighbor who’d been in the same camp — he said he’d seen my wife’s stepfather die. The family held a memorial service and published an obituary.
Less than a year after this, my wife’s brother (a known practical joker) ran into the house and shouted their dad was walking down the road. His mother chewed him out for telling such stories, but my wife saw something in his eyes that made her believe him. She stepped outside and sure enough, her stepfather — so thin he was nearly unrecognizable — had almost reached the driveway. What a reunion, once he’d bathed and burned his clothes. He visited the man who wrote the death letter, and the poor fellow almost had a heart attack.
All in the Family
June winners: oddly enough …
Ancestral deeds that were crazy, zany, kooky — that’s what we wanted to hear about in June. The three folks who wrote in with these head-scratchers can now contemplate the even stranger qualities of those depicted in 50 Relatives Worse Than Yours by Justin Racz (Bloomsbury).
Juanita Dunlap’s great-grandfather Sam White returned from the grave — several times. He first “died” in Giles County, Tenn., but arose before being buried. “People thought he was a ghost and were afraid of him,” Dunlap writes. “I believe Grandpa Sam was going into diabetic comas.” He passed away once and for all in 1925, and the last anyone’s heard, he’s still peacefully buried.
“Selling tickets to a nonexistent circus in Walla Walla, Wash., landed [my great-grandfather] in the penitentiary,” writes Laura Pedersen of David Victor Harris, aka Joe David Linsky, born in 1876. The man she calls a “professional ne’er do well” used his alias on WWI draft cards and in the 1920 census.
Seemer “Poppy” Freeman, great-grandfather to Lizbeth Pierce of Marine City, Mich., stuck a pitchfork in Jesse James’ backside. Fortunately, it was an accident, and he lived to tell about it. Pierce writes, “Poppy was hauling hay between Kansas and Missouri. When he started to unload, he nudged the hay and heard, ‘If you poke me one more time, mister, I will shoot you sure as you’re standing.’ Seems the guy needed to get across the state line.”
Upon first glance at my family tree, you might think I’m related to some famous filial folks. That’s not entirely true.
I was searching the 1850 US census in Pennsylvania and Ohio for family members of my relative Mathias Brothers. One of Mathias’ sons was John Brothers, born in 1780. In 1850, John lived in Mercer County, Pa., and had fathered 13 children. Among them were boys named Smith Brothers (born in 1814) and Wright Brothers (born in 1832).
Neither of my Brothers brothers ever marketed a cough drop or invented an airplane, but their names certainly caught my attention. They also had a cousin named James Brothers, who was born in 1824 in Stark County, Ohio. As far as I know, he never robbed a bank.