A Trip Through Family History


An Earlier Time on the Farm

Last weekend I took my maternal aunt to Iowa to that branch of my family’s annual reunion.  I’ve not been there in about eight years.  The last time I went I drove my mother there.  That was her last reunion as she became ill shortly after that and died a few years ago.

I knew the day would bring back powerful memories for me.

I didn’t expect to learn so much more about family history.  For example one of the first items that greeted me when I arrived was a whole wall, at least 25 feet in length covered with large sheets of paper about 3 feet wide.  Some sections were 5 and 6 pages deep.  This was the family genealogy.  It went back to the early 1600’s and the two relatives are still digging and researching to go back further.  Those of us there were to add in whatever pieces of information we had that wasn’t there.

I spent several minutes updating my mother’s section—which was the third page down from the top copy. 🙂

Five generations were represented at the gathering: ages 94 years to 3 months. My grandfather’s baby sister was the oldest.  She’s 4 years older than my mother would be as my great-grandfather had a second wife and a second much younger family with her.  The estimate was 170 attended, not counting the little ones who didn’t need plates for dinner.

The family resemblance through generations made it so easy for me to pick out blood relatives.  Even better was seeing in a new generation a “replica” of deceased, much loved relatives.

A Mediation Courtyard

Besides the interesting conversations and late night visits, my aunt took me around the two towns and pointed out where my grandparents and great-grandparents had been born and raised.  She showed me the business college from where my grandmother graduated.  We went to the new hospital which had a meditative courtyard area that featured a statue my great grandfather had donated to the original hospital in memory of his first wife.  I drove along and over the railroad that my great-great-grandfather helped build and my great-great-grandmother journeyed along the trail as cook and laundress for the crew.

See potential story lines here?

We visited the cemetery and walked among my relatives while my aunt told me stories about them.  Stories from her personal experiences and stories told to her by family members now buried in the ground we walked.  One I hadn’t heard about was “Uncle Mike” whose granite marker told part of his story.

Uncle Mike

Uncle Mike came in steerage from Ireland, landed in Canada, and wanted to get to Iowa where he had a brother who was homesteading.  This was in the late 1850’s.  Before he got to Iowa, he landed in New Orleans (oral history here is unclear but I suspect the Acadian route used by many) just as the Civil War broke out.  This Irish lad was conscripted into the Confederate Army, wore the gray uniform and was sent to the northern border states where he fought, was wounded, and taken prisoner by the Union Army.

Once he recovered and the Union forces heard his story, he was conscripted into the Union Army and served until the end of the war.  Finally after serving on both sides of a war for a country not yet his, he was mustered out and found his way to Iowa and his family.  He never left Iowa again.

I saw the gravestone commemorating my mother’s first cousin, a tail-gunner on a B-17 and part of Doolittle’s Raiders who bombed Tokyo during WWII.  I read through the scrap book containing all the information the family has gathered about him.  It contained the telegrams indicating he was missing in action, a few letters home from him prior to that mission that most knew they would return from.  He didn’t.

And so many stories.

A Doolittle Raider

The trip was long.  I drove 1,135 miles round trip between Friday morning and Sunday evening.  But I learned so much.  My mind whirled with ideas on the trip home.  Not only about stories but about the beautiful farmland I’d seen and the incredible changes in farming methods I heard about.

But still the farm where the reunion was held had 4 horses.  My grandfather loved horses but he used them for farming as well as riding.  Now they are strictly for riding.

I think my mother was glad I made this trip.  I believe she was with me in spirit as were my grandparents and uncle who are buried in that cemetery.  I hope they believe I’m carrying on the best of our family traditions and beliefs.  I felt them especially as I sat in the little church they worshipped at each week.  Pew 17 was their family pew and I sat there during the service and looked around the church and though about how many memories and events they had experienced in that place: weddings, baptisms, funerals, anniversary celebrations, prayerful services in bad times, such as when the locusts killed all the crops one year or the tornado tore a path through fields just before harvesting, or drought ruined a year’s crops.

They stood strong and together this family.  Through good times and bad.  When people ask how I keep going when bad times keep piling up, I will now tell them, “It’s the family way.”

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10 Comments on “A Trip Through Family History”

  1. Teri Constant Says:

    The past becomes so real when we hear the stories of lives lived long ago. Even without existing pictures our people have faces we recognize in our head and we build a relationship with them. How lucky to have such rich roots. And, IOWA! We’ll have to talk about that sometime.

  2. caseyclifford Says:

    Teri,

    Everything you mentioned is so true! I didn’t even mention so much, like the graves of my mother’s sister who died in the flu epidemic after WWI or the song that was written for my grandmother and grandfather for their wedding day. And the family farms history and the ranches…

  3. Deb Maher Says:

    What a wonderful post about a wonderful trip! Keeping our family history alive is a precious link to our ancestors and to history. Imagine what your Uncle Mike endured sailing across the ocean to this land and then fighting on two sides during the Civil War! His stone mentions Rock Island. I’ve read it had the worst rep of all the POW camps. There’s a book in his story, and more.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us, my friend!

  4. caseyclifford Says:

    Deb,

    I know about Rock Island’s history also and I realized he endured even more because of that. “uncle Mike” never married, farmed with his brother, and became like a much-beloved uncle to all his nieces and nephews. They were a multitude.

    I thought of you much during this trip and listening to the stories, seeing the old homes and viewing the fields because you relate so much to those times and the visions they represent. I saw photos of original family reunions, really more daguerrotypes (sp)where the women were all corseted, wearing long dresses with tight high collars and leg-of-mutton sleeves and felt relieved that I could wear a cool t-shirt and capris and sandals on my feet. 🙂

  5. Elle J Rossi Says:

    Wow. Your family history is full of amazing accomplishments and of lives that LIVED to the fullest. Inspiring to say the least. Just when we think we can’t, this goes to show that Yes We Can. Thank you for sharing it. Next time I’m “home” I’ll dig a little deeper into my history.

  6. caseyclifford Says:

    Elle,

    Yes, we can—if we keep persisting. Guess that’s the message for all of us writers struggling to attain our dream. Here’s to a productive day for us both. 🙂


  7. Hi Casey,

    This blog actually showed up in Doolittle Raiders specific Google search I have sent to my email on a daily basis. What a great find! My cousin was the pilot of your 2nd cousin’s B-25 that flew on the Raid. I’ve spent almost a decade researching my cousin’s life and have a great photo of Dean and Bill together that your family perhaps may not have that I would like to give you. I also met who I assume is a relative of yours at the Doolittle Raider reunion in Ohio in 2006… can’t recall his first name but he was a Dieter. I remember him telling me he was from Iowa and was a lawyer and we had our picture taken together in front of the Doolittle B-25 on display at the USAF museum. At any rate, you can contact me at the email address I entered (if it shows up for you) and perhaps we can talk more.

    Best,
    Adam

  8. caseyclifford Says:

    Adam,

    I know the man you speak of. I was talking with him at the reunion. My uncle who grew up with Bill and was great friends of him always talked about his cousin and the Doolittle Raiders. There were many photos of the crew in the scrapbook I found so interesting. I know my uncle had a similar one but don’t know what happened to it after he died.

    Thank you for reaching out with your comment. Those men of that mission gave such hope to our country at the time of that raid.

  9. Edie Ramer Says:

    What a fascinating post! My cousin researched the history of our ancestors, and I found out that my grandfather used a fake name on the ship that took him from America to Ellis Island because he was about to be conscripted into the Russian army.

  10. caseyclifford Says:

    Adam,

    Let me check with the relative who has possession of the material. I think the photo you mentioned is in the book, but I’m not sure. I couldn’t savor it too long the day of the reunion as others wanted to look at it. I’ll also check with my cousin, the son of my uncle who grew up with Bill, to see if he (my cousin) still has possession of the material my uncle had gathered or if that’s gone to Rob (you mentioned him) or the other cousin.

    I’m a bit rushed now with a deadline, but I will stay on this as I took a WWII history class and found this particular situation so interesting. And that was before I knew about this cousin.


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