A relaunch of sorts

A new look, a new focus…

The header image above was taken from a bluff on property my paternal grandfather, Peter Ernest Arnold, owned near Gladstone, North Dakota, beginning around November 1915, when he and my grandmother, Magdalena Wehner, were married. I haven’t yet sorted out how they acquired the land. As far as I can tell, they weren’t the original homesteaders because I haven’t found a Bureau of Land Management land patent in either of their names for the property.

This overlook is a short distance from the family’s first home, a small sod hut that, in rainy or snowy weather, offered little protection to its inhabitants. Peter and Magdalena eventually built a modest three-bedroom home in a protected valley below the bluff, adjacent to the Green River. Together they parented 12 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. Their older children recalled the hardships they endured when the family lived in the sod hut, but the younger children (my father, their 7th child, included), reported little want. Between crops, Grandpa’s prized orchard and garden, livestock, and hunting, they had plenty to eat and, though they were usually barefoot during warm weather months, each child had new shoes before the start of the school year.

It is an understatement to say that I have become fascinated with genealogy. I never imagined a few months ago when a cousin asked for information about me and my siblings that those questions would be the genesis of a new (and thoroughly absorbing) hobby. Since then, genealogy has, quite honestly, become something of an obsession. I am thrilled when I stumble across a detail-filled obituary from one of my ancestors, but I simultaneously celebrate/cringe when I realize that this new discovery means I must add another 2-4-6-8-10 (or more) people to the family tree. I’m still struggling to find a reasonable middle ground between pursuing every lead and focusing my attention on our family’s central figures.

Thus, I have decided for now to concentrate on genealogy research and related documentation. I’m in the beginning stages of planning a 2017 trip to southwest North Dakota to obtain records and/or photographic evidence of the places family members called home. Until then, I will continue pursuing a combination of original records, family history, and relevant research to better understand the life and times of my ancestors.

It’s been nearly two months since my last blog post. Since then I’ve considered a range of actions including closing my blog entirely, setting it to private, or starting a new blog for genealogy purposes. Finally, after much waffling, I’ve decided to retain my original blog title but to shift the focus of my writing to genealogy instead of its original topics of photography, post-processing, and scrapbooking. I may eventually return to those pursuits, but for the time being I believe documenting family history will be the best use of my discretionary time.

So, as I move on with this new interest, I want to take a moment to thank each of my regular readers—Alexa, Allison, Becs, Brenda, Cathy, Gail, Lee, Miriam, and Sian. I very much appreciate your support over the four or so years that I’ve been blogging. Your comments have been enthusiastic and encouraging, and I have enjoyed participating with you in various classes, challenges, and memes. Each of you brings something uniquely creative to the blogosphere so I will continue to keep an eye out, via my reader, for your posts. Take care, my friends, and happy blogging.

In the space of a breath

I’m posting tonight in honor of my friend, William Hamilton. Bill (aka, “Ham”) lost his years’ long battle with COPD a few hours ago. I didn’t know Bill all that long—only ten years or so—but it is a relationship I will treasure for the rest of my life. Bill kept me honest and was the best non-biological big brother a girl could ever hope for.

We met in 2004 at our local bowling center when the alley’s Tuesday night winter league was forming. Bill was a “walk-on” because he signed up after the league reached capacity, but he was assigned to our team due to no-shows, etc. It was the best thing that ever happened to our team. Bill truly was our anchor. He understood the art and science of bowling and did his best with every ball he rolled. He was a competitor and wanted to win in the worst way, but he also realized that his teammates were not competition–grade bowlers. He accepted that and, despite the fact that our team rarely won, he thoroughly enjoyed our weekly bowling matches. Art and I quit after a couple of years—Art because of bowling-aggravated aches and pains and I because it ran too late for my 3:50 a.m. wake-up call. But Bill kept on, effortlessly fitting himself into whatever team had a vacancy, continuing until only a couple of years ago despite the shortness of breath and other problems associated with advancing COPD.

I happened to mention to Bill in 2012 during one of his all-too-frequent hospital stays that I blogged. Coincidentally, Bill’s wife Stephanie had been encouraging him to blog about his COPD. I offered a hint or two shortly after Bill launched his Dealing with COPD site, but it wasn’t long before he had a well-established blog with many enthusiastic and supportive followers—due in big part to his dedication to responding to each and every comment anyone ever left.

True to its title, Bill focused most of his posts on the consequences and difficulties of COPD, but he also celebrated his family—wife Stephanie, daughter Allison, son-in-law Stu, his precious granddaughter, Cari, and from time to time, with memories of his early years. Whatever the subject matter, Bill delivered his message with his own unique combination of humor, common sense, dignity, grace, love, and, often, music du jour. It is no exaggeration to say that Bill bestowed a virtual hug on anyone who ever read his blog—quite simply, you felt better for having visited than if you hadn’t.

Just a few weeks ago, Bill was invited to contribute to the Health Central blog, a site where patients and experts share health-related experiences and information. Bill’s first, and unfortunately only, post on the site dealt with the difficulties associated with supplemental oxygen. Bill used supplemental oxygen on a 24/7/365 basis following complications after heart bypass surgery. At home, he had a length of tube sufficient to reach every part of the house and as far as the mailbox in the front of the house and the pool in the backyard.

Bill didn’t let his oxygen-dependence slow him down—he was always ready for a dinner out, cards with friends, and other adventures. His enthusiasm for life encouraged family and friends alike to enjoy life despite his limitations, even though we all realized that Bill’s life would end long before he was done with life. I will always miss him.

Tangled roots

So many names, familiar certainly, but who are they to me? The same name, separated by a generation or two? Variants of those names based on language, religion, familiarity, or remarriage?

These are the questions I dealt with recently when I received a packet of family records from an aunt. She sent death certificates, newspaper obituaries, and funeral cards for several relatives, most of whom were born before 1900. I recognized the names and even remember meeting some of them when I was very young, but that was a long, long time ago. So, with a stack of papers, some vague memories, a few e-mail conversations, and some ancenstry.com hints to guide me, I finally sorted out how my grandfather (Peter Arnold, born 1893), his sisters (Maria Arnold, born 1884, and Anna Arnold, born 1891), their stepbrother (Peter Schwartz, born 1892), and my great grandmother (Anna Oberding Schwartz, born 1859) made their way to the United States.

Our family’s immigration story is probably more common than unusual. Mr. Schwartz and his step-daughter Maria Arnold immigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1903. Their passage was paid by Ernst Biel, who wished to marry 19-year-old Maria. Ernst and Maria married shortly after Maria’s arrival and eventually settled near Gladstone, North Dakota, our family’s home place. Widowed in 1927, Maria subsequently married Mike Hensel, a widower, in 1929. They lived in the Gladstone area until 1960 when they retired to nearby Dickinson.

Mr. Schwartz ended up further west, in Helena, Montana, where he worked as a gardener at a county poor farm. After some months, he was able to send money back to Hungary so that Mrs. Schwartz and their children could join him. They arrived in New York on November 30, 1904. Family lore: Mrs. Schwartz and the three children were “discharged” from immigration detention on December 3, 1904, upon receipt of additional funding for meals between arrival and discharge. The discrepancy resulted, apparently, because Mrs. Schwartz bought passage for Anna Arnold even though Mr. Schwartz didn’t want to pay her fare. Once in Helena, 14-year-old Anna worked as a maid in a private home to pay back the additional cost.

Anna Arnold married in 1910 and settled with her husband, George Carl Focht, in the Gladstone area. My grandparents, Peter Arnold and Magdalena Wehner, married in 1915, and eventually owned a farm near Gladstone. They had 11 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Magdalena died in 1930. Peter married Margaret Pfeiffer in 1934; they had one child.

For whatever reason, I did not realize that Maria and Anna were my grandfather’s siblings. Maria did not have children and, according to my uncles’ accounts, she definitely believed that “children should be seen and not heard.” As far as I can tell, a visit to Aunt Mary’s usually meant solitary confinement to a chair where the unfortunate child was left to his own devices to wait for his parents’ return. Anna and George, on the other hand, had 11 children, thus accounting for the many “Focht” references in our family history.

Despite my ignorance about our family history, I am comforted that my grandfather and his siblings lived close to one another. I don’t (yet) know the details of what happened to John and Anna (Oberding) Schwartz after their 1903-1904 immigrations, but Anna’s headstone in a Gladstone cemetery is a good indicator that she followed her children to that area. More to come…


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