Notional Visit to my Grandmothers
Posted for the blog meme Genealogy Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth O’Neal of Little Bytes of Life. April’s theme is “Time Travel to an Ancestor.” Questions posed for this challenge include (1) Who is the ancestor you will meet? (2) What question(s) do you need him/her to answer? (3) Is there a problem you can help your ancestor solve? (4) Will you reveal your true identity to your ancestor? If so, how will your visit impact the future? (4) Will you bring your ancestor to the future to meet his/her descendants? What will be the outcome if you do?
My dream time travel adventure is to Stark and Dunn counties in North Dakota in late summer 1930. The different counties are necessary because I want to meet both my grandmothers. The timeframe is dictated by my paternal grandmother’s death in November 1930 due to complications of childbirth.
The advantage of this time period for meeting my paternal grandmother, Magdalena Wehner Arnold (1897-1930), is that all but one of Magdalena’s 11 children were already born. Of these, all but one survived to adulthood. By that time, the family was living in the modest 3-bedroom home I remember from my childhood (1950s-1960s), and I have mental images of the house and its outbuildings as well as family lore about the youthful antics of my dad, aunt, and uncles who lived there as children and young adults. And, of course, I would be thrilled to meet the 5-year-old version of my own father (William Henry Arnold, 1925-2003).
Similarly, visiting my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Jaeger Armbrust (1906-1946), at that point in time would almost certainly provide me the opportunity to meet the toddler version of my mother (Irene Agnes Armbrust Arnold, 1929-1970), who would have then been about 18 months old. Irene was an “only” at that point; younger sister Dolores and baby brother Elmer were born in 1933 and 1934 respectively. Sadly, I doubt Irene was the center of her parents’ attention in mid- to late-1930—I have documents indicating that in November 1930 Elizabeth and husband, Daniel Armbrust (1895/96-1936), defaulted on a mortgage for Daniel’s homestead in rural Dunn County, North Dakota (the area was so “rural” that it was marked as “No population” for the 1930 U.S. Census).
With both women, I would be more interested in general “getting to know you” conversation and observing relationships and lifestyle than answers to specific questions. It does occur to me, however, that conversation with Magdalena might be hindered by a language barrier. According to my dad and his brothers, they spoke only German until they started school, so I’m hoping one of Magdalena’s older children is available to interpret during my visit.
I doubt I would reveal my identity to my grandmothers. It seems to me that informing either woman about my time or place in relation to them would be so sensational and disruptive that it would probably ruin (for me at least) the purpose of the visit. I think it would be fairly difficult for me to help either one solve a problem, given my very limited understanding of their time period compared to the present. For both, however, I would try to encourage them by telling them what a good job they are doing (based on my time-advantaged knowledge of how their children turned out). Likewise, I doubt I would suggest a visit to the future for either of my grandmothers, though I’m sure they would be delighted to learn about the 10 grandchildren that resulted from the union of their offspring and absolutely amazed by the conveniences their children enjoyed compared to their circumstances in the early 1930s.