She was called “mama”
Posted for the meme Genealogy Blog Party hosted by Elizabeth O’Neal of Little Bytes of Life. July’s theme invites posts involving ancestors who make genealogy research “miserable.” I have my fair share of those, but my frustration with my maternal grandmother’s history has less to do with her than my own inability (thus far) to locate meaningful personal information about her.
I know next to nothing about my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Jaeger Armbrust.
I do have a few records for her, including a 1925 North Dakota state census report when Elizabeth was still at home with her parents, a 1940 U.S. census report when she is recorded as a widow with three young children, church records for her birth (1906) and death (1946), and the certificate for Elizabeth’s marriage to Daniel Armbrust in July 1925. I also have birth records for my mother, Daniel and Elizabeth’s oldest daughter, and I’m able to guess at a few other details of Elizabeth’s life based on Daniel’s records.
Don’t get me wrong—I am thrilled to have these documents and realize that other genealogists are working with even less information for their ancestors than I have for my grandmother. Still, I can’t help wishing for those elusive personal details that would give me a better understanding of Elizabeth as a person, thus enriching the factual accounts of the names, dates, and places of her life that are documented in the records I have.
Then, a few days ago, I finally decided to open two banker’s boxes worth of family memorabilia I’ve been loaned from a sister’s estate. I sorted through everything and spotted a few truly valuable images, including one of my grandmother Elizabeth with her second child, Dolores. My mother, Irene, is in the foreground of the photo with her back to the camera. Another photo, apparently taken the same day, shows Irene, Dolores, and their younger brother Elmer. I’ve concluded these photos were most likely taken in the summer of 1935, when the children were about 6, 3, and 1 respectively.
So, what other information can I glean from this photo of my grandmother? She would have been about 29 years old at the time, and her younger daughter was almost half her mother’s height. That leads me to think that my grandmother was about five feet tall, which matches the adult heights of her daughters.
Written on the back of the photo in my mother’s hand is “mama, Dolores.” I never knew before I saw this photo and its notation what Elizabeth looked like or what her children called her, but it warms my heart to have these details. I can’t help wondering, though, what I and Elizabeth’s other 14 grandchildren might have called her had she lived long enough for us to know her. Grandmama, perhaps? I can only imagine, but Grandmama Armbrust has a certain ring to it.
 Elizabeth (Jaeger) Armbrust was born in or near Dickinson, Stark County, North Dakota, on August 11, 1906, to Joseph and Agnes (Heiser) Jaeger. She died September 1, 1946, probably in or near Watford City, McKenzie County, North Dakota, and is buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Dickinson, Stark County, North Dakota. Source: church baptism and burial records obtained and held by the author.
 Elizabeth (Jaeger) Armbrust photograph, ca. 1935; digital image ca. 2016, privately held by author. Original photograph is contained in a photo album created and owned by Irene (Armbrust) Arnold, which was subsequently located in the belongings of Irene’s daughter, Wynne (Arnold) Martin. The album is currently in the possession of the author for scanning to create a digital archive of family photographs and memorabilia.