Lona Winterhalter – My Mother

My mother was born on the afternoon of September 25, 1941 to Lonnie Winterhalter and his wife Elsie Westphal. Her parents intended to name Lana, after Lana Turner, but somehow her birth certificate ended up with Lona, I don’t know why my grandparents never had it corrected – maybe they thought it was unique and decided to stay with it, who knows.  Lona was raised a Lutheran, baptized into the faith in 1951, though by the time I was born she had moved away from organized religion; I like to think she was more of a deist than agnostic or atheist.  When I was young I attended Sunday school; later in life my mother told me that she pulled me out of Sunday school when I came home one Sunday and told her we shouldn’t vote for someone because of their religion.

The earliest photograph Lona WinterhalterI have of my mother shows a young girl with bright eyes, freckles and a mop of blonde curls. You can see the joy and happiness in her eyes, she a young girl who looks forward to tomorrow. I don’t know that I can I ever saw that young girl in my mother; by the time I really was old enough to understand who she was the young girl was gone, replaced by a woman whose life was far removed from the dreams of her youth.

My mother rarely talked about her childhood. I know her grandfather would take her to the race track to watch the horses run; my Mom said she used to enjoy that. That is about the only personal story I remember my mother ever sharing. Everything else  I know comes from talking to others who knew her – but not her mind, her hopes or dreams.

The two biggest resources I have for my mother’s youth are my aunt and my mother’s best friend. Their accounts differ in a lot ways, but there is one area where they seem to agree – my mother was not happy about her home life. In their own way each paints a picture of young woman who wanted more out life.

Nobody that I’ve spoken to knows when or how my parents met. They didn’t attend the same school. Los Angeles was a smaller place in the 1950’s so it may be that they simply met at a local hang-out and started to talk. My parents eloped on October 3, 1959; it must have been one heck of a surprise to my grandparents. My mother told me once that on the trip back my father’s car broke down and they had to call my great grandfather for help.

I’m not sure where my parents lived once they returned home. My mother returned to school but dropped out not too long afterwards. My mother said she got tired of all the other girls asking my mother what it was like to married which in the vernacular of 1959 meant that they kept asking her about sex. My mother, who was already a quiet girl, found it was all too much and choose to drop out of school and become a fulltime stay-at-home wife.

After more than one miscarriage my mother finally managed to carry a pregnancy to full term – the result was me.  My parent’s marriage didn’t last very long. I suspect that neither of them was really ready to be adults, let alone the parents of a small child. Both spent time dealing with mental health issues.

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Update to a Surprising Find

Not too long ago I posted a story about how I had come across letters from the civil war in some of my mother’s old things and how I had no idea how my family connected to the author of the letters. In researching this little mystery I’ve discovered that what I have are not copies of the letters themselves, but copies of the letters made by the person who holds the actual letters.
Mike found the letters in a manner similar to me except that his mother was alive when he found the letters. Unfortunately he never got around to asking his mother why the family had the letters. The letters are, as you might expect, fragile and Mike is reluctant to do anything with them except keep them in an acid free environment and away from light so that the writing doesn’t fade any further than it has.
Since talking to Mike I’ve made some progress in tracking down the family of Joseph Thompson. Joseph joined the Illinois 38th Infantry with his brother John in 1861. Joseph was wounded severely early on in the war and spent most of it in a hospital. Most of the letters we have are from John, but John didn’t survive the war. I’ve made significant progress in tracking down Joseph’s descendants and finally found someone who is a living descendant. I sent them a note via Ancestry.com last night and I hope to hear from them soon, and maybe then I can put to rest the mystery of how Mike and I connect to these letters.

The Old Family Homestead in Iowa

Not long ago I sent a letter to the people who currently own the farm my 3rd great grandfather purchased in the 1850’s. Part of me expected to never hear back from them, part of me expected a polite “we don’t have anything for you”. What I never expected is that they would not only be interested in the history of the farm but would go to the local library and dig up information without my every asking!

They have provided me with so much information I don’t know where to begin, and they have more coming in the next couple of days. I can never thank them enough for the help they have provided me.

A Surprising Find

You hit a lot of brick walls when you try to dig into your families past. There were secrets they never spoke about and in the grind of daily life most didn’t leave diaries or personal histories; unless you’re into genealogy most of us don’t have diaries or personal journals. Every once in while though you find something you didn’t expect to find and renews your excitement in genealogy.

This happened to me a few days ago. I was going through a drawer in a cabinet in my late mother’s place and found a large manila envelope. There wasn’t anything written on it but I opened it anyway. Inside I found several copies of a newspaper from 1801 and copies of letters written during the civil war.

The letters are written by two brothers, 19 year old John and 18 year old brother Joseph Thompson, who joined the Illinois 38th Infantry, company B in 1861. The first letters are written from Camp Butler. The letters are all written by John; all but one letter from Joseph are written while he is at a hospital recovering from wounds to his arm and chest – prior to that it is always John who writes on behalf of both the brothers.

The letters from John contain the expected descriptions of battles he’s been in, he talks about beating the secessionist back and how he believes the war will end soon. He seems to enjoy army life for the most part; he doesn’t really complain about anything except the mail and how he isn’t getting regular letters from home. Perhaps my favorite letter is one dated August 28, 1863, just few months before he is killed in the battle of Chickamauga. In it he plays the role of protective big brother telling his sister, “I want  you to quit writing to William Pearson for he don’t think anything of you and he burns every that he gets from you as quick as he gets them and then says that he wouldn’t give a dam for no such letters.”  

I have no idea yet exactly why we have these letters; I suspect they used to belong to my great grandmother whose married name was Thompson. It something I will have trying to determine.

My Family’s Beginings

Growing up I never really knew anything about my family history. My mother never talked about her family and I really had no contact with my father. The only family I knew was my step-father’s mother and grandmother, and my mother’s parents – and I was okay with that until one day in the late 1990’s my sone came to me and asked about our family because he needed to make up a family tree. So began my journey to discover who my ancestors were.

I started by looking for my Father’s side of the family. I had recently made contact with his sisters who provided with enough information to get started. I used whatever limited resources I could find for free on the internet though eventually I did sign up for Ancestry.com.

I was able to trace my father’s side of the family back to 1821. My 3rd Great Grandfather was a man named Daniel Slack who was born in Leeds Ontario. I later found a diary written by a woman who was his granddather; I made contact with the person who posted it and he provided me with the only photographs I have of Daniel, his wife Rebecca Benedict and their son Philip. I learned that my own connect is through the 8th of the 10 children, Jesse Slack.

Jesse was born in 1856, not long after the family had moved to an 80-acre farm in Iowa. Jesse eventually moved to Oregon with his wife Emma Hobson. Jesse and Emma had four children, 2 boys and 2 girls. My great grandfather was the second child, Dale Slack. Dale married a girl from Kentucy, Mattie Belle Taylor. My grandfather Glen was their first child.

Glen was born in Wellington Kansas in 1906. He eventually made his way to California where he met and married my grandmother, Deloras Myatt. My own father was their only son, Robert Lee Slack.

My mother’s side of the family was originally from Germany. My maternal 2nd Great Grandfather was a man named Ignatius Winterhalter who came to America in 1822. My grandfather, Lonnie Winterhalter, was born in 1914 in Kansas City, Kansas. My grandmother was Elsie Westphal. Lonnie and Elsie had 3 daughters. Their first child I have found no record of other than on my mother’s birth certificate where she is listed as Elsie’s second child. My Mother was born in 1941; Lona Winterhalter.

Robert Slack and Lona Winterhalter ran off to Las Vegas to get married in October 1959. On the trip back their car broke down and they had to call my mom’s grandfather to come get them. I was born in 1960, the day after my mother’s 19th birthday.