Who Are We?

I went on a little road trip a couple weeks ago to meet a distant cousin who lives a couple of hours south of me. We had a very enjoyable visit; we discussed more than just genealogy, we talked about growing up, the history of California and other topics like kids and work. I’ve even been invited to come down for a day of fishing in the spring, which is technically only a few days away.

Of course the main purpose of the visit was to share family information, and we did a lot of that. He shared with me some photographs, a couple of letters and a partial diary that his grandmother kept. She wasn’t very good at writing in the diary and most of what she wrote talks about the loneliness she feels being in her 80’s and isolated from family and friends.

One of the photographs he shared with me has become quite the little conversation piece because we don’t know who it is. At first we thought it might be Jesse Slack, the common ancestor from whom our two branches of the tree originate; we thought this because that is what his mother wrote on the back of the photograph. I had some doubts because in all the other photographs I’ve seen of Jesse he has long white hair and a mustache where the gentleman in this photograph doesn’t.

I sent the photograph to Myrtle, one of the only people still alive who knew Jesse and his wife Emma Hobson, to see if she recognized these two people as Jesse and Emma or if they were perhaps someone else. Myrtle confirmed the people in the photograph are not Jesse and Emma. My next thought was that it might be Henry Slack and his wife Tamar Hobson, Emma’s sister, but the clothing worn by the couple seem to be from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s; Henry and Tamar died in the early 1920’s.

So here I am with but another little mystery that needs solving. In all likelihood this couple is from the generation after Jesse and Emma. Maybe one day I’ll connect with a family member who will recognize them. In the meantime I’ll just hold on the photo in my electronic box of stuff.


New Family Members

My family tree has grown a few more leaves recently.

A few weeks ago I noticed a family tree on Ancestry.com that contained people in my own tree. I contacted the owner even though it had been a while since they had last logged in; I really didn’t expect to hear back from them but I was actually surprised when they got right back to me. After a little bit of probing to see how we might be related, it turned out that the owner of the other tree was the daughter of someone I had been looking for!

Later than night I received a call from a woman named Myrtle who graciously spent over an hour giving me little updates to my tree and filling in some leaves. Myrtle is in her 70’s but still sharp as a tack; she has personal knowledge of many of the people in my tree and is helping me bring them back to life.

Just this week I received an e-mail from someone who provided me with a brief history of my family; a couple of days ago I called the individual who sent me the e-mail. His name is Mike and he is the grandson of someone in my tree. We spent some time talking about family history and just getting to know one another.

These past few weeks have really energized me to keep working on my family history project. Who knows what gems these two contact hold, or what new family members I might discover next.

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.