During stay-at-home orders I went on a family history research bender.
I learned during this bender that my father’s mother’s mother’s father’s father (my third great-grandfather) was buried in Sunnyside Cemetery (formerly Signal Hill Cemetery) in Signal Hill, California near Long Beach. He was born in Hubertshofen near Donaueschingen, Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1863. He served in the Union Army of the Civil War for the 150th Infantry Indiana Regiment.
I have no idea what brought him to Long Beach, California. I drove down to Long Beach from Santa Barbara in a fit of curiosity and stir-craziness. I am not going to wax-poetic about a man I never met and have never heard a mention of.
However, I will wax-poetic about his great-granddaughter — my grandmother, Barbara.
My grandmother was born in Minnesota the 5th of 7 children – but the oldest daughter. Her family worked in agriculture and trades and moved around for work until mostly settling near Howell County, Missouri. Her older brothers mostly settled elsewhere after serving in the military during World War II. Her younger sisters settled in Missouri and Arkansas and she remained in contact with them after she moved to New Jersey.
How did she end up in New Jersey? Well, the story was told to me succinctly:
My grandfather worked for a rodeo and one day he placed an ad for a horse trainer; my grandmother replied.
They married and lived in Lake Lackawanna, New Jersey. Their marriage and family life was tumultuous. My father was actually born in Missouri after my my grandmother had had enough. She packed up her pregnant self and my 2 year-old aunt and went home to her family. My father was born, and then my grandfather collected all of them and returned to New Jersey. My grandfather passed away before my father was 5.
My grandmother lived a hard life. She worked hard to take care of herself and her children. She raised and trained horses on the family farm, bred rabbits, and sold vegetables and eggs at a roadside stand. She was also a 4H Leader in Sussex County and was well-known for her love of nature and creative skill.
I knew her briefly. She lived in the Big House on the Farm, and our father was steadfast in bringing my sister and I to see her when we visited him after our parents’ divorce. The Big House was cluttered, but kept and sat at the front of the property. Wooden shelves were lined with the odds and ends necessary for running a farm, as well as the additional clutter of newspapers and crocks. Our grandma would chat with our father and our uncle who lived with her at the Big House. She not a domineering prescence by any stretch; They were all surviving together by their own means and her sons were devoted to her.
I was fascinated with the tens of hutches for her rabbits that lined the path to the Big House. We always entered from the back driveway where the stables, garage, cabin, workshop, and animal pens were. As we walked up the slope to go down to the Big House, we passed the hutches with their small, fluffy residents. Several of our grandmother’s horses roamed the property and would sneak up on us if we weren’t paying attention. My older cousins have memories of riding horses with her.
After the stroke, we visited her in an assisted living community. She was still chatty, but even then I knew what she saying didn’t make sense and that it was out of her control. Her bedside bulletin board was still filled with ribbons she earned from her talent for drawing plants and animals. Her obituary notes commendations from Rutgers University for her developing and leading in the Sussex County 4-H chapter. She was a wonderful person.
Family is complex. There are chapters in mine and my grandmother’s history I do not like to think about. I have a new sense of solidity and endurance from turning over some of these family stones during this pandemic circumstance and more personal events; the simple sense that I am here because others lived – if even so briefly. I am not the first person in my family to live in California, and I am not the first person in my family to move across a continent.
To think, my (possible) future relatives may be just as curious about my time in Santa Barbara per the recent U.S. Census recording as I am about my grandmother’s recordings.
What was she doing there? Why did she go? Did she stay in contact with everyone?
Now is the time to add interesting facts to our index cards.