As I’m taking this journey back in time to recount how I’ve come to take up genealogy as a profession, I find myself remembering so many wonderful experiences. I’m doing my best to weave them together into this story, which at first I thought was going to be really difficult. But a story that wants to be told will be, so today’s Sentimental Sunday was easy.
I was tracing my ancestors back to someone who was an American Patriot, so that I could fulfill my mom’s wish of becoming a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I didn’t know WHO it was, but family oral history told us that there was someone. So, I started with my mom’s parents, discovered it was her father’s family that had been in the U.S. for several generations, learned her grandfather had been born, lived and died in Cincinnati, but that his family came here after the Revolution. So, next option was her grandmother, Laura Louise RICHARDS.
Uh, mom? Is this who I’m named after? Yup, that’s right! I had NO idea that I had been named after my great grandmother! My parents had always told me my name was inspired by the 1944 Gene Tierney movie ‘Laura’. Again, TRUST NO ONE…LOL. Anyway, what a joy to find out that I had the name of the woman my great grandfather wrote poetry about. Mom told me she hadn't known either of her grandparents, and to her knowledge they had died when she was a child, in the 1930s. I located an obituary for her, discovering a few details: she was born around 1864 and died in 1936, just three months after my great grandfather, Henry. Now, on to finding more evidence and information about her and her family.
I was beginning to get pretty good at figuring out where to look for information. Keep in mind, in 1996, there was still very little on the Internet that you could find, so most information was found either at libraries and similar repositories or via U.S. mail requests. I took my first trip to the Newberry Library, which is an incredible place for genealogical research. As a history lover, and a nut about old books (thanks, great grandpa Henry!), I was amazed when I actually got to touch and look through books that were 150 years old. I also found out, in a big way, how important cemetery records can be (more about that in another post). Of course, a death certificate can provide incredible details about someone, so I sent away for hers and waited.
Fast forward to 2005. My cousin, Kathy Hitchcock Burns, daughter of my mom’s sister Jackie, was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary, and had come down from Wisconsin, where she lives, to visit my aunt Jinny and our family. Kathy had always been particularly close with Jinny; of the three Wersel girls combined 11 children, Kathy and I were the only girls and she is eleven years older than me, so she spent a lot of time with my aunt and was very close with her.
Kathy brought her daughter and granddaughter with her, and we had a lovely time catching up. They’d been here for a while, and she pulled me aside and told me she had something for me. She told me that though it was HER anniversary, she wanted to give me a gift. Kathy and I were never very close, so this caught me a bit off guard, however, her incredibly generous nature is very well known, so I accepted the long narrow box she handed me.
When I opened the box, my heart skipped a beat. Inside was a beautiful sterling silver serving spoon. So, why the big deal? Engraved on the handle were the initials ‘L L R’. This amazing piece of flatware was owned and used by my great grandmother. Kathy didn't know it's true origin, whether it was a trousseau piece or not, and there's also the possibility that it was my great-great-grandmothers, as they shared the same initials. Either way, this spoon is from ~1870-1880. It had been passed down to Kathy by her mom, and she was giving it to me as a gift. There still really aren’t words that can accurately describe my gratitude, but I hope THANK YOU works.