I love my family. Oh, heck, let's be honest...I have a weakness for people in general. I love meeting new people, talking with them, getting to know them, and sharing who I am. My hope is that I'll somehow leave those new people with some spark of lightness, a bit more happiness, a smile. It's one of my greatest strengths but also, an incredible weakness. Putting yourself out there like that leaves you vulnerable and on more than one occasion I've been burned. Again, on more than one occasion. Some of us never learn.
The learning is hard because there are those moments when any not-so-nice experience is completely forgotten. I had a number of those experiences while I was at FGS: several while I was out with larger groups, a few with smaller groups and even one or two when I was working alone. Moments when everything just fell into place and the laughter and camaraderie felt like it'd always been there. Having spent the week rooming with someone who generously donated her personal space so I could attend FGS, I got up Sunday morning completely exhausted but at the same time extremely nervous. As I did when I went to NGS in Cincinnati, I was leaving Ft. Wayne and driving south to a place about 20 miles North of Bloomington, Indiana to meet my second cousin, Matt Baer.
Matt is the son of Stephen Burrows Baer who I went to visit after NGS 2011 in Cincinnati. Steve lived in Bloomington, Indiana and was a genealogist. He was the one kind enough to allow me to take a digital image of a photograph of my second great grandmother, Laura Louisa Greene Richards that he had in his collection. He's also famously (well, to me at least) named after our ancestor Stephen Burrows who settled in Cincinnati.
Matt and his wife, Jan, had agreed to have me stop by to see materials Steve had left after he passed away in December, 2012. (They didn't actually invite me; I asked if I could come and see the material and they agreed. They may or may not be regretting that choice. Heh) In more than one email, Jan had alluded to how remote the place is where they live and that I might need for them to come into town to meet me so they could direct me in. I left Ft. Wayne about an hour later than I'd intended. I grabbed a coffee for the road and hightailed it out of town. I wasn't in a big hurry, but fortunately the weather was clear and beautiful and there was relatively little traffic on the road. My nav told me it'd take about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get there, and I sent Jan an email letting her know I was on my way.
At her suggestion, I called Matt when I pulled off the main highway and we discussed whether or not I'd be able to find my way to their place. Keep in mind, I spent a couple weeks every summer up in a remote part of northern Wisconsin and although I may be a 'city girl', I can find my way in remote places. Having given me some very important clues about the route up, I decided to try it on my own. The first, and most important, clue Matt gave me was that the road they live on isn't paved. We're not talking about a driveway; it's a five mile long gravel road. I was so fortunate to have a 'local' (or at least I think the person was local) driver in front of me so I could follow them instead of having to focus on the twisting, winding road. A couple of miles in, the car turned into a driveway, and I was on my own.
Again, I think of my ancestors who traveled through this kind of country to find the place that they'd call home. And, after a few miles and a false "Your Destination is Here" on my GPS, I pulled into the driveway of Matt and Jan's home.
What an incredible place! Built in 1930 as a vacation cottage, this remarkable house is just fabulous. Jan greeted me with their shy but lovely lab, Jelly, and I'm sure I yammered on about how lovely the place is. The inside has all the quirks and oddities of a cottage of its era, but with all the trappings of a modern home. I told Jan that, in a parallel Universe, their house is the one I'm living in!
Jan was an extremely generous and gracious hostess and, as a family historian herself, we started to talk 'shop' before Matt returned from a quick errand. When he arrived, I was struck by how much he looks like his Dad. He also has some of that reserved countenance that is a trait passed through their grandmother, Virginia Wersel who is the sister of my grandfather, Victor. My Mom often speaks of how quiet and reserved her father was, so this trait is clearly a family one. It's just not one that I got. Heh. Oh, and at one point Jan alluded to the fact that the drive from Ft. Wayne 'is three and a half hours.' Um, let's just all agree that I made it safe and sound, albeit more quickly than usual.
We spent the next few hours going through the material that Matt's Dad had acquired and I'm still working through filing and naming all the digital images I took before I start the process of analyzing it. There was a box we didn't get to (not enough time) but hopefully we'll find a convenient time to get to that and share what we've learned about our respective families and our mutual one.
Before I left, I asked that Jan take a picture of Matt and I together. As we stood side-by-side, I said, "I'm a hugger." and we put our arms around each other.
We actually look like we're having a good time! And, I hope that we can share more of our family with those who don't yet know they are 'our family.' It's in that Estate document from Stella Wersel. I just know it. ;-)
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