Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Gifts

They sent photographs.  They wrote down memories and sent them along.  They answered questions -- lots and lots of questions.  Some sent family group sheets.  Some emailed.  Some paper mailed.  They contacted me in a variety of ways and gave me many different things, some tangible, some not.  Did they realize they were giving me gifts or did they think they were just answering my questions and sharing what they knew?  Whatever they thought, they have given me some of the best gifts I've ever received.

"They" are the following people, in no particular order:

My Aunt Dot tirelessly answers my questions about our Meinzen and Bickerstaff families and life in Mineral Ridge, Ohio, a generation or two ago.  If the answer to my question isn't in the forefront of her brain, she ponders and thinks and later, when the memory appears, she shares it with me.  She has shared many sweet memories of her grandparents, Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff.

I contacted Betty (Harris) Wilson at the suggestion of Aunt Dot.  They are cousins and Aunt Dot thought Betty might know more about the Meinzens and Armitages since Betty grew up and stayed in the family hometown of Steubenville, Ohio.  In addition, Betty's mother, Mina, had an unforgettable memory and Aunt Dot thought perhaps Aunt Mina had shared lots of information with her children.  Betty surprised me one day with some photos in the mail:  pictures of Henry C. and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen on what was probably their wedding day.  She also sent a photograph of Elizabeth's sister, which led to some other research and an understanding of why Elizabeth and her sister didn't know their mother's name.

Danice Ryan is keeper of the Jefferson County Genweb page.  I found her when I first began online searches for my Bickerstaff family.  We corresponded via email many, many times and she shared such wonderful sources, details, and stories.  We learned that we are both descendants (gggranddaughters) of William Bickerstaff and that our great-grandparents are siblings.  Danice was so very generous to send me many, many pages of the research she'd been doing for more than 20 years - not only Bickerstaff family, but also the Nelson and Holmes family lines.  What a sweetheart she is!

Elizabeth (Meinzen) A., Uncle Jacob Meinzen's daughter, sent photographs, a few of which you can see here.  She was an infant when her father died, so she had no memory of him.

Aunt Tressa (Doyle) Wilson, my father's half sister, answered question after question about her father, Gust Doyle, the farm, her grandparents, William and Tressa (Froman) Doyle, and others in the family.  She sent lists of families and siblings with birth and death dates.  She shared anecdotal information - the stories that bring people to life.  And she sent photographs.  I'm so grateful to be able to get to know my family because she was willing to take the time to share with me.

Elaine W. has shared photos, documents, family information, and so many stories that sometimes I begin to think I personally know some of the family members I've never met.  Elaine grew up and lived in Stoneboro where my father was born, and heard stories that other family members told.  How wonderful that she lived among those tellers of family history stories, that she listened and remembered, and, finally, that she shared.

Years ago when my Aunt Brendice (Gerner) Davis was still alive, I wrote to her and asked her questions about her parents and her childhood.  Because she took the time to answer them, I learned that her mother, Elvira (Bartley) Gerner, acted as a midwife in her community and had her own horse and buggy, which she harnessed herself whenever she needed to go somewhere.  Aunt Brendice also sent photocopies of the births and deaths pages from the family Bible.  Because of these I was able to learn the names of all of Aunt Brendice's siblings.  To the right is Elvira with her daughter, Mabel.

It seems that Aunt Brendice had given most of her photos to her son, Don.  He very generously gave me many family photographs - with individuals identified! - and shared memories of his grandmother and his mom's siblings.

Bessie (Gerner) S., Don's cousin, also shared family history information with me, including naturalization papers and a will.  She has been a keeper of the records for her family and sent me information about and photos of her brothers and sisters, their spouses and families.  We've conversed on the phone several times and she's shared stories about her grandmother.  She remembered that Gramma Elvira had a beautiful singing voice.

David Bartley is a very careful and thorough researcher.  I found my ggrandparents, Fred and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner, at David's website, One Pennsylvania Bartley Family.  His expertise and skill at researching are an inspiration to me.  He goes back many, many generations and has included as many family members as he's been able to find.  We corresponded via email and he shared photos and anecdotal information.  David's ggrandfather and my ggrandmother were siblings and children of Dixon Bartley.  David is a very generous cousin.  At left, courtesy of David, is Dixon Bartley's home.

Remember the excitement you felt as a child on Christmas morning when you opened a box and found a gift that was perfect?  Perhaps it was something you hadn't thought about before, but when you saw it, you knew it was just what you'd always wanted.  And it was the best gift.

These family stories, documents, and photos I've received are like that perfect gift.  They are the best gifts!  The saying goes, "It's better to give than to receive."  I believe that.  I hope family members who read this blog will think of the stories and photos posted on it as gifts, too -- my gifts to them.

Copyright © 2009 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

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