They Make My Heart Race

Are all ancestors created equal? Not so much, no.

I don’t have any fancy-dancy ancestors. No one I know of (yet) signed the Declaration of Independence, was an Indian Princess, or held court from a throne wearing a diamond tiara. Most of the people from whom I descend were pretty ordinary people who led pretty ordinary lives.

So why is it that just seeing the names of some of my ancestors makes my heart race? Not in the “Oh, fun – look what I found!” way, but in the “OMG – LOOK!!! LOOK WHAT I FOUND – HURRY – OMG – IT’S (fill in the blank)!!!” way. These all-important ancestors change over time.

For years I was fascinated by all things Tolf. My 2nd great-grandfather Peter August Tolf left Sweden in 1878. He was a blacksmith who became a foreman of blacksmiths at the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company in Batavia Illinois. His religious beliefs, living arrangements, physical characteristics, cause of death, and other details of his life consumed my every waking-available-for-genealogy-moment.

The Clarkes had a turn too. My third great-grandfather Morgan Henry Clarke was a shoemaker in Funkstown Maryland during the Civil War. He was a Dunkard which was new religious-beliefs territory for me and I devoured everything I could find on the subject. Morgan’s wife Susan died in childbirth and their eleven children were distributed among family, friends, and neighbors. I feel that familiar tug just writing about this family and I consider looking into Morgan’s story a bit more. The Clarkes aren’t currently on my “hot ancestors” list however, so I’ll back-burner Morgan for just a bit longer because…

It’s the Schmitts who have my attention these days. My 2nd great-grandmother Elisabeth (called Elise) immigrated from Hellimer, Moselle, Lorraine, France in 1854 when she was just seven years old. Her family came from a Franconian-speaking area. Elise Schmitt grew up in Cincinnati Ohio, became a milliner and married Anton Bidenharn. They had at least one child. She/they moved to Chicago before 1874 where she divorced Anton and married my 2nd great-grandfather Jacob Mueller. Elisabeth kept in touch with her family back in Cincinnati and with siblings who also relocated to the Chicago area. I believe she left the Catholic Church, possibly because of her divorce and remarriage.

Elisabeth had 12 siblings and I am interested in every one of them. I can’t tell you why I want to know everything about them. I really don’t know. Sometimes I think a particular ancestor just decides it’s time to reveal their story so it can be told.

Maybe Elisabeth feels this is her time. And so I listen.

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