Small extended family. Mother an only child. Father with two siblings, one who never married. Five children in our family, and five cousins born to my one and only aunt. Only visited them once a year. This is how I would have described my own family, had you asked just a few months ago. Both of my parents are gone, Mom for 40 years now, and Dad for nearly 11. My aunt passed away earlier this year; my uncle several years back. No one left to ask about my heritage. I just figured that’s the way it would always be. Until this past January.
Due to a chance communication online between someone who turned out to be one of my mother’s second cousins in California, and one of my brother’s in-laws in New Hampshire, I now know a great deal more than I ever expected about my mother’s side of the family. I have since made two business trips to California, and a family trip to Nebraska, all providing opportunities to meet relatives I did not know existed, and to explore my "roots". It seems that I have a rich spiritual heritage, , a background steeped in the pioneer spirit, as well as some living relatives who are delightful people.
I can now go back five generations to my great great great grandmother, who was born in 1810 in Germany. After bearing four children and being widowed twice, she moved to America at the age of 54. After a year in Wisconsin, she purchased a homestead (160 acres) on the prairie land of Stanton County, Nebraska where her oldest daughter (my great great grandmother) had located with her husband. Before long, all four of her children were homesteading in the same area, where 18 cousins grew up together during the mid to late 1800’s. The four families had a deep faith in God, so it was no surprise to learn that together they started the first church in the town of Stanton. Though not an active church today, the original building still stands, and I recently had the privilege of visiting there.
Three of the original families have remained in rural Nebraska. However, the Boelters (from whom I am descended) eventually moved to southern California around 1890, which was where my mother was born nearly 40 years later. By all accounts, the Boelter home was characterized by regular prayer and family devotions. Two of their sons, including my great grandfather, were called into full time ministry as teenagers while attending the small church in Stanton. Both attended college and seminary in Illinois prior to starting lifelong careers as ministers in the Evangelical United Brethren church, which at the time was a conservative and evangelistic denomination. While his brother eventually moved to California and served in churches there, my great grandfather served his entire career as minister in a number of churches throughout Nebraska. His parents, his siblings and their families, and all of his children and grandchildren had all moved to California, yet as much as he and my great grandmother likely longed to be with their family, he stayed true to his calling to preach in Nebraska. Now that is a rich heritage!
While I’m excited to have met some relatives and learned about many ancestors, I’m also disappointed that I didn’t know about them sooner. Several are quite elderly now. Some have passed away, and if I had only known they were there, I could have met them before they died. Several relatives live less than five miles from where my work often takes me In Orange County. Some of my mom’s aunts and uncles are buried one block from the hotel I always stay in…and I never knew it!
I have now been privileged to visit the grave site of my grandmother (who I never knew), along with those of many who went before her. For some reason, that helps me feel connected to them in some way. I don’t know when I’ll be able to put more time into it, but I am now quite motivated to learn about the other branches of my family, and to discover what other heritage is mine. I’m also motivated to begin writing things down about my own life, so that perhaps my great great grandchildren someday might know a little more about their own heritage.
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