Remembering

Remembering

While I still have a few blogs to catch up on, I wanted to take a break and wrestle through a concept I dealt with on the way home from an incredible week of connections. In the past week, I have been able to spend time with a group of amazing Lilly fellows (those who got the same grant that prompted me to begin this blog). This time, I got to be a part of a group of writers. Through a few short days of sharing our stories, I made incredible new friends that I hope to maintain connections with for a long time. At the end of the same week, I attended a youth group reunion where I was able to re-connect with some amazing people who were a vital part of my journey–some of whom I haven’t seen in at least 20 years. With both of these experiences in the same week, I was driving home just thinking about the connections we make in life.

Youth in the 80's--I'm on the left

Youth in the 80’s–I’m on the left

One of the things that bothered me about the reunion was the pictures of myself where I couldn’t remember what we were doing in the picture. And it bugged me–relentlessly. I have wanted to freeze frame so many moments in my life–to hold on to those connections so they will never be lost. And yet here were moments of deep significance in my journey, and they were gone. As I continued thinking, I started wrestling with why I have this urge to remember–or more importantly, why it bugged me so much to forget. I teach history, I have kept a journal for 25 years, and I blog, I love antiques, I care about people’s stories. Why? Because I don’t want to forget.

As I delved further, I came to another connection–It’s not just that I don’t want to forget. It’s that I don’t want to be forgotten. By remembering others, there comes the hope that someone will be remembering us.

Antiques of Lucy Maude Montgomery

Antiques of Lucy Maude Montgomery

None of us wants to be forgotten. As I traverse graves and look at antique stores, I don’t see what’s there–I see the people behind them. I know they have a story. They loved and lost. They had hard times–some they overcame and some overcame them. But, the bottom line is they lived. And because they lived, they should be remembered. And yet, these grave stones, bits of linens, jewelry and hats, are forgotten pieces of their stories, things that no longer meant anything, so they were cast aside. I think that’s why I hold on to so many things–a note, a picture, a piece of furniture–they help me remember. And I WANT to remember.

Why do I feel that way? I think a friend at lunch today explained that better than I could. “I want my life to count. I don’t want to just be ordinary. I want to make my mark. I want to leave a legacy.” I smiled–In short, she wants to be remembered. She longs that something she does in that dash between birth and death will “count”–that it will be worth remembering. I think we all want that.

Items found on the grounds of Robert Bolling's Chellowe

Items found on the grounds of Robert Bolling’s Chellowe

But, I also smiled for another reason. The title of my blog is legacy hunting. It started out as trying to find out what made poets from 100 to 300 years ago who they were. What influenced their stories? I traveled to the places they lived, went to their houses, viewed their stuff–tried to get inside their head. I was in search of their legacy–the things they’ve left behind for us. But, through the years since I received the grant, it has become so much more than that. It is a collection of experiences, of people and the places they inhabited. It is the story of my life and the people and places who have contributed to it. It helps me remember. And sometime, when I have “shuffled off this mortal coil,” it will leave behind my legacy–my thoughts and feelings so future generations will understand what I experienced, should anyone try to discover “who I really was.”

Me 2014

Me 2014

I’m reminded of the line in Dead Poet’s Society–“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will that verse be?” This world we were born in was already in motion, and unless Jesus returns, will continue after we’re gone. All we have is life in the dash–in that space between the bookends of birth and death. I think that’s why I love history. George Washington didn’t know he would be George Washington–he didn’t know what he’d mean to history. Yet, through his consistent life, he changed history forever. None of us knows how history will view us, or if we’ll be one of those unnamed masses in the “unknown” category. But, if we will love well, fight for truth and right, and stand for those who cannot, we will have a legacy–whether for one or for millions.

Schoenthal kin at the Friedrichstal Museum

Schoenthal kin at the Friendrichstal Museum

When I started this blog in 2011, I had just received a grant to photograph the areas which inspired two different writers. I decided to call it “Legacy Hunting” because I wasn’t just trying to learn names and dates, but to really understand what made these people tick–to truly discover who they were. I was hunting for the legacy they left for us, and so this blog was born.

Since the grant, I have reported on incredible places and the phenomenal people connected with them (when possible), though it has not been about a specific person and the legacy he or she has left. But every once in a while, I get back to the original intent. Yesterday (7/28/13) was one of those days.

Comparing charts with the curator

Comparing charts with the curator

When we first planned on coming to Germany, my mom (who has worked with our family tree for decades) thought it would be an amazing opportunity to connect with our heritage as one branch of our family came from this region. Imagine her surprise when, as she was googling the map of the town, she noticed a business with the Germanic spelling of our ancestors surname (Schoenthal; Shindoll in America). She immediately Emailed the owner to see if there was a chance we were related. He said his brother knew more of the family tree, but we were welcome to visit or spend the night.

Meeting relatives with the family tree

Meeting relatives with the family tree

So, yesterday morning, we got up early and headed into Friedrichstal. We were greeted by Mike and his beautiful wife Tina and a friend Joerg, who would help translate, though Mike and Tina both spoke English better than they thought they did. They had also invited the town museum curator over to help us connect our information with theirs. Tina had made us an incredible spread of delicious sandwiches, and the work began. If you’ve never done family tree work, it involves a lot of finding names and dates and trying to match which person belongs where. In this case, we were trying to connect the Shindolls who came through New York with the Schoenthals who left Germany. After pouring over records and comparing dates, we discovered it was a match, and we were, in fact, related. Mike’s brother had thought we might be in two different lines since one of our ancestors had remarried after his first wife died in childbirth, but we were in the same line (Granted 7 “Greats” back.)

The family tree

The family tree

Mike had also contacted a number of Schoenthal relatives in the area, but the majority were in France at a sister city there. We did, however, get to meet his father and a few other relatives. One relative brought over a hand painted family tree with pictures of the houses our relatives lived in and family crests. Such an amazing treasure. Another point of interest is that in Germany, they only allow tombstones to remain for 25 years. Because of that, we wouldn’t be able to find any of our ancestral graves. They were impressed when mom showed them a picture of one of our relative’s gravestones from 1875.

Huguenots used these lamps to read the Bible in secret

Huguenots used these lamps to read the Bible in secret

One of the things I’ve discovered along my journeys is how rich history becomes when you allow the people to be flesh and blood. What I mean by that is that we often read history as just names and dates we have to memorize. To realize these are real people with real hopes and dreams, real struggles and challenges, who had to make tough choices and struggle against sometimes insurmountable odds–this is what makes history live for me. I had another experience with this when we went to the museum. I remembered learning about the Huguenots in high school and teaching about how they fled religious persecution. I had no idea that was my family. Our family started in Switzerland, moved to France, and finally, after the persecution were offered protection by a Margrave in Friedrichstal. It turns out he was not just being kind, but also knew they had a talent for growing tobacco, so he invited them to settle as a way to get money into the area. It turns out Friedrichstal had good soil for tobacco, and they were successful here.
Relatives

Relatives

They did, however, experience more difficulty when France swept through on various invasions. Having fled to Germany from France, they were considered traitors by the invading French and the enemy by those around them. This also made life difficult. Eventually in 1832, John Daniel Schoenthal, his wife and children, his widowed mother (who did the paper work), and two sisters booked passage to New York. One of John Daniel’s sons–just 1 at the time–was our great (x3) grandfather William Schoenthal.

New family and friends

New family and friends

After seeing the museum and visiting a few other family members, we relaxed and ate some more of Tina’s wonderful food for lunch. It’s an incredible experience to sit with complete strangers who are family–there truly is an instant connection in knowing you’re related, however far back. Such a blessing to just sit and share–to hear about struggles and joys and to learn about the talents that run in our family and see the similarities, even across so many generations. Truly a treat.

Sunset on the Rhine

Sunset on the Rhine

Then, we took a drive to see the sights of Friedrichstal, ending up having dinner at a cafe by the Rhine. Though it was around 10 when we made it back to their house, and we still had an almost two hour drive ahead of us, neither of us wanted to leave. It truly had been an incredible day where we were lavished with care by family we didn’t know we had. Definitely one of my favorite days so far.

Hannah Duston Statue

I hadn’t expected to be writing so soon, but I had the opportunity on the way home yesterday (8/12/11) to stop by the Haverhill, Massachusetts Historical Society to check up on one of my ancestors. We have long taken pride in the fact that we are descended from Hannah Duston (Dustin) of history book fame (Mary Neff was her midwife, if you’ve heard that side of the story.)

For those who are unfamiliar with that event, it took place in March of 1697. Hannah and her husband Thomas lived in Haverhill with their twelve children, the youngest only a few days old. One day when Thomas was out in the field working with the children, Indians started to attack. He sent the children up to the garrison then went to get his wife, but quickly realized he wouldn’t have time to save her and their new baby, so he followed the children, holding off the Indian party that had followed them.

Rendering on Thomas defending the kids

Back at the house, the house was ransacked and Hannah and Mary were made to dress and go with the Indians. Along the brutal march, the new baby was crying, so one of the Indians took her and smashed her head against a tree in front of the horrified Hannah. Over the next few days, they were marched and threatened. They were also joined by a fourteen year old captive named Samuel. Hannah was determined to escape, especially after seeing the treatment of her baby and hearing the stories of expected treatment in Canada.

Rendering of the slaying of the captors

The opportunity came after Samuel had asked one Indian how to scalp people. The Indian proceeded to explain in great detail how a victim was struck and the “proper method of scalping.” Samuel passed this information on to the ladies who began to watch for an opportunity. One night, the Indians let their guards down. They were sleeping soundly, convinced Samuel was like family and the two women to weak to escape. The three positioned themselves around the Indians. On Hannah’s signal, they quickly killed ten of the twelve Indians (two awoke and fled, wounded.) Hannah, Mary, and Samuel took provisions, a gun, and the tomahawks and headed out in their captor’s canoe. Realizing their story was too incredible to be believable, they returned and took the scalps of their victims for proof and bounty. Eventually, they were able to make it back home and rejoin their families. They later made it to Boston to claim a bounty offered for Indian scalps.

Artifacts of Hannah Duston at the Buttonwood Historical Museum

While driving through Haverhill, we got to visit the museum which housed various artifacts from the Dustons including a bullet pierced window, a scrap of cloth torn off her garment as she escaped, a ring, a few tomahawks, a small Bible, and Thomas and Hannah’s confessions of faith. We also got to visit the statue dedicated to her. It was an amazing reminder to me that we come from a long line of survivors. Thomas and Hannah’s oldest daughter Hannah married into our family line. It was also a reminder of the fact that everyone has a story, and there are many more legacies to be found.

As it was due to be a rainy day today (7/26/11), we opted to stay local and spend a lot of time typing out poetry and catching up on things. Before the rain started, however, we chose to walk up to the Cavendish Cemetery to see where Lucy Maud Montgomery was buried. There are actually other members of her family buried in that cemetery as well.

Grave of Montgomery's Mother and Grandparents

After we checked out the graves, we decided to walk up to the Cavendish Homestead again. I had learned that Montgomery’s relatives, John and Jennie Macneill still own the old place and are actually the ones who fixed up the entire homestead for people to come and learn the true history of L.M. Montgomery’s life. It turned out that the receptionist at the bookstore was the Macneill’s granddaughter and offered to call her grandparents to see if we could schedule an appointment. Instead, her grandmother decided to come over to meet with us.

Montgomery's grave

She gave us a tour of the bookstore with a great many details about her land. After sharing, she took us over to her house and allowed us an interview with her–a wonderful blessing. Her husband was a great-grandson of L.M. Montgomery’s Grandfather (His father was Maud’s first cousin), and he was born on the property. They still live in the house in which he was born. John remembered Maud coming to Sunday suppers, but he was a small boy, and she was an old lady, so he didn’t pay much attention to her.

Jennie Macneill with the Original Post Office Desk used by Montgomery at the Post Office

After a general discussion on L.M. Montgomery’s life and books, I asked her about the obstacles in their journey with this homestead. Jennie shared the major obstacle was changing the minds of the tourists who were set on the fiction of Green Gables being the true origins of L.M. Montgomery and unwilling to see the importance of “a hole in the ground.” I then asked about the funeral since she had mentioned in the presentation that she had attended. This is what she shared:

Macneill Homestead--John was born, and still lives, in the far right house

Both Jennie and John had been attending a one room school house across from the cemetery. Because of its location, the school would be cancelled every time there was a funeral (since recess during a funeral service would not give the appropriate atmosphere.) When Lucy Maud Montgomery died, the whole town felt the loss, since she was quite famous by then. Jennie’s father helped dig the grave in the Cavendish Cemetery, while her mother cleaned the church since a number of important dignitaries were expected for the service. Jennie told her mother that she wanted to attend the service. When her mother asked her why, she responded, “I’ve read her books, and I know her.” (She was eleven at the time.)

At the service, Jennie sat in a pew by the wall. The Rev. John Stirling performed the service. Jennie recalled him being very sad and his voice was shaking. He shared a story from one of Montgomery’s short stories, “Each in His Own Tongue,” which is from The Chronicles of Avonlea. The story is about a father forbidding to let his son play the fiddle and not realizing that was how he shared his feelings. She remembers being upset that he didn’t tell the story right, since it was one of her favorites. She considered going up and telling him to sit down so she could tell the story properly and he could expound on it afterwards, but she didn’t.

Jennie and John Macneill

She also remembered that Ewen Macdonald, Montgomery’s husband wasn’t well, and his sons kept taking him out. In those days, funerals were open casket, and she remembers Rev. Macdonald asking Mrs. Web (Macneill who owned the Green Gables property), “Who is the pretty lady in the casket?” She said he had suffered from bouts of “Religious Melancholy” which today might have been called being bipolar. Lucy tried to hide his condition and also put a great deal of stress upon herself by trying to be perfect at everything she did. Montgomery patterned Emily of New Moon after her own life experience.

It was such a blessing to meet with Jennie. (John was out working on their well which was having some problems.) I’d love to hear his stories as well, but that may be an adventure for another time.

L. M. Montgomery Birthplace

Whenever you are faced with the task of studying a person’s life, I find the best place to start is with their birth place, so we set out this morning (7/21/11) for New London to the Lucy Maud Montgomery (Maud, as she was called) birthplace. It was an incredible house that boasts Maud’s wedding dress and a collection of her scrapbooks. We got to take the house tour and see the room in which she was born. She only lived in the house until she was 21 months old when her mother contracted Tuberculosis. She then moved in with her maternal grandparents who ended up raising her.

When the receptionist learned I was here studying LMM, she sent us to the Green Gables Museum. I had initially thought The Green Gables Museum was just something for tourists, but actually, it was the house in which she was married. Her cousins owned the house and she spent many wonderful days there. It also is the place from which L.M. Montgomery drew the inspiration for the Lake of Shining Waters in Anne of Green Gables.

Wedding dress from "The Blue Chest"


Additionally, it contains the Blue Chest and wedding dress which were the basis for the story “Aunt Arabella’s Blue Chest” told in The Road to Avonlea or Rachel Ward’s blue chest in The Story Girl.
Then, we headed down to the beach in search of some good sea shots. We waded along the beach and collected shells and rocks to paint at a later time.

Finally, we headed to the post office to mail some letters. I discovered that Maud had helped her grandmother run the post office after her grandfather died. It was from this Post Office that she sent out the Anne of Green Gables manuscript (6 times! before it was accepted.) Then, we headed home. All in all an incredible day!