Archive for February, 2011

Last night Richard and I watched the final episode in the Dragon Tatoo series, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest and I realized that one of the things that keeps me coming back for more with my family history project is the never-ending mystery of the whole thing. We all love a great mystery, right? and what could be more interesting than the mystery of how I came to be? Let’s face it, we all are endlessly fascinated with ourselves!

I had this image of myself as the sweater (I love to knit) made from threads of many different colors and textures that has partially unraveled and been stuffed into a bag for a long time. Most knitters have a lot of patience and I in particular love to slowly sort through a snarl and untangle all the knots, making peace from a mess. So when I first started this project I naively said that I was choosing to explore my mother’s parents two surnames: Grimes and Turnbull. That seemed easy enough – but little did I know about the fascinating journey I had begun on ancestry.com.

My Grandpa Frank Leroy Grimes’ father was Clayton Monroe Grimes and his mother was Susan Ella Turner Shearer (I came to a bit of a dead end on the Turner connection, but had great success gathering stories of my great grandfather Clayton and his parents Edward Langley Grimes and Mary Smith – a tough one!)

My Grandmother’s name was Mary Richardson Turnbull and her  parents were James W. Turnbull and Annie Watson. Annie’s parents were Mary Richardson and Thomas Watson. James’ parents were Thomas Turnbull and Margaret Oliver. Mary Richardson’s parents were Henry Richardson and Ann Preston. Thomas Turnbull’s parents were Adam Turnbull and Betty Scott. You can see how many new names I’m dealing with already – I thought I had started out on a simple quest to find out more about my roots as a Grimes and a Turnbull and now I’ve discovered that I’m also a Smith, a Turner, a Watson, a Richardson, an Oliver, a Preston, and a Scott! and that’s the short list! You can see where this is going!

And now despite my best efforts to keep my search to just those two main threads of my family sweater, people are contacting me from my father’s side of the family and I just can’t say “no” (the mystery du jour woman in particular!) They have pictures of my relatives on my Dad’s side that I’ve never seen and all of a sudden I’m a Goodroad, a Hazen, a Hines, a Juber, and a Roe! aside from the name I thought I was my whole life growing up as the daughter of Rollie Neibauer! Sheesh!

What a rich and multi-layered tapestry of nationalities, personality and physical traits, inherited memories, skills, and aspects of dna that I have no understanding of that I AM!

You can see that with all of this searching it could be very easy to just keep going farther and farther out there, gathering more and more names and connections.  This is when I then have to bring myself back and stay focused on the few people that I really know the most about and feel are the “main characters” in my story. On the Turnbull side, I’m declaring Annie Watson Turnbull as one of my primary loves. I inherited a box full of letters addressed to Annie and have been given her gorgeous family photo album from 1876. She was born in 1852 in Guelph, Ontario, Canada and sadly died much too young in 1894 in Bonanza, Idaho (a mining town that has long since vanished!) Every single letter written to Annie came with so much love, that now I have that love for her too and want to understand how she survived the travels back and forth to the mountains of Idaho from Manitoba with young children in tow. So this quest to understand what drove her and her husband James is what keeps me looking for letters that she wrote. My goal now is to find cousins or any other interested party who may have Annie’s letters. That’s where I’m guessing I’ll find out more of the real story behind the mystery locked inside my own dna.

With great respect, Maelife


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One small step

My latest “mystery du jour” appears to be temporarily solved and in the most positive way! After doing my “due diligence” for a number of hours on ancestry.com, I was able to find the woman in question who had been begging me to call her – and as I dialed her number from my (safe) office phone, I held my breath in anticipation. Who would answer the other end of the phone? After several rings, I heard the sweetest little voice on the other end of the line – indeed a woman who could have been in her mid to late 80’s. I heard myself announce myself with my maiden name – something I had not done since before my marriage in 1972! Her joy was beyond belief! She had found a living relative (me) for her mother’s long lost and beloved cousin (my Dad!)

We chatted for ten minutes or so, exchanging information – she wanted to know all about me, my family – what ever happened to my Dad’s older brother Harold? I filled her in briefly about my Dad’s life – the good things! She gave me her email address and that of her brother  – they are creating a book about my Dad’s family.

Is this like the old thing where you buy a VW bug and then you suddenly notice how many other bugs there are on the road? Since I’ve been bitten by the ancestry.com bug, everyone I’m meeting is collecting their family’s stories! Or is this really a genuine trend that is gaining strength, thanks in great part to ancestry?

A good friend sent me a flyer for a workshop that an African man was giving in Phoenicia, New York in which the participants would learn some of the traditions of his people regarding their worship of their ancestors. He feels that our ancestors are “knocking on the doors of our consciousness” trying to wake us up, and share their wisdom. When I heard this, I was profoundly touched. Is that what’s going on for me? Am I being summoned by forces greater than myself to perform this inquiry? It seems that the harder I try to focus on other things, the more I’m pulled deeply in to this search!

Being contacted by someone from my father’s side of the family has brought me closer in touch with him in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. He was a very difficult, complex person – I was his daughter (and he always claimed he really wanted a son). My whole life has been shaped around wanting to please him and gain his acceptance. After he passed on, in some ways I felt relieved – now I could “be myself” and not worry so much about what my Dad would think. And yet, as we all know, that internalized “dad” kept right on cracking the whip – those patterns of behavior developed over a lifetime are not so easily cast aside.

So now I find myself opening up the file folders of pictures I have of my Dad – and especially seeing the ones of him as a little boy softens my heart to him – his playful soul shines through. And many more conversations are yet to come, exploring the Neibauer family. When I looked on ancestry.com I was absolutely astonished to see how many of “us” there are. And silly me thought that I was the last one! This is actually a profound discovery for me! Who knows, this could warrant a road trip to North Dakota to reconnect with this lost region of my heart.

Signing off with much respect, maelife (mylife)

PS – the cute little guy holding the flag in the picture is my Dad, Rollin H. Neibauer. He was born on the 4th of July!

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Deciphering the code

I’ve been fascinated by my families stories since the late 70’s when I first decided to record my great Aunt (“Auntie”) on tape. What a blessing that recording is to me now – considering she’s been gone since 1985 and was born in 1894 in Bonanza, Idaho (now a ghost town). When I was pregnant with my son Chris, I read a book on collecting family history, and that’s when I got much more serious about the whole idea. We had just purchased our first video recorder, to capture every moment of Chris’ life as a baby – and what better adjunct purpose than to record some of my family’s stories when I went back home to Seattle?

With pages of questions in hand, I gathered my Mom (the oldest child), her five siblings, and one cousin together for several video sessions where they talked about their life growing up. I also took each person upstairs to a quiet bedroom and recorded them sharing their feelings about everything from religion and politics to what kind of food they ate. Needless to say, these tapes are now priceless as all but one of my aunts, uncles, and parents have long since passed on. I have been involved in the tedious process of transcribing the tapes and marking them with time annotations for a film I hope to make at some point in the future.

I was thrust even more passionately into the quest for my family stories after reading a fascinating and insightful book by Jane Kirkpatrick called “A Sweetness to the Soul”, which weaves Oregon history together with my own family history! Who knew that my ancestors were actually original pioneers in the state of Oregon?? With this radical piece of information I set out on an old fashioned quest to discover more about my Grimes heritage when I took Chris out to Mt. Hood for snowboard camp. I spent several weeks over the course of two years researching my great grandfather Clayton Monroe Grimes and his father Edward Langley Grimes (who I later discovered was on the Oregon Trail of 1853 with his wife Mary Smith and young son Claymore).

I visited the town of Scio, Oregon where they had their donation land claim and after a fair bit of poking around actually found the land claim itself and took a number of pictures there – allowing my imagination to roam back in time, picturing them first arriving there, building a home and working the land as farmers. What struggles they must have endured. I also found the homestead where my mother was born in Grass Valley, Oregon and fell in love with the treeless fields of wheat that stretch from one horizon to the other. I’ve been in the process of designing a large coffee table book about my family that I intend to self publish once I get to the “end” of finding all the information I’ve hoped to find! And there lies the rub!!! I fear (or take joy in the fact) that the end may never come!

Another milestone in my quest for my family stories occurred last summer as I scanned and transcribed the letters I had found within a small box that miraculously survived our house fire in 2003. The letters were all addressed to Annie (Watson) Turnbull and at first I had no idea who they were from or what their stories were about. As I got further into the process of appreciating the content of the letters, a portrait of my great grandmother began to emerge, as well as images and impressions of the letter writers. I pieced together the best chronological survey I could of where Annie lived with and without her husband James W. Turnbull (a miner and sometimes farmer), and her growing family of children (my grandmother and favorite uncles and aunts). The stories that her parents and siblings wrote from their homes in Manitoba primarily in the years 1889-1890 were truly heart-wrenching! Tough times for farmers, not enough money from their crops, lack of food and water – and yet doing the best they could to live, laugh and love.

The monumental moment  marching toward “the never-ending story” occurred when I signed onto ancestry.com! What an amazing and essential tool for anyone who chooses to take on this passion and addiction – tread carefully – your life may never be the same!! Minutes, hours, and days can fly by as I’ve searched for more and more information on my ever-widening group of family members. Perhaps if I keep at this I will discover that I am actually related to everyone in the world!

All joking aside, I have now made some of the most exciting connections with people who were once strangers and now we’ve discovered we’re “cousins” – perhaps removed 3 or 4 times – but blood relations none the less. Enter Barb C. who contacted me last summer and after looking over her info I discovered that we are indeed Turnbulls together! Our great great grandfathers were brothers born in Scotland – hers was the youngest and was a brilliant architect of Windsor Castle and is buried there! Mine (Thomas) was a pioneer who came to Canada, started a family and became a farmer. So much more to know about him.

Barb was compelled to come visit me in December after I was given the gift of a lifetime by my second cousin Norma: my great grandmother Annie (Watson) Turnbull’s family photo album from 1876. (Yes, the same Annie from the letters – voila – another connection!) What a feeling of excitement as I waited in my car at the airport to pick up Barb. We had never spoken on the phone or even seen each other’s photographs – she said she’d be carrying a red suitcase, wearing a black coat and has gray hair. We greeted each other like long lost lovers: family!!! All this time I thought I was an only child and most of my relatives had passed, and now a new cousin, related to a big big family that I’m just discovering. We spent three glorious days together frantically scanning the photographs from the album, doing our best to identify the recognizable ones – and then of course, posting them to ancestry!

Barb’s knowledge of the Turnbull clan is vast, and she has helped me fill in so many gaps dating back to the 1300’s in Scotland. Our connection has been invaluable in unlocking some of the secrets. Then, along came Peggy W. who contacted me on ancestry when she saw some of the photos we had posted of her family! (this is how it works!) My great grandmother Annie was her great Aunt and she actually lived on the farm in Alberta that Annie’s grandfather first homesteaded! And even more amazing, an album had been discovered by a contact of hers in a Vancouver, BC antique store that appears to be a companion album to the one I have of Annie’s. Many of the photos appear to be the same people! The mystery deepens! She just wrote me an email yesterday saying that she now has the album in her possession and is scanning and identifying as many pictures as she can.

Now, bringing this up to my “mystery du jour” is a woman who has just contacted me on ancestry who claims to have been looking for me for years! and is demanding that I call her! Hmmmmmmm??? She appears to be related to my father’s family (Neibauer) and back to the comment of being related to everyone, I wasn’t even researching this side of my family! So now I’ve found myself thrust into several more hours of cruising around ancestry looking for hints and connections to see if this person is indeed who they say they are. I think I may have satisfied my research intentions and found out she is who she says she is (thanks to another person researching the same branch of their family history – again how it works!). So what to do? I don’t know why I’m hesitating in calling her – perhaps it’s just that I’ve never had someone be so insistent about speaking to me. Most fellow researchers are happy to just share information – this feels much more personal – do I feel invaded? or is it possible that this will lead me deeper into understanding the code that lies beneath it all?


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So it goes

Every day this week those niggling thoughts have been pushing through from the back of my “mind” urging me to get on with the blog about our road trip to Florida and back – to share those fleeting memories before they vanish into the past, superseded by layer upon layer of new experiences that are vying for attention. But what ended up grabbing me instead was finishing the two paintings I’ve been working on for a very long time, in preparation for the meeting I just had with Lenny Kislin – who has chosen me for one of his upcoming art shows at Oriole 9 in Woodstock!

I felt so exhilarated getting back into painting after months of attending to the myriad of activities that compel me each day. Pushing oil paint around on canvas satisfies some inexplicable urge that lives deep inside of me – that won’t rest until it’s been satisfied. The grass in this painting was particularly pleasurable! (which has not always been the case with large swaths of grassy foregrounds). How do you design the shapes of the darks and lights to make it seem compelling? How do you indicate the textures of the dirt, grass and bushes without actually painting each blade of grass, each rock? How do you entice the viewer to feel something that may be going on within the painting, when it’s a flat barren landscape with a sign and some telephone poles?

In this case, I just let myself go – just played with the shapes and colors of the intersecting lights and darks of grass and bush – I “felt” myself within them – the process evolved naturally. I think this must be part of a maturing process that has occurred for me as an artist – that I can allow myself, trust myself, to paint what flows out of me knowing it eventually will become pleasing. Or maybe it won’t, but then I’ll know what to do to “fix it”.

This painting isn’t completely finished in that regard. Richard is my best critic and he pointed out that there is too much green in the foliage as it retreats toward the sign – I agree with him and will make some adjustments to tone down the color – make it more muted. But meanwhile, the day is now half over, I’m off to work, and the roadside notes will just have to wait for another day!


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