Write what should not be forgotten - Isabel Allande

Month: November 2016

Different Worlds but Still the Same


Imagine you are chatting with a Mom friend, discussing the weekend, you would probably be talking about how busy you both were. I know we had a pretty busy weekend – the boys had  5 hockey games.  I spent an obscene amount of money on groceries, did some cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Sunday morning we put chili in the crock pot and the makings of bread in the bread machine, it was so nice to come home to a warm dinner. Seems like a pretty typical for most of us with kids, right?

Now imagine you have stepped back in time and are having the same conversation with Moms who lived about 150 years ago.  The Day 9 writing prompt is to do just that.  I have started and restarted this particular assignment over and over again.

If I did have the chance to talk to my ancestors – as a genealogist it would be amazing and I would have some pretty specific questions about exactly where in God’s green Ireland they were from!!!  I imagine if I told my ancestors about my “busy” weekend – they would respond with something along the lines of “What in the sweet hell are you talking about?”

I feel like we may have some trouble relating to each other – I would talk about my first world problems, busy schedules, and worries about screen time.  Even just the basics – trying to explain things like running water, electricity, microwaves, vaccines, etc. Not to mention the actual complicated stuff like space exploration, the election, and Snapchat.

Mary, Sara and Maria McGee were farmer’s wives, which tells me that they worked – hard, all day, every day.  These 3 ladies were each married to one of my 3x great uncles. Mary and Sara were sisters and lived next to each other, Maria lived nearby. Other than being Moms we probably don’t have a lot in common.  I could tell them about my job outside the home – but honestly my family hardly understands what I do.  My oldest son had friends over last weekend and they each brought their own Xbox and TV so that they could play video games.  What about how much time I spend helping with homework? I think my ancestors would be puzzled as to why my strapping 15 and 12 yr old sons still went to school, instead of helping out at home.  My ancestors had to grow, cultivate, and care for everything they ate. Seriously – sometimes just the thought of making the list, driving to the store and buying groceries can be exhausting.  I can’t truly imagine or appreciate the amount of work it took them just to survive. If they didn’t set the bread dough to rise, they had no bread for meals.There were no grocery stores, crock pots or bread machines.  If they didn’t chop firewood and tend the fires, they would freeze. They had to milk the cows and collect the eggs.Truly their very lives depended on their hard work.  In going through the inventory of Maria’s home and farm after her husband’s death in 1864 – they owned 4 forks. I am almost positive I could find 4 forks in any one of my son’s bedrooms right now.

It seems daunting to try and bridge the gap between us to make a connection, but maybe there are a few things. My sister and I live next door to each other, my mother lived there before her, my boys have worn a path between our houses.  Was is so different for my ancestors living on neighboring farms?  It was likely a bit of a safety net for them – maybe they sent the kids back and forth to share some eggs or milk. If a piece of farm equipment broke they could help each other out.  We have certainly shared our things many times living next door.  We end up at my sister’s house at least once a week just to spend time together and catch up.

The ladies might have trouble understanding my working outside the home, but my background is as a Labor and Delivery nurse.  I have documentation that there was a neighbor across the road who acted as midwife and was there to deliver their children. I believe that watching a new life be born is as much a miracle today as it was then.My son and his friends did play some video games last weekend – but they also spent a fair amount of time in the woods where we live.  They had a great time exploring and shooting BB guns.  Boys exploring the woods is timeless.  While their children may not have been in school as long as our kids are today – I would imagine they wanted them to have an education.  I am betting that just like us – they wanted better for their children.  Their families had all left Ireland to come to an unknown place for a chance at a better life for their children. While we may not have to work the in the same way just to survive – as Mom’s aren’t we all doing everything we can to care for our family’s? These women all lost people to illness, they lost children and husbands to things that we don’t even think twice about today.  Without modern medicine, my second son would not have survived more than a few days. The fears we have as moms today maybe different but the fear for kids safety is the same no matter what century it is.

If I had the chance to talk to my brave ancestors we may have many differences but I think just maybe we would be able to find some common ground. At the end of the day the important things remain.


Day 9 off the 30-Day Family History Writing Challenge was to research the hometown of one of your ancestors.



Seussling (Soy-sling) Germany

Seussling was the home of my Great-Grandmother, Catherine Harrer Marschall. She was born in 1853 one of 7 children of Ignatius and Katharina Harrer.  She emigrated to the US in 1882, sailing  to New York as a single woman of 28.  She married my Great Grandfather Conrad Marschall in 1889 at the ripe old age of 36.  They were from the same area in Bavaria, but I don’t know if they knew each other prior to being in the United States.  Catherine went on to have 2 sons Frederick (1890) and Edmund (my Grandfather in 1892). At some point Fred and Ed took the more American spelling of Marshall.

Seussling was her home and is a lovely, idyllic place.  My sister and I had the opportunity to visit it while in Germany in 2014.  It is roughly 200 miles southwest of Berlin. Not far from Wurzburg and in the district of Bamberg in Bavaria. The population of Seussling is very small, around 2000.  It dates back to medieval times – the first mention of a church was in 800 – during  the reign of Charlemagne.  The Catholic church that was in existence in my GG’s time and still stands today is known as St Sigismund.  I can in fact find documentation listing the Priests that served the church back to the 1400’s.  The town of Seussling itself officially dates back to 1013! (The city I live in officially became a city in 1915). I have a hard time wrapping my head around those dates.

St Sigismund was the King of Burgundy in the 500’s. After a defeat in battle he, his wife and children were imprisoned and executed.  This story is told in graphic detail on a series of plaques in the church. At one point in its history the church housed an important shrine and relic of the deceased King.  People would come from all over to view the shrine to St. Sigismund, The relic was moved for safekeeping during a time of war but was never returned to Seussling.


Top Left: the Altar. Top Right: just one of the plaques telling St. Sigismund’s story. Bottom Left: artwork in the crypt. Bottom Middle: sign says 1470. Bottom Right: the site of the original shrine in the crypt under the Altar


We went to Seussling with a cousin who lived nearby, she called ahead and they were ready for us!  We were greeted by the Church caretaker and the town historian from a nearby town.  We had the feeling that they didn’t get very many visitors!  Our  host’s were more than gracious and generous with their time.  They gave us a tour of the church and also the crypt underground.  We weren’t exactly sure what they were doing when they started to roll up the rug and open up a hatch in the floor in front of the alter!  There were faded remnants of original artwork in the crypt – dating back to the early 1500’s. They also took us through the rectory or Das Pfarrhaus and the community building.  I can not even begin to imagine the number of gatherings that building has seen through the years.  Other than modern amenities like electricity and heat, the church probably hadn’t changed very much since the last time that my GG laid eyes on it.  There was something so powerful and emotional to stand in that place, in the place she worshiped, the place in which her loved ones, were baptized, married, and buried.  This church had been a central part of her life in Germany. This is true not only because it was her church, it was also next to her home.  


Left: The Harrer family barn. Top Right: side of the barn and side of the school. Bottom Left: The school house, the building to the right of the school is the church

Directly next to the church, was the school that Catherine attended and next to the school was where she lived.  The house has since been rebuilt, but the barn from her time was still standing.  I can’t fully explain what it felt like to see and touch the place where she lived and to know that it probably didn’t look all that different.  Our cousin knocked on the door and the owners came out and spoke with us.  When she mentioned the name of the family – they nodded and said that of course they knew the name and that the family were known for being Tailors – remember the part where I said she had left in 1882?!

We left the lovely village of Suessling with a book about its history and other memorabilia.  generously given to us. They truly treated us like family who had come to visit.   We took so many pictures and I am forever grateful for their genuine warmth and welcoming nature.  They game me a priceless opportunity to make a deeper connection to my roots.


Neudecker, A., Schubert, E., Schubert, H., & Neudecker, H. (n.d.). Seussling Geschichte der Pfarrei und des Dorfes.

Personal photos taken May 25, 2014 by author.



Favorite Picture



The assignment for Day 6 is to write about your favorite picture.  I have come across a lot of great pictures on my journey – but I think this is truly one of my favorites.

My sweet cousins, Meg,Maureen and Beth sent this to my mom when she was in the hospital before she passed away.  She loved it so much and showed to everyone who would look at it.  Every time I see it, it makes me grin.

The picture was taken in 1912, at Broad Channel in New York.  My Grandmother Ida Pfundstein Marshall is the lovely beach-goer in the middle smiling for the camera (without her cap).  I am still working on the identities of the other ladies.  Probably at least a few them are her sisters – Ida was one of 13 and 5 were girls. Two of the sisters became Sisters – I think it is safe to say the picture was taken before they took their vows.

I can almost hear the girls laughing and enjoying their day at the beach. It was probably a hot summer day and the breeze by the water felt great.  I think they were probably talking about the same things that groups of girls had talked about since forever – boys!  They may have been talking about the neighborhood and all the goings on.   The Titanic had sunk earlier in the year – I would imagine that was still in the minds of everyone.

Did you get a look at their outfits? Button up boots, full dresses and of course the caps!!! The caps are just absolutely my favorite part of the whole getup.  It seems like a a whole lot of work for a day at the beach.  A day at beach looks a wee bit different today! I’m guessing they didn’t actually spend much time IN the water.

Ida’s family had a cottage at Broad Channel.  My sweet Aunt Terry used to make the most beautiful dollhouses.  My favorite one was always the beach house in Broad Channel.  It was just the kitchen of the cottage, done with Aunt Terry’s meticulous attention to detail.  I’m not sure why that one resonated with me but maybe just because it was a real place that obviously held many happy memories.  Since seeing this picture the scene becomes even more real.

Hope you enjoy this sweet picture as much as I do!



Day 2

The day 2 assignment is to think of an ancestor as a character in a novel.  The first thing that came to mind was my Grandfather, J. Norman McGee or Norm as he was known.  While I never knew Norm, when I think of him I think of George Bailey.  I know he is from a movie – “It’s a Wonderful Life” was loosely based on a short story “The Greatest Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern.  It is a stretch, I know…

Everyone knows the story about a man who is down on his luck and is given the chance to see what life would be like if he had never been born.  My favorite parts of the movie are when they show snippets of George’s life, the experiences that shaped him into being the man he was.  

The time frame of the movie fits into Norm’s life. The car George drove, the suits he wore – it all fits Norm.  Norm was raised with his sister and brother by his parents – the father in the movie even looks a little like Norm’s father, William.  

In the movie, George wants to see the world but every time he gets close, something gets in his way and he has to put aside his own desires for the good of others.  He believed in doing the right thing. Norm did see a bit of the world, he went to Rutgers and served in WWI.  He didn’t engage in any fighting, instead he was a part of an aerial photography unit that served in France.  When he returned from the War, he went into banking. He work in NYC for a couple of years before coming back to his hometown and marrying my Grandmother.  Eventually they moved to nearby Batavia and he became the President of a small local bank, Genesee Trust.  I like to picture the bank a bit like the Savings and Loan in the movie, where deals were made with little more than a handshake and a man’s word.

Norm was the kind of man who always did the right thing, even at the expense of himself.  By the time he was in his mid 30’s both of his siblings and his father had died.   He was responsible for his wife and young son as well as his mother and mother in law.  They all lived together at the house on Norris Ave, in Batavia. I am reminded of the scene where old Mr. Potter is offering George a job and he talks about how far his small salary has to go take care of all of his responsibilities.

Norm died of a massive heart attack at the age of 52 in his home, none of my siblings or I ever knew him.  We did however know my dad – he was a kind, generous man who strongly believed in quietly doing the right thing. I don’t imagine the man who raised him was any different.

Here’s to all the George Baileys out there – the people who are quietly going about their lives leading by example.wonderful-life

Letter to Mary Ellen McGee

52 Ancestors in 52 weeks weekly prompt is “Favorite Name”  I choose Mary Ellen McGee Hau, because she really captured my imagination early on, also becaause we share the name!

Dear Mary Ellen McGee,

This is really a thank you letter.  You started it all for me!  I first found you in a scrapbook kept by my Grandma (Madeline McGee).  Grandma’s scrapbook is a treasure all by itself.  It was thriftily fashioned from a 1926 atlas,  She didn’t seem to group them in any special way, just in any open space.  Grandma saved a little bit of everything in this scrapbook, family history, local history, and some national news of the day-  like a picture of the Titanic before it sailed, an article about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and my favorite – several articles about the the missing Lindbergh baby!  This scrapbook is a really cool look at some of the things that our relatives witnessed first hand.

When I was growing up the scrapbook would turn up from time to time and I would sit for hours leafing through it.  As a kid, I was interested in the national stories but was absolutely fascinated by the pictures and articles about my family.  Since I had only known 1 relative on my dad’s side the articles and photos brought the family to life for me.

Imagine my delight to find so many things about the McGee’s in that book.  I would always ask my parents how were related to the people, but they never really had the answers.  Even as a kid – I knew that someday I would find out!  Every time I would go through the book I was interested in one person more than all the others – Mary Ellen McGee. To see that we shared a name was exciting to say the least.  By the way – she was also awesome!

The headline of the article was “Gifted Girl” with a picture and our name – who wouldn’t be hooked?!  The article (from the early 1930’s) went on to say that you had earned your Bachelor of Arts from Seton Hall College, majoring in English and French, with a minor in Social Studies. You were on the debate team and part of student government – that is seriously cool!

Born in 1913, You were witness to some truly amazing things in history.  The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, at the time of your birth, women did not have the right to vote. By 1930 you, were in college, away from home and earning your Bachelor’s Degree (hopefully voting), you taught before starting your family.  You didn’t stop there – you travelled, you lived in Puerto Rico, and California, you married and raised a family.

What was it like? When you were born Woodrow Wilson was the President, a stamp cost .02, and crossword puzzles had recently been invented. You lived in Warsaw, NY a small village in Western NY, did houses in Warsaw have electricity or running water? Probably not very many of them.   The main mode of transportation was horse and carriage.  By the time of your death in 2005 you had lived through 2 world wars, the Great Depression and the Civil Rights movement.  

You witnessed the greatest technological growth the world has ever seen – from radio to television, from party line to cell phones, from the first autos to jets, from telegraph to the internet.  It is absolutely mind blowing.  Growing up in tiny Warsaw could you have ever imagined it all?

It has been my absolute delight to find your family and learn even more about you.  You always inspired to me to try a little harder – after all that headline was a hard act to follow!  Through your son I have been introduced to more family, something I didn’t know was possible.  You led an extraordinary life. You were educated, you traveled, you raised a lovely family.  I was floored to learn that Mary Ellen is a family name – the are 4 in your branch!

So thank you Mary Ellen, for inspiring me, for teaching me, for giving me a part of my family I thought was lost.  Even though we never met I feel like in some small way we know each other.


Mary Ellen McGee Reardon

© 2018

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑