Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Pearce, Steffen & Sparks Families: 1 Reunion, 4 Cemeteries, 2 States

What is the best kind of vacation for a genealogist? 

A vacation that combines a visit with a good friend, meeting a newly-found cousin, a quite-altered family reunion and genealogically-related traipsing through four cemeteries in Iowa and Illinois...Priceless!!!

The Clam Man in
Muscatine, Iowa 

Reunion was next door to this
 house that had belonged to our
 great-great-great grandfather. 

Crossing Mississippi River
after meeting
newly- found cousin

It all started over a year ago, when I visited my cousins in northern Illinois for visits and to gather family history information. As I was talking to these cousins about some of our half-cousins, I realized they seemed very unsure of whom I was referring.

So, I started planning a Pearce family reunion for July 2020. Never had organized a family reunion from scratch before, but I felt confident in my abilities. I had this, I could do this!! I mean...what could go wrong?! 😀😉

We were all in for quite the surprise when COVID-19 altered life throughout the world. It stopped all of us in our tracks for several months, before we started to venture out again.

Although our crowd of 100+ had dwindled down to 9, we choose to go forward with the reunion, only with some changes. Masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer were now as much a part of the plan as the visiting and talk of family history.

After the reunion, we all paid
 respects to our Pearce ancestors
at the Pearce Cemetery,
Oswego, Illinois

The hubby and I spent the week before the reunion in Muscatine, Iowa, visiting a good friend of ours. Much time was spent along the Mississippi River, visiting local sites and cemeteries.

First cemetery was in Muscatine itself. I had no ancestors that had ever lived in Muscatine. However, I had recently discovered that my 4x-great grandfather's brother, Green Sparks, had moved to Muscatine at some point, and was buried there in the Greenwood Cemetery, along with his wife and two daughters.

Alas, this is one of those fruitless searches that turns up no stones or grave markers of any kind. The cemetery office has records that show they are buried here in this section, but we found nothing there. 

Greenwood Cemetery:  burial place of Green Sparks, Susan (Hunt) Sparks and two daughters.

A day trip up to Dubuque County to the small towns of New Vienna and Luxemburg where my maternal grandmother was born and raised. Some of her ancestors had arrived here in the 1830's, and her great-grandfather is actually mentioned in a Wikipedia article regarding St. Boniface Church in New Vienna, Iowa.

St. Boniface Catholic Church.
(Photo Credit: Eileen Moore)

If you would like to learn more about this church, I have provided the link here. However, below, you will find the section that mentions my 3rd great-grandfather, (Wilhelm) William Steffen, Sr.

"The church was 64 by 100 feet (30 m) with 22-foot (6.7 m)-high walls. A local resident, William Steffen Sr., was sent with two teams of horses to get three bells for the church. He arrived back in New Vienna just before Easter; the bells were raised in time to chime for the first time on Easter Sunday. This second structure was used until 1887."

The following three photos are three generations of my maternal grandmother, Mathilda (Steffen) Pearce, from her great-grandfather to her grandparents.

William Steffen, Sr., my
maternal grandmother's


Her grandparents, Theodore &
Maria K. (Bonenkamp) Steffen


And her parents, Frank W. and
Josephine (Schulte) Steffen

Within a five-mile radius, I was able to visit two cemeteries (St. Boniface Catholic Church and Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church) in two very small towns that was the final resting place of most of my grandmother's siblings, ancestors, cousins and extended family back to the first immigrants from Germany.

Without time to consult my family history papers for specific ancestors, I took photos of all headstones bearing the following surnames:  Steffen, Schulte, Trenkamp, Bohnenkamp and Sudmeier. As I sort through my photos and paperwork in the near future, I will certainly be including more posts about the Steffen line, I am sure.

As I thought about all of those ancestors I had just visited, it made me realize how much I missed two that were not to be found in either cemetery. My Grandma (Tilly) Pearce and her baby sister, Alice Morganegg. 

In her 20's, my grandma had left her home in Luxemburg, Iowa and traveled to Kendall County, Illinois...with Aunt Alice eventually finding her way there, also.

Why, and When? What made these two young ladies set out for northeastern Illinois in the 1930's or so? I have not discovered the answer to this question yet, but I have not given up just yet! Lol

The Steffen sisters: Catherine,
 Alice, Mathilda, Florence

Newly-found cousin and ancestors, Illinois and Iowa, a reunion and 4 cemeteries...and a relaxing visit with a good friend! All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better vacation!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Celebrating the Ordinary Person Through Blogging

How Does an Ordinary Person Win a Place in History?

This question was posed by the pioneering social historian of the American Revolution, Alfred F. Young.  It was written in the introduction of his book, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, in 1999. 

George Robert Twelves
Hewes ~ the ordinary man
of the American Revolution

With all the controversy that has surrounded historical monuments recently, I felt it was important to remember why and how the monuments came to be in the first place. His quote in its entirety answers this question more thoroughly: 

"How does an ordinary person win a place in history? It has a lot to do with the political values of the keepers of the past---who decides whose heroes and heroines school children learn about, what statues and monuments are erected, what historic buildings are saved, and what events are commemorated. 

Take the few ordinary people of Boston in the Revolution about whom we have even a smattering of knowledge. Paul Revere was best known in his own time as a silversmith and a leader of the mechanics of the North End, but in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem he became a legend as the horseman who warned Lexington that the "British are coming," hardly his most important accomplishment. Yet he is honored in a equestrian statue. A monument to Crispus Attucks, a half-black, half-Indian sailor, and the four other victims of the Boston Massacre was erected only after a forty-year campaign by the city's African American community for recognition of their role in the Revolution and over the opposition of leading members of the Massachusetts Historical Society, who considered them "ruffians" of the "so-called Boston Massacre."

Blogging the "Ordinary People"

Over the course of the last three years or so of my blogging, I have met some wonderful fellow genealogy and history bloggers online. I have read countless posts about the "ordinary people" of whom we claim as our ancestors. Although I have also enjoyed reading blog posts regarding famous ancestors, it is the "ordinary people" that capture my attention the most.


The "ordinary people" are the ancestors that have built something out of nothing by sheer determination and hard work. They are the ones that, day by day, made decisions and lived lives that influenced their friends, neighbors, and descendants in large and small ways.

For every leader like Martin Luther King, Jr., there was an "ordinary person" like Rosa Parks making just another decision in her life. If it wasn't for her one decision, she would not be remembered today in our history books.

Rosa Parks ~ an ordinary
 person who refused give
 up her seat on a segregated bus

Some of our ancestors chose to leave family and friends behind in another country to move to America. Some chose to fight for our country, to change religions and follow husbands across the country. Some made the decision to stay and farm the land their ancestors had farmed before them. These decisions all affected our lives.

What Can I Do to Help Tell Their Stories?

If you are a genealogy blogger, continue telling the stories of your "ordinary" ancestors. I enjoy talking about my 9th great-grandfather, Hans Herr, who was the first Mennonite bishop in America. However, he is well-known in the Lancaster County, PA area and beyond. I also like writing about my husband's Mayflower ancestors.

However, the family stories that will never be known past this generation if they are not shared are beyond count. Little stories, or big, these are the ones that are truly priceless. 

Just a Few of My Own Family Stories:

  • When my grandparents married in 1929, the men and women still sat on opposite sides of church. That is, until my grandfather decided he was going to sit with his new bride, and changed a long-standing unwritten church protocol.
  • My great-grandmother's sister was a newlywed of only 10 months when she died of the 2nd wave of the Spanish Flu.
  • My 4th great-grandfather was a fifer in the American Revolution.
  • My grandmother had four brothers in World War II, all in different areas, at the same time.

Monuments to "Ordinary People"

I would like to give a very big shout out to websites, such as Heather Wilkinson Rojo's Honor Roll Project, who are providing ways to share and celebrate "ordinary people". Monuments are all around us honoring the men and women who have fought for our country over the years. To make the names of these "ordinary people" searchable, Heather has created a place where these military honor rolls have been transcribed and photographed. According to the website, "The transcribed names make the soldiers available for search engines, so that descendants, family members and friends can find them on the internet."

World War II Memorial

Blogger or not, please continue to share the stories of the common man, the "ordinary people". There are more than enough articles and books on the likes of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other great men. But the stories of people like Basil Biggs (, Bill Garrett ( or Capt. Ephraim Kibbey (This Hoosiers Heritage) are lost to time. 

  • Genealogy and History bloggers, tell these stories. Whether they are your ancestors or mentioned in a book you found, find ways to tell their stories. If it does not match the topic of your particular blog, please pass it on to someone else who may have the passion to research it and share on their blog.
  • History Buffs & Blog Readers, share these stories whenever you happen upon them. I first heard of Basil Biggs as I was watching an episode of Finding Your Roots, and Capt. Kibbey as I was looking at a book on early Indiana trails. Share links to the blogs you read on FB, Twitter and more. Follow and bring traffic to the blogs that celebrate the "ordinary people".

It is now 2020. With technology on our side today, it no longer "has a lot to do with the political values of the keepers of the past who decides". We are the decision-makers now.

We decide. We celebrate. We write.  

   We blog. We share. 

(Source: Introduction [Introduction]. (1999). In A. F. Young (Author), The shoemaker and the tea party: Memory and the American Revolution. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, p. vii, intro.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Through Her Eyes Thursday~"Inheritance" by Dani Shapiro

"Through Her Eyes" Thursday  is a genealogy prompt meant to help us see the world as our female ancestors would have. It's purpose is to encourage us to share things from the women's perspective of historical events.

Recently, I read an eye-opening memoir that explores a topic close to the heart of many women today: reproductive medicine and artificial insemination.

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro explores this topic through the eyes of the person most affected: the child.

Inheritance: A Memoir of
Genealogy, Paternity, and
 by Dani Shapiro

As a child, Dani always had the feeling of never quite fitting in with her family. However, she never quite knew why she felt that way. Several decades later, with the help of a DNA kit, she will have her answer.

But that answer opens up a Pandora's box of other questions for Dani. As you read her fascinating story, you get swept up in her search to find her identity, her history, her story.

Through her book, you will find that artificial insemination has a much longer history than most of us knew. We remember hearing in 1978 of Louise Brown, the world's first baby to be conceived via in vitro fertilization.

However, between Dani's book and an article I found, I discovered the history actually dates back to the early 1950's. According to an online article, "Artificial Insemination History: Hurdles and Milestones (Ombelet & Van Robays), the first successful human pregnancy was reported in 1953. "Considering the hostile climate for donor insemination at the is not surprising that nearly a decade passed before the first successful birth...was announced in public."

Inheritance: A Memoir of
Genealogy, Paternity, and
 by Dani Shapiro

And this is where Dani's story comes in...As a "donor-concieved person" born in the early 1960's, there was a lot of secrecy surrounding her conception and birth. Her parents lived in an era when this was a taboo and forbidden topic.

She spends a good portion of the book looking at what happened through our modern lenses. 

"For a long while I was able to put myself in their shoes only as myself, product of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with all the biological, genetic, historical, and psychological tools available to me." (p. 222)

But once she was able to look at it through the eyes of her mother, and father, it changed her whole perspective of the situation.

"But now I was coming to the awareness that my young
 parents-to-be had none of these tools." (p. 223)

Dani discovered in the writing of this book, what family historians and genealogists need to keep in mind. It is not our place to question how, or why, a decision was made by our ancestors. However, if we do, it has to be done from their perspective.

3 Questions to Ask When Questioning Ancestors' Decisions

   1.) What was the culture of their times/place?

   2.) What information/tools would they have had at that time?

   3.) Who was the decision-maker? We have to remember that until           the last half of the twentieth century, it was predominantly the               father or husband.

If you are looking for a good book to read, this is at the top of my list for anyone. But it is an exceptional read for historians,  genealogists and family historians! In an age where DNA and technology aid our research into the past, this book asks some very important questions.


Shapiro, Dani. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.

(   Ombelet, W. and Van Robays. "Artificial Insemination History: Hurdles and Milestones". Facts, Views & Vision in ObGyn 2015. ( Accessed on 3/26/20.