Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mystery Resolutions sometimes come in small notebooks

The tiny family history notebook that Jessie Christene
wrote the family tree in. 1932

 When my sisters and I opened up our mom's cedar chests last week I knew there would be many finds to capture my genealogist's heart. She tended to hold on to the very things that would interest me. Mom has been gone for almost 7 years but schedules, location and a promise to wait until we all could look inside together has kept us from opening her hope chest and our grandmother's cedar chest until last week.

I came home with a crate, a box and a bag of pictures, files and artifacts tucked in the back of my car. The dining room has been covered with stacks of pictures, letters in new sheet protector homes and a variety of other documents and artifacts.

When I pulled out a small, red, loose-leaf notebook from one of the folders last night, I knew I had something special in my hands. On the first tiny page, the handwriting said:

"Family Record
Presented to Forest R.E. Dibbens
(my grandfather) 
from Mother (my great grandmother, Jessie Christene Field Dibbens) Written Mch 9, 1932 
Cheney Kansas"

Besides the fact that it was written by my great grandmother, I was excited to find an answer to a mystery that I have been trying to solve for several years. My great grandfather, ARJ Dibbens Jr.'s family came from Isle of Wight, England. It has been very difficult to go back very far in England because of some names that keep confusing me. The surname, Cobb was showing up on both of his parents branches within one generation. I always thought I had something confused but Jessie devoted almost an entire tiny page to that mystery. On page 26 (yes, she numbered each page!) she wrote:

"Grandfather & mother Cobb
Great grandfather
Leah Linnington married
Mr. Cobb then
daughter Ann (Cobb)
married William Dibbens"

That may not be exciting to some people but it left me saying, "aha!" Now it makes sense! I love a solved genealogy mystery!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone which is a very advanced skill! ;-)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is he in this one?

His is my dad, Earl Johnson, at about 5 or 6. I do have a few other pictures of him but I do mean "a few." Once he got his first camera, he seemed to always be in the background taking pictures. That is bad for my picture collection because I have to really hunt for him and also good for my collection because I have lots of pictures of other family members on both sides of the family. He also remembers who the people in the pictures are because he was there.
Some neighbors gave them this Jersey calf and it became their pet until it grew up and Grandpa sold it with some other cattle.

He is a great dad and the victim of many hours of questions from his genealogist daughter. Something tells me (his long answers) that he enjoys answering my questions. Every time I talk to him I hear something I have never heard before.  Happy Father's Day!                   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Several Mothers and a Baby

This is one of my favorite pictures and I'm posting it here in honor of Mother's Day. These three beautiful women are all looking at me through the window of the hospital nursery. I know I'm a little hard to see but the picture is dated 8-55 so that is my proof! It is actually a 4 generation picture with a twist. On the left is my mother, Vera Dibbens Johnson. Her mother (and my grandma), Frances Rutkowski Dibbens is in the flower print dress on the right. Next to her is her mother-in-law (and my great grandma), Jessie Field Dibbens. It's just like my dad to think to take a picture. (He is the represented by the flash in the window.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Emily - Palm Sunday 1987
The Edwards family (- Matt) 1989
This was juuuust a few years ago - back in 1989. We usually went from church over to Vince's parent's house for the afternoon on Easter. That's where this picture was taken. Emily was 7 and Brittany was about 7 months.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Mom was a Multifacited Teenager - Wordless Wednesday

Vera Dibbens on their farm near Murdock, Kansas.

Vera Dibbens in town (probably Kingman, Kansas) wearing a new dress. (abt. 1945)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

iLike my iphone - Tech Tuesday

You would think I would have heard all of the stories by now. I've been asking questions and I've known him my whole life. That doesn't seem to matter. My dad thinks of a new story almost every time I talk to him. The problem is, I don't trust my memory and many times we are in the car and I am driving! We were on the highway coming back from a trip to Osage City, Kansas, where his mother grew up. He started talking about his Grandpa Nelson who came to Kansas from Sweden when he was about 20 years old. He recalled the Swedish words that his grandpa used to call his horses to him. Then, he repeated the words from so long ago. I scrambled for my iphone and touched the button for voice memo. I now have it recorded and saved to my computer. A few weeks later I mentioned to my dad's younger brother that I had heard how Grandpa Nelson called his horses. Immediately, he repeated the same words with the same thick Swedish accent. I wish I knew what the words meant but neither of them have a clue! I have voice recordings of many special people thanks to my iphone!

There are many iphone apps that I use in my genealogy work. The obvious ones besides voice memo are Ancestry, where I can look up basic data from my entire family tree and Genealogy Gems for great podcasts. Of course, I use Google, Maps and History Lite to find more information about events and places I am studying. I have a new App called Research Logger that I hope will help me during my genealogy adventures this summer.

My iphone has proven to be a great tool to have along wherever I go. Oh, it also makes a great phone!
Does anyone have other Apps they use for genealogy?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday's Child - The First and the Second Arthur Theodore Johnson

My grandpa was the second Arthur Theodore Johnson in the family. He was born a few months too late to meet his older brother, the first Arthur, but nevertheless, he was there. It's possible his mother was aware of his presence but there is no way of telling.

It was a spring day in the countryside near McPherson, Kansas and my great grandparents, John and Ida Johnson, were on their way into town with their young family. The date was May 14, 1889. As Arthur 2 rested in his mother's womb, maybe feeling his two-year-old brother Emil pressing against him from their mother's lap, Arthur 1 ventured toward the back of the wagon. Four-year-old boys are curious and can get in trouble when they find themselves with a few minutes of time behind their parents' backs.
I have no way of knowing what alerted their parents to the tragedy. The back gate of the wagon must have made some noise when it flew open but they stopped the wagon and looked behind them to see their precious firstborn son lying in the dust of the road. He was gone before they could get to him. The fall from the wagon had broken his neck.
The emotions that surrounded that little piece of road had to have been strong. My great grandparents probably wailed with their grief as little Emil stood by taking it all in. He was too young to realize that his life had changed forever in the seconds after the gate opened. That one event threw him into his brother's place as "the oldest child"; cemented it in his mind by the horror of the scene, and left a scar that would stay with him for the next 70 years. Did the 2nd little Arthur feel the grief of his mother as she cried for her son?
The scene was worse than anything I can imagine and yet it would get worse before too many minutes. The wagon stood in front of a neighbor's farm and soon that family had entered the picture. The neighbor proceeded to berate the grieving father for being so careless with his child. How could he leave his small son in such a dangerous place? He should have known this would happen! Hurtful words saturated the heavy air and did nothing for the family’s grief and, never forgotten, would be repeated even 3 generations later. I’ve been told that John never fully recovered from those words. The first little Arthur was carried to the same neighbor’s farm until arrangements could be made for a funeral. A simple trip to town had turned several lives upside-down.

First born son, Arthur, was buried in the cemetery behind the Swedish Lutheran Church outside of McPherson, Kansas. We aren’t sure where because there is no longer a stone. Seven months later my grandfather, and the first Arthur’s namesake, was born on December 4, 1889.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Translating 19th Century Family History for 21st Century People - Tech Tuesday

     Two cousins and I are preparing for our Rutkowski - Warnken family reunion at the end of May. the last few reunions have seen dwindling attendance and the loss the last two sisters of the family, my great aunts, on the Rutkowski side. In the past, they spent the time after lunch and meeting playing something like BINGO or a number draw to win door prizes brought by various family members. It was well liked by the older generations but as the years went by, they noticed fewer young families coming. Regrettably, I was one that didn't always make it. The traditional activities just don't seem to attract people anymore. Hmmm...

     We've been  attempting to "reinvent" the gathering by choosing a more interesting venue (from a shelter at a park to a beautiful nature center) and changing up the activities in hopes that we can attract more from the younger generations. 
     So far we will have lunch, pictures in the gardens of the center, a fishing derby for the kids, and a short meeting. As a genealogist, I like to try to promote our family history in an engaging, 21st Century way that might interest others to learn more about our ancestors. Last year I used Photostory 3 to created a slide show of family pictures set to music. Each family went home with a CD of the slide show. Everyone was so excited to get their own copy.

     What should I do this year? We have decided to drop the formal meeting protocol of our parents' generation. (The gavel can stay home this year.) Letters went out but also email. I have beautiful scrapbook paper with a family tree theme for them to write their information on. I have enough pictures for a second slide show.

Any ideas?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Genealogy Friends Are Everywhere! - Motivation Monday

My eyes scanned up and down the racks of scrapbook paper, searching for the colors and designs that might indicate a family tree theme. I zig-zagged my way down the crowded aisle, peeking around people and shopping carts. Twice, I had made my way around the other shoppers to continue my search to the end of the asile.

I was about to give up when a woman next to me pulled a sepia colored square from a paper rack. I recognized it immediately as a pedigree chart and exclaimed my excitement. It was what I was looking for and on sale as a bonus! When I realized her eyes hadn't glazed over at the mention of genealogy and family history, I ventured more of an explanation; family reunion activities that needed a boost. Within a minute I was listening to her story about the fact that her family no longer had aunts, uncles or grandparents so she was researching her husband's family. A questioning look from me was all she needed to explain further. Most of her family, except for her parents, hadn't escaped Germany and had died in a concentration camp. The strength of the emotions that still surrounded the story were very evident in her voice. She spoke of frustration at the amount of divorced couples in her husband's family and how hard it was to depict it correctly and easily in a scrapbook. I encouraged her to tell her family's story as well as she moved on to another aisle.

As she left, a couple slowly walked down the asile toward me as they talked about their choices of paper. They commented on a bit of conversation they had heard me exchange with the first woman about messy family history because of divorce. When they noticed the pedigree chart I held in my hand they began telling me about their recent venture into genealogy. Within a few minutes I found I was speaking to possible relatives of a 15th century knight from England and Lady Godiva according to a brother who was a genealogist. I told them about one of my great grandfathers who had been knighted during that time period, also. They expressed their excitement about a family tree program that they had just ordered. We talked a little while before they continued on down the row of  racks, choosing more paper. I moved on to find my daughter. As I walked on, I thought... everyone has a story and about genealogists?...

We're everywhere!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Motivation Monday - The "To do list" Experiment

I sat down and made a list on the first day of spring break and then began prioritizing. Of course there were things that naturally seemed the most important so they received a high ranking. All of the "shoulds and have-to's" ended up at the top and, as usual, the things I wanted to do were at the bottom; things like day trips to visit aunts, uncles, cousins and family locations. I know from past experience what happens to the things at the end of my lists. I rarely get to them. They get listed under "Things to do next time I have a break".

This year I did something shocking and unheard of! I turned my list upside-down and made spring break an actual break! Okay, I did pay the bills first... but then I let myself have fun! 
  • I used my wait time on Saturday to really reread an article that has information about my GrGrandmother. Using my iPhone, I was able to actually get an address, email and phone number of 3 people in the article that might be able to help me with my research.
  • I let myself spend time researching some ancestors online and putting documents into notebooks.
  • Monday morning, I visited with Mildred, my husband's aunt, and picked up two big boxes of old pictures that she wanted to get to my mother-in-law, Helen. Mildred,89, showed me the books she is putting together to tell her life story and her husband's.
  • I traveled on to McPherson to visit my aunt and uncle, 89 and 88, respectively, on their farm. Uncle Don has a love for genealogy and holds a lot of information for my dad's side of the family. I wanted to ask him some questions about my great uncles, Emil and Reuben Johnson, but got much more than that. On the way to the farm, I gave my dad, 89, a call and of course, he had another story about Grandpa Johnson that I had never heard before. Amazing how that can happen after all of these years!
  • I stopped to get pictures of the barn that is still standing at the farm where my dad was raised and then wandered through the cemetery where many of the Johnson's are buried.
  • Tuesday I spent time with my kids and the newest twig of our family tree, my grandson, Jesse. That evening my daughter and I took the boxes of pictures to my in-law's house. We spent several hours with Helen, 89, and Harry, 90, looking through pictures, telling stories and laughing. It was a nice evening that I wouldn't have wanted to miss by putting it lower on my list. I finally got to see the faces of people that I had only heard of.
  • Thursday I traveled to Hutchinson to help my cousin get ready for a Rutkowski/Warnken reunion that we are having in May. I don't know how we do it but we get a lot done for all the laughing and joking around! Letters mailed and activities planned!
  • Friday I was just "Grandma". 12 hours of Jesse still isn't enough but I'm happy for all the time I can get!
  • Scattered through the week were lunches and/or conversations with friends and a few long phone calls.
  • Saturday and Sunday provided a little bit of time to work on "the rest of the list".
I may have to do some of the "shoulds" in the evenings this week but I feel like I had a real break this year and so far I have no regrets about turning my list upside-down. I feel that it has boosted my motivation to keep going with my genealogy work (or should I say play?).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - "Here we go..."

Mt. Manitou Park, Manitou, Colorado
A trip up Mt. Manitou Scenic Incline---the longest, highest and greatest railway of its kind
in the world. A rise of one-half mile elevation in a ride of one and one quarter miles.

Wow! Don't they look excited? The smiles on their faces tell it all!

I was going through some photos at my in-law's house last night and had to share this one.

Helen says her aunt is the woman sitting on the 3rd bench from the top in the black hat.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Decisions, Decisions!

It has been a while since I have posted. I've been spending quite a bit of my genealogy time doing research lately and now I have some decisions to make. Which story do I want to write about next?

Here is part of my list:
  • Great Uncle Reuben Johnson who traveled the country by empty boxcar, canoe and motorcycle when he was young. 
  • Great Uncle Emil Johnson's 7 year disappearance and how his family found him.
  • The special, fragile, and everlasting ingredient that Great, Great Grandma Anna Dibbens brought with her from Isle of Wight when she moved to America.
Any preferences?

Monday, March 14, 2011

How old is that cottage? 
While searching on Google the other day, I came across pictures of the cottage that my 11th Great Grandfather, George Strong, lived and worked in during the 1500's. He lived and worked in Chard, Taunton, Somerset, England. The thatching probably isn't original but you know the stones that make up the walls are. Finds like this keep me going back for more genealogy. My imagination is going now and I'm wondering what the clothes looked like that Great Grandpa Strong tailored. Google, here I come again!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wordless Wedding Wednesday

Here is my grandparents', Ida and Arthur Johnson, picture on their wedding day.
November 30, 1918 in Topeka, Kansas

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shoveling Snow - Wordless Wednesday

The first home I remember. The house is still on Sheridan Street in Wichita, Kansas.
It looks like my parents had already started me on chores! I think I could have used a bigger shovel!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Snowy Day!

I think it was a Sunday in January, somewhere in the 1960's. My friend, Francine, had been to church with us when the snow started. Snow fell through the afternoon while we had fun at my house. By the time Francine was supposed to be home, the snow was "too deep" to make the trip across the field, Pleasant Valley Jr. High schoolyard, behind the tennis court and down a block to her house. Of course, our parents had cars that might have made it through at that time, but it was more fun to be snowed in. By the next morning there was a foot or more of snow on the ground. School was canceled that day and then the next. I wish I remembered what we did with our time but the memories are not there. I imagine we played with our troll dolls. We probably read for a while and I'm sure we played in the snow. It was atleast three days before school was back in session and Francine was back at home. Snow days are fun. They are even more fun with a friend.
Dad wasn't so lucky. He was an estimator for Eby Construction Company with a big job to bid on Monday morning. It wasn't too difficult for a construction company to plow a five mile path from the office to our house AND clear our driveway so he could get to work. That is exactly what Mr. Eby ordered that morning. Lucky for us that path didn't lead past Francine's house!
I'm sitting here at home many years later after reading an email canceling school for Wichita tomorrow; the fifth snow day this year! I have a lot of work I could do in my office at school but I'm kind of thankful that the district hasn't started plowing paths to our doors and has granted us a snow day.
NOW... Let it SNOW!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Lunch in the Field

My Great Grandparents, Jessie (Field) and Arthur Robert Jarman Dibbens Jr., and their family eating lunch out in the field on their homestead near Cheney, Kansas. My Grandpa, Forrest Rufus Edmond Dibbens, is the little boy on the far left. This picture was one of a few that were turned into a postcard and sent to family. (about 1911)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Supper - Mom's Sunday Meals

Vera Johnson in one of her first kitchens. (Santa Fe, New Mexico - 1950)
 My mom, Vera Dibbens Johnson, was born in 1929 near Murdock, Kansas. She was raised on a farm and could easily cook for two, a family, or a crowd of people. We had great meals almost every night but she reserved certain meals for Sundays.
Once in a while we ate out at a restaurant after church but most Sundays she was up early and had dinner in the oven before we left for church. The aroma coming from the oven as we returned home would meet us at the front door and announce that dinner would soon be ready.
Mom loved to entertain. Many times a new family would be invited over for lunch. I would sometimes be sent as a human GPS in our guests' car to guide them from the church to our house 11 miles away. If it wasn't a church guest, it was another family from church, missionaries who were visiting or extended family. None of it seemed to fluster my mom. She loved doing something for other people and this was something she was very good at.
Most of the time a roast with potatoes and carrots would come out of the oven on Sunday. Baked chicken was another favorite. My personal favorite was a recipe she called Spanish Steak. I would ask for it as often as possible and many times she would make the effort to fix it when we asked. I never realized how time consuming that was until I tried making it myself before church one Sunday while trying to get myself and my children ready for church. I'm sure I didn't look as calm and in control as I remember she always was!
Mom has been gone more than six years now and I still have people mention how good she was at entertaining and making people feel at home and comfortable. Then they always mention her cooking.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shopping Saturday

Pearl Dibbens and Frances Dibbens in Wichita about 1957
It looks as if this shopping trip has been going on for a while. What could be in the box and all of those bags they are carrying? I love this candid shot of my Great Aunt Pearl Dibbens and, her sister-in-law and my grandmother, Frances Rutkowski Dibbens. It was taken during a shopping trip in Wichita, Kansas.
When Grandma would come to visit, we would go shopping downtown. I can still remember walking through Kress Department Store, on Douglas and Broadway, and looking at the clothing folded neatly on big square display tables along with anything else you could ever need. They had a bargain basement that we enjoyed wandering through, stopping to admire whatever they had to offer. That is also where the toy department was. I don't remember that they had as many shelves as they did racks and large display tables with drawers and cabinets below where more merchandise was kept. The staircase leading down to the basement was wide with red tile.
Macy's and J.C.Penney's had elevators with operators who slid the metal gate and the door closed before cranking a dial that would take us to another floor. When the elevator stopped, the operator would call out the floor number and what we could find there. I thought that would be a fun job! Macy's had a mezzanine with a walk-way that led to the offices. It also had tall escalators. Coming down from the 2nd floor, I would look down to the main floor with the glass jewelry and make-up counters along with shoes and bags.
At Christmas, it was the outside of the store that was the biggest attraction for me. Every big showcase window had an elaborate display of moving scenes of toy land or a winter wonderland. Our family would stand in front of each window, and bundled up in our coats, hats and mittens, my sisters and I would take in every detail of each window. Then we would pile back in the car and head for King's X Restaurant for a cup of hot chocolate.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy Birthday to My Mom

Vera Carolina Dibbens
born: January 19, 1929Murdock, Kingman, Kansas
parents: Frances and Forrest Dibbens
married: January 28, 1950
spouse: Earl Milan Johnson
children: Shari (me), Kristine, Laurie
died: October 24, 2004
Branson, Missouri

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mystery Monday - Don't Believe Everything You Read

Hmmm... This is a picture of the John Johnsons and assorted others in front of their house near McPherson, Kansas. After I scanned the picture, I zoomed in to see it better and noticed a date at the top. Normally, that's a good thing but in this case, it caused a lot of confusion! The date says Dec . 57. I was two years old in 1957 but the boy in the cap and overalls is my Grandpa's youngest brother, Reuben. He died at 100 years-old in 2003. So... could someone have found a negative and had it developed in 1957? The original photo would have been taken around 1912.

Jessie Christene Field Dibbens - Amanuensis Monday

My great-grandmother, Jessie, was born 137 years ago on January 16, 1874 in York, Carroll, Illinois. At that time Jesse James was robbing banks and trains in the next state over and child labor took a hit as 12 year-olds were taken out of the work force.
I love this picture of her, my great grandpa, Arthur Robert Jarman Dibbens and their children taking a lunch break on their farm between Kingman and Cheney, Kansas. The little boy on the left is my grandpa, Forrest. Jessie was truely a pioneer woman.
I had the opportunity to know her for a portion of my early life. She died before I was nine. What I do remember is that I called her "Grape Grandma" when I was very young. I remember finally realizing that she was "Great Grandma". For some reason it fit her and calling her that was a hard habit to break!

I have a letter that she wrote me in 1962 when I was in 2nd grade. It says:
 Good morning dear Shari Hope you are well and enjoying school a lot. Is your teacher nice and kind? Do you sing songs in the morning and write on the black board to we use to. Is there lots of visitors come to your school. One time a man lost his pig. and he came to our school. just stuck his head in the door and said, "did any of you see a runt pig? it was funny.
lots of love.greatMa D.

She wrote many letters, several of them in my collection, but this one is very special to me. Her letters were typical in many ways. They told of everyday happenings; It is sprinkling now a good rain would be welcome - I have been with Anna & Chas 3 wks will go with Fern's when they come over- oats planting is the order of the day now that is what the deer like lots of nice feeding.
Sometimes it was other news that was on her heart; One of the schoolboys drowned here. it was sad funeral. he lived with his grandparents. It pays to be ready when the call comes.
Always, there was love of family and friends, a few pictures when she was trying to describe something, and a peek into her heart with expressions of happiness, sorrow, concern or disappointment but no sign of giving up.
She spent quite a bit of her time in her garden and those of her children as she got older and started traveling back and forth between their homes. She also wrote many songs in her 90 years and loved to

sing; especially with her husband, Arthur.
I am fortunate that I knew her for a few years of my life.

Pictures: 1) Arthur Robert Jarman Dibbens, JR family about 1911
2) Letter from Great "Grape" Grandma Dibbens to me (Shari) 1962
3) "Grape Grandma" holding my sister, Kristi, while I sit close by. 1957

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow on our farm in Wyoming - Wordless Wednesday

This is me a few years ago. When I was four (1959) we lived near Wheatland, Wyoming while Dad was working on a job with Eby Construction Company.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Simeon's Cave; Stepping Out in Faith - Past and Present Part 5

Every morning, Helen found the wood for their fire that was put there by their neighbor. They tired of cold food and began cooking warm food in a coffee can by placing it in the coals with a pair of pliers. The neighbor continued to leave wood and Helen learned how to cook at the hearth like a pioneer woman might have many years ago.
It was several days before the ice cleared enough for me to make it the 23 miles from my house to theirs to check on them and bring them a warm drink. Every phone visit had begun with the hope that the electric crews would reach their house that day, along with a firm declaration that they were doing fine. I found them in good spirits and watched as Helen showed me how they were cooking their food. The house was so cold I shivered the entire visit. Sixty five years together had made them good partners in this kind of adventure. I talked about finding a way to get them out of the house and into a shelter, but they were satisfied to wait where they were. Little did we know then that they would wait an entire week before the electricity would be repaired to their house. That winter, I discovered that the pioneer spirit is alive and well, more than a hundred years after wagons carried settlers to homesteads across Kansas.
It was nearly February, that winter of 1875, before the snow cleared enough for neighbors to help Simeon repair the roof on their soddy. The Swartz family thanked God that they had the cave when it was needed and that they had listened to and obeyed God despite the questions and doubts of their neighbors.
One hundred thirty years separate the blizzard of 1875 and the ice storm of 2005. The same years span the distance between Simeon and his great granddaughter, Helen. The difference in strength, courage, and faith between Helen and her great grandfather, Simeon Swartz, is far less.

Simeon’s story was taken from events recorded in
Simeon Swartz Family History: 1727 Ancestors to 1958 Descendents by Orvo Swartz

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Simeon's Cave; Stepping Out in Faith - Past and Present Part 4

When Harry and Helen woke on that cold, 5th day of January, the realization that life might be a little more difficult for awhile set in quickly. The temperature outside hadn’t risen and the inside temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees. With no electricity, the only option for Harry was his old wheelchair. Helen would have to push him for now; an enormous drop in his already diminished freedom. Bundled in coats, they made their way into the “not so cozy” living room. Helen rummaged in the kitchen for something they could eat without cooking. The rest of the day was filled with sitting, mostly in silence because of the cold. They recalled the firewood sitting neatly outside their house that would now be so helpful. At the time that they acquired it, it hadn’t seemed like such a blessing. It was red bud wood from the tree Helen had accidentally backed into a few months before, leading to the chopping down of the tree and the splitting and stacking of wood. Now, it was simple to see that God had provided fuel for the fireplace.
The events of the days of that week ran together for Harry and Helen. They slept, bundled in their clothes, coats, and blankets, and hoped for the electrical lines to be repaired before morning. They waited for lights, warmth and conveniences to return to their lives, along with thousands of other people across the city. The neighbor, next door, made trips each day to stack more of the red bud on the front porch so Helen could bring it in to keep the fire going. Family called them on their old-fashioned rotary telephone that they had held onto for so long, to check on them. Most people had abandoned their freezing homes, for warmer shelter, after the first few days as they waited for the lines to be repaired. That wasn’t an option for Harry because of the thick ice that still coated his wheelchair ramp.
The blizzard raged on for three days and nights and for the next three weeks of that cold January in 1875, the cave was their home. There was dried buffalo meat and a crock of corn mush, that Sarah had prepared the night before the storm, that satisfied their hunger. Simeon and his family ventured out to the sod house several times to search out things that they needed. It meant digging through five feet of snow that had settled into the four walls of their home. Digging out the cook stove allowed them some hot water and warm food cooked under the open sky. They waited for the weather to clear and thanked God for His providential care in urging them to dig the cave months before.

... to be continued ...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Simeon's Cave; Stepping Out in Faith - Past and Present Part 3

The freezing rain in Wichita, on that cold evening in 2005, turned to ice around the electrical lines beyond the view of the living room window and, before it was time for bed, the lights blinked throughout the house and went out, along with the furnace, leaving their home dark and growing cold. They had become accustomed to the electric wheelchair that helped Harry move around the main floor and the thought of the battery running low and needing to be plugged in for the next day urged them to get Harry out of the chair and into bed where he could try to stay warm. Surely the electricity would be back on by morning. No doubt there were prayers asking for safety for themselves but also for their family, before they fell asleep. The storm raged on into the dark hours of the night and the once cozy home turned cold. Even in the 21st Century there can be a pioneer moment.


Eight days into 1875, the weather turned cold. At twenty degrees below zero, it was colder than any other time Simeon experienced in the many years since that cold night. Along with the frigid air came snow in blizzard amounts. Sometime during the night, the raging wind carried the roof of the sod house up and away, leaving the family exposed to the blinding snow. It was their fourteen year-old son, Charley, who snapped them out of the shock and dismay of their situation by yelling for everyone to run for the cave.
Charley (center) and his family

... to be continued ...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Simeon's Cave; Stepping Out in Faith - Past and Present Part 2

Helen and Harry Edwards with grandson, Brandon Edwards
Four days into 2005, Harry and Helen sat in their living room watching through the window as an ice storm cover the world outside their house. Harry maneuvered his wheelchair to get a closer look into the darkness while Helen stood near him. They talked about whether or not the storm would cause them any problems. Harry had been in a wheelchair for more than a year, ever since a stroke had left one side of his body paralyzed while sparing his speech and mind. Helen cared for him by herself for much of the last year. They were getting close to their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary and were thankful that God had allowed them to continue to stay in their home. Reluctant to leave the house that Harry designed and built when their family was young, they had decided to make this situation work. Anything else would signal the end of one chapter of their lives and the beginning of one they weren’t ready for.
The cave was finished in September, 1874 and, between rainstorms, Simeon and his neighbors built the Swartz family a sod house. The settlers prepared the soil, once more, for a crop of wheat. In October, the men set off to hunt buffalo down in Oklahoma, hoping to replace the food the grasshoppers had devoured. They returned four weeks later, in time to celebrate the holidays with their families, bringing buffalo meat, one man with his arm in a sling from an accidental shooting but minus two horses, poisoned by bad water.

... to be continued ...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Simeon's Cave; Stepping Out in Faith - Past and Present Part 1 (The Whole Story in 5 Parts)

Several years ago, on a Sunday afternoon in Wichita, Kansas, I sat in the living room of my in-laws, Harry and Helen Edwards. I read from an old family history book that my sister-in-law had handed me. An autobiography that filled a chapter of the book was written by Helen’s great grandfather, Rev. Simeon Swartz and his children. Because of my interest in genealogy, I was immediately engrossed in Simeon’s story. As I read, I learned that Helen’s ancestors had their strength, courage and faith tested and proven much like the early members of my family, and the same as people sometimes are today.

The story that Simeon told was about a time soon after he and his wife, Sarah, brought their family from Woodford County, Illinois to Kansas in 1874. Simeon was a minister and he and Sarah trusted God to guide and protect them in their homesteading venture as they were headed into an area that had a reputation for being dangerous. Many times they prayed and relied on God; asking Him to guide their journey and give them direction in their lives. A few months after settling in Rice County, they had already experienced the ups and downs of life on the prairie. A baby had been born to them that summer and had died nine days later. A good corn crop had disappeared in three days, eaten by a huge cloud of grasshoppers. In the weeks that followed these heart-breaking, life-threatening, hunger-producing disasters, Simeon focused on God, scripture and prayer. After an entire week of seeking God, a mysterious thought came and settled in his mind. He felt that God was telling him to dig a cave on their land. The idea wouldn’t go away but instead grew stronger. He and his family dug the ten by twenty foot cave, amid questions from neighbors and friends. “What do you expect to do with a cave?” they asked. The only reply Simeon had for them was, “I might need it sometime.” The act of obeying what they believed God had asked of them relieved the feeling of despair and renewed their faith and courage to face what they thought might be a bleak future.

... to be continued...

Simeon’s story was taken from events recorded in

Simeon Swartz Family History: 1727 Ancestors to 1958 Descendents by Orvo Swartz