Family History is Full of Blessings!

I have been taking a journey through the annals of time, through photocopies and photographs hidden in dusty filing cabinets, almost forgotten.  I have delved into old family papers to try and answer the questions: Where did I come from?  Who were my ancestors?  Who am I?  I have just scratched the surface, but I found some pretty great stuff!

My Mother’s Family

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My mother’s father (Harold Gisselman) was born to Erik and Anna Gisselman in Iowa after they immigrated from Sweden.  They later settled in Wisconsin.  I wrote about Harold in “Will I See My Papa Again?”  Harold was such a wonderful story teller and I wish he was still here to tell me all about his wonderful family and what his parents remembered about their lives in Sweden.

My mother’s mother’s side of the family holds a rare treasure called “Shilling Genealogy and History” by Anna Schilling Wichman.  She tells the story of her grandparents, Johann and Justina Schilling.  Johann was born in Brandenburg, Germany.  I was very excited to learn that fact since that is my husband’s family name and now my name as well!   He was a wine maker and barrel maker. That fact also excited me since we have a son named “Cooper” which means “barrel maker!”

They immigrated to Wisconsin in 1858 where he became a farmer.  When wheat raising declined, “With the help of his son, Frank, driving teams hitched to sleighs loaded with the family belongings, they came north through the state which at that time was almost unbroken wilderness, with only a few rough roads blazed through the jack pine and scrub oak.”

Johann purchased an 80 acre tract of land in the vast forests of Marathon County and built a farm that was sold to his son, Frank in 1894 for $1.00.  Frank Shilling was described by the author (who was also his daughter) as, “Always an industrious farmer and always a humble, faithful Christian.”  His wife, Anna, was “one of the sweetest, noblest women whose life has ever brightened this earth.”

This lovely couple had 8 children, one of whom was my great-grandmother Amelia.  Amelia was, “an industrious woman, strong in character, had an unwavering trust in God, which was her strength and shield, and enabled her to meet the adversities of life with calmness and fortitude.”  She became Amelia Seipp and had two children, the firstborn being my grandmother LaVera, “a woman of grace and dignity.”  I wrote about LeVera in “Happy 100th Birthday Grammy!”  LaVera married Harold Gisselman and had one child, Dana.  Dana married George Beyer and had two children.  That is me and my brother!

I am very thankful to know of my trailblazing, hardworking, God-fearing ancestors from Sweden and Germany who settled in Wisconsin.

My Father’s Family

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My father’s side of the family is more of a mystery to me.  My father was a historian and a writer, but he never compiled a history of his own family. How I wish that I could talk with Dad again about all that he knew of his past.  How I wish that I had more interesting questions to ask of his parents (Leonard and Edna Beyer) back when they were alive, more important than, “Where are Dad’s old Lincoln Logs?” or  “Can I watch TV now?”

I have to piece together their lives with the papers and photographs that my dad had saved.  A pile of matted photos, faded and yellowed with age, taken by Leonard Beyer tell me that he was an amazing photographer.  His photos of plants, animals, and landscapes were taken in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, England and Italy.  My daughter Areli has inherited his love of both traveling and photography (and his talent as well)!

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Leonard’s father was Andrew Jackson Beyer, who I know nothing about except that he perhaps owned an ice cream shop and possibly served as a judge.

His mother was Virginia Keyser.  I have extensive paperwork on the Keyser family, generated when they held a Bicentennial Family Reunion.  It was Dirck Keyser of Amsterdam, a prominent dealer of silk goods, who first immigrated to what is now Pennsylvania in 1688.  He responded to an invitation from William Penn because he was, “desiring to worship God in all freedom.”

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The Keyser family was quite proud of their earliest known predecessor, Leonhard Keyser of Bavaria.  He broke from the Catholic Church, of which he had been a priest, to become an Anabaptist.  The Reunion states that “he put aside the mystery and absurdity of the Latin tongue, and went among the people talking to them in their own language…what they should do to be saved.”

An account of his martyrdom was recorded in Martyrs Mirrors from two separate but very similar reports. “…in the year 1525, and forthwith continued his ministry with great power and zeal, undaunted by all the tyranny which arose over the believers, in the way of drowning, burning and putting to death.  Acts 9:20 In the second year of his ministry, Leonhard Keyser was apprehended at Scharding, in Bavaria, and condemned by the bishop of Passau…to be burned…When he came out into the field, and was approaching the fire, he, bound, as he was, leaned down at the side of the cart, and plucked a flower with his hand, saying to the judge, who rode on horseback alongside of the cart: ‘Lord judge, here I pluck a flower; if you can burn this flower and me, you have justly condemned me; but, on the other hand, if you cannot burn me and this flower in my hand, consider what you have done and repent.’  Thereupon the judge and the three executioners threw an extraordinary quantity of wood into the fire, in order to burn him immediately to ashes by the great fire.  But when the wood was entirely burned up, his body was taken from the fire uninjured.  Then the three executioners and their assistants built another great fire of wood, which when it was consumed, his body still remained uninjured…and the flower in his hand, not withered, or burnt in the least, the executioners then cut his body into pieces, which they threw into a new fire.  When the wood was burned up, the pieces lay unconsumed in the fire.  Finally they took the pieces and threw them into the river Inn.”

I cannot even comprehend what a legacy of devotion to God and courage I have inherited from Leonhard!

My father’s mother, Edna Specht Beyer, I also know very little about.  A few stories written by Edna give a peek into their lives.  “Something Very Personal” was an article about how they met and married.  “My Grandfather’s Place” was written about her paternal Grandparents who came from Germany.  Something wonderful happened to me as I read my grandmothers recollections.  Previously I had only ever seen her as a very proper, old woman.  As I read her writing, I realized that she wasn’t always old.  She was actually once a young woman very much like me, with a love for reading, writing, and teaching. The way she viewed her grandparents and their home was very similar to how I had always seen her and her home.  In fact, I had written sentiments so similar to her own, years prior in my article, “The Term is Over.”   She describes her grandparent’s house as a special place where nothing ever changed.  Her grandparents’ yards was like a magical fairy land to her as a child.

Edna and I also shared the same sorrow when we returned years later to see the place very much changed by new ownership and the wonder stripped to the barren look of any, common subdivision.  I feel so much closer to Grandmother Beyer now and want to know more about her heritage.  She actually felt that same way about her grandparents.

In fact she wrote, “It seems strange to me now that I remember Grandfather’s place so well but know so little about my grandparents.  How I would love to visit them again and get them to talk of their childhood in Europe, of their parents’ decision to come to America, of the long trip over in a sailing vessel, of the hard years in a new country… But of important things about their lives, I know very little except that they had always been honest, hardworking, God-fearing.”

It is a shame that neither Edna nor I thought to ask the really interesting questions while our grandparents were still alive.  Yet God holds all our past in His hands, and will reveal what is important in His good time.

It is also true that written accounts usually highlight the good and minimize the bad.  Exodus 20: 5b-6 (NLT) says, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”  We have all observed how the bad decisions and weaknesses of the grandparents and parents have a negative impact on the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the children.  We all have those negative influences in our families. Yet Jesus died to set us free from every curse!  His blood brings healing from every destructive thing in our family lines.

God is such a loving Father that His blessings extend down family lines, not just for three or four generations, but for a THOUSAND GENERATIONS!

I have been asking for all those blessings to fall on my generation, on my children, and on my grandchildren.  I think God loves those kind of prayers, because He carefully chose the specific details of my lineage, and He would delight if I lived in the fullness of all that He had placed there!  I can also feel His joy as I discover those blessings, one by one.  May my children also experience that joy as they read my writing, years from now, when they remember all that they wished they had asked me.

Something Very Personal By Edna Specht Beyer

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I am pleased to introduce my first guest blogger, Edna Specht Beyer, my paternal grandmother.  She actually passed away when I was in elementary school, and I never knew her very well.  Recently my mother uncovered some of Edna’s writings, and I have gotten to know her much better.  It turns out that she was a writer like me.  Or maybe I am a writer like her.

                I had heard that Edna had met her husband Lenard through a personal ad in the newspaper.  The story was so vague that it never seemed real to me.  Well, now I have the true story, told by Edna herself.

“Something Very Personal”

By Mrs. Lenard K. Beyer

GREETINGS from corn belt!  Isolated young woman, book-worm, wishes interesting correspondence.  Favorite novel, “Old Wives’ Tale”; favorite Waltz, Blue Danube; favorite sport, hiking; favorite dog, Irish Setter. Pet aversion, bridge.  Yours?  Corn Belt Miss.

 Sitting in a corner of my quiet little room one November afternoon a good many years ago, I scribbled the above lines in lead pencil.  This originated one of the small human interest ads that filled a back page of “The Saturday Review of Literature” each week.  Having gotten around to launching into this journalistic adventure I had had no idea what I was going to write when I tentatively jotted down my friendly opening line.   After a puzzled five or ten minutes another sentence formed rather limpingly.  Then an idea popped into my head, and the mention of a book I loved gave me enthusiasm.  Now I really got under way!  Dashingly I wrote other favorites, and recklessly topped them with something I really hated, “per aversion, bridge.”  Signing off with “Yours? Corn Belt Miss”, I felt flushed and excited.  Filled with a sense of wonder at what I was doing, I went to my desk and clicked off a copy on my portable typewriter.  Rereading my paragraph neatly typed, I thought it looked pretty good.

Rereading the same paragraph today in a yellowed copy of a 1933 magazine I am surprised at how gay and casual it seems in the company of the “Cultured, widely traveled” woman and the young man “with no degrading habits”.  I know not whether these more dignified neighboring ads brought any results.  I do feel sure that none of the other “personals” on the page could have had more important consequences to their writers than my own lively little paragraph.

But as I sat in my room rereading my neatly typed copy I expected nothing in particular, although I felt excited and filled with a vague sense of adventure.  What fun it would be to look in the mail hoping to find letters from persons with similar interests — anyone, anywhere.  How thrilling the possibilities of bursting the boundaries of one’s familiar environment!  What interesting friendships might come to me!  And perhaps even —- romance, whispered a sly little inner voice.  But no, I silenced the silly suggestion with my school teacher’s sensibleness and authority.

Then an incident occurred which might have kept me from mailing my “personal”.  There was an imperative knock at my door and my mother called to me announcing a long distance call from another part of the state.  It proved to be an offer of a teaching position which had to be accepted or refused immediately.  It was accepted.  But in the midst of packing shopping and getting ready to leave for school the “personal” was not quite forgotten.

“You are not going to send that now?” was my mother’s dubious question in regard to my silly little experiment.

But it seemed that I did want to send it.  So I counted the words, wrote a check to the editor and addressed an envelope to the magazine.  And in my haste I did not forget to include the stamps that were to bring me the letters from the interested readers of my “personal”.  However, I had all but lost interest in my experiment.  As I dropped the letter at the post office on a trip down town to shop for dresses and shoes for the schoolroom I was too preoccupied to feel any continued sense of adventure.  I had entirely gotten over my thrill at bursting out of my little prison of conventionality.  So I rushed on to my shopping and packing.  I was starting to teach once more, and it seemed like any other Fall except that it was six weeks late and I must hurry.

One sunshiny morning in October almost a year later I was waiting in a state of high excitement for a Ford V8 to turn into our driveway.  I have never experienced at any other time such a strange mixture of thrills, curiosity, hopes, fears and excitement as the morning that I waited for Lenard to arrive after his long trip.  Lenard and I had corresponded for most of the preceding year, our letters steadily increasing in number and intimacy as the time went on.  I had spent hours and hours writing to him and he to me.  Early in the correspondence he had told me of the pitiful tragedy of the loss of his wife and new-born child.005  I felt all too strongly how much the letters from the girl in the west had come to mean to him.  As I started at the approach of each passing car I was almost overwhelmed by my sense of responsibility at letting him drive a thousand miles to meet me.  As I peered at the girl in the mirror in my room I wondered again and again if I would look like the person that he had built up in his mind out of the many snap shots that I had sent him.

And he — would he really be like his pictures and letters?

Early in the morning I had put on my nicest house dress and arranged my unruly black curls as smoothly as possible.  Since then I had wandered restlessly and nervously about the house waiting for a car with an eastern license plate to drive in. Should I have let him drive that thousand miles to see the girl of the letters?  Would I come up to his ideal?  Would I like him?  Could we take off where our letters had left off?  When we met face to face would we be the same persons that each had thought he was writing to?  Or would we be really strangers?  I knew what music he liked, what books he read, what views he held on many subjects, what his hobbies were, what he liked for breakfast.  But I didn’t know the sound of his voice, how he walked, what mannerisms he had.  How would we react to each other?  How would our personalities “mix” when we were together in the flesh?  The hours dragged on and I began to think that perhaps he wouldn’t arrive that day after all.  I went about doing some housework absent-mindedly.  It was nearly lunch time now.  By this time I had begun to just glance at the cars going by.  Then suddenly my Mother’s, “There’s a car ——-“.

“It isn’t ——–?”

“Yes it is ———-a Ford V8 and he is driving in.”

Now that my “big moment” had arrived I became suddenly fussy about going out to meet “him”.  My hair needed smoothing and so forth.  Finally with my heart seeming to stand still I hurried to the door.

“Edna,” asked the young man at our front door.

“Yes.”

“How are you?”

“Why – a — I’m so excited I don’t know what to do.”  It was the last thing I had meant to say.  We looked at each other uncertainly for a moment and then a little blankly.  After all our months of writing, waiting for each other’s letters, and counting on each other, we seemed practically strangers at that moment.  He seemed a very nice young man, even finer than I had imagined.  And he was better looking.  But he seemed to be another person.  With bewilderment I felt that the person I thought I had been writing to for the past eleven months had never existed and someone slightly resembling him stood in his place.  His voice was the greatest surprise.  He had a quicker, almost hasty way of speaking.  And I was overwhelmed by the unlikeness of the real person from his pictured likenesses.  And in my confusion I realized that without a doubt he was feeling the same way about me.  A few minutes later I was helping him carry in things from his car and showing him his room in our home.  Somewhat gropingly we were trying to make conversations based on our letters.

The next two or three days I like to pass over even in my own thoughts.  I still feel strained and embarrassed when I think of that stage of our experiment.  Then one dull October afternoon when we were walking in the deserted natural park near my home, we sat down on a park bench and faced the situation together.  We did not really know each other very well, it seemed, and there was great doubt of our achieving the deep feeling and companionship that we both wanted so much. Strange as it may seem, that painful admission brought a new sense of understanding between us.

Then a few days later, on Halloween Eve, we experienced a sense of revelation.  I will never forget that evening — the tang of the Fall outside, the mantel decorated with pumpkins and autumn leaves, the cheerful open fire and the magic of our feeling for each other.  And being entirely feminine I will always keep the dress that I wore that night, the one of midnight-blue with the frilled collar and cuffs and the full swirling skirt that Lenard liked so much.  After that enchanted All Hallows Eve the days and evenings passed all too fast.

Early one crisp frosty morning we stood together in front of my home saying reluctant good-byes.  Lenard was about to retrace the thousand mile trip that he had made alone to see a young woman he had discovered in a magazine  I said that we must put the third of a continent between us once more before deciding that we were sure.  I myself felt entirely sure, but wanted to give him every chance to know his own heart in regard to the girl that might fill the empty place in his life.  As he drove off I stood watching as long as I could see him.  Then I stood alone once more shivering in my wooly white sweater and wondering whether, if I pinched myself, the past two weeks would turn out to be a dream. But many letters and telegrams the next few weeks reassured me that my happiness was all very real.

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002At noon two days before the following New Years, Lenard and I stood before the holly and evergreen decorated fireplace of my home and exchanged marriage vows before a local minister.  A few days later his friends were surprised by the news that he had married a bride in the west.  And my friends were equally puzzled by the announcements that I had married an easterner and gone east to live.  Only one of his friends and one of mine have ever learned how it happened.  Even yet we are sometimes startled by the innocent question, “And how did you meet?” A staid college professor and his faculty wife can hardly answer that it was through the “personal” column of a magazine.

To the natural question of the reader as to how it has turned out I can answer more frankly and say that we seem happier than most of our friends.

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Edna, Lenard, and George

And not long ago Lenard and I told each other that if we had it to do over we would repeat our unconventional romance.  Other results of that little “personal” of years ago are occasional nature articles that we write and publish together, a home that we think is lovely and a son who is a leader in the religious and social work of his city.

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Edna and Lenard’s son, George, my father

Lenard and I and more especially our son often marvel at the part that chance in the form of a small item in a magazine can play in life.

I hope you have all enjoyed reading my Grandmother Beyer’s true story as much as I have!  I think she and I have a similar style of writing.  I am so happy to know her better and to realize that I share in her heritage.  Now I think I will go curl up with Edna’s favorite novel as stated in her personal ad, Old Wives’ Tale, and see it we share the same taste in books.

The Term is Over: the Holidays Have Begun

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It doesn’t take much.  Just a cool breeze, the smell of bread in the toaster, or the sound of a train whistle.  I am transported to my carefree childhood summers, spent at my maternal grandparents’ home in Wisconsin.  The memories flood my mind and I am filled with a sense of peace and order…and a terrible longing to go back there again.  Not just to the home, but to the time when I didn’t have the responsibilities of adulthood on my shoulders.  To the time when my days consisted of sitting in the sun reading an old book I found in the attic (like Louisa May Alcott’s Old Fashioned Girl), or feeding chipmunks out of my hand, or playing Cowboys and Indians in the yard.

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The memories are a bit fuzzy and golden with age.  I remember more of the good and less of the bad.  I remember the cleanliness and order of the home, the cool wood floors and the shaggy aqua carpet.  I remember the wall paper in the kitchen, decorated with pictures of fanciful boutiques.

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I remember eating Papa’s homemade rhubarb jam at the kitchen table that boasted an eating surface made entirely of glass.  How enchanting that table seemed to me.  It was like the table in Alice in wonderland through which a shrunken Alice saw the all important key.  The tragedy of being able to see your heart’s desire but being unable to reach it was not lost on me.

I remember the sun room that served as the bedroom for my brother and me on those summer nights.  We would lie on the perfect sofas, full of swirling colors and patterns from the 60s and listen to Alice and Wonderland on the record player as we were falling asleep.

I said goodbye to my grandmother at her funeral on a frigid Wisconsin winter day.  I felt like I wanted to say goodbye to her home as well, which contained most of my memories of her.  My husband drove me to 921 Humbolt Ave.  Grammy had sold it years before, but I was surprised by how different it looked.  Sure, it was surrounded with snow rather than all the greens and reds and oranges of summer.  But it just wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered it.  And there was a hot tub outback were Grammy’s cucumbers used to grow!  Was it that my memories were just better than reality…or had the place really changed so much under new ownership?  One thing was clear to me; I could never physically return to the place that had brought me such joy.  I could never relive the memories in that house of the people who were so dear.  I felt a grief flood my soul at the irrevocable loss.

I felt a similar grief and bewilderment when I drove past the childhood home of my father after his passing.  I had wonderful memories of that little house as well, the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Beyer.  The yard was like a fairy wonderland, full of trees and ferns and mosses, dotted with bird seed for the always welcomed feathered friends.  The inside was always exactly the same.  Every piece of furniture, every old and charming knickknack, just where it had been the last visit, always polished and dusted.  The only change I remember over the years was the addition of a large TV the sat on the floor.  My brother and I thought we had hit the jackpot as we watched the early years of MTV on that TV.

Grandfather always had to show us some wildlife slides, play a classical piece on his record player, or read us the Robert Louis Stevenson poem about how the robin ate the “fellar raw.”  He would always let out a loud chuckle after he read that line. Grandmother wanted to sit on the sofa with us and read Snip, Snap, and Snur.

Their kitchen always smelled like coffee and contained one of my favorite treats…malted milk tablets.  The upstairs had beds for all of us, a strange bath tub, and a little kitchen that we never used.  We visited during the Thanksgiving holiday each year.  I remember my mom addressing what seemed to be hundreds of Christmas cards, spread out over their living room.

When we drove past the home after my father’s internment, I was shocked at what I saw.  The yard had been cleared of most of the trees and looked barren.  The house was tiny and rather unpleasant.  What had happened to the 75 Prospect Street that I remembered.  It was gone forever…and I mourned that loss.

But are they truly gone?  Need we mourn when something beautiful on this earth passes away, or is destroyed, or is changed beyond recognition?  I found a lovely picture of hope in The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis.  It is one of my favorite books containing one of my favorite descriptions of heaven.  The Pevensie children, along with their Narnian companions, find themselves in a beautiful land after Narnia had been destroyed.  They grieved for their beloved land, but they began to notice that this new place was oddly familiar.

  “Kings and Queens,” he (Farsight the Eagle) cried, “we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are.  From up there I have seen it all – Ettinsmuir, Beaversdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea.  Narnia is not dead.  This is Narnia.”…

            “The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen  Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of.  But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end.  It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a show or copy of something in Aslan’s real world.  You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy.”

I believe that it is true.  We need not mourn over what we lose here in the shadow lands.  All that is stunning and marvelous and true and real and loved in this world will be healed and restored and renewed and made to be all that it was intended to be from the beginning.  All that is precious to us in this life is being kept safe for us in the “real” life that we will someday enter into, if we trust Jesus to take us there.

Then we will say, like the noble Unicorn in Narnia, “I have come home at last!  This is my real country! I belong here.  This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

We will hear Aslan (Jesus) say, “The term is over: the holidays have begun!”

And it will be a holiday full of sights, sounds, aromas,  and tastes that are as familiar as being home for Christmas, cozy and surrounded by family.  Yet they will be brighter, fuller, more majestic, and more magnificent than anything we had ever imagined.  After millions and millions of years, the wonder of it all will still be fresh and new.  All mourning will be long forgotten and our joy will be everlasting!