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
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
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)!
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.”
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.