My great great grandparents, John E. Congleton and Almira Almy had a large family. But like most families in the 19th century, not all of their eleven children would make it to adulthood. Learning where each of them had been born allowed me to trace the meandering migration path they took across America which finally lead them to settle in California.
My father’s family has been in the United States for several generations and in some cases since before there was a United States. Both sides of his family arrived in Sonoma County, California fairly early on in the local history. His mother’s side of his line arrived in the 1850s, while his father’s side arrived in the 1870s.
My stepchildren were fortunate to spend a great deal of their childhoods in Arizona with their maternal grandparents, Cliff Hanlen and June Holland. This wonderful couple also recognized how much I cared about their grandchildren and they have always made me, their daughter’s ex-husband’s new wife, feel very much a part of their extended family. No DNA match required.
I grew up hearing stories about “Uncle Grabner” but until I started digging into our family history, I wasn’t exactly sure who this guy was. Turns out that Ferdinand Grabner and his wife, Katherine Pauli, were my great great grandparent’s best friends. The family legend was that Uncle Grabner had sent a photo of Sophie Scheuer to Ernest Taeuffer suggesting he marry her and that Ernest moved to California to do so. It makes a good story, but turns out it cannot have been true. The truth is that the two families were inseparable throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that they remained close friends even after the Grabners moved out of Healdsburg in the late 1920s.
The Taeuffer line goes back several generations in the Region of Alsace, Department of Bas-Rhin in France. Or sometimes in Germany. It all depended upon which country happened to have possession of the region at the time. The patriarch from each generation of the family going back at least 250 years has served as Mayor of the small town of Frohmuhl. Or sometimes they were Burgermeister, if Germany happened to be in charge.
Conducting research online can be productive and certainly is convenient. But there is nothing more satisfying than visiting an out-of-town repository and discovering something new about your ancestors. Traveling to the places that were important to our family can provide context and add texture to our understanding of their lives. Immersing yourself in the area where they lived and walking on the streets where they walked can really bring your ancestors to life. Of course it is always a bonus when they were thoughtful enough to choose a scenic place to live!
Here are just a few of my favorite places to visit to search for my California ancestors.
THE LIVES OF TWO FAMILIES INTERSECT
Both John Call and Mary Fulton were born in Scotland in the 1820s. Mary immigrated with her family to Canada while still a child. The family subsequently relocated to Rhode Island where Mary met and married John Call in 1844. They then moved to Massachusetts where their son, Finley, was born in in 1846. But unfortunately, the couple would not be blessed with any additional children of their own.
My great great grandmother began her life on February 14, 1861 in the tiny snow-bound village of Moscow, Minnesota as Agnes Vanderwalker. Sadly, her mother, Clarinda Stokes Vanderwalker, died in childbirth leaving her father, Isaac Vanderwalker, with six young children. When the Civil War broke out two months later, he decided it would be best to hand the infant over into the care of a local couple who wanted to expand their family. And after being adopted by John and Mary Call who, in 1870, relocated to a farm on Bailhache Avenue outside of Healdsburg, California, Agnes Vanderwalker Call did enjoy an idyllic childhood. [More details here.]
By the time Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton was 26 years old, she had already experienced a lifetime of tribulation. She had lost her mother at birth, been given away to the neighbors by her father, been relocated 2,000 miles from home by her adoptive parents, endured a “shotgun marriage” to a handsome ne’er-do-well, given birth to three children, lost a son to illness, and managed to obtain a divorce under the repressive laws of the 1880s.