I’ve been looking through some books and photographs of the Dust Bowl.
The Children’s Blizzard, a book by a man named David Laskin, is “the gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier.”
My mother’s grandparents had arrived the year before, in 1887, from Germany with two of their children, Emil and Otillie, who was named after an aunt. What happened to these two no one knows. I’ve been looking and looking for years.
Obviously, death must have taken them away, since besides the immigration paperwork, they are never mentioned again. Did they get caught up in the blizzard like so many others? I will keep hunting for details. They deserve to be remembered and their stories told.
My great uncle died earlier this year, in February. He lived to the age of 101. Before his death, I interviewed him in-depth multiple times about his life and what he remembered.
He taught me a bunch, indulging what corn cribs are, the storms of the Dust Bowl, and a slew of humorous stories, his particular talent, which I wish had been documented in some way.
While living in Seattle, from 1939 to 1941, he was recorded in the phone book, which are quite hefty to lug around. He lived with the Neilson family, who came from the same South Dakota town as him, Lake Preston.
Nineteen forty-one was a pivotal year. Everett married his longtime girlfriend, his father died from cancer, and the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting America’s entry into the Second World War.
The death of his father, George Hay, impelled him and his newlywed wife to return to South Dakota, where he took over operation of the family farm, until doctor’s orders made him give it up in 1953, the year they returned to the Pacific Northwest, moving to a berry farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Friday, February 6, 1942
“This war has permitted another feminine invasion of a once strictly male job. Girls were running messages for a telegraph company here today and claiming that the customers liked it.”
A corporate food producer plans on building a big egg farm near Lake Preston, South Dakota, hometown of my grandmother and great grandparents. The place will house three million cage-free egg-laying hens. It sounds like it will be quite the operation.
I visited my great grandparents farmstead a few years back, during a family reunion. It was fun. I was there with my nephews and lots o’ cousins.
I don’t have many memories of the place, though cousins have told me that we did visit the homestead as kids. I do recall my great grandmother’s funeral, which must have been at the now-shuttered Methodist church in town. My younger brother was crying, having been scared by seeing her laying in an open casket.
There’s a museum in town with items related to the family, including a lot of her father’s items from his dentistry practice.
I spent quite a bit of time in South Dakota that summer and just scratched the surface doing research on the family. In Watertown, my mom’s hometown, I pored through microfilm of old newspapers for a few days and only got through a year or two.
I also learned that I had lived there for the first two years of my life, which I didn’t realize, as I was born in Iowa. I really need to get back there to explore some more. Maybe I should just pick up and go for a bit this summer.
An image of a photographer’s work was recently featured on the front page of the Capital Journal, the newspaper of Pierre, South Dakota, and it caught my eye.
In 1997, a South Dakota man and Rams fan made a decision on a whim. He was thinking of a way to honor his favorite team. Maybe creating a web site devoted to the history of his Rams would do it. So he bought the domain losangelesrams.com, which, now that the team is returning to Southern California, may be worth quite a chunk of change. He never did anything with it, but it may turn out to be a great investment.
It’s small and a bit pixelated, but I finally found an image of my mom’s side of the family before they came to America from Germany, I think. She has a very stern look upon her face. It’s my mother’s great aunt, Pauline Fromke, wife of Herman Lentz and mother of Julius Lentz. Mom sometimes stayed at Julius’ home when she visited her hometown — Watertown, South Dakota — including just after Grandma died in 1986. Previously, I did find other photos of the family, including an early one of Herman.
Yesterday I came across three documents¹ related to the premature death of my great-great-great grandfather John Shannon Boal. He must have known death was coming for him, because two weeks prior, on May 31ˢᵗ, 1878, he wrote up a will.
Little is known today about this branch of the family, primarily because of the untimely deaths, I think. The chain of traditions and stories being passed down from generation to generation was continually broken, which reminds me of a quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a favorite of mine which I feature separately on my blog’s main page.
“And some things
that should not have been
forgotten were lost.
History became legend.
Legend became myth.”
John’s eldest daughter, my great-great grandmother Nettie Boal, died young too, at the age of 26. His wife, her mother, died just shy of her 30th birthday. And the history, the tales, the anecdotes, went with them, sadly. I’ve been slowly, methodically gathering up what details I can.
Somehow the fact that Nettie had siblings, all sisters, had escaped the family tree that I had compiled from previous generations. I’d been working on it diligently for years, but somehow neglected this side until this year, when I discovered one sister and then another. And, now, thanks to the will, we have yet another.
Edna Boal had slipped through, unknown to us and perhaps even my great grandmother, Nettie’s daughter Geneva, who shared a middle name with her Aunt Stella. Three other sisters had passed unnoticed, too, for years: Estella, Blanche, and Jennie. Somehow they had been forgotten.
After I asked Grandma about Nettie’s sisters, she did recount what she knew. My grandmother remembers her mother telling her about visiting Aunt Blanche in California, when she took a trip west to see her younger brother Walter. But that’s about all we know. That’s it.
John apparently served during the Civil War. But I’ve been unable to find any record that he did.
It’s sad. These people, relatives, and their stories have been lost. One of my goals is to get back as much as we can, to restore their lives in our memories.