I’ve never met or even been remotely acquainted with anyone who shares my birthday (April 24). I know of no fewer than three people who share a birthday on April 26, and even Katie has already encountered two other kids with the same birthday as hers. (Now that I’ve put that out there, no fewer than 15 people will comment that their great-aunt’s sister’s husband’s cousin once removed has a birthday on April 24.)
But what has happened TWICE on my actual birthday is I’ve gotten an email from a distant relative, looking for genealogy information. Genealogy is one of those things I pursued several years ago – you know, before adding my own sapling. It still interests me, I just don’t have the time to pursue it; genealogy is a hobby that requires a lot of dedication and patience.
This year, on my birthday, I’ve connected with relatives in Alaska and Norway via a great-great-grandmother. I have very little to go on with regard to Helene Nore; she was married to August Yager, a wagon maker by trade, and they had three children. While my dad remembers August (my dad, his mother, and August all lived with August’s daughter and son-in-law for a time during WWII), Helene passed away long before my dad was born.
Census records showed August living with his three children in 1910, 1920 and in 1930. The 1930 census shows Helene living in the Nebraska Institute for the Insane – and when I first saw that, I recalled something from a genealogy course I took – often times menopausal women were committed or institutionalized and it wasn’t uncommon to see Mom, Dad, kids altogether in one census, mom gone the next census, and then mom back with dad for the following census (after all of those hot flashes and hormonal swings passed, I guess!) But it seems Helene was in the Institute from sometime prior to 1910 until her death in 1936, and one of my new connections has found that August & Helen’s kids were turned over to an orphanage for a while, so things must’ve been pretty bad. I’ve made feeble attempts to get the records, but am thwarted by privacy laws (yes, even after all of these years … time to sic my brother, the attorney, on this little task, now that my interest is peaked again).
But Helene’s institutionalization isn’t the only odd or unusual story on the family tree. Several years ago, pre-Katie, I got another birthday email, this time from a woman in Canada. She indicated that she had a picture that might be of interest to me. She described the picture as one of three little boys, and on the back it noted the boys were named William (aged 8), Paul (aged 6) and Allen (aged 5), it was taken in Lanark, IL, in 1923 and was signed “your brother, Will”.
I had posted to a message board several years before getting that email, looking for information on a great-grandfather who was adopted by his grandparents. ‘Adoption’ in the 1870s is sort of loosey-goosey; you pretty much lived with whoever took you in, and there wasn’t typically a paper trail. I’d posted all of the relevant facts about my great-grandfather, one William Orus Kunce: spouse, kids, all applicable dates and places. And I didn’t hear a peep for several years until that email landed in my inbox. Well, those are the names of my great-uncles, and my grandmother was born in 1923 in Lanark, IL, so unless there was some weird parallel universe out there, this had to be my family.
Notice I didn’t say she attached the picture to the email.
We exchanged a few emails and at one point, I asked one of the boys in the picture was wearing a sailor suit – I have a copy of that picture, and “Billy” is very cute in his little sailor outfit, standing behind his two brothers. A sweet picture.
A short time later I got an email response with the picture attached. Billy, Paul and Al were standing behind a Model T in what looked to be a grassy field. Wearing white robes. With hoods.
My great-grandfather had taken his three young sons to a KKK rally.
Skip came running into the study when I saw the picture – I’m sure I gasped and let out some OMGs and who knows what else came flying out of my mouth. To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
I asked my grandmother about that picture, and she remembered it very well, although she didn’t have a copy. Grandma recalled the time when her mother, Bessie, was sorting through pictures, and Bessie tore the picture into several pieces. Bessie did not like that her husband had belonged to the Klan, although Grandma told me that William left the Klan upon becoming a Christian.
And … the woman in Canada almost didn’t come into possession of that picture. She’d met with an elderly woman who shared many Kunce pictures and stories, but the older lady held the KKK picture back until the last minute. Probably a good call – not exactly something you want to whip out when first meeting someone, although it is a good conversation piece, I guess.
So now I’m back all excited about the family tree game. Some of it is the thrill of connecting with new people far and wide, and some of it is a little bit of anxiety … other people find out they’re related to Queen Victoria or they can trace their roots back to the Mayflower. Not me, I’ve got institutionalized people and Klansmen in my tree.
Oh well – public office is overrated anyway.