My relatives moved to the Great Black Swamp; ancient beaches of Lake Erie lay beneath the forests that they quickly felled and drained to farm. Mosquitoes, wolves, bears and bobcats lingered, so this was the last part of Ohio to be established by Europeans. Now I know.
Isn’t it peculiar to think that someone would hand this information in an envelope to my mother last week, after I’d wondered about it, wrote about it? Probably not that peculiar. God works like that.
“The wolves were particularly bold … It certainly took a steadfast will and determination for the early settlers to remain in the great black swamp,” wrote a team of my distant cousins in this short family history, long on names for this big Catholic family, and even a few anecdotes — anecdotes! One of my way-back uncles died climbing his sycamore tree to see an eagle’s nest. Another tried to secretly marry his widowed sister-in-law at 6:30 in the morning, but it’s apparently always been difficult to keep a secret in that town. “Everyone” came to wish them well.
There’s a Xeroxed map of Germany with this branch’s hometown on it. Our county was settled by two Catholic priests in 1834, who traveled with seven families to Buffalo, down Lake Erie to Detroit. This particular branch of our family tree arrived shortly thereafter. Nicolas Heinrich S., was a shoemaker and a farmer who bought 40 acres from the government for $50. He buried three of his young kids.
Few roads, no close neighbors, a flood that devastated the crops in 1834: “Life was hard for the early pioneers and I would bet that every one of them wished that they had stayed in Germany ..,” my genealogy-loving cousins guessed.
That. Haven’t I felt that, too? Not Germany, of course, but this story is ours, too.
“Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.”
Carl Linstrum says in “O Pioneers!”, written by Willa Cather
Like a vacation slideshow, this information isn’t really important unless, as my neighbor says, “It changes my life in the next 20 minutes.”
Does it? Does it matter that I know this?
Maybe not in the next 20 minutes, no. But before I tuck this gift of knowledge away in a box — I assure you, genealogy isn’t where this blog is headed — I note Nicolas’ son Carl Christoph came to America as a 7-year-old with his parents, and it was hard before they left — two young siblings buried in Germany — but it was hard when they got here, too. Because life is, but we move on. Carl had John, who had August, who had Grandpa.
We’re stick-it-out people. That’s reaffirming. And we go, too. We’re going people.
And we’ve been bothered by Midwestern mosquitoes since 1834.
But I bet we all are stick-it-out and going people, by degrees, if only we’d pick up the narrative that’s been going since the Beginning.
And now, I look forward.