Monday, January 28, 2008

Guests for Dinner

Mr. Joseph Josiah Robbins
Newfield Township, Oceana County, Michigan

Mrs. Mary "Polly" (Wyckoff) Crothers Chappel
Millington Township, Tuscola County, Michigan

Mr. Franklin Preston Midkiff
Lincoln (now Moore) County, Tennessee

Mrs. Berber J. "Barbara" (DeJong) Valk
1315 West Leonard Street
Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan

You are cordially invited to attend a dinner
held in your honor at the home of your descendants,
Norm and Miriam (Robbins) Midkiff,
Spokane, Spokane County, Washington
at 6 o'clock in the evening
on Friday, February 1st,
in the Year of Our Lord, 2008.

What a fascinating opportunity I would have if it were possible to invite these four ancestors to dinner! We would undoubtedly sit long into the wee hours of the night while I enjoyed their tales of the past and amazed them with the technology of the present. Here's what you might overhear me say, if you could also be present at the meal:

"Joseph, my fourth-great-grandfather, I know your father's name was George, but was he one and the same as George Washington Robbins who married Abigail Hicks? And that other George Robbins in Oceana County, was he your brother or some other relation? Tell me more about your first wife, Joe, Emeline C. What was her maiden name? Why, no one in the family had even heard about her until I obtained your pension record! And speaking of your Civil War days, did you really get captured by the Confederates and spend time in Andersonville?...because I can't find any evidence of that. I'm thinking your son Charlie was a bit of a tale-teller, or perhaps was a bit confused in his old age when he was interviewed by a reporter about your military experiences. He said you served in the War with Mexico and then started off to California during the Gold Rush but decided to come back home. Is this true? By the way, was Grandma your cousin? I mean, a woman named Marinda Robbins marrying a man named Joseph does make me wonder. And what was up with her surly old man, Uzza the blacksmith with the black temper? Sounds like he was a bit mentally unstable: poisoning his second wife with arsenic in her bean soup, and caving in the head of his son with an anvil, it appears. That surely must have been a scandal, and no wonder none of us for several generations had heard about it...until my friend Google helped me uncover the story! Good grief, what is with your obsession with the name Ben? Five sons, and three of them named Ben, Benjamin, and Benson! Did your daughter-in-law Viola ever tell you what she knew about her father Nelson H. Peck? Because he's another brick wall for me. Brick wall. It's kind of hard to explain. Yes, I know I'm being a pest, but just one more question: what happened to your daughter Evaline? Did she marry Joseph Lyttle, or was that another Evaline? If it's the same one, I need you to sign an affidavit, because the Oceana County Clerk has Evaline's maiden name as Stewart, not Robbins. You could really help me out here, Joseph, and I'm so glad you came for dinner! Now, let me show you how this TV works.'s short for television, and it's quite amazing..."

"Grandma Polly, it's so nice to meet you at last! You're my fourth-great-grandmother, you know. I've admired your needlework for many years now. Yes, I'm the one that has your lovely cross stitch sampler that you made nearly two centuries ago. I've been taking good care of it, and I hope that it remains in the family for many more generations! Polly, I do need to know more about Grandpa John Crothers: can you tell me more about his life? When and where he was born, who his parents and siblings were, how you met, and yes, please tell me the sad story of his death. I heard he drowned in the Erie Canal, but that might be hearsay. It must have been so difficult being left with seven children, or is that number correct? I do know you had seven in 1840, but I only know five of their names for sure. Was Moses one of your sons? I've been checking into him and I've long suspected he was yours! How did you meet your second husband, William Chappel? And what became of daughter Euphema? I can't find her after 1860. Goodness, I don't even know what happened to you and William after 1880! I've looked online in death and cemetery records for Millington Township and you've been very elusive! Did you go live with one of your children in a different county in your elder years? I can't find a death or burial place for you anywhere! You know, you come from a long, proud line of Wyckoffs who trace their roots back to New Netherlands and your immigrant ancestor, Peter Claesen Wyckoff, who came over in 1637 on the ship Rensselaerwick. But your mother's line (sigh)...I can't find much. Tell me more about her, that Elizabeth Mainard. I see that Cornelius Mainard is buried in the same cemetery as your parents; isn't he your uncle? Wait, Polly, you can't put a metal spoon in the microwave..."

"Frank, I honestly don't know whether to shake your hand or just shake you. Why when you died so young, you left your poor widow Ellender (yes, I know you always called her Nellie) with at least five little ones to raise. Yes, I know there were two other girls, but there's no mention of them after 1840. I don't even know their names. When Nellie died later on, your kids were still pretty young and had to do a lot of fending for themselves. Except for Ann, they all took off for Texas. You'd be proud of them. After all, your descendants founded the little community of Midkiff, Texas! And who in the world were your parents? Someone tried to tell me they were John Midkiff and Cathy Miller, but your sons' names are full of clues to family surnames, I think: William Franklin, John Rufus and Charles Anderson. I kind of figured you all came from Virginia, seeing how Isaiah and Hasten Midkiff, your neighbors, hailed from there. You see, we have this DNA Project going (hang on, I'll explain later) and it shows that all the Midkiffs we've tested so far are related. Well, maybe that's obvious to you, but not to us here in 2008. We're still trying to figure out how these three and four different lines connect and how the Midkiffs came over to this continent. Do you have any family stories to share? I mean, it's kind of odd that we can trace your wife's Oliver ancestry back two hundred years or more, but yours kind of deadends. Norm, let's get a picture of you with your great-great-great-grandfather. Now, Franklin, that there is a remote for the stereo, and you need to be careful with it. You're increasing the volume and if you hit the "mute" button, our ears are going to get AAAAHHHHH!...give me that!"

"Hello, Barbara, I'm your great-great-granddaughter. Of all the guests tonight, you are the only one I've had an idea of what you looked like before we met. See these family photos? I've also had the pleasure of standing at your grave, and that of your husband and mother-in-law...the first ancestral graves I ever visited, back in 2000. I'd love to hear the stories of your growing up years in the Netherlands and how you came over to the U.S. in 1882 with your fiance', James. I actually found your names on the Surrey's passenger list, and even found a photo of the ship. Now, Barbara, I really need to know when and where you were born for sure, and the names of your parents. See, I'm guessing you were born in the municipality of Ferwerderadeel, Friesland like your husband was, probably in the village of Westernijkerk. But I think someone forgot to turn in your birth information to the authorities, and it never got written down! I know your father's name was Sjoerd deJong, but who was your mother? Let me guess...Janna (Jennie) or Grietje (Gertrude). See, I know how the Dutch name their children, and you kept naming your girls Catherine (for your mother-in-law), Jennie and Gertrude; even when one of your little girls died, you'd give the next one the same name. I'm sorry you and James lost so many children. It must've been so hard. You know, I've seen lists of deJongs at the Westernijkerk church yard online, and even one named Sjoerd, but he would have been too old to be your father...was he a grandfather? "Online" means on the Internet; let me show you this computer. It's like a window to the world. No, it's not black magic. There's nothing evil about it! Trust me..."

Oh, it would be an interesting evening for sure! Who would be more fascinated, more thrilled, more excited, we or our guests? Too bad we'll never know!


TheGeneticGenealogist said...

What a GREAT post, and hilarious too! I really, really enjoyed it. I've considered this a few times myself, but it would be so hard to only choose a table-full of people to talk to. Do you pick the people who can help clear brick walls, or do you pick the people you know lots about because they were so interesting? Think of all the information you could learn in just 30 minutes of talking!

Miriam Robbins said...

Thanks for your kind words, Blaine! Glad you came away with a smile!

Chery Kinnick said...

Miriam - I can picture you rattling off your questions like Joan Rivers, and your guests shuffling away from your dinner party in a daze--ha ha!


Many Bens so little time......
Wouldn't be great if we actually
could do this?

Jennifer said...

Loved your family dinner. I tried to imagine how you would explain your friend Google to them.
Thanks for your warm welcome to genea blog. I plan to visit your blog often.

Tex said...

What a great read! I loved your interactions with these folks--we do just talk to them, don't we? Your telling them about standing at their grave and your taking Uzza to task for his misdeeds--it was great. I enjoyed it very much.

Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you all for dropping by, as well as taking the time to leave your comments. I'm sure my family knows I'm crazy, but I do mutter to my ancestors under my breath. I've made enough amazing discoveries about them that I suppose I just take it for granted that I'm going to find the answers to ALL my questions, and then get disappointed when I don't!