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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matter: Searching for roots

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Searching for roots, genealogical research, whatever you want to call it, seems to be increasingly popular.  The computer software available has given the current generation quite a boost in that direction.  The search for most of us is a matter of digging into the past, another area of America, or another country.   The reverse, when we turned out to be the roots being sought,  proved to be a most interesting experience early last summer. 

There are Drefkes, Schmidts and Dorrs in the area whose common ancestors were among the county's first settlers.  A son of one of the pioneer Drefke families traveled to the Rio Grande Valley in 1916 when that area was just opening for settlement. A grandson of theirs is the "roots seeker" about whom we are speaking. When he finished high school in the Valley, he went to Texas A&M to earn an engineering degree.  After college, he began working for one of the major oil companies in Kentucky and the upper Midwest. He continued with them, advancing to an executive position from which he retired a few years ago. 

He had never been in Iowa. So, in retirement, he decided he wanted to see the area which his grandfather had left so long ago.  Knowing nothing of his distant relatives, he planned to visit courthouses, cemeteries, libraries - the usual sources - and see what he could find.  But another Texas relative, whom we knew, gave him my address when she learned of his intentions.  Contacts were made, and upon learning  that an Open House for a combination 90th Birthday and 65th Anniversary in the Schmidt branch of the family was being planned, we coordinated their coming with that event.  What a weekend it turned out to be!

With a bit of trepidation, we awaited the arrival of total strangers.  We needn't have had any fear; they turned out to be a perfectly charming pair.  One branch of the family gathered the first evening. It became apparent at once that  strangers with blood ties aren't really strangers at all.   A commonality soon developed when pieces of half-remembered tales from the distant past were recounted and they fit together to form a whole.   

The following day one of the "no-longer strangers", who is particularly knowledgeable about  these matters,  showed them the various pioneer sites.  On Sunday morning we went to the country church of which his great-grandmother's brother was a founder.  After the services he and some other kin toured the peaceful cemetery  where ever so many of his distant relatives rest peacefully.   

That afternoon more branches of the family tree gathered for the aforementioned Birthday/Anniversary event which was a magnificent conclusion to their search. (The gentleman whose birthday and anniversary we celebrated has recently passed away so that makes the event even more significant.) All of their previously unknown kinfolk here in the rich, green, late-spring beauty of Cherokee County, left an indelible impression on them both. They will be back.

As for those of us living here, having the tables turned, being the roots searched out instead of being the searchers, proved to be a perfectly delightful experience.  We all eagerly await their return.