The Straley Family

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Little Thing Called Genealogy

It was the first week of December in 1977. I was in the seventh grade and a little bored. (Redundant, I know). So, I decided to venture downstairs to the basement for some quality snooping time. I know what many of you are thinking . . . but you’re wrong. I wasn’t snooping for my Christmas presents. They were already wrapped and under the Christmas tree.

Two old dressers in the basement contained a treasure trove of old letters and photographs. When my grandparents decided to downsize, Daddy became the custodian of all sorts of their things. I loved to look at those old pictures (I still do) of my grandparents when they were courting in the late 1920’s in Superior, Wisconsin. Grammy traveled by train to Denver to marry her sweetheart, Roland Walfrid Byberg. They married in September of 1928 at Central Presbyterian Church on 17th and Sherman in Denver, Colorado. My parents married at this same church in June of 1958 and Rob and I married here in January of 1986. I hope one (or both) of my boys will decide to marry here too.

Central Presbyterian Church

It was on that pivotal December day that I first laid eyes on "It". The “It” was a photograph of my grandmother, Louise Flaten, as a teenager surrounded by several other girls. They were all standing on the stairs in front of a tiny white house. Until that moment, it never occurred to me that Grammy might have brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.

With the photograph in hand, I went upstairs and called my sweet grandmother. I described the photograph to her and she explained that she came from a large family and the other girls pictured were probably her sisters. She promised to tell me all I wanted to know about her family after the Christmas madness was over. At that particular moment, she was up to her elbows in cookie dough and still had to a few gifts to finish making. I told her I loved her and how much I was looking forward to seeing them both on Christmas day. We said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone. That was the last time we ever spoke. She died on Sunday, December 18, 1977 of a brain aneurism. It was she, Louise Flaten Byberg, who taught me the JOY of needle and thread, who taught me the basic stitches of crochet, and it was she who taught me the love of flowers. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. I miss her so.

Grammy’s sister, Vivienne (from Superior), came to her funeral but I was so overwhelmed with grief that I didn’t even think to ask Great Aunt Viv about the photograph. My mom told me that Grammy learned to crochet from a brother who served in World War I. Daddy met some of his mother’s sisters and brothers as a young boy but couldn’t remember all of their names. I wrote down the names he did remember and those names proved to be so very helpful years later.

A future genealogist was born that fateful December day. For my 40th birthday, Rob and the boys purchased a family tree software program and a subscription to I’ve been hooked ever since. A few years ago, Rob and I and the boys flew to Minneapolis. (Yup! Camp Snoopy.) We rented a car and drove up to Superior, Wisconsin to visit/meet a few Byberg and Flaten cousins. With that same photograph in my hands, I stood on those same steps in front of that same tiny white house with Richard, my oldest boy. I hope to return soon. The Flaten Family Tree has some holes but I’m determined to fill them all in someday. I think Grammy would approve.

Richard, myself and Dawn Flaten Cich standing on the Flaten Homestead porch in Superior, Wisconsin. Dawn's grandfather, Ole, and my grandmother, Louise, were siblings. I found Dawn on in 2004!! She lives in Superior and loves genealogy just like me!

Loren Byberg and me standing in front of the Byberg Homestead in Superior, Wisconsin. Loren's father, Holger, and my grandfather, Roland, were brothers. Lars Johan Byberg, my great-grandfather, married Euphrosye Anna Boija in July of 1892 (in Superior) and all their children were born in this house. My parents and I visited family here in 1979 and this is where we stayed. That was the last time I had seen Loren! Loren and Dawn Flaten (above) went to high school together and never made the connection!

The point of my ramblings is simple. If you are super lucky and still have your grandparents, ask them to tell you all about their brothers and sisters, their parents and their aunts and uncles, their first cousins, and their grandparents and possibly great-grandparents. Write it all down! Record dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Don’t forget to ask about maiden names!!! Ask about the existence of a Family Bible. If one exists, find out who currently has it and have it photocopied. If you have old photographs , ask them to help you identify family members. Share what you learn with everyone in your family.

You may not be interested in genealogy at the moment. Perhaps you will be down the road; perhaps you won’t. In either case, you will NEVER regret learning a little more about where you came from.

Please take my advice. Don’t wait.

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