Always searching for ancestorsPosted March 11th, 2013 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
A big part of what drew Sharon and me together for our Gather at the Table journey was, and is, genealogy. Sharon has done a lot more such research than I have. She runs the Our Black Ancestry website, “dedicated to providing information and services that help people explore and appreciate African American family history and culture.” And she has inspired me to dig more deeply into my own family history.
While on the road in Illinois and Iowa in February, I was able to carve out time for research. I was quite surprised to learn that my great grandfather had a wife who died quite young prior to his marriage to my great grandmother. They had a child I didn’t know about; my grandmother’s older sister. Though I’ve not been able to locate the graves of my great grandparents, I did visit the grave of his first wife when I was in Kanakakee, Illinois.
I found out a lot more about a great great grandfather than I ever knew before. Norman Rose (from where, no doubt, my grandfather and I both got our middle names) was quite influential in Lanark, Illinois. His obituary reads, “…one of the best known citizens of Lanark, he was one of the largest men in Northern Illinois, if not the state (417 pounds).” I’m glad I inherited his name but not those particular genes!
I spent two days in Moline, Illinois searching for information about my great, great grandfather, Charles DeWolf, who drowned in the Mississippi River in 1852. I found one additional newspaper article, but mostly ran into dead ends – which isn’t terrible. At least I’m able to check off places I no longer need to research. I did find out that he lived in Chicago (more Chicago connections, Sharon!) with a brother just a few years before he died, so Chicago may hold more secrets for me.
In Rolfe, Iowa, where my father was born, I visited the family farm. The houses are long gone, but one corn crib remains and the farm is still in family ownership – more than a century now. Several cousins came to my presentation at Eastern Iowa Community College in Fort Dodge. It was great catching up with them. The last time we’d been together was more than ten years ago.
There is something supremely gratifying about uncovering information about my family. Some were slave traders. Some were abolitionists. Some were farmers. The more I learn, the more I understand about who I am, from whence I came; and the more I understand about my country and how it came to be what it is today.
I believe that the more people undertake genealogical study, the more we will all know about ourselves and our nation; even more important, how connected we all are and how absurd and unjust are all the obstacles we maintain that keep us separated.
View more photos here.
Eastern Mennonite University
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Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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