Saturday, October 24, 2015

Steinauer, Nebraska

Steinauer, Nebraska

My ten year old grandson Julian loves science and history is always asking me questions. He often challenges me too and I am constantly learning.  He has a genuine interest in our family history and is always asking me questions about our ancestors and I believe he is the budding genealogist in our family.  I love his enthusiasm and I enjoy sharing the story of our ancestors and Nebraska life with him.

And so began our day road trip to Steinauer, Nebraska on a warm fall morning. Steinauaer is located about 3 miles west off of Highway 50 in the northwestern corner of Pawnee Co.  If you read the historical marker just outside of town you will learn of the warnings to avoid bloody Kansas during the pre- civil war era that led the Steinauer brothers to settle this prairie near the Turkey Creek River  nestled in the very south eastern corner of our state just above the Kansas border.

 Steinauer is a rural town like many others that dates its history back to our territorial years, grew with the settlement of immigrants, saw a peak population near the turn of the century and as the decades passed saw its population decline. And like most small towns the community is proud of its history.

I have roots in Steinauer. My great, great grandfather was Josef Alios Steinauer notably the founding father of the town that bears his name. He was a goat herder in the Upper Alps of Wagithal, Switzerland before leaving his homeland at the age of eighteen and emigrating to the promised land of America, landing in New York in 1852.

He journeyed west thru Kentucky and Indiana where his older brothers Anton and Nicholas joined him and to Wisconsin where the brothers had a dairy farm before the fever of venturing further west lured the brothers to migrate again in 1856. The brothers traveled through territory without shelter where the horizon never ended and provisions and people were scarce and settling in their new home made preparation for winter, building a dugout for shelter and curing meat for food. And the seasons passed.

They built a log cabin from the timber along the stream, set traps for small game and traded for supplies in Nebraska City.  Joseph purchased land from the Preemption Act, cleared the land, planting corn, potatoes and wheat. He bought a few heads of cattle and a few hogs.  He married Catherina Kaufman in 1859 and together they would raise twelve children, farm the fields, educate the kids and welcome new neighbors. They weathered tornados, blizzards and the occasional fires and Illness and disease were always a concern but they never lost the promise of tomorrow.

As German, Swiss, Bohemian and Austrian settlers began to arrive, Joseph’s little community was growing and soon thirty years had passed since he first laid claim to this land. In 1886 the town of Steinauer was surveyed, the railroad reached Steinauer in 1887, businesses were established and the town was a busy prospering community that incorporated in 1893.

Joseph died in 1907 but he had told his family the land that he loved had been good to him and as a result he received an abundance of good fortune and happiness. He had lived for fifty years in his adopted land and he was a Nebraskan.  

As we drive through the village I want my grandson to see the church.  The present church of St. Anthony’s was dedicated in 1926, built in a Romanesque style. Badly in need of repairs the congregation decided to restore the church to its original beauty with a total cost of $605,000.00, money that was entirely and generously given by the parishioners and the community. 

Statues and stained glass windows were cleaned, wooden pews and floors were striped and refinished and walls were repainted. The sanctuary was restored, the high altar that had been removed in the sixties was replaced with a marble alter that was torn out of another church and beauty is found in every detail.  It was a magnificent effort and a testimony to the community.

Sitting in the pew she opens her arms and there is a reassurance of family and I am welcomed into the community and the home of my ancestors.  It is a symbol of the community, it is the sense of belonging that it holds, preserving the past and welcoming the future and it stands constant throughout time.  

There are many stories like Joseph’s and the town of Steinauer. As we settle in for our drive back home it is obvious of the pride my grandson feels.  Our ancestors were men and women who had the courage and fortitude to persevere through great hardship and adversity.  The industrious attitude and faith that our ancestor’s held instilled the values of Nebraska life. It is their legacy that lives on and has not forgotten that has been passed down through the generations and is alive in our communities.  And it is the stories of our past and the present that we must not forget.

 Kathy Haley Buhrman

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lizzie’s Jewelry Box

I can’t think of a time that I was not interested in history or about my ancestors and I have always believed the two are interconnected.  The more I learned about history the more I learned about our ancestors and this is how my journey began.

As the years passed and my research hours turned my simple folders and charts into narrative histories I realized that I needed to record the stories behind my family’s heirlooms, photos and keepsakes. These treasured pieces held a sacred meaning to their owners. In preserving what has been passed down to us we not only tell the story of our ancestors but they also hold a piece to the communities we lived in.

There is a jewelry box that sits on my dresser that belonged to my great grandmother Elizabeth Catherine Decker Thompson.  It’s a modest three footed six inch round porcelain jewelry box with a delicately painted design that has not faded much with its age. It opens with a clasp to reveal what was a silk lined interior and over the last hundred years it has held the treasure of its three owners.

It was a gift to Lizzie from her husband. She was a farmer’s daughter who never lived far from her place of birth and married in 1907 when she was just seventeen. She began married life farming in western Douglas Co. Nebraska and in 1913 her only child Vera Elizabeth was born. I cannot think of a time that I was not aware of this jewelry box and as a little girl I learned its significance.

Farm life at the turn of the century could be a hard existence and everything the couple purchased had a practical purpose. Lizzie had longed to own something special, something feminine that did not need to have a useful function but was resigned that it would be a future purchase.  My great grandfather Garfield Thompson understood how much was denied them in simple luxuries and what it would mean to his wife if she owned this yet unidentified piece.  It was on a warm summer morning on a trip into the city to spend the day at the fair, that he surprised her as he led her into the store and suggested that she choose a gift for herself.  To her delight and after some hesitation Lizzie proudly chose her jewelry box.

Lizzie treasured her jewelry box and it sat on her dresser waiting to be filled with all the future things  that she would hold dear. She wrote the day she married, the day her daughter was born and the date she received her jewelry box on a slip of paper and with her broach and a few hair ribbons she placed these contents inside.  When their daughter turned five they gave her a gold bracelet and it was placed inside Lizzie’s jewelry box for safe keeping.

Life takes unexpected turns and Lizzie, who was six months pregnant died in Dec. 1918, shortly after her daughters fifth birthday, a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic. She was 28 years old. The jewelry box now had a new purpose and meaning. It held the cherished memories and story of its owner and when it was given to my Grandma, Lizzie was not forgotten.

Its contents have changed over time. When my Grandma was in her seventh decade of life she said it was time I owned the jewelry box. It was a privilege and honor to have accepted it and when I opened it there was a single gold bracelet staring at me.  d  sen she wrs old she passed th decade she said it was time I owned the jewerly . They forgedOne day I will give this jewelry box to my daughter.  I am not quite ready but when I do I will add my own special piece for her to find.

This little jewelry box has a history. It tells the story about a woman who died too young who had hopes and dreams. It tells the story about the connection my Grandma felt to a woman she barely remembered and always missed. It tells the story of farm life in the early twentieth century and about the horrific flu epidemic that plagued Nebraska and the world.

Our ancestor’s stories take us back in time and allow us to be a part of our history. The family treasures’ that were important enough to be passed down thru the generations give personality to our ancestors and offer us a glimpse into the communities they lived in. We have a lot of stories waiting to be told. We have it in our homes and on our shelves and in the oral history that was repeated through the generations. We should not overlook this part of our history.  It tells our story.

There are some things we are not able to part with such as my great grandmother’s jewelry box but I can write a short story and attach a picture so that her story can be told.  We can leave written records and label old photos for our future generations. We can share our story or family history with historical or genealogical societies.  We can preserve our grandmothers wedding dress or loan it to a museum collection. We can donate the old box of letters or the contents found in the old attic trunk. We can share the history of our towns and our beautiful land. There are many ways in which I can share my ancestor’s stories and preserve our history.

Our stories matter. History is about people and the communities they lived in.  In taking the time to record and share our history we leave something valuable behind for the generations that will follow us. Our stories are tomorrow’s history.

Kathy Haley Buhrman



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Be the Biographer of your family


 I enjoy teaching family history and in my classes I am always stressing the importance of accurately recording our family history. I want my students to understand and use sound research methodology and to be more than an internet genealogist. I want them to understand that there is more to researching our family history than hitting the green leaf on   Don’t get me wrong, I use and it is a terrific resource that I subscribe to but we seek the truth from all the wonderful repositories that hold information and we want to be more than a name collector.
Charting the basic information of our ancestors is just the beginning. We must tell their stories.

The names we discover give our ancestors identity but their records tell us how they lived danced and sang and offer us a snapshot of the communities and the world in which they lived. Our story will be so much more fascinating and interesting if we describe the emotion and the personality of our ancestors than if we only collect their names or list the facts.

I have a picture of my great, great Grandma, Mary Casey Carver. But I know little about her, the woman she was. Written oral family history states that she was from Effin, Co. Limerick, Ireland, was educated at the national schools and lived on the River Shannon. She survived the potato famine and emigrated with her sister who died aboard ship, whose name has always been a mystery. But who was my great, great grandmother?

In researching my great, great grandparents I learned that Mary was the mother of seven children, two having died in infancy.  I know she was born in Ireland about 1835 and married my great great grandfather, John Carver, in Norwich, Connecticut in June of 1856.

In 1869 the young family migrated from Connecticut with a group of friends with the purpose of moving to Nebraska.  Mary was a farmers wife and lived in Nebraska for the remainder of her life having died in 1906 and is buried next to her husband in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Burchard, Nebraska.

No records have been found listing her parents names and no obituary notice was written. She was not named on any property nor voting lists or county biographies. These are her basic facts from the records I have found for Mary to date.

We all hope to locate a lot of records on our ancestors but sometimes there are not a lot of factual records to work with in which to write the stories of our ancestors. So how do we write the story about Mary Casey Carver when records are scarce? How do we give her personality?

 We examine every bit of information we have for clues. We broaden our knowledge to include what we know about her family and community. We read local newspapers. We learn the history of the communities she lived in and we create a timeline of historical events that would have shaped her world.

 We recreate her life with the knowledge and information we have. And we begin to tell the story of who Mary Casey Carver was. We can tell the story behind her name and be true to the known facts.

If I was to include the likely way the family would have traveled when they migrated from Connecticut to Nebraska in 1869 her story would become more interesting.
If I were to include what their journey would have been like I am adding more details.
If I were to describe how she likely felt, I am adding emotion and giving her personality.

 I have not found Marys passenger record but I can imagine how she felt when her sister died at sea. I could write:

Her final goodbye was to her sister said somewhere over the vast ocean near the end of their voyage, an unceremonious burial as cold as the Atlantic waters. She did not want her burial in the icy cold dark waters and she stood silent, her composure almost stiff, as her sisters body was led to drift away into the sea until lost and washed out of reach. Not one tear could be released. Not that day.

 We do not need to write expansive narratives and I could shorten it to say Her final goodbye was to her sister said somewhere over the vast ocean near the end of their voyage, an unceremonious burial as cold as the Atlantic waters.

 With just one piece of information I have described emotion. I have given her personality and shown some insight into how Mary likely felt having buried her sister at sea.

 Not all of our family history is going to be written in the past tense but we can use the same principles that we apply for our ancestors as we do for the living.

My brother is the consummate story teller and his subjects are often about family. He can stand in a crowded room and capture an audience and make you laugh. We shake our heads hearing the stories repeated, knowing it wont be retold the same yet he remains true to the facts and we anticipate the reactions.

 Story telling is an old tradition. It is oral history. I dont think he has written down a thing but he has shared family history. He has given me a story line. I can begin with Your Uncle John…”

I have family history and personality.

 My brother also has three older sisters and three younger sisters. Just writing down our names it becomes obvious that my brother did not grow up in a male dominated world. What a story he could tell! There is always more to be learned about a family and we need to look beyond the obvious facts.

 I can look at family traditions. The tradition of having oyster soup on Christmas Eve is a familiar ritual for many of us that dates back generations and we likely all have similar traditions.

 My mother is a third generation American born of Irish emigrants. I realize that potatoes are a mainstay of American diets but she could cook potatoes a hundred different ways with every meal and has been heard to say how much nutrition is in potatoes and that if the potato was the only food at our table that we could survive. I have always wondered how much Mom may have been influenced from our family having survived the potato famine and how much her reasoning was because she genuinely liked potatoes.

 I can be reasonably sure that Mary Casey Carver planted potatoes in her vegetable garden and had memories of the potato famine. I would likely be correct believing that she shared some history of having survived the potato famine with her children. I can write and elaborate about the potato famine and how in part it likely shaped the woman she was.

 We can learn about our past from our mothers and grandmothers and the men in our life too. We only need to examine why our family acts and behaves the way we do.

 If we have old heirlooms and family pictures they have a story waiting to be told. While most old photos capture a serious looking ancestor and Mary Casey Carvers was no exception, some photos offer us a terrific snapshot of who our ancestors were. There is an old black and white family photo of my Mom and her family posing for the camera with the standard straight posture but in the background my Uncle Leonard is captured with body in motion and a mischievous smile that shouted he was full of life. Had I not known my Uncle this photo would have given me an immediate window into his personality. Adding a name and a story to that immortalized face brings personalities to life and we use it to tell our stories.

There are a lot of ways we can tell the stories of our ancestors personality and the lives they led. We just have to look for them. We use the information we have gathered to build a medical history of our family by recording the known causes of death of our ancestors. Property records or the lack of them can suggest if our ancestors lived a comfortable life. Occupations suggest a lifestyle.

 Given names can leave us clues too. James Arthur Garfield Thompson born in 1880 was named after President Garfield and we can be reasonably certain that his parents had a political reason for their sons namesake. The history of the locations and time era suggest how our ancestors may have lived their daily lives. Our ethnic and religious backgrounds may have influenced how our ancestors led their life.

 My research on Mary Casey Carver is unfinished. But when information is scarce I continue to challenge myself to learn more about my ancestors by analyzing the records I have discovered to record the personality and lives of my ancestors.




Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year

Its a New Year-2014. I understand the reasoning of using the January 1 date to make resolutions for the New Year. I really do and it in itself is not a bad idea. We need goals. We need to make promises to ourselves and reaffirm commitments and keep them. But I did not make any resolutions that I was not likely to keep or that in a few months my determination would wane, I can't say that I really made any resolutions, nothing new anyway. Most of my goals have spilled over from 2013 to flipping the calendar to 1 Jan of 2014. That isn't to say that I didn't try to complete some goals or projects by December 31, I did. It gives me that extra push.

I work with lists. Maybe I am to organized but I still write out my goals, my to do's. It gives me a visual. I like that, maybe I need that. I work with lists whose time does not always coincide with the months and dates and years of the calendar. It is constantly being revised, deleted when completed and a new one added. Maybe a new one is added before one is completed. It keeps me focused. I can not think of a time that I did not have goals or a list of do's.

It is like spring cleaning, which I still do, but it is not marked by the calendar telling me it is the first day of spring. It is not going to get erased off my annual list. But I know it will be spring when I do it. And that is okay as long as that is my goal.

We needs goals. We need a plan. Most of my goals can not be marked on a calendar for a specific day as I would write down appointments or the days that I am teaching a class.Time does not discriminate with the last day of an old year or the first day of the New Year and I just can not wrap up my goals timely to fit the mark of a New Year. It is okay if we use the first day of the new year to examine our goals or to add new ones but we do not erase our current goals so it is equally okay to flip the calendar and keep working the list.

Lately my goals are more of the black and white variety of ink and paper, of reading and writing. Submit that article; finish that story; do the research to finish story; read those books, new PP for presentation. And yes, write on blog.

Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Living History

My son in law is in the Army. We knew it was a possibility and likely that he would eventually receive overseas orders and so it is with mixed emotions that I am feeling after learning that my daughter and her family will be moving to Germany. Germany. Full time. Not a vacation. It is so far way with a new address of  residence.  I will miss the hugs from my grandchildren and the frequency of our stateside visits and saying goodbye will be hard. But I am also thrilled for them. What an opportunity to see Europe!

I have been to Canada, Mexico, Spain and Ireland but that is the limit of my worldly travels. So I am happy for them that they will be based in Europe and will have the opportunity to travel and have their passports stamped with all the countries large and small that they visit. I also know that we have the technology to keep in daily contact and I can see part of Europe through the eyes of my grandchildren.  I will visit them too, not as often and the goodbyes will still be hard but the next time I hug my grandchildren it will be in Germany, their new home and I am excited for them.

And I think of my family history, the past and the future and how our history continues to unfold. I think of how it will read twenty years from now. I think of the stories and entries that will be under my daughters family and her time in Europe. I think of my oldest daughter and her completion of law school as a mother to four in her mid thirties. I think of the legacies of all of my children that will be read by my descendants after I am gone.

 My oldest grandson is the budding family historian in my family. He loves to hear the stories about his ancestors who were in the civil war. He is always asking me about the lives of his ancestors. Learning about his family history brings history alive for him in a personal way and I am reminded that unless our story is recorded and preserved no one will know the stories of our lives, or of my children. It will be impersonal and we will only be a name on someone's genealogical tree.

Family history is not just a compilation of our past and of our ancestors who walked before us. It is the present. It is the future. It is the stories of us. It is the victories, the struggles and the celebrations of the living. It is of saying goodbye to my daughters family and saying hello to them in a new country.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Census records are one of our first go to sources in researching our family history.

In researching our ancestors sometimes we unexpectedly find a relation that we did not know existed.
Maybe they were born in 1881 and married by 1900 and it is only after we begin collecting records on their family that their name surfaces. Maybe they were just omitted on a census and living on their own ten years later but sooner or later we all discover an ancestor we did not know existed.

Then there are the children who died to young. And sometimes the paper trail is only a burial. Dorothy Jean Steinauer was born yesterday on the 23 of November 1940 in Dawson, Nebraska, the youngest child of my grandparents Julius and Mary Farrell Steinauer and I am aware of her short life.

Dorothy was not yet born to be enumerated on the 1940 Federal Census and was eight months old when she unexpectedly died the following year on the 26 of July 1941. There are very few records that record her existence but Dorothy counted; she was loved and she is missed.

Dorothy has a birth record, a death record, a baptismal record and a burial record. She is buried in St. Mary Cemetery in Dawson where her parents would eventually be buried. I feel fortunate that these records exist. If we look we might find mention of her in the small town newspaper or see her name inscribed on the headstone next to her parents. But only if we look for more records on our families than a census record and only if we are more than name collectors in recording our family history.

                                        Dorothy Jean and my grandma Mary Steinauer, 1941
 Dorothy Jean has not been forgotten and this is why I record and preserve my family history.

Monday, October 21, 2013


I have told my children it has been an honor and a privilege to be their Mom. With 12 beautiful grandchildren I feel the same way. Have you ever listened to children's conversations? They speak with sincerity and joy with wonderment and amazement, imagination and innocence and yes knowledge. They can embarrass us with the truth and make us laugh and sometimes cry. I am humbled. But have you ever tried answering their questions? How do you explain why a skunks smell does not go away? Or when your grandson does not believe you, as you are driving past the tree lines, that the moon really is higher than the trees? Have you ever heard "if that is what it means Grandma why didn't you just say that?" and thought you have a good point kid? Try explaining what the word "expect" means I dare you. I reflect on the cycle of life, of our young and the old, of our past and our tomorrows and it is a privilege to share their lives. 

Family has always been an important part of my life and genealogy and family history is an extension of my family. My husband teases me that I work with the dead. It's true I am always on the hunt for the next record or searching for just one more bit of recorded information that unlocks my past and I have spent countless hours in libraries buried in old records and transcripts that many might find tiresome all in the pursuit of my quest to give identity and personality to my ancestors.

I look at my grandchildren with all of their different and unique personalities and much like them I am always asking questions. I can't help asking who my ancestors were when they were young and pondering the questions of life and wondering if any of my grandchildren are images of them. I think of my ancestors and I remember my grandmothers and I know that a family consists of past and future generations. And I believe it is family, the peoples in our communities that lived before us that are the core of history.

We are interlocked just as we can not escape being connected to history. The past matters and our ancestors count and they should not be forgotten. It is up to us living in the present to record and preserve our history for our grandchildren and our future generations. It is for these reasons that I continue to answer "who were my ancestors?" and to record the legacy of generations before us.