As a young girl, I remember that I was always fascinated by the old sepia toned photographs of these people I never knew. My Mom would tell me who they were and relate some of the stories she remembered about them.
But it was in the late 1970s when a strange letter found its way to us. It was a letter written by a woman in California, addressed to my grandmother, Mrs. Sina Kelly, in Greenwood, Nebraska. Why so strange? My grandmother had been deceased for about 25 years at the time. But – small towns being as they are, the postmistress in Greenwood had been our neighbor and long time family friend. She forwarded the letter to my mother.
The lady in California was doing research on Sina’s family, the Bellingers. The researcher got Sina’s name from Sina’s father’s death certificate and decided to write to Sina, not knowing she had also passed. Always up for a good investigation and mystery story, I stepped up to respond to the letter.
Mom and I got out all of the old boxes of photographs and documents and began going through them, identifying the names of people in the photos as best as Mom could remember. You have no idea how many times I have been so thankful that we took the time to do that. Even then, Mom commented how she wished that her Dad and Aunt Etty were there to help us with that task. By the time we had finished, there were only two or three photographs that we had not been able to identify.
The California genealogist had requested we complete some family group sheets, which I did. As one might expect – finding a willing participant to provide more information on the family had to have seemed like a gold mine.
From this point, I began working on other lines of the family, on and off for several years. In the early to mid 1980’s this lady from California and her mother planned a research trip to Nebraska and we made plans to meet and visit some cemeteries. It was then that I met “cousin Joy” – Joy Deal Lehmann, who went on to publish her family history books on the Deal family, and our related Bellinger and Landon families. It was then that I saw the commitment and dedication of a true genealogist as I followed Joy around the cemeteries, tracking down people in town who kept the cemetery records. I drew the line, however, at entering a vastly overgrown cemetery which I believed had to be the home of hundreds of snakes!
Over the years, I would spent a month or two at a time working on the family history, then set things aside when life got in the way. But over the last two years, I’ve renewed my commitment and continue the quest with the kind of obsession that I saw in Joy more than twenty years ago. I may not have been doing this today had it not been for that letter she wrote to my grandmother.