As a child, I spent much time with my maternal grandmother, LeNore Hoard Enz. One of her main interests was family history. “Grammy” kept pictures, documents, and objects from her pioneer past. She recorded interviews with pioneer farmers for the local library, using something new called a cassette tape recorder. Several of the interviews have been transcribed, and one I was able to use for my current project.
Our hometown library was — and is — a treasure trove. When I was a child, the building’s basement held the greatest gems in giant black books. Within their pages were bound copies of the local weekly newspaper, going back decades. My visits came after the town built the new library in my early teen years. My grandmother had filled me with curiosity about my past, which has led to my own interest in family history.
I remember quite specifically looking for and finding an article about the death of my great-aunt Sarah Mae Hoard, who was my grandmother’s older sister. Sarah Mae was known as “Mae.” Mae was killed in a car accident when my grandmother was 14. Mae had
been my grandmother’s favorite sister. Her oldest sister, Zoe, and my grandmother, LeNore, clashed as children and for the rest of their lives. Great-Aunt Mae died 35 years before I was born, but she was very much alive to me through my grandmother’s stories.
I’ve written a new book that tells her story along with tales of our mutual ancestors. The book Centennial Farm Family–Cultivating Land and Community 1837-1937 will be available at the end of June. I long finished the story of Mae with multiple obituaries from newspapers around the area. A couple of weeks ago, I remembered that as a child I had found Mae’s obituary in my hometown newspaper. The library which housed the giant black books is 300 miles away. The black books are long gone, replaced with microfilm. Could a librarian find that same article I read as a curious adolescent? Giving Taira Simmons at the library the date and names, she found the citation within a day. She even sent the newspaper’s masthead from that week which shows the top of Mae’s story at flush left, “Mae Hoard Victim of Auto Wreck.” (The staff at the South Whitley Community Public Library has been extremely helpful to me in my research over the years.)
I had used other obituaries for the book, but it was still thrilling to see that the same story I read at 13 was still available fifty years later. (Yes, I know, I should get out more.) Seriously, anyone who researches family history will understand my happiness in seeing this article again. And this is why I devote my time to family history — fifty years from now; I hope someone will run across this column or my Ancestry page or my books and find them useful in their own search.
One cannot easily pass a passion along to another person. It is, however, my hope that readers will find something in my writing that encourages them to search out their own past. A caveat, however. One can find surprises and shocks; I found several stories I would have rather not known. I did not shy away because the truth makes up the jigsaw pieces of the puzzle that is my grandmother’s family.
Each person’s life affects another, as the angel Clarence Oddbody tells, “It’s a Wonderful Life” hero George Bailey. Looking at the overall picture of my grandmother’s family, I cannot help but wonder how things would have been different had the 1922 accident never happened. “What if” is never a productive game. But I can’t help but wonder, having heard about the aftermath of Mae’s death. Would the two remaining sisters have reconciled? What would have happened to their parent’s farm? Would Mae have married a local boy who wanted to farm the farm? Would that have stopped my grandparents from moving back to Indiana from their cushy life in Springfield, Illinois? My grandparents and their daughters moved from a plush city home to a farmhouse with no electricity 23 miles from a city.
Like others in my book, Mae’s life and death affected many people. What happened to the farm ownership with each passing generation changed with unexpected deaths like Mae’s. Ultimately, the farm stayed in the family for 173 years, receiving the Indiana Historical Association award for a century of continuous ownership. Writing the book took me on a journey of discovery without a clear map, heading off in directions that surprised me, shocked me, and sometimes delighted me.
I hope you will start your story today. Your descendants are counting on you.
Coming June 28, 2021
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