Papa as a young child with his mother, Pearl, about 1904
My biggest genealogical brick wall has always been the identity of my mother’s father’s father – my great grandfather. My grandfather, Papa, as I called him, was um, aaaa, well, um, Papa was illegitimate. While the subject wasn’t discussed, it wasn’t exactly a secret. My mom heard a hushed family conversation in the parlor as a young child. She doesn’t remember the details but she does remember being shocked to learn that the man she thought was her grandpa, Lincoln, wasn’t really her father’s dad.
When I was little, Papa dropped little hints about his family tree to me. “We’re part Indian, you know”, he randomly said to me one day. “Wow. That’s cool”, my 6- year-old-self said to him and we continued on with our Go Fish game or whatever it was we were playing. 6- year-old Karen was not family-tree-hunting, adult Karen. Knowing who Papa’s real dad was wasn’t a big deal to any of us. He was raised by his mother, Pearl and a much loved step-father, whose last name was used by Papa and passed down to my mom, her brothers and their kids. I think Papa knew who his dad might have been. But, none of us thought to ask. We even accepted that we were of German ancestry probably because of Lincoln’s German last name.
Some time when I was in high school, my mom or someone said something about us being German and I shot back, “Why does everyone say we’re German when that German last name Papa used isn’t wasn't really his last name? We could be German but we don’t know for sure so I’m not going to say I’m German anymore”. I remember feeling really annoyed when I said it. You know, that teen angst thing when your parents say something that is soooooooooo stupid that you couldn't possbly be related to them.
The light bulb finally went off in my teen-aged head. But, it was too late to ask Papa who his dad was. He had passed away many years earlier. Plus, Papa was actually old enough to be my mother’s grandfather, so there wasn’t really anyone in the family close in age to him left to ask. Kicking myself for never thinking of asking Papa who his father was, I vowed I would find out who that man was and what our family’s real last name was.
To Be Continued......