During my wife Cindie’s senior year in high school, Denver Leinonen assigned the students in his American history class an assignment to create their own family tree. Cindie’s grandfather, Harold Walton, was the keeper of the family records and memorabilia. He instilled in her an interest in the Walton family history. This was helped by the fact that the Walton’s came to the southern thumb area of Michigan in the mid-1830s. As a result, she had her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins available from which to gather information. Additionally, decades of the records of the family’s births, marriages, and deaths were readily available. (Cindie refers to these as the family’s “Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches.”) Also, her ancestors’ burial sites were within short driving distances. At this time there were no computers, no internet, and no Ancestry.com website. Everything was done on paper.
Over the years, Cindie worked on her family tree, slowly accumulating information. When we married and she asked me about my family, I became aware of her intense interest in her family heritage. I, however, had very little interest in my family tree. I had three questions about my heritage but not a burning desire to learn the answers to these questions.
For Christmas 1984, I bought Cindie a Commodore 64 computer and the genealogy program “Family Tree Maker.” I helped Cindie input her family history into the program but still did not become interested in my own family.
Once Cindie got Ancestry.com, she got more interested in her family tree—not obsessed but able to find ancestors from more distant locations. She found branches that went back to New England into the 1600s. She and Kathy Eschenburg (Cindie’s cousin Don’s wife) began taking trips to New England to do ancestry research at libraries and court houses to find information on their ancestors.
Near the end of May 2011, Cindie and Kathy had returned from another trip to New England with a wealth of new information. Cindie had been inputting information into the computer most of the day. As she went to close out the Ancestry program, I finally asked her to check on my great-grandmother Cornelia Arnold Hoyt. Cornelia’s ancestors was one of my questions—Was she related to Benedict Arnold? Being tired, she said, “Here, you do it.”
I started reviewing the “leaves” or hints on Cornelia and learned how to operate the Ancestry program. Over the next two weeks I extended Cornelia’s family and her parents, George Washington Arnold and Phebe Taylor Arnold back over 800 years! Initially I could not make a connection to Benedict Arnold but eventually I determined he was a relative but not an ancestor—what a relief. For someone who wasn’t interested in his family heritage, I was beginning to become addicted to the process.
I next started to work on the Wade side of my family. My Grandma Wade’s family was the Debuses. Second great-grandpa, George Lorenz Debus Sr., came from Germany to Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1854. Most of his family followed in the next few years. His mother, my third great-grandma, Maria Margaretha Bruckmer Debus, came here in 1860 at the age of 70. She lived another 24 years and died in 1884. She was buried in the Saint Anthony Catholic Church Cemetery in Fussville, Wisconsin.
Cindie and I took our first genealogy trip in 2011 and went to Fussville. We went to the cemetery and after more than half-an-hour, we could not find Maria’s headstone. I stopped and leaned on a small obelisk type headstone and said a little prayer, “Maria, where are you?” The next day we went back and the church sexton took us out to show us her headstone. It was the stone on which I had been leaning.
Grandpa Wade only had one sibling but his father, great-grandpa Henry Wade, had thirteen siblings and 80 nieces and nephews. Henry’s father, my second great-grandfather, Francis E. Wade Sr., was the oldest of 21 children. On the same 2011 trip, I went into the Washington County Clerk’s office in Iowa. I asked to look at the county’s vital records. The clerk behind the counter said that the records were indexed and on the computer. I entered by second great-grandfather’s name and the clerk asked how I was related to Francis Wade. I told him that he was my second great-grandfather. His response was “Mine, too!” His great grandmother and my great grandfather were brother and sister.
By the time we returned home, I was obsessed. From that day to this, there have been very few days when I have not worked on my family history. But obsession can lead to errors. When I was preparing my application for the Sons of the American Revolution, I ordered a copy of Cornelia Arnold Hoyt’s death certificate. The death certificate showed her parents to be Thomas G. Arnold and Lucinda Lewis Arnold, not George Washington Arnold and Phebe Taylor Arnold. Come to find out that the over 800 years of history was and is wrong. The question about Benedict Arnold still has not been answered.
Beginning in February 2016, I extended my obsession to include Almont’s pioneer families. I have researched the genealogy of twenty of Almont’s pioneer families—the Deneens, Oliver Bristols, Bezaleel Bristols, the Sleepers, the Websters, the Hopkins, the Robertsons, the Sanborns, the Waldens, the Blacks, the Ingallses, Nathaniel Clark Smiths, the Houghs, the Hoyts, the Howlands, Abner Haskell Fishers, the Bannisters, the William Hamilton Srs., the Thomsons, and the Wallaces with more to come.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s Homecoming book, “Remembrances of Almont 2020”can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or email@example.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.