reaching through time

When Justina was born with beautiful red hair, both sides of the family tried to claim origin of the trait.  My family explained that my mother’s mother had red hair and that it showed up every other generation.  Noonie (Her real name was Amy, but Noonie was her ‘grama name), Loren’s mother, claimed that she and her mother had had red hair, and showed me a braid of her mother’s hair that she had received as a child. I never knew much about Noonie’s childhood, except that her mother had died in a fire when she was a young child. Apparently some well meaning relative had thought to save the braid for her, and Noonie treasured it, but I always had an imagined picture in my head of this motherless child clutching a braid of hair.

A few years ago, after Noonie passed away, Justina took an interest in genealogy, with the goal of finding where Amy had been born and how she had ended up on an eastern North Dakota farm, married to a farmer.  Ancestry.com has specials once in a while where you can get a free 2 week membership to search all their records, so we both signed up.  Searching backward from her marriage, we spent hours on the phone, discussing back and forth where she might have been born, did countless searches for relative names, knowing only the woman’s name who had raised her.  And all at once, we found a census record from Nebraska, and there she was…I believe she was four years old when we found her, her name looking out of place, listed among a family in a handwritten census register.  For some reason, it choked me up to see her name there…we had searched and searched for her, and finding her was like finding a lost child.  It still brings tears to my eyes.

Nebraska!? How did she get to North Dakota?!  We tracked her from Nebraska to central North Dakota, as the family she lived with moved there.  From there we watched census rolls, and lo and behold, she showed up as a “girl of labor” in the 40s, working for farm families.  I assume this is like a nanny, and farm helper rolled into one, because she was only about 14, when we started seeing that title.  We tracked her forward in census records for a few years, watching her move to different families, as her work changed.  Census takers in those days would travel from farm to farm, walking or using a vehicle, staying with families, bringing news, one family after another, often staying in the same area for weeks. One day, Justina and I were talking on the phone as we deciphered the handwriting of a particularly messy census taker. We were discussing where Amy might be, and as i glanced down the line of names in the ledger, absently looking for her name, my finger stopped dead before I found it.  The name there beside my finger gave me a brief start.   I continued moving down the list, and a few lines lower was Edwin Zundel, Amy’s future husband.  As we moved back up the list, and down once more, we found Amy’s name a few lines above with the Zimmerman family, listed as “Ad.Daughter…and the last question was answered.  Noonie was the ‘girl next door.’ 🙂   In 1930, she was 11, and Edwin was 6.

The name that had stopped me earlier was Justina’s name!  there in a 1930’s census was- “Zundel, Justina”, my Justina’s great grandmother, her namesake…a story all by itself.  It was so peculiar to see her name there.  An eerie feeling of reaching thru time…and a feeling of coming full circle…

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