When I look back, I can sum up the summer of 2011 with a statement I made to mom one day, “I swear, I’ve been to more libraries and more graveyards in the past two months than in the past 50 years put together!”
Our visit to the Butler Courthouse had yielded some answers, and lots of clues to help move our journey forward. But it also left us with so many questions, we frankly didn’t know where to go from there.
When we left the courthouse, we decided to take the advice of the woman in the Woman and Orphans office and visit the Butler County Library and their Genealogy room. What a great decision that was!
Lu, the Genealogy Librarian on duty that day could NOT have been more helpful. Armed with the names we had collected at the courthouse, Lu helped us look up obituaries (which provided Ellen Merriman’s maiden name, “Frantz” and the information that she was born in Eau Claire, about 30 miles north of Butler), and gather details on the Ensminger and Vogeley families, who were affluent property owners until the bank crash of 1929.
We also learned where many of the Ensmingers were buried, and that the Vogeleys also counted among their ancestors a family named “Oesterling” which can claim their own historical marker!
Heady stuff for my mom, who had known so little about her family when we set out for Butler that morning. And frankly, too much to process in one visit.
Lu and mom exchanged email addresses, and Lu invited mom to call or email if she needed more information from Butler. Little did we know then how frequently we would visit Lu and the Butler library that summer!
On our way out of town, mom and I decided to swing by the cemetery to see if we could find her grandfather’s grave. And that’s when I discovered an untapped talent: Headstone spotting! Granted, some burial plots like the Ensminger section in South Cemetery were pretty easy to spot, thanks to large family markers. But others gave us a much bigger challenge during that “Summer of Libraries and Cemeteries.” I have to say that my overall record was pretty good.
We found mom’s great grandparents, William Henry and Annie Vogeley Ensminger, buried in South Cemetery with several of their children and grandchildren, including the infant born to William George and Charlotte in 1899. But there was no sign of mom’s grandfather, William George Ensminger, which led us to wonder if William G. and Charlotte’s divorce had caused a rift between William G. and his parents.
A few weeks later, we managed to solve that mystery, too. After countless hours on Ancestry.com and several return trips to the Butler County Library, we found William G.’s obit, which listed his burial location as Parker Cemetery in Parker, Pa. The obit also revealed that William G. had remarried, a woman named Susan Zinn.
Parker is, to be kind, a very small town along the Allegheny River in Armstrong County, Pa. Small town, but with a HUGE cemetery. Seriously, it was at least the size of four football fields! We had no idea where William G.’s plot was located, so mom and I headed in opposite directions.
Within 90 seconds, I spotted a headstone with the name “Zinn” and two plots away, “William George Ensminger.”
I have to admit that I got a bit choked up by mom’s reaction to finding her grandfather’s grave.
It was nice, however, to see that William found some happiness in the latter part of his life. At least, that’s how I interpret his burial in Parker, next to his second wife and among her parents, siblings and cousins.
But once again, a mystery solved led to yet another mystery when we realized that mom was six years old when her grandfather died. She doesn’t remember ever meeting her grandfather, nor does she remember her father saying anything about his dad. Clearly, the emotional impact of being abandoned in the orphanage for six years caused a rift between William G. and his son.
Over the course of the summer of 2011, we traced the path of mom’s Ensminger ancestors across Pennsylvania from the original settlers’ farm in Lancaster County, to York County where the first generation of American Ensmingers were born, where two generations of Ensmingers fought in the American Revolution and two later generations fought in the Civil War, to Carlisle and finally back to Butler.
Along the way, we visited local libraries and historical societies (our favorite has to be York County where the people could NOT have been nicer), and tramped through countless graveyards, collecting headstone photos to fill out the Ensminger family tree.
Mom and I found ourselves having conversations about long-dead Ensmingers, talking as if we knew them.
There was Lewis Ensminger, the amateur ventriloquist and brother Ambrose Carver Ensminger, the much-decorated military veteran whose obituary reads as if he was present at every major conflict in the second half of the 19th century.
And there was Christina Ensminger, whose husband Peter died within a few years of their 1736 arrival in America and who managed to hang on to her farm and raise a large family as a single mom in a virtual wilderness.
For me, this research was an academic exercise; for mom, it was an opportunity to discover her identity.
Then one day, I asked my mom, “I know your brother died back in the 1970s, but have you ever heard from your brother’s widow?”
That question began the next phase of our journey, as we transitioned from researching the dead to reconnecting with the living…