I'm not sure of the exact process of how I got interested in genealogy but I remember that I became curious about two people. One was my great grandfather Robert Abrams. I barely remember visiting at his house when I was a small boy. One time he took a small block of wood and whittled on it. He made a little cage with a ball in it such that the ball could roll back and forth and not fall out. That was really something to a little boy. Secondly he was a very neat and orderly person. I remember all of his hand tools hanging on a shed wall, every one having its own place. He had been a farmer and even though he had retired to live in town, his little acre grew an amazing number of things. (I later learned that his farm had belonged to his father-in-law, John Slacks, who had come from Scotland.)
The second person was my great grandmother, Lou Etta. Her son, my grandfather, John Hensyel, was a World War I veteran. But since he died about a month before I was born, I grew up only hearing stories about him. Mom knew almost nothing about his mother.
I decided to poke around in the library and see what I could find. I started by scanning newspaper microfilms for the approximate date of Lou Etta's death. In 1890 there were no obituaries for most people as there are now but I got lucky and actually found the death notice for her.
"HENSYEL-Died, at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jno. Bacon, in Rose Hill, April 1, 1890, of consumption, Mrs Ulysses Hensyel, aged 20 years. Funeral April 2, at 1 P.M. Interment in Wymore Cemetery. Deceased leaving a husband and two children."
In all my years growing up I had never heard the name Bacon mentioned! I could vaguely remember grandmother taking us to a little country cemetery near a town called Rose Hill once to visit the grave of John Hensyel, her first husband. But I'd always wondered why he was buried in such a far away place with only a couple of other Hensyels in the entire cemetery!
So I started trying to learn something about this "John Bacon". I spent increasing amounts of time struggling to put pieces of the puzzle together. Initially I discovered a retired John Bacon living in Rose Hill with a woman thirteen years younger and several kids. In the same town was another man with the last name Bacon. Were they the result of some family tragedy? There were no other Bacons for several miles around.
For a year I gathered information on this John Bacon family but could not link them to my great grandmother. John Bacon became a fascinating mystery novel in real life. He had originally come with a brother to Iowa when the area first opened for settlement. John built a farm where he lived for many years and eventually retired in the little town of Rose Hill. During that time two other brothers, an aunt, and John's father, William, came to the same area. Two of the brothers joined the California gold rush, one settling in the Northwest and the other returning to politics in Iowa near John. John's father William was born and lived in Ohio until his second wife died, when he thus moved to Iowa to spend his remaining years with his oldest son, John. John was named after his grandfather, John, who had come from England and settled in Ohio in the late 1700's.
John Bacon's wife was Nancy Wymore. A number of her relatives had actually settled in the Rose Hill area before John arrived and many still live there. The Wymore cemetery was the corner of one of their farms. Of course the cemetery was filled with relatives of the Wymore family and several of John Bacon's descendants as well.
But I still hadn't linked my great grandmother Lou Etta Bacon to this John Bacon. I was becoming frustrated. I finally got a copy of the 1885 state census and found John Bacon's family listed. I was running out of ideas. Lou Etta would have been about 13 years old then and should be listed. I quickly read down through the listing of children and there was no Lou Etta!
Then I noticed something odd.
There was a "Louie" listed but he was listed as a girl! The only "Louie" I had ever personally known was Louie Schwartz, my other grandfather, and he was a bald, pipe smoking farmer.
Then it "clicked"! I remembered that on Lou Etta's tombstone there was also the name "Louie". Had she been nicknamed "Louie"? A quick check of the ages confirmed it. After a year of work, I knew I had finally linked her to the right John Bacon!
And the Wymore Cemetery that was full of strangers?
It turns out that my great great grandmother Nancy had a big family plus many aunts and uncles. Even after 150 years, some still live in the area. And they are all related to me.
The Hensyels? Well, yes, my grandfather, John Hensyel, is buried in a cemetery with only a few "Hensyel's". But now I know that John was actually the THIRD generation of his family to live in that area. Since at least 1856 there has been a Hensyel/Hensel/Hansel of the same family living within a few miles of the cemetery.
Genealogy is fascinating. It's like a big 1000 piece puzzle that a little kid has played with. You come along, put the pieces you can find onto a card table and start working. But the box is missing with the all important picture. And as you work you quickly discover that many of the pieces are lost. A few you find on the floor but some are gone, probably forever. Occassionally someone will walk by and give you another piece. Sometimes it is the very one you are searching for. Sometimes not. But you work along, becoming more and more absorbed in the picture before you, your personal history.