Searching for our roots


Last week my brother and I traveled to Kansas for our Uncle’s memorial service. My mother, a native of Kansas, moved to Ohio at the end of World War II with my father, her soldier husband. The letters she wrote her parents every Sunday testify to her deep homesickness, a yearning for the rolling plains and the sense of connection she had to the land of her birth. She filled my childhood with stories about riding a twenty-two-year-old mare named Black Beauty over dirt roads to a one-room school filled with boys in bib overalls and only one other girl.

Almeda & Neal at school

Mom is on the left.

When we made this trip in 2007, we had our mother along as a guide. This time we had to rely on our memories as we searched for graves in cemeteries and the house our great-grandfather built in Riley. We can no longer go to the farm where she grew up because it’s now part of Fort Riley, home to Big Red One, but with help from relatives and friends, we located the road to my grandparents’ farm. It’s one and one-half miles in the distance on the left hand side of the first picture, probably on the other side of the tree line.

Rumor has it that foundation stones still stand to mark the location of the house and barn, possibly the silo, but we could not explore for ourselves because access is prohibited. Understandably, the army does not want civilians getting in the way of tank maneuvers and shooting.

Even though the land is long gone, memories persist of our great grandfather, Frank Harrison, who wanted to build his future in America.

Frank Harrison b 1859His parents in London did not want him to embark on this venture alone so they asked his brother Charles to leave his job and accompany him. Frank and Charles learned to till the soil by apprenticing themselves to a farmer, and then each took 80 acres of land in Madison Township, Riley County.

Frank’s future father-in-law had a pasture on the east side of his farm, and sent his  cattle there to graze during the summer. One of his sons stayed in a small house on the property, and his sister, Hattie, to keep house for him. That is how Frank Harrison met his future wife, Hattie Baxter, the woman my brother and I knew as Grandma II.

Great Grandpa died in 1923, leaving Grandma II to live four more decades on her own. Never one to remain idle, she spent her time as a midwife and caring for invalids. And she did handworkDSC05339. A prolific needleworker, Grandma crocheted doilies, quilted, made embroidered tablecloths and did much more.  I was delighted when cousin Bruce, now 91, brought a box of her handmade items to the luncheon held after our uncle’s memorial service. I’ve always joked that I inherited my love of needlework from her.

Even though I grew up in Ohio, our family’s Kansas roots are deep. You feel a connection to the land when driving across the rolling countryside, when you see cattle grazing in the Flint hills, and when you visit with friends and family. My mother, uncle, and their ancestors may be gone, but their stories endure as long as we are here to share them.

About JP in B-town

JP grew up on a sheep farm in northwest Ohio. She learned to knit by the age of ten, and loves the smell of wool. She fell in love with reading, a habit she fed with weekly visits to a nearby Carnegie Public Library. Reading fed her desire to become a writer, and her dream of traveling the world. She resides in Bloomington, Indiana, where she continues to knit and write.
This entry was posted in crafts, family, family history, Kansas, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Searching for our roots

  1. Deb says:

    What a wonderful way to connect with your past. I love the photo of your mom with all the boys.

  2. Theresa says:

    Beautiful family story. Condolences on the loss of your uncle.

  3. Anne says:

    Hearing the stories of other families’ midwest journeys. Thank you for your lovely writing!

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