Then & Now: Bass Lake Revisited

(August, 1957– I was not yet five. The two boys with me in the picture were sons of one of my parents’ friends who were camping with us.)

Making special memories with your children is not always easy for working parents to do, but it is one of the most important. Our parents were hard-working people, but they understood that kids are only kids for a short time. Every childhood memory of my summer vacations includes a two-week camping trip to one lake or another.

For many years we went to Bass Lake near Yosemite. I loved the water, could hardly get me out of it, but I wasn’t a great swimmer, yet. However,  thanks to my sister Carol, I learned to float on one of those trips. And then there was the time I fell asleep in our boat when I was supposed to be the observer while my older sister skied behind. By the time Dad noticed he was only towing a rope, she was quite a ways back, her head bobbing above water. Oops! Sorry, Bonnie.

Bass Lake Revisited 2017

October, 2017, I had a chance to revisit Bass Lake. Sixty years later! Standing on the shore near the falls, looking across to where we used to camp, brought a flood of happy memories. The campfire shout around the lake in the evening–“Elmer…. Mother’s calling!”  (Or so, I recall.) Boating. Swimming. “Observing.” The falls. Day trips to Yosemite. But, as an adult, the lake looked so much smaller. (Most things in the world are big through the eyes of a child.) It was wonderful to see through my childhood’s eyes once again. Thanks for the memories, Bass Lake.

Bass Lake 2017

(Left) Friends and our swimming area in the background.                                          (Right) Mom, Dad, and my godmother Mary Jane hanging out.




Turning Point

Journey to Certification, Part 3:

Defining moments come to everyone, probably more often than we realize. One of those defining moments came for me during our visit to Minnesota for the Olson Family Reunion in July, 2014. The journey with my sister B. and Aunt L. was so much fun! Seeing my aunts reunited was heartwarming. Reconnecting with cousins we haven’t seen for years (some for over 50 years) was a true blessing. But it was one cemetery visit, with memories of burying our other sister still fresh in my mind and heart, that brought it all home for me. I understood at that moment what I was to do with the rest of my life.

I had been dragging my sister B. around for a week, taking her to every cemetery I knew of where ancestors were buried. She helped me walk up and down rows and rows of markers trying to find the names on my lists. Our travels took us from Albert Lea, MN, to Sioux Falls, SD,  and then south to Sibley, IA. Of course, there was an agreement made my sister that, if she was going to go with me to cemeteries, then I was going to take her to Falls Park while visiting Sioux Falls. Not a problem. Aunt L. accompanied us on that excursion, too. It was a fun day for all.

One of our last cemetery visits took us to Sibley, IA. Before leaving on our road trip, I found the cemetery where our grandfather, Peter Brinkman (1890-1914), was buried. We never knew him. He died two months before our father was born. According to Google Maps, the cemetery was south of Sibley, out in the middle of a corn field. I wasn’t even sure whether it still existed. It was called the Hope German Presbyterian Cemetery.

Our first stop in Sibley was at the Chamber of Commerce. When asked about this cemetery, the woman in the office said she had never heard of it. She sent us to the public library, just a block away. We had no idea what we would find there.

The main librarian hadn’t heard of the cemetery, either. However, they just happened to have a binder of a compiled list of all the cemeteries in Osceola County, recently donated to the library. The man who compiled the work listed the name of every person found, dates on the inscription, the cemetery in which they were interred, and the town where that cemetery was located. (There may have been other pieces of information, too, which I don’t recall now.) She brought out the binder and let us look for our grandfather’s name.

“There! There it is! Oh, my gosh!! I can’t believe it! Hope Cemetery! We found him, B.! We found him! The cemetery does exist!” I was so excited, I think my heart took a leap or two!

There was another young woman helping at the counter. When I showed her the entry for our grandfather, she said, “I think I have been to that cemetery with my grandmother.” She went straight to the computer and printed out directions. Almost there, I thought, an anxious lump growing in my throat.

Well, the drive to find the cemetery was interesting, to say the least. The directions wanted us to turn off of a nice paved road onto a dirt field road. I started to turn, determined to get to our destination. Being a country girl married to a rice farmer, driving on field roads didn’t intimidate me. However, we didn’t make it more than 50 feet, or so, and there was a huge mud puddle. A thunderstorm had come through and dropped a bunch of rain for two days. Next to the puddle was a sign to the effect, “Enter at your own risk.” We decided, since we were not in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, it would be best to heed the warning. There had to be another way to get to the cemetery. Thank goodness for GPS!

After backing up, we were back on pavement, at least for a while. Eventually, we found ourselves on a public dirt/gravel road, obviously maintained by some road crew. While I drove, my sister concentrated on the Google Map and the car’s GPS map. Finally, she says, “We are very close.” We passed a cornfield, a long row of trees, and a white farmhouse with a sign that read “Olson.” All of a sudden she said, “We missed it. We have gone too far.” Slowly, I backed up from the corner, past the farmhouse, past the row of trees, slower and slower. Then, I stopped.

There, between the cornfield and the trees, was a road, covered with grass/weeds, green from the fresh rain. Our eyes barely caught sight of something at the end of the road–a cyclone fence. Could that be it? I backed up just a bit more, and there it was. Beyond the fence we saw headstones! Heart racing, I drove slowly to the edge of the fence. We got out and looked around.

The cemetery was not very big, maybe 30 or 40 headstones at most. Many of them had the surname of Frey, another ancestral name on our father’s side. We walked around for a short time, then my sister proclaimed, “Oh my gosh! We found it! He’s here! I don’t believe it.” We stood in front of our grandfather’s headstone, the closest we had ever been to him in our lives, held each other, and cried. They were tears of joy in the discovery, but also tears of sadness. We were sad that we never knew him, but even more, we were sad that he never knew his son. How much our father needed him as a child! We just stood there for a while, thinking out loud, relishing the experience, and took lots of pictures.

That was my defining moment. That was the moment I knew that I had to pursue genealogy with a purpose.  I needed to find out about my ancestors more deeply. Who they were. How they lived. Where they came from. I wanted to learn more about genealogical research. I decided then and there that, once back to California, I would turn this dream into a reality. I didn’t know how, but I knew this would be my new path in life–a life-long passion turned into a new career, possibly.



Do you know about this wonderful resource for German family history research called an Ortsippenbuch, or Ortsfamilienbuch? I didn’t, until about two years ago when I enrolled in the German Records Certificate program through NIGS (National Institute of Genealogical Studies), University of Toronto. If you are searching for information about  ancestor who came from Germany, and you know the region or village where they lived, you might want to check to see whether there is an Ortsippenbuch available for your region of interest. An Ortsippenbuch is a village lineage book. It is filled with wonderful information transcribed mostly from parish records and can help you reconstruct your family in Germany. Here is just one article about them from the Family Search blog (2012) which will provide a little more background.

When I was in Salt Lake City in January for SLIG 2017, I was able to spend some time at the Family History Library. Their collection of Ortsippenbucher is amazing! I went to the catalog, found the books relating to the villages in Ostfriesland where my ancestors lived, and there they were. My ancestors’ names in black and white! It was an exciting find.

The books I searched were entitled, Die Familien der ev.-luth. Kirchengemeinde [village name]  [years covered].  These are published by Upstalsboom – Gesellschaft, a society dedicated to family and historical research in Ostfriesland. Family information I was able to find in these books included births, marriages, deaths, parents, spouses, children, occupations,and links to other family members by the numbering system used in these books. All great clues to finding original records and proving my father’s family lineage. I was even able to confirm a story my father told me when I was younger, that some of his ancestors were paper makers. The other part of that story was that there was a crest. He said it was a family crest, but it could have been a guild crest. Now to research German heraldry and guilds and uncover the rest of the story.

Family names searched: Funk, Brinkman, Knipper, Donnemorroth (a Scottish surname which became Funk(e) by marriage)

Shall We Dance?

Just the other day, I told one of my nieces about watching my parents learn how to do “the twist.” Chubby Checker’s version of the song by the same name, coupled with his appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1960, created a dance craze that became popular among young and old alike. Mom and Dad were both in their forties, Dad probably closer to fifty, when this incident occurred.

They had just finished a night of bowling for their league and were getting a couple drinks with friends at the bar. (I was only about 10-12 years old, but I was the team’s scorekeeper.) I remember the adults demonstrating “the twist” by pretending to hold a bath towel across their backsides, then pulling it to the right, then the left, back and forth, while twisting their body, pretending to dry off. Looked right to me, but maybe they were just mocking the teenagers. Nah, they would never…

My father loved to dance. He had music in his soul, just like me. When he left home in 1930-31, at the beginning of the Great Depression, he headed west with a friend. The two young men ended up in Las Vegas. They enjoyed going clubbing and dancing with the women they would meet. Maybe that’s when he learned to dance so well, and to play blackjack (but I digress). Later, as he told it, he worked as a dancer for Lawrence Welk, getting the audience “warmed up” before the show. Haven’t completely verified these tales, but I can imagine them happening.

I am not sure Mom loved to dance as much as Dad did, but she seemed happy when she danced with him. They were the perfect partners. He guided her across many a dance floor, and she followed him step by step. They were smooth dancers, gliding or bopping to the music depending on the beat, and made it look so easy. What fun it was to watch them on the dance floor! It was even more fun whenever Dad took this little daughter of his onto the floor and let me dance on his toes. I felt like a princess at the ball!

Dancing is a special part of my parents’ tale, but it is also a huge part of mine. I went to my first school dance 52 years ago, seventh grade, met my first boyfriend, and we danced almost every dance, at almost every school dance after that, for six years! (That’s a whole nother story.) Then, there were the years of dancing with my husband when we were dating and in the early years of our marriage. Later on were the years of putting on school dances as Club Live advisor for middle schoolers, or as Activities Director at our local high school, showing off some moves of my own on occasion, or chaperoning church dances. The music is still in me and finds ways to express itself–tapping a foot, the occasional dancing for exercise, or moving to the beat while cooking and cleaning.

Dancing may not be a part of your tale, but it is just another example of how we can show our tale or that of our ancestors. Do you enjoy dancing, or do you think you can’t dance? Have you or any of your family members learned a cultural dance from the land of your ancestors? What dances were popular as you grew up? Was square dancing a part of your P.E. program in school? Think about how dancing has been a part of your life, and don’t be afraid to show your tale.