My own home town

I was born in a small town near the middle of Ohio along the I-75 corridor, north of Dayton, south of Toledo, called Piqua. My parents, and their parents, and grandparents, and further on back in their genealogy lived in Piqua. Most who immigrated here from Germany, or Ireland, or England, settled in Piqua and established homes and families. Many are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery along the river in the north section of town.

In March of 2011, I wrote about my memories of growing up in Piqua.

Even back in the 1950s, it wasn’t easy to find a job in a small town. When my dad returned from the service in the mid-1950s, he started working for NCR in Dayton, Ohio, about an hour’s drive away. In the 60’s my parents packed up our bags and moved us there. Neither my mom or dad really wanted to go. My mom didn’t work outside the home. All her family and friends were in Piqua. Over the years, my dad made no secret of the fact that he always missed Piqua. My parents had conversations about moving back “home” during their  retirement years. They finally made it back in January of 2013, when they were both buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

I understand the allure of small town life.

So, this morning, as I watched a CNN report on Beattyville, a small town in Kentucky where people are struggling to get by, it brought me to tears. I am a small-town girl at heart.

But sometimes you have to move. Times change. Opportunities shift. Throughout history we can find example after example of towns and cities that once prospered but then failed. The Dust Bowl comes to mind (probably because I just watched the documentary on Netflix). Sometimes we see cities that came through a rough patch and are beginning to thrive again. Buffalo, NY, is a good example. Buffalo was a rich city at one point during the height of waterway commerce. Then other forms of transportation developed and Buffalo was left with empty grain silos decomposing along its riverfront. The good news is that Buffalo is finding a way to reinvent itself. It is finding a way to thrive in the country and world as it is today.

St. John the Baptist Church in Bakum viewed from Elmelage farmland.

My husband, Mark, and I visited Bakum, Germany last summer. It’s a small agricultural town in northern Germany about a half-hour’s drive south from Bremen. We’ve traced Mark’s ancestors back to Bakum from 1530 until 1850, when they emigrated to Amerika. In some ways, you could argue that Bakum is Mark’s family’s “hometown.” Certainly it was his great-grandfather’s.

In the early 1800s, the population in Bakum grew at a fast rate and  the farming communities became over-crowded. People were living in barns, sheds, bake houses, in any available structure they could find. There was no food to eat. Parents struggled to provide shoes for their children. Poverty was rampant. Mark’s ancestor, Bernard Dominicus Grote, lived in the farming community of Elmelage and worked as a hired hand on land owned by the Knese family. Dominicus’ brothers all lived nearby on other farms. They all went to St. John the Baptist, the small church in town. I’m sure they did not wish to leave their family, their hometown and their homeland to come to a strange country with a language they couldn’t understand.

But they did. Like other ancestors of probably most, if not all of us.

I’m not talking about immigration right now. I’m talking about people following opportunity and doing what they need to do to survive. There is nothing new about this. It is the story of human survival from the beginning of time.

I truly hope our country can find a way to make things better for the folks in small towns who have lost their local industries and jobs. No one wants to see people suffer like that. But I also believe the way forward is exactly that, forward. Not back.





Affection for ancestors and genealogy books

I’m back on genealogy.

I have been spending most of my time the past several days updating the family history book I created for my mother in 1998. At that time I used the Family Tree Maker software book program. It’s a clunky program, on an older computer, and nobody else can open the files if I want to share the story. So I am moving the whole book, all 146 pages of it, into Word by copying, pasting, and updating information .

When I have a good copy finished, I plan to post it on my Adams and Lemmon Genealogy site at WordPress. I have had some luck finding distant relatives who are researching the same lines as I am by posting stories about ancestors like the Mary Etta Conner Lemmon post from my Stitches we Leave Behind series. One of Mary Etta’s great-granddaughters, like myself, found the page and has been corresponding with me. This was much more exciting than it might sound to you because I now have a copy of my great-grandmother’s sugar cookies I wrote about in the post. A windfall as far as I am concerned. Although I searched and searched and tried out different recipes, I was never able to replicate those big soft cookies my great-grandmother used to make.

I started researching my family history in 1983, shortly after our oldest son was born. I felt more connected to my roots with the arrival of our son.

My father’s aunt, who was a Sister of Mercy, had started researching her family line, the Wirrigs. She gave me her research and I began.

Over the years I have worked on our family history on and off again. When I first started, like most people at that time, I did not even own a computer. I kept records by hand, wrote letters for information, and visited cemeteries. Today a membership to opens up the world for you.

I also interviewed most of my elderly relatives. So many of these storytellers are no longer with us. I am grateful I took the time to talk to them while I still could.

Stories of my grandmothers and grandfathers  began to come to life on the paper and in my mind. I imagined what their lives might have been like. I began to feel affection for my ancestors.

Today I updated my parents’ genealogies in their file on my computer by adding the dates of their deaths. It feels so final somehow. Mom and Dad have now joined the ranks of the mothers and fathers and grandparents who only live on in the stories on paper and in our minds.

I feel a great affection for my ancestors.


Grandma Lemmons Sugar Cookies


Lincoln comes to town

This post is dedicated to two of my ancestors who served in the Union Army during the Civil War:

John W. Lemmon (ancestor on my mother’s side), from Champaign County, Ohio, served three years in the Civil War from August 11, 1862 until August 14, 1865.  He participated in battles at Richmond, the Siege of Vicksburg, and Nashville, among others. He received an Honorable discharge in August of 1865 at the age of 23.

Thomas Bryant (ancestor on my father’s side), from Washington County, Kentucky, served as a Union soldier during the Civil War. In May of 1864, his son and my ancestor, Ulysses Grant Bryant was born. Thomas enrolled in Company D of the 54th Regiment of the Kentucky Mounted Infantry Volunteers in September of the same year. He was honorably discharged in September of 1865. The 54th Kentucky was doing provost duty (policing activities) in the country around Lexington, Ky and operating against guerillas in Henry Co., Ky. Thomas received a pension from the government for the loss of sight in his right eye caused by cold and exposure during his service. The pension started at $6.00 per month in 1883 and was incrementally increased with time to $20.00 per month. He received it until his death in 1910.

01-Lincoln- 2013-11-09
Mark has a conversation with the president.
Lincoln is portrayed by Stan Wernz who has made the 16th president come to life for more than thirty years.

On a beautiful, and perhaps one of the last temperate, autumn Saturday we traveled to Governor Bebb Metropark in Butler County, Ohio to shoot photos of the living history program celebrating the life of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve never been to one of these, although I have always been fascinated by some of the Civil War reenactments that occur around the country. I found “Lincoln comes to town” to be a fun and engaging day that sparked my imagination.


Governor Bebb Park has a pioneer village that members of the sponsoring organizations moved into and took over for the weekend.

03-bugler-2013-11-09Buglers played their plaintain notes,

06-soldiers-2013-11-09a band of soldiers, the young and the old,

05-soldiers-2013-11-09performed their military drills.


A  blacksmith set out his wares.


Ladies took a morning stroll with coffee in a metal cup.


And Abe Lincoln visited the soldier’s camp, sometimes speaking with others,

10-Lincoln-2013-11-09sometimes lost in pensive thoughts.


I had chicken pot pie in the tavern for lunch.


I have no idea what a couple of these tools are for.


Governor Bebb Pioneer village was the perfect venue for the event,

14-flag-2013-11-09and was suitably decorated for the celebration.

19-stage-2013-11-09A stage was set up in the cemetery for Lincoln to give his Gettysburg Address, (but unfortunately we did not stay long enough to hear it. We did, however hear his speech upon leaving Springfield.)

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The ladies made use of the stage to have a fashion show where they explained the specifics of their dress.

18-young_soldier-2013-11-09This young man watched with a detached interest. Some things never change.


Sponsoring organizations include:

Metroparks of Butler County
6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Company A
Ladies Living History Society of Greater Cincinnati
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
Sister Anthony O’Connell Auxilliary Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

Lives contained in a cedar chest

I feel my past slipping away like a landslide, the topsoil steadily moving down behind me like a carpet pulling everything with it into the deep dark void. Unstoppable. Taking the houses, the trees, and me.

Who took the Adams’ Bible?” my aunt wants to know. “There was a big ruckus over that Bible. It landed in the hands of an alienated family member.  Aunt Flo finally got it back and your mother got it from her.

I scanned all the black and white photos in Dad’s leather album from his time in the army in Germany, transcribing all the little handwritten notes on the backs.

Me standing at attention. Shaner messed this up. He didn’t tell me I was shadowed.

This is my equipment that we had to carry most of the time. I took it Sunday when we had inspection.

We had a demonstration yesterday and here is a shot taken right after the air force dropped some napalm on the target before the tanks and big guns moved in. It was some show.

Me sewing up a pair of shorts. The general is coming to inspect. (It didn’t do any good. We failed.)

Mom’s framed wedding portrait with a telegram from my grandfather to my dad in Germany.

Congratulations. It’s a little girl. Arrived at 9:30. Everything okay.

I scanned all the photos of Mom and my sister in the back of Dad’s army album that I never realized were there.

She’s got her eyes open a little bit more here. Isn’t she the cutest thing you ever saw?

This is where I give her a bath. Right by the stove. I turn the burners on so it will be nice and warm for her.

Mom and Dad’s memories, recorded on film, sent across the ocean, returned home, arranged in a photo album, held in place with black photo corners.

Envelopes of color photos from the trip to D.C., my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary. Grandchildren.

I’ll keep the things they saved from their parents. Photos, marriage licenses, death certificates. A hand-written diary from Mom’s grandfather and his farming days.

I’ll put it all in the cedar chest with their high school graduation photos and yearbooks; with the outfit Mom wore in the photo with her great-grandson just two years ago, and Dad’s captain’s hats from his pontoon days at the cottage at the lake.

Little mementos. Articles of genealogical interest. Sentimental items.

I’ll store them all away, for what purpose I do not know. Small fragments of a past that is no more.

23-08 - sewing short - not in album

A thousand bottles

A breeze blows in the window and across the room where it feels cool on my skin and lifts soft wisps of hair off my face. Outside the trees sway and dance with a million graceful arms that make a sweet rustling sound and provide a background for the instrumental music playing from my computer. A steady, but easy and soundless, rain continues to fall as if it will not stop for days. Arthur sleeps in his safe place behind the recliner I often sit in to read. Earlier on the screened-in porch, Arthur’s shivering and quaking from the cool air or fear of the weather eventually drives us both inside.

It’s a very peaceful moment and would that I could bottle it and hang it from my neck on a thin ribbon to experience when I’m not at peace and life is a clanging symbol fraught with uncertainty and fear and longing. Would that I could breathe in this moment and set my soul to rest at whim.

Would that I could fill a thousand bottles and give one to you.

May a cool breeze tease your hair, softly brush your face, and clear your mind.

Have a nice weekend.





Anna Matilda Adams Lemmon — my maternal grandmother

“Except in rare and isolated areas, crafts no longer exist as a way of life.[…] In our day, crafts are newly respectable, but chiefly as ‘hobbies,’ as ‘occupational therapy,’ or as new fashions in interior decorating. Yet behind the excuses given for indulging in craft activities, there lurks a kind of half-buried question, a faint suspicion that there is more to all this. . .

“The myths and traditions tell us that it begins from above; that all art, all craft, starts as a divine revelation. ‘Ideas,’ writes Coomaraswamy, ‘are gifts of the spirit,'” A Way of Working—The Spiritual Dimension of Craft, edited by D.M. Dooling. (A.K. Coomaraswamy quote from Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art).

Anna and Cory Lemmon

By far, my grandmother, Anna Matilda Adams Lemmon, produced the most needlework of the women in my family, at least the most that remains in the family.

Anna Adams on her parents farm with some kind of bird

Anna Matilda Adams was born August 3, 1915 in Covington, Miami County, Ohio.  She had to help with farm work when she was a child.  Beginning at the age of 5 or 6, Anna started attending school at a one-room schoolhouse that contained eight grades.

They didn’t have electric lights at home, so they used coal oil lamps to see with and would take one from room to room.  They had a large coal stove for heat.

Anna Adams and Cory Lemmon - early 1930s

My grandmother’s family was quite musical and for entertainment in the evenings they would get together and play music.  My great-grandfather played the fiddle.  Her brother played the guitar, and Anna played the piano.  She said, “We had a good time, just playin’ music and singin’.”  That’s how Anna met Cory who would eventually become her husband and my grandfather; he came out to the house with some friends for the entertainment.

Dresses our grandmother made for my two older sisters and me - 1958

Anna was happily married, raised three children and never worked a day outside the home.  She stayed busy embroidering and crocheting throughout her life.

Crocheted dress for great-granddaughter Anna - 1988

She produced numerous embroidered pillow cases and doilies; she crocheted numerous doilies and various other items; and she produced probably hundreds of crocheted afghans.  I personally own four.

My daughter Anna with my grandmother who she was named after, 1988.

We celebrated my Grandma Lemmon’s 90th birthday in the summer of 2005.  I made a display of photos and some of her needlework that we had collected over the years.  At the time, she suffered from dementia and was eventually moved out of her home and into an assisted living apartment, and later to a nursing home where she died in 2010. The last years of her life she had very poor vision and was no longer able to do any needlework.

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See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

Katherine Roecker Adams, a farm wife

“Through the history of embroidery — in the very threads of samplers, firescreens, table runners and dress — can be traced another history: the history of women.”
(From The Subversive Stitch)

When I was in college the second time, this time earning an English degree, I took a concentration of Women’s Studies classes. This is the 6th in a series of posts from a project I wrote while taking a Women’s Studies/English class called “Reading between the stitches.” 

Katherine Roecker Adams with her four oldest children. She holds my grandmother in her arms. Her husband (my great-grandfather) Harrison Myron Adams holds two horses. Circa 1917.

Katherine Roecker Adams

My mother’s maternal grandmother was Katherine Roecker Adams.  She was born January 21, 1885 in Piqua, Ohio.  Katherine’s father was from Germany, but her mother was born in Ohio.  Katherine spoke German.

Katherine Roecker Adams - circa early 1900s

As a farm wife, Katherine did various farm chores like milking the cows.  She also baked all of their bread and cake and pies.  She made her own noodles and strudel.  She sewed all of their clothes.

Katherine and Harrison Adams with two of their granddaughters - my mother is the child standing in front.

My great-grandmother Adams made quilts for their use out of pieces of fabric from worn out clothes.  She also embroidered, crocheted, and did tatting. I have never seen anything that she made. I wish I could.

Katherine, Harrison, my grandmother Anna Adams Lemmon and my mother holding two of my sisters.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

Mary Etta Conner Lemmon — a pillar of strength

This post is part of The Stitches we Leave Behind series.

My mother came from a tradition of creative women on both sides of her family, specifically, her grandmother on her father’s side and her own mother and maternal grandmother.

Mary Etta Conner Lemmon 1880 - 1970

My mom’s paternal grandmother, Mary Etta Conner, was born September 7, 1880 in Champaign County, Ohio.  Mary Etta’s mother died when she was very young.  She was from a rural area of Ohio, and according to her daughter-in-law, my grandmother Anna Adams Lemmon, her family lived in a one-room log cabin where the snow sometimes sifted in through the cracks between the logs upstairs in the loft where she slept.

Mary Etta Conner

Mary Etta only went to school until the 3rd grade.  According to my uncle, Cory Jr. Lemmon, she was proud to have received an education.  She married Cory Oscar Lemmon when she was sixteen years old.  He was twelve years her senior.  According to my grandfather, Cory Oscar “was a drunk.”  The marriage was rocky and after eight children were born Cory Oscar reportedly left the family and started a new one.  When the marriage broke up, she was left with six children to raise, alone and without support.

Mary Etta worked at the Imperial factory making ladies stockings to support her family.

My great-grandmother was a mid-wife and helped deliver my mom into the world.  Uncle Cory said, “She ‘doctored’ herself, with her own remedies until she was unable to care for herself any longer.”

Mary Etta, icing a cake for her granddaughter's (my mother's) birthday celebration.

My mother said my great-grandmother was always a hard worker, and “she’d be up on a chair at 80-years-old washing the walls or something.”

Santa Claus made by my great-grandmother. It's sitting in a sled I made in shop class during high school. The Santa's beard and white fur on outfit has been refurbished.

My great-grandma Lemmon made us a little stuffed Santa Claus one year; my mom still sets it under her tree at Christmas.

I remember very little about my great grandmother, only that my mom used to do her laundry for her. I remember one time my sister and I  had braided our hair when it was wet and then let it loose after it dried. The result was that it was kinked all the way down. My great grandma really liked it. I remember the one-room apartment she had in a duplex. And that she had a pot-belly stove that she baked the best big soft sugar cookies in I’ve ever had and never have been able to reproduce.

I was a little intimidated by her, and perhaps even scared as young children sometimes are around the elderly. As an adult, knowing what I know now about her and her life, I wish I had had the opportunity to know her better.


See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith – my paternal grandmother

Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith 1914 - 1984

Cecelia Pearl Bryant Wirrig’s oldest daughter was my grandmother, Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith.  Katherine was born April 9, 1914 in Piqua, Ohio.

According to my father, Katherine liked to go to dances on the roof top when she was young.  That is likely where she met my grandfather, James E. Smith.  Unbeknownst to Katherine, James suffered from mental illness.  She then suffered from the results of it throughout her married life.  My grandfather was in and out of jobs, and at one point served a year in jail for breaking and entering.  During that year, Katherine and her children moved in with her parents. Cecelia and William Wirrig, and she started working at the mill sewing underwear.

Grandma Smith with my oldest son - 1983.

It was piece-work and she never made a lot of money at it.  My sister remembers, “Grandma worked, and walked to work, every day of her life.  She worked at a place making less money per hour, even when I was sixteen, than I was making working at the Dairy Queen.”

Grandma loved her grandchildren and she used to like it when we brushed her hair.  She was a very religious person and had a lot of religious items in the house.  Her house was the old convent across the street from St. Boniface Church in Piqua, Ohio, and there were little holy water containers hanging beside each doorway.  She also had little statues of Mary and Jesus scattered about.

She liked to cook a lot and made large family meals on Sundays.  She also liked to garden, decorate cakes, sew, knit and crochet.    My Grandma Smith taught my father how to crochet to entertain himself once when he was ill as a child.  She taught me how to knit.

Rose afghan my grandmother was crocheting for herself and my mom finished after her death.
Rose detail from afghan.

When she died we found many unfinished needlework projects stashed away in a cupboard.  She was crocheting a large afghan for her bed when she died.  It had beautiful decorative roses on it and she was very excited about making it.  After she died, my mom collected the finished squares, then finished several more, and turned them into a cover for my parents’ bed at home.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant and her Singer treadle sewing machine

This is the third in my 10-part series about women ancestors and needlework called The Stitches We Leave Behind.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant 1887 - 1971

The real story of sewing in my father’s family starts with Mary Katherine’s oldest daughter, Cecelia Pearl Bryant, who was a quilter and kept  a quilting frame in her dining room, folded up and pushed against the wall when it wasn’t in use.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant was born October 6, 1887 in Kentucky. Her family moved to the Salina, Ohio area when she was six years old. She was the oldest of nine children.  Her name was Ora Pearl originally, but she changed it to Cecelia when she converted to Catholicism.  Her family and friends called her Pearl.

When she was 22 years old, Cecelia Pearl had a son out of wedlock.  She had worked for a family named Hall.  According to my great aunt Agnes, Mrs. Hall was either pregnant, was in the hospital, or was deceased.  Cecelia later went to court to prove paternity.  She named her son Louis Hall.  But according to my great uncle Ben, she never talked about Louie’s father.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant and William Wirrig 1913

Cecelia moved to the city of Piqua and got a job in the mills, sewing, to support herself and her son.  Later she worked at an underwear factory, the Hosiery.  Cecelia met William Wirrig who was from a farming family north of Piqua.  They were married on November 6, 1913.   My father’s mother, my grandmother, was their first child.

Times were difficult when Cecelia and William were raising their family.  But although money was scarce, Cecelia always tried to give the children a nice Christmas.  She would make doll dresses for the girls.   A car accident and arthritis eventually prevented Cecelia from being able to walk later in life.

Cecelia with her pet bird Toby sitting on her head.

My father remembers, “She used to sew and sew and sew.  And talk to her bird.”

I never knew my great-grandmother Cecelia quilted until recently.  I don’t have anything that she made.  I hope to locate one of her quilts some day.

I do have the treadle sewing machine that my great-grandmother  Cecelia Pearl Bryant Wirrig used at home.  My sister and I used to sew doll clothes, that we designed ourselves, on it when we were young. Too bad I didn’t save some of those gems.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.