The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

May 12, 2013

All mothers in family tree are special


Mother’s Day is an appropriate time to remember all the mothers in our family tree. Each of us has, literally, hundreds of grandmothers. It is unfortunate that most of us know very little about most of them. Therefore, it is all the more important to record what we do know about the grandmothers we remember, so future generations will not forget them.

For example, my father’s mother, Annie Franke Feistel, is the only grandmother I knew. I remember her as a sweet little old lady, whose long white hair was arranged in a “bun” at the back of her head.

She did a lot of sewing and needlework, but as a devout Catholic she would not do any sewing on a Sunday, “the Lord’s day.” Christmas day was always spent at her house — with lots of aunts and uncles and children and laughter and chaos — and the food she served must have taken days to prepare.

My mother’s mother, Katherine Eickhorst Borjes, was widowed at an early age, but managed to support herself and her children by sewing. I have been told she would sell a handmade blouse for 50 cents.

Historical research has implied a few details of other females in our family tree. Try to picture the sadness of leaving family members in Germany when the decision was made to start a new life in America. Imagine the sorrow of having a son’s arm shot off during the Civil War.

Often tombstone inscriptions reveal other losses, such as many children’s deaths — perhaps from disease or accidents. Needless to say, all those mothers wept.

Our recollections of our mothers and grandmothers need to be recorded — and remembered.

Maiden names

One of the greatest challenges for genealogists is learning the maiden names of the women in a family tree. Several authors have included information on this subject, including Emily Anne Croom in her “Unpuzzling Your Past” (Baltimore, Md., Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., reprinted 2010) and Val D. Greenwood in his “The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy (Baltimore, Md., Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., third edition reprinted 2007).

Christine K. Schaefer has written a book on the subject, “The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy” (Baltimore, Md., Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., reprinted 2009).

William Dollarhide also has written a helpful article, “Places for Finding a Woman’s Maiden Name: A Checklist of 90 Sources,” at His list includes such sources as birth records, marriage records (more than simply the marriage license), divorce records, death records, cemeteries and census records. Be sure to read the helpful comments by researchers who are included on his website.

All the mothers in a family tree are special. Take time to remember them, even if their names are still unknown.

Queries, as well as a general exchange of genealogical material that readers would like to share, will be printed in the column for free. Contact Joan Griffis by e-mailing