Friday, August 5, 2011

How I Contracted the Disease

When I was a kid in the 1970s, my mother’s family had somewhat regular family reunions in the summer. There were essentially two branches of the Wenz family, located in New York/New Jersey and Boston. Most of the reunions I remember were in Boston, except for one big one in 1976 in New Jersey. Each year, I would have an opportunity to hang out with cousins who were ostensibly related to me and then not see them again until the next reunion. My mother’s mother, Dorothy Mae (Irving) Wenz, lived in Miami, and would come up for a visit at the time of the reunions. As we were preparing for the 1976 reunion, I was sitting at the kitchen table with Grandma Dot and I asked her how I was related to the cousins I only saw once each year.

It was a bit of a tangled situation, the result of the marriage of two sisters, Dot and Millie Irving and their marriage to two brothers, Ted and Fred Wenz. I finally had to get out a piece of paper and draw a little chart to keep things straight. As she waited for me to draw the lines, she would tell me stories of her childhood.

Her father was an immigrant from Canada, where he used to run the ferry from St. John, New Brunswick to Boston. One trip, it seems, he just got off the ferry and never got back on it. Eventually he got a job with the Houghton Publishing Company in Boston (millions of schoolchildren then and now will recognize the Houghton Mifflin name!). He used to bring home the seconds to his children, starting them, and subsequent generations, on a lifetime of a love of literature.

Grandma Dot said that her legs were bowed as a child, and that her father had dug a shallow trench in the backyard, sit her in it and pack her legs with dirt each day. I don’t remember how long this process took, but eventually, my grandmother had nice, straight legs.

To this day, thirty-five years later, I can still remember the magic of that moment – I loved the stories about the people and the history and wanted to know more! I embarked on a mission to accumulate dozens of vital records certificates from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and each one provided both missing pieces of the puzzle and more holes in the puzzle! From the scrap of paper (which I still have) came a half dozen poster boards delineating the Wenz-Irving family for the reunion. Wonder what became of them?

Then one day two LDS missionaries came to the door while I was working on the posters. I could say coincidentally, but I’ve come to know that there are no coincidences in the work of family history. There just happened to be a woman in town, part of the only LDS family in town, who know a lot about family history.

Learning about the genealogical resources of the LDS Church opened up a whole new world to me. In September of 1976, I moved to Miami and went to my first local Family History Center, in the Miami 1st Ward building, with Sister Edna Slay as director.

Since then I’ve spent countless hours in Family History Centers, National Archives Branches and online and had some marvelous “adventures of the Spirit.” Oh, and I'm a Mormon now!

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