“This looks like your great-grandfather’s lake–Minkler Lake.”
This sentence was written by my grandfather on an article that he shared with my mother, who in turn shared it with me. My grandfather was no longer alive so I couldn’t ask about this cryptic note and my mother didn’t know what it meant.
The article was by Annie Proulx and it was about the early lumber industry in the State of Washington. I knew my grandfather was a lifelong lumber distributor (I still don’t know what that means) and I thought perhaps the article spoke to him. But there was still his handwritten note, so I typed Minkler Lake into Google and the results sent me on a long journey of learning more about family history, meeting family I didn’t know and all in all, ultimately changing the trajectory of my life.
It turns out my great-great-grandfather was the only Birdsey Dwight Minkler ever according to Google and that I was descended by people who crossed the country in wagon trains, and lived with Native Americans and were among the first elected officials in the State of Washington. I had no idea.
If you asked me about my family history before this I would have said I’m Irish, English, German and Scottish. That many of my ancestors were only a few generations away from being new immigrants. That they settled in Chicago. But I only knew the stories of the men. I knew nothing of the women.
The further I dug into it, the more I learned the stories of pioneers and debutantes. Of brave women who crossed oceans and this vast country long before there were trains, planes, and automobiles. That in between the stories of the men were the names of women. Sometimes a sentence or two that made me want to learn more. Other times I just have to wonder about the sacrifices they made, the journeys they undertook and the dreams they had.
I’ve learned they had abortions, illegitimate children, they had separated and divorced. They left children that they did not see until adulthood, they died young, their husbands died young, they remarried, they started over and over again. Their husbands had very public mistresses and all of these stories were only hinted at–or were covered up due to shame.
It’s time we all learn more about the women who settled this country and who shaped our lives indirectly. We aren’t the first generation to have choices, problems, and concerns, and we won’t be the last.
Do you know the stories of the women who went before you?