Sunday, May 11, 2008

My great grandmother!

I never met my great grandmother (my gradmother's mother) - Margaret Martin Hatzenbuhler. However, I have copies of her stories as translated by my great aunt Margie (my grandmother's youngest sister). She didn't speak English, although she moved to America when she was only a few months old. They moved to a community of similar people, family and friends who all spoke a dialect of German. I thought that I'd share an excerpt for Mother's day.

My ancestors had been promised many things in Russia, but now some of these promises were not being kept. Some of my people were starting to migrate to the New World, America.

Among those who had taken the long journey were my Aunt Mary and Uncle Pete. They wrote and told us about all of the opportunities available in the new land.

But Aunt Mary was lonely for her family, especially her father, who was living with us. They also needed help on their homestead in North Dakota. They decided to send for Grandpa and two of Aunt Mary's nephews, my cousins. One of these cousins was not a very well young man, and so his parents would not allow him to go. The other one was too young, so his parents would not let him go either.

However, Grandpa wanted to go to this new land, so the two tickets that had been intended for the cousins were transferred to my two oldest sisters, Ana and Theresa. My father sold everything he had to buy tickets for the rest of the family. There were eleven of us altogether. There were Pa (Thomas) and Ma (Veronica), Ann, Theresa, Eva, Elizabeth, Ottilia, Nicholas, Mary, Rose and myself, Margaret. I was only a few months old at the time.

We set out on this huge ship for America. My oldest sisters earned their keep during the trip by working in the ships galley, the kitchen. In the evenings they entertained the well-to-do on the upper decks by singing. The rest of the family, on the lower deck, didn't fair so well. What money there was didn't last long. Had it not been for a rich bachelor who brought food to Ma every few days, telling her to feed her family, we might have starved.

Finally, we reached Ellis Island. By then Grandpa was sick. The authorities wanted to hold him there while the rest of us went on to North Dakota, but Pa wouldn't leave. He knew that as soon as we would get on the train, the authorities would ship his father back to Russia.

Days went by and finally brought Grandpa back to us. We all got on the train and headed west. We arrived in Bismarck, North Dakota on October 27, 1899. On that day I was 10 months old, and Pa used to say he had 27 cents left in his pockets.

Pa claimed a homestead in Morton County, North Dakota but it was too late in the year to build any kind of shelter on it until the following spring. Ma's cousin, Lucas, had just lost his wire and was left with two little children. He invited us to stay with him for the winter, and in return, Ma helped take care of his children. Anna, Theresa & Eva had stayed in the Bismarck area and worked for their keep.

In the spring, a shelter was built into the side of a hill. This is where we lived for the next several years. It was during this time, and I'll never forget it, that some Indians rode into the yard. They stopped to talk to Pa. Never having seen any Indians before, I stood there with both my eyes and mouth wide open. A fly flew in my mouth, and I nearly choked. Some years after that incident a stone house was built that was much bigger.

I can't imagine what my life would be like if my great-great grandparents on either my grandmother or grandfather's side of the family hadn't made the hard trip to America in the late 1800's, early 1900's. I'm sure that it was a long and scary trip to make. I'm thankful that my great grandmother and aunt Margie were able to work together to pass these stories down so that they can be remembered in my family history.

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