Who am I and what am I doing here?


Genealogy is my passion!  I’ve been doing it since 1979, and I am still working on it as it is a never ending project.  You find an answer and then you have 20 more questions.  I have traced a couple of my lines back to the 1750’s.  One line in England and the other in Germany.  I recently had my DNA done by Ancestry.com in hopes of finding distant cousins that were working on the same lines.  But I have to admit it was somewhat disappointing in that area.  I have many, many, distant cousins. Some of them do not share their family tree, and of the ones that do share, I can’t find the common ancestor.  There were no surprises as to what part of the world my ancestors came from, as it was the same as where my research has taken me.

Sometimes, I wonder what is the point in spending hours, days, months, and years researching dead people.  In my family, I seem to be the only one who cares.  They put up with me, and my stories of my latest find.  As I get older, I wonder what is going to happen to my research.  Will my kids just throw it out?  Will my children or my grandchildren care about it someday?   I hope that by having this blog it will help preserve some of it.  I won’t give up, I can’t, it’s in my DNA.  So that’s who I am and that’s what I am doing here.

Happy Birthday Ronnie, I miss you!



Six months ago today my brother passed away.  Tomorrow, July 12, he would have turned 60.  I still have a hard time accepting that he is gone.  Something happens or I hear or see something and my first thought is I have to tell Ron.  But Ron is not here to tell.  It still seems not real to me.  In February we had a memorial service for him.  I was able to speak which surprised me.  Here is what I said with a shaky voice and holding back the tears.

Ron is my little brother by eight years and my only sibling. Not only was Ron my brother, he was also my friend.  I remember the day he was born.  I was so excited to have a little brother and someone to play with.  I don’t think at 8 years old, I realized how long it would be before he could actually play with me.  My mother let me help her bathe him and feed him.  I remember all his milestones, his first smile, the first time he sat up on his own, his first tooth, when he started crawl, walk, and talk.   Although, I sometimes regretted that he learned to talk.  Then later his first day of school, graduation, driver’s license and first job.  I wanted him to be able to play games with me.  So I started teaching him board games at a very young age.  Every Christmas we would get a new game and we continued this tradition as adults.  Every Christmas, I would try to find a new game for us to play.  Our favorite was 20 questions and Ron won most of the time.  He seemed to have a mind for trivia.  He had a great sense of humor and kept his sense of humor almost to end.  In the hospital the nurse was asking him questions and typing his answers into the computer.  He had to go to washroom and while he was in there the nurse said to him I can still ask you questions from here.  So she continued to ask him and he answered.  Then he said to the nurse, “This is the first time I’ve played 20 questions from the bathroom.”  The nurse cracked up.  

Ron and I often reminisced about our family.  We were a close knit family.  Every night the four of us always had dinner together.  My father was a history buff and talked a lot about history, politics, and current events at dinner table.  Both Ron and knew our history and that was thanks to my father.   Our mother and father stayed married to each other until my father passed away in 1984 and my mother followed in 1987.  We lived a few blocks from my grandparents and their home was our second home.  Our holidays were filled with family dinners where there would be 10 – 14 people at the dinner table.  In the summer there would be family picnics in our back yard as well as other places. 

We didn’t have many family vacations, but in 1967, my mother, Ron, and I drove to California.  My dad stayed home because he had to work.  It was quite an adventure for us.  We were two women alone on the road with a 12 year old in a 1962 Rambler.  The road was not expressway like today, but a two lane highway most of the way and sometimes very desolate.  We worried what we would do if the car broke down.  In Utah they were doing road repair and there was about 20 miles of a gravel road.  All of sudden we heard a knocking noise and we wondered out loud what it was and then it went away.  Just as we started to relax that it was gone, it would start again.  This went on for several more times before my mother caught Ron putting his arm out the window and knocking on the roof of the car.  We talked about our trip for years afterwards and my father would say that he didn’t go but he knew every detail as if he had been there. 

 In 1969, I started taking Ron to Cub games.  We would go a couple times a month.  After the game we would stand outside Wrigley Field and wait for the players to come out.  I would take pictures and Ron would get their autographs.  We even made a trip to St. Louis to watch the Cubs play Cardinals and stayed at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel where the Cubs stayed.  Ron would get their autographs in the lobby.  I remember there was a crowd around Ernie Banks and he was signing autographs.  Just as it was about to be Ron’s turn, Ernie said, “No more.”  Ron said, “Please Mr. Banks won’t you sign one more?”  And Ernie signed his autograph for Ron. 

Ron and I had our share of arguments and we would get mad at one another, but it never lasted. Ron and I didn’t need to call each other every day and we didn’t say I love you very often, but we knew it. I knew he was there for me and he knew I was there for him.  We were never any further than a phone call away.  He was a devoted Uncle to my sons, and a great brother.  When Ron was Ill he became my hero because of the way he handled his diagnoses.  He put up a good fight! When he passed he looked so peaceful.  Now he is with my mom and dad, and all our other relatives and friends that have passed.  His passing has left a big void in my life.  I will miss him on holidays and all the days in between.  I miss hearing his voice, and seeing his face.  I miss knowing he was just a phone call away, I miss his humor, I miss him beating me at 20 questions. I read this quote somewhere and I don’t know who wrote it or where it is from but it fit Ron and me.  “Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.”

I miss you Ron and I’ll miss seeing you tomorrow on your birthday and celebrating with cake and presents.  I miss you so much RIP!

Happy Birthday, MOM


Mom Dorothy Kaiser

Today, my mother would be 91 years old if she was still with us.  My mother has been gone 28 years, and I miss her as much today as I did when she passed away 28 years ago.  She never made it to 63.   She was far too young to die.  She like my father and brother was a smoker, and I believe that contributed to her death.  I heard and read that we baby boomers were misled with shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best because no one had ideal families like the ones portrayed in these shows.  I believe that mine came close.  No, my mother did not clean house dressed-up like June Cleaver.  She was a stay-at-home mother most of my growing up years.  When I was in high school she got a part-time job.  It was so part-time that it didn’t interfere with her raising us.

She kept a clean, neat home and was there when we got home from school.  She cooked three meals a day for us and as a family she made sure all four of us ate our dinner together.  She washed clothes and hung them out to dry.  Then she ironed them.  In my early years we did not have two cars and my dad took the car to work, so she walked to the grocery store.  She would pull me in the wagon and then I would have to walk back because the groceries were in the wagon.  We lived in Villa Park, Illinois and when we really wanted to do shopping for clothes or other things we would take the bus to Elmhurst or Oak Park.  I have memories of those home permanents that she gave me, and how I hated that!  She was involved in the PTA, Brownies, Girl Scouts, and Cub Scouts.  She was a room mother for my class several times.  Do they still have room mothers?  I always felt (even as teenager) I could talk with my mother.  She was always there for me.

After I was married and had children she was their only babysitter.  Sometimes they would stay with her, just because they wanted to stay at Grandma’s house, not because they had too.  Not only was she a great mother, but also a great grandmother.  I think she would love to know her great-grandchildren, and I know she would be proud of her Grandchildren and Great-grandchildren, and I hope she would be proud of me.

She started the ancestor hunt with me back in 1979 before the Internet when we had to do things by mail, and make trips to libraries, and archives.  I sometimes wonder what she would think about how it’s done today, and what she would think of my genealogy work.  I wish she was here to share all the ancestors I have found and the stories about their lives.  She was not only my mother, but my best friend and confidant too.  I’ll always remember good times and fun we had together.  Miss you Mom.  RIP

Copyright © 2015 Gail Grunst

Remembering Uncle Russ

Uncle Russ

Uncle Russ

Remembering my Uncle Russ today on what would have been his 84th birthday.  Uncle Russ was 16 years old when I was born.  My parents were living with my grandparents when I was born so Uncle Russ was one of the first people I knew as a baby.  He held me, played with me, and walked the floor with me when I was fussy.  We moved to our own place when I was one, but we were only blocks away from Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Russ.  After Uncle Russ graduated from high school, he became a mail man and for a while our street was on his route.  I would wait every day for Uncle Russ to come down the street with the mail.  I would follow him from house to house for a little while and then go home.  Some days he would stop by our house for lunch.  When I was four my Uncle joined the Navy.  I was heart-broken that he would be gone for long periods of time.  He left for Great Lakes Naval Training in November 1951 and completed his training in March 1952.  From there he went to Jacksonville Florida for more schooling and then to Memphis, Tennessee for still more schooling.  I’m not sure what his training or schooling was in, but he ended up working on airplanes and belonged to the Air Transport Squadron and his occupation was crew member.  After his schooling in Memphis he was transferred to Moffet Field in California in September 1952.  He was there until February of 1954 when he was transferred to Hickam AFB in Oahu, Hawaii until his discharge in November 1955.  We saw him periodically during the four years when he would come home on leave.  While he was stationed in Hawaii he did not come home on leave, and we did not see him for a couple of years.  He would send me presents from where ever he was stationed.  He sent me a hula skirt from Hawaii.  He sent my mother a Chinese tea set from San Francisco.  I now have that tea set.  He also sent me dolls for my doll collection, and he never forgot my birthdays.  While he was gone, my brother was born.  So he came home to a baby nephew.

After Uncle Russ came home there was a period of time when he had no job.  He would be over at our house almost every day when I got home from school, and he would play board games with me. I can remember my grandmother talking to my mother about him needing to get a job.  Everyone seemed worried that he wasn’t working except for me.  I didn’t want him to get a job because I wanted to play games with him every day.  But he finally did get a job at B. F. Goodrich changing tires on cars.  He worked there about 5 years when he met his future wife.  She came in for new tires for her car.  A few months later they married.  After they were married he got a job working for TWA.  During his time at TWA he loaded luggage on the plane, loaded the food on the plane, cleaned the planes, and then became a ticket agent. He was married to his first wife for 13 years and there were no children when they divorced. He moved to Phoenix, Arizona married a second time.  They moved back to the Chicago area and they divorced after two years.  He again moved back to Phoenix and then married again.  This time the marriage lasted a year.  After that he said he was done and was not going to marry again and he never did.  My mother and brother moved down to Phoenix after my father died and lived with him down there.  After my mother’s death my brother and uncle moved back to the Chicago area and he stayed in the Chicago area until his death.  Uncle Russ was very competitive when he played games.  He played to win.  He was a wiz at crossword puzzles.  The last few years of his life, he became a recluse and we didn’t see or hear from him often. He seemed to prefer his solitary life. It made me sad that he wasn’t more involved in our lives.  But I have great memories of my Uncle the way he was when I was younger.  Even my kids remember their Great Uncle the way he was before he became a recluse. He passed away on October 4, 2011 alone.  So it is on this day that I think about all the fun my brother and I had growing up with Uncle Russ. He was always there for us.  I miss you Uncle Russ.  RIP.

Copyright © 2014 Gail Grunst

The Fathers in My Life


Gail Grunst Genealogy:

I wrote about the father’s in my life on June 18,2011. I am re-posting it for Father’s day this year

Originally posted on Family Tales from Gail:

I would like to honor the fathers in my life.  First and foremost there was my Dad.  I loved my Dad very much.  He was always there for me.  He grew up during the depression and that made a great impact on his life.  I remember the stories that my dad told me about the depression.  When I hear today’s recession compared to the great depression on TV,  I cringe because today is nothing like my father described to me.  His father lost his business, then they lost their house, and they ate banana’s for Sunday dinner.  There were no safety nets like there are today for the unemployed.  Because this made such an impact on my Father he decided that his children were not going to go without.  He went without lunch for weeks and saved his lunch money to buy me a doll for Christmas.  He made me…

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John Desens Killed by Neighbor

John's Farm

John’s Farm

On a June day in 1907 John Desens was working on his farm in Clark County, Wisconsin near the town of Greenwood, when he noticed that something had eaten his grain.  He did not own any cattle and the only cattle nearby belonged to his neighbor Fred Zell.  John was walking his horses out to the pasture, when he saw his neighbor, Fred, on the road.  John called to Fred and said, “Your cattle have been eating my grain.”  Fred asked him, “How can you say my stock is eating your grain?”  John replied, “Come and see for yourself, you can see the grain is eaten off.”  Fred yelled to John, “You son of a bitch.  You come on the road and I will fix you!”  John said, “No, I don’t want to fight, I am an old man, and all I ask of you is to keep your stock out of my grain.”  John heard the gate open, and the next thing he knew Fred had him by the throat, choking him, and pushed him up against the fence post.  John took out his knife and tried to cut himself loose.  He cut where ever he could.  John fell and Fred fell on top of him. John didn’t want to get his eyes cut so he managed to roll over.  John woke up lying in the field and an officer was talking to him.  John said to the officer, “Leave me lie here a little longer and I will die.  I do not want to go to jail.”  The office told him that he wasn’t going to take him to jail, but to a doctor.  When the officer found John, he had been cut and bleeding.  John stated that his side hurt and asked for some water.  The officer got him some water and noticed that John was covered with dried blood and flies.  The officer also saw that there was blood oozing from John’s leg and at first thought that John had been shot.  He ripped the pant leg and saw that he had a gash on his leg.  The officer and some other men got a wagon, filled it with hay, got some blankets from John’s house, and took him into town to the doctor.  Later that day the officer got a call to take John to the local hotel.  He had taken Fred Zell there earlier that day.  There was only one room available so he put John in the same room as Fred.   This was in place of a hospital as there was no hospital in the town.  Two days later John went by the officer’s house and said he was going to walk home.  The next day Saturday the officer and district attorney went out to John’s house.  They showed him a knife they had gotten from Mrs. Zell and asked him if that was his knife.  John said that it was like his except that he had a piece of wood in it so that he could open it easier and this one had the tip of the blade broke off and a small piece of the blade was bent over. A week later on July 6, 1907 John succumbed to the stab wounds in his chest and died alone in his house.[1]

Fred Zell was seriously injured and it took him months to recover.  His hand was almost severed from his arm.  Fred did recover, but didn’t regain full use of his hand.  Fred died in 1932.  A newspaper account said that Fred Zell was resting his arm on the gate talking to John about the cattle when all of a sudden John started cutting Fred’s hand. [2]

When I first ran across this story, I had two newspaper accounts and a mention of it in a book.[3] [4] [5] I didn’t know if John Desens was my great-great grandfather or not.  His wife had the same name as my great-great grandmother (already deceased at this time) and his one son (also already deceased at this time) had the same name as a sibling of my great grandfather.[6]  I sent for John’s death certificate hoping that the informant would be some relative that I knew, but it did not list an informant.[7]  Then last summer I made a trip to Clark County Wisconsin.  I asked to see the probate file, but it was no longer kept there.  It was now in the state archives.  I then asked to see the criminal file for Fred Zell because the paper said most likely he would be charged with John Desens death.[8]  I had to pay $5.00 and they would search for it at a later date and send it to me.  Then I asked to see land records which I was able to see.  The Land records gave a legal description and I was able to locate the farm on a current day map, but it didn’t give me any clues to if this was my ancestor or not.  A few weeks later I received the criminal file.  There appears to be pages missing, but there are 21 pages of testimony from the officer who found John Desens lying in his yard that day in June.  So I only have John’s story through the officer. [9]

Fred Zell’s story is missing.  Although, the paper had Zell’s story about how John went after him first.[10]  In the end the court did not charge Fred Zell with John Desens death because lack of evidence as to who started the fight.[11]  I have some questions and they were not answered in the court documents to my satisfaction.  John was 74[12] years old and Fred was 46.[13]  It seems to me that Fred would have the advantage being younger and most likely be stronger than John.  If John cut first almost severing Fred’s hand, how could Fred have stabbed John?  Did Fred have a knife on him to stab John, or did he get John’s knife away from him and use it on John?  How did Fred get back to his farm or get help?  Why was John left to die? It sounds like he was left lying there in the field for a long time because of the dry blood and flies on him.  He was in and out of consciousness.   Paper also said Fred Zell was the worse of the two,[14] yet he lived for 25 more years.[15]  I think if the investigation was done today that they would be more thorough.

I sent to the state archives for John’s probate file and right on the first page is the evidence that John is my great-great grandfather.  It lists my great grandfather Carl Desens at 111 Washington Street, Forest Park, IL as his son.[16]  An interesting side note about the probate file.  Fred Zell was suing John’s estate for $5000.[17]  All of John’s 80 acres were only worth $1200.[18] He did not have much else and had some debts that needed to be paid out of the estate.[19]  Fred Zell received $1.00.[20]  I find this story very sad.  Although I never knew my 2nd great grandfather, I felt sad that he was left in the field to die.  I felt anger at the neighbor for his part in this and the fact that he was younger and probably stronger, and frustration at district attorney for not investigating it better.  There are so many unanswered questions.

I visited John’s grave when I was up there last summer, however at the time, I was not sure if he was my ancestor or not.  I also did not have all the details of the crime.  I would like to go back and visit his grave again and take some flowers.  I want him to know that someone cares.  That I care!

John Desens Tombstone

Copyright © 2015 Gail Grunst


[1] Criminal file for Fred Zell, Clerk of the Court, 517 Court Street, Room 405, Neillsville, Wisconsin 54456.  Sent by Elizabeth Frost, Deputy Clerk to Abigail Grunst.

[2] Neillsville times(Neillsville, Clark County, Wis) July 11, 1907.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Marshfield Times ( Marshfield, Wood County, Wis) July 17,1907

[5] Hub of Clark County (1853 – 1934)

[6] United Church of Christ East Cemetery Index(formerly the German Immanuel Evangelical & Reformed Church) Warner Township, Clark County, WI, Compiled by Stan and Janet Schwarze.

[7] Death Record of John Desens, Pre -1907 Wisconsin Death Record County Clark, Volume # 01 Page # 438. Filed at the State Historical Archives of Wisconsin, Miroforms room, 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

[8] Marshfield Times ( Marshfield, Wood County, Wis) July 17,1907

[9] Criminal file for Fred Zell, Clerk of the Court, 517 Court Street, Room 405, Neillsville, Wisconsin 54456.  Sent by Elizabeth Frost, Deputy Clerk to Abigail Grunst.

[10] Neillsville times(Neillsville, Clark County, Wis) July 11, 1907

[11] Criminal file for Fred Zell, Clerk of the Court, 517 Court Street, Room 405, Neillsville, Wisconsin 54456.  Sent by Elizabeth Frost, Deputy Clerk to Abigail Grunst

[12] Death Record of John Desens, Pre -1907 Wisconsin Death Record County Clark, Volume # 01 Page # 438. Filed at the State Historical Archives of Wisconsin, Miroforms room, 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

[13] Obituary of Frederick W. Zell.  Greenwood Gleaner (Greenwood, Clark County Wisconsin) August 25, 1932.

[14] Marshfield Times ( Marshfield, Wood County, Wis) July 17,1907

[15] Obituary of Frederick W. Zell.  Greenwood Gleaner (Greenwood, Clark County Wisconsin) August 25, 1932.

[16] Probate file for John Desens filed in the McIntyre Library at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 103 Garfield Ave, Eau Claire, WI 54701.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

Great-Grandmother Eva

Eva Bowers

Eva Bowers

Today I’m honoring my great-grandmother Eva Reinhardt.  Eva was born in Heidelberg, Baden, Germany to Johann Konrad Reinhardt and Anna Maria Schwebler on February 14, 1877. [1] Eva came to the United States when she was almost two years old.[2]  Her brother John was born on the boat.[3]  Her first home in the United States was in Amana, Iowa.[4]  They spent a few years in Amana and then moved to Ottawa, Illinois where Eva grew up with her brothers and sisters.[5]  I’ve already written about her sisters, Emma, Liz, and Agnes.  It seems that all of them lived interesting lives.  Eva grew into a young woman and sometime around 1896 she married Robert Bowers also of Ottawa, Illinois.[6]  The family story is that Robert and Eva ran off to Chicago to be married.  I have never been able to find a marriage record for them in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. According to family stories, Robert’s family never accepted Eva as his wife or acknowledged that any of the children were Roberts.  I started to wonder if they were ever really married and that is why Robert’s family didn’t want anything to do with Eva or their children.  However, when Robert’s father died, Robert and Eva as his wife signed a quit-claim deed to a piece of property to Robert’s mother.[7]  I was told that if they were not married, Eva would not need to sign the quit-claim deed.  Perhaps they were married somewhere other than Chicago.  Robert and Eva had three children, Ralph born in 1897,[8] Helen in 1898[9] and Frances in 1900. [10]  Shortly after Frances was born Robert left Eva.  Again family stories say they were divorced, however I have never found divorce records for them.  In 1900 Eva was on her own and had to make a living for her and her three kids.  According to the 1900 census she and two of her children are boarding with Enoch and Anna Lindstrom and her occupation is Milliner.[11]  One of the children missing is my grandmother, and I haven’t been able to figure out where my grandmother was living.  I checked the logical place with her maternal grandparents and she is not with them.  I remember my Aunt Fran talking about how her mother sent her to live with some people in Wisconsin and when her mother went to get her back, the people didn’t want to give her back.  I don’t remember Aunt Fran’s age when this happened, but Aunt Fran said she loved these people and didn’t remember her mother anymore.  So she didn’t want to leave them, however Eva got her back.  Maybe she sent my grandmother, Helen, to live with someone before she sent Frances to live with someone else.  I’m sure financially things were hard as there was no welfare or food stamps for single mothers in those days.  Sometime later she moved to Chicago where she took in boarders and was a dressmaker.  They moved to Oklahoma for a while and were in Oklahoma when it became a state.[12]  Eventually they came back to Chicago.  According to my grandmother, Eva married a man by the name of Andrew Schmidt.  He was supposed to be a doctor.  I have not found evidence of this marriage either.  Unfortunately, when my grandmother told these stories I was young and not into genealogy so I didn’t ask questions.  Now I wish I had dates of this supposed marriage.  They divorced too, however Eva didn’t use the surname Schmidt.  Eva went by the surname Bowers until the day she died.  She managed to support her children and they all adored her.  She died in 1941 and according to her death certificate she was widowed[13]  I never knew her, but not only did her children adore her so did her grandchildren.  I have some quilts she made and some candle stick holders that belonged to her.   I hope one day to find answers to questions that linger about her mysterious marriages and divorces.

Quilt made by Eva

Quilt made by Eva

Another quilt made by Eva

Another quilt made by Eva


[1] Certificate of Death for Eva Bowers;  State of Illinois, Department of Public health, Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield, Illinois, Registration Number 34633. Date of death: December 23, 1941; Place of death: County of Cook, City of Chicago.

[2] Ira A. Glazier and P. William Filbry, ed., Germans to America: List of passengers arriving at U.S. ports, Volume 34 October 1878 – December 1879; ( Wilmington, Delaware, Scholarly Resources,1993), Page 106.

[3] Ibid

[4] Conrad Reinhardt household, 1880 U. S. Census, Amana, Iowa; Roll 345; Family History Film 1254345; page 146D; Enumeration District 201; Image 0155.

[5] From family stories told to this author.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Quit-claim deed record from Robert Bowers and Eva Bowers, his wife to Alexena Bowers, City of Ottawa, County of LaSalle, state of Illinois; deed book 448, page 167.  LaSalle County Illinois Genealogical Guild collection.

[8] Eva Bowers household, 1900 U. S. Federal  Census, LaSalle County, Ottawa township, ED 76, line 37, page 6, dwelling 557, fmily124, National Archives film publication T623, roll 317.

[9] Delayed Record of Birth for Helen Bowers, State of Illinois, Department of Public Health, Division of Vital Statics, LaSalle County, City of Ottawa, State of Illinois, Date of Birth: December 3, 1898, Dated August  7, 1957.

[10] Eva Bowers household, 1900 U. S. Federal  Census, LaSalle County, Ottawa township, ED 76, line 37, page 6, dwelling 557, fmily124, National Archives film publication T623, roll 317.

[11] Eva Bowers household, 1900 U. S. Federal  Census, LaSalle County, Ottawa township, ED 76, line 37, page 6, dwelling 557, fmily124, National Archives film publication T623, roll 317.

[12] Story told to this author by Helen Bowers Kaiser.

[13] Certificate of Death for Eva Bowers;  State of Illinois, Department of Public health, Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield, Illinois, Registration Number 34633. Date of death: December 23, 1941; Place of death: County of Cook, City of Chicago.

Copyright ©2015 Gail Grunst