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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Discovering Who We Really Are

My father was just 13 when his Mother died; still a teen when his father died four years later in 1931. Information on the family was scarce; photographs few. I don’t remember seeing pictures of his parents until I was an adult. There were no pictures of my father and his siblings growing up, and not one emerged of his grandparents.

For the last 25 years of his life, my father spoke of one day finding his Mother’s family. He spoke fondly of Aunt Rose and Aunt Gertie, remembering that one had married a Mr. Speese and the other a Mr. Brown, and that one had moved to South Dakota. The only other clues were his Mother’s maiden name – Meehan – and her birthplace: Rondeau, Ontario, Canada.

Research attempts were made over the years. I did manage to obtain my Grandmother’s birth record from Canada and with it, the name of her mother: Hester Catherine Freeman.

It wasn’t until my sister Sue and her husband moved to the country, with the pre-move sorting, that the key to everything was unearthed. In rereading the obituary for our father’s brother, she noted his birthplace of Overton NE, not Omaha as we had always thought. Such a tiny thing, and yet without it, we might still be looking. A Google search of Overton resulted in information on our great-grandfather – Charles Meehan, a white, red-haired Irishman – and the important role he played in the settling of the Great Plains.

My great-grandfather, who grew up in Detroit and Rondeau Ontario led a group of black Canadians to form a black colony in Overton in 1885, one of the first of its kind in Nebraska through the Homestead Act. My great-grandparents were very courageous, being one of the few mixed-race couples at that time.

Much information on our great-grandparents and their children was found in
the Ava Speese Day Story, Part Three of Sod House Memories, a Treasury of Soddy Stories, edited by Frances Jacobs Alberts in 1972. Family photos shown below also appear in the now out-of-print book.

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