It had to be there somewhere. During a recent visit to Illinois I saw what I had hoped to find, evidence that my Hagemeyer grandfather’s grandfather lived and died near Monroe Center, Illinois. I had lived only ten miles away from there for seven years when I was a young preacher serving my first church, totally unaware of my ancestors having lived nearby. My friend, Dawn, who has a bent toward being a genealogy detective, led us to the little country cemetery out in the midst of corn fields. It is no longer used, and only barely maintained. Some stones are falling over, others have suffered from vandals’ attacks, and among the older stones there stands a pedestal erected in 1892 with the name Hagemeyer on it. My own searching of genealogical records had led me to that particular township, but Dawn did the on-site searching since she lives nearby. Here was the place the earliest Hagemeyer residents were buried.
My great-great grandfather and grandmother had seen their adult children one after the other leave Germany seeking opportunity in a new country. At the same time, their own aging parents continued to live near them in Wirdum, Hannover, so they could not leave. I can feel the emotions tearing within them. Letters crossed the Atlantic, but very slowly. It seems they waited until their own parents died, and finally around 1870 they left to go to the new land, too. They were in their late 50s by the time they made their journey to the German settlement in northern Illinois where most of their children were living.
Yet, the family was soon to be separated again. By 1872, the son who would become my great-grandfather moved to Missouri, and then by 1884 settled in northern Iowa where my father would eventually be born. Another son soon moved to Nebraska. One more had moved to South Dakota by 1887. And here on this spot in Illinois they walked to a grave site in 1892 to lay to rest their son, John, at the age of forty-six, with that special grief of losing a child who is still in the middle of life while they continued on to old age. I could touch the stone; imagine the scene. I observed their own graves nearby. And I walked away with a sense of wonder and respect for lives lived, lives lost too early, ventures and adventures I will never know completely.
So what’s the value in all this? My imagination on seeing the locale and the stones helps me appreciate better the drama my ancestors experienced. But just knowing the dates and moves they made cannot possibly tell me how hard it was for them. I can only guess at the hopes and dreams that drew them to cross the Atlantic to a place they had never seen; to find a way to make a living and learn a new language. They spoke German at home but in business they had to speak English. The trials and challenges are diminished in our minds as we know how the story turned out. There is much more to the story, their drive and determination motivated by hope but the adventure colored by frustrations, disappointments, and unexpected challenges.
This experience has helped me recognize more clearly my role in a long-running story. Our lives are intertwined and affected by the choices of those previous generations. So, likewise, I have a responsibility to leave a heritage that blesses my children and grandchildren. Each person reading this has a similar history and a challenge just as real. The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).
It’s not all about me, my pleasure, my comfort. The race is much bigger and more important. It’s a tag team race in which my living, learning, suffering and persistence will make a difference for many others yet to come whose lives I affect in the long race of life.
NOTE: I have avoided giving more of the names in this public posting in order to keep phishers and hackers from harvesting my personal information to steal my identity.