Luck

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”–Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Alva Edison said, “Success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration!” That’s not far off from Jefferson’s comment about hard work. Fortunately, genealogy doesn’t usually require heavy sweating; though it involves plenty of work. We don’t always realize when or how that work will pay off.

In October, 1996, I found myself visiting my parents. It was an odd time of year to visit, but my 20th high school reunion must have been scheduled, so I was up for that. My parents and I made the rounds of the cemeteries that weekend. We hit the old standbys of Ridgewood and Sacred Heart (where my grandparents are buried), but had also decided to visit other cemeteries, with more distantly-connected relations. I knew my grandmother’s youngest brother, Frederick Hugh Schweiger, was buried in Ascension Catholic Cemetery, in Libertyville. It’s farther north than the others, and I’d never been there before.

Unfortunately, it was Sunday, so the cemetery’s office was closed. I had no idea where Uncle Fred was buried. The self-serve kiosk now at the cemetery wasn’t even a twinkle in a programmer’s eye in 1996. We’d gone out of our way to drive there, but had no clue where to start searching for the headstone we knew was there. The current stats at Find A Grave indicate there are 14,519 memorials at Ascension, with 52% of them photographed. Naturally, the Schweiger and Witten headstones are still in the 48% not documented! Even with fewer people buried there in 1996, Ascension was still a big place. Trying to “walk” that cemetery would have taken forever.

Map of Ascension Catholic Cemetery, 1920 Buckley Road, Libertyville, Lake County, Illinois. We didn’t have this while we were there, and had no idea where the headstones we were looking for were located!

One of Dad’s favorite sayings was, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” So we gambled and decided to just drive down the main road (between sections 1 and 2), hoping to get lucky. Dad drove slowly, while we kept our eyes peeled on either side for the names on headstones. Of course, any flush-to-the-ground headstones were invisible to us, as well as anything any distance from the road.

It was a true Hail Mary pass.

We hadn’t gone far when I told my dad to stop. Out the left-hand window, close to the road, was this headstone:

Ascension Catholic Cemetery, 1920 Buckley Road, Libertyville, Lake County, Illinois. Headstone for inlaw relatives of the brother of my grandmother, Victoria Barbara Schweiger. Photo taken 27 October 1996. The names are Harvey William Witten, Frances Green Witten, Thomas Green, and Bridget Green.

You’re probably thinking, “That doesn’t look much like Schweiger,” right? Nope, but when I saw it, a vague memory popped into my head. I remembered Uncle Fred’s wife, Marion, had a maiden name of Witten. Could that headstone possibly be related to her? We had no other leads, so we got out. The names and dates engraved on the base didn’t mean anything to me then. Of course, I didn’t have my data file, or any internet access!

I had Aunt Marion’s parents recorded as William Walter Witten and Nellie Cummings. In the 1900 census (before Aunt Marion was born in 1903), I have since found William and Nellie with a son, Harvey, born in 1894, living two doors down from Thomas and Bridget Green, and their daughter, Frances. It looked like William kept his wife shopping close to home. Of course, I didn’t know any of this in 1996.

We didn’t see any Schweigers on the front, so I walked around to the back side, just to make sure. There I found:

Reverse side of the Witten/Green monument in Ascension Catholic Cemetery. Photo taken 27 October 1996. Marion and Frederick Hugh are on the right side of the base. Note the name engraved on the vertical face on the left side. That is Baby Stephen, a grandson, who lived only 1 day, in January, 1963.

Bingo!

If we hadn’t stopped and walked around to the back of the monument, we never would have found them. We never would have stopped if I hadn’t recognized the maiden name of my grandaunt—even though it ended up belonging to her brother and not her parents. If I hadn’t paid attention and squirreled away that small piece of fairly unimportant information, we’d have left that cemetery without finding Uncle Fred and Aunt Marion. Would it have been the end of the world? No. But I like knowing where people end up.

Sometimes we just need a little bit of luck. Usually we need to make it ourselves.

#52Ancestors

2 thoughts on “Luck”

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one this happens to! It always amazes me when these little “mini-miracles” happen. What’s scarier is wondering how many “finds” we lose, because we think it’s such a long shot, that we don’t check out that DNA match or hint?

    Like

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