The trip to Pennsylvania to meet assorted newfound cousins was a crash course in genealogy. We (daughter Sarah and I) had been to the area in April and it was after that trip that we got very serious about finding more Schneiders.
A few phone calls and emails and we were off and running.
We heard from all sides that we should go to the 137th annual picnic at Cooper’s Settlement in Clearfield County, a Labor Day event that is the main fundraiser for St. Severin’s Catholic Church there.
The church cemetery is the final resting place for my father, Ed Snyder, and his parents and grandparents and various aunts, uncles, and cousins.
We made our plans, the first of which was to accept an invitation to Sunday lunch at the home of Cousin Pam who lives near the church.
Our home for three days would be in a motel in Clearfield, a short drive to Cousin Pam’s.
The term “long-lost relatives” took on new meaning as Pam and her husband Doug and Sister Angie met us at the door with even more enthusiasm and excitement than the Prodigal Son’s father.
Pam and Angie’s wheel-bound mother, Marty, was the main attraction for me.
Here was the lady who had written two letters to me in June/July of 1961, telling me, first, that Ed Snyder had had a stroke and his children had been to visit (shocking news that I had siblings) and the second, after discovering who I was, that he had died.
She wrote because her father-in-law, Frank, Ed’s brother, asked her to. I’m a bit older than Marty, but we are both aware that we are the only two remaining in our generation.
Her husband Fred and his brother Raymond and Raymond’s wife, have died, leaving a passel of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Likewise, my half-siblings, Margaret and Imbrue, have died also. I am in touch with their descendants, and nephew Eddie and his wife Marie spent some wonderful quality time with us on this trip. They enjoyed meeting cousins they did not know as well.
One of the most interesting relationships concerns Gerry, the daughter and oldest child of Frank’s son Raymond. We had already talked by phone and email, and had exchanged photos.
She has more memories of my father than I do. Her mother died before Gerry’s second birthday, and she grew up in the home of her grandparents, Frank and Lena.
Oh, the stories I heard about life in Pennsylvania those many decades ago. It was coal-mining country, cruel winters, bleak landscape pockmarked with signs of abandoned coal mines, snow drifts along fence rows, giving the township the name of Drifting.
I have kept the many letters I received from my father, many postmarked Drifting, and he gave vivid descriptions of the countryside.
He told me many such things, but never told me that he had two other children.
He never told me about his own life, where he went to school, who his relatives were, nothing much about the brother whose home he shared.
His cousin, Ambrose Hershey, was the executor of his will, and at the time of my father’s death I had ample opportunity to ask pertinent questions. But I did not do that, and I don’t know why.
In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t ask more questions of my mother. Times were different then.
The word “scandal” had a different meaning. It was bad enough to be a child of a divorcee, like I could do anything about that. I think I just didn’t want to know more.
Anyway, all that water has gone under the bridge or over the dam, and I am reaping the reward of a new family.
It was so much fun watching them mix and mingle with each other, swapping photos, catching up, laughing at the same stories they’re shared throughout the years.
My father’s scrapbook pages, which none of them (except Eddie) had seen, caused a bit of discussion, and photos they gave to me kept us in constant conversation.
All this, plus a wonderful meal, including good old Georgia Peanut Butter Pie.
The one big missing piece was Cousin Ray. (His five hilarious siblings were there.)
He was back home in Georgia, said he’d been there and done that.
But he was wrong. This one was different.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.