The boys were born and grew up in Clearfield County, Pa. Their father, Joseph Schneider Jr., was one of at least nine children of Joseph Sr. and Barbara Pfeiffer Schneider. Frank and Ed’s mother, Anna Bruner Schneider, died when the boys were very young, and as far as can be determined, their father never re-married.
My Uncle Frank and his wife, Lena Hummel, had two sons, Fred and Raymond, and it is their families that I have come to know in the last year. It has been quite a journey, making this connection, climbing these unfamiliar branches of my family tree.
For decades of my life, all the relatives I knew were those belonging to my mother. I had no early memory of the father whom I had not seen since I was about 2 years old, and I asked very few questions of my father during his one visit with me and my family.
Neither did I probe into the past in our correspondence until his death in 1961. It was then, at the time of his death, that I discovered his “first” family, a son and daughter from a marriage that took place many years before.
In fact, my father’s other daughter, Margaret, was born the same year as my mother, and my half-brother, Kimbure, was six years older than my mother. We became acquainted during those months after the death of our father, wrote often, called occasionally, and visited back and forth from Georgia to New Jersey where they lived.
Somewhere along the way, circumstances and the passage of time caused us to lose contact during the late ’90s. Connecting again about two years ago with expanded research and communication methods, the door has opened to a whole new set of relatives.
It’s quite common to hear folks proclaim that they already have more relatives than they need, and I can relate to that. But finding these people and hearing their stories has taken me to a new understanding of my own identity.
Trips to Clearfield County have given me tangible images of descriptions my father gave me of the countryside where he was born and grew up, and where he would return to live out his last years and where he would be buried in the same cemetery with his brother, their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins by the dozens.
The visit to that cemetery with daughter Sarah and Kimbure’s sons Tommy and Eddie will be a memory that I will always treasure.
Recently, the grandchildren of my Uncle Frank, along with his daughter-in-law, Marty, have settled into my Christmas card list, cellphone directory and email address file. We are slowly advancing toward entries in a day timer and are beginning to plot vacation dates.
A couple of weeks ago, we really lucked up with a visit from Roger and Josie who interrupted their trip home from a Florida vacation with a stopover with Roger’s brother, Ray, and his wife, Kathleen, in Douglasville. (Cousin Ray, Raymond’s oldest son, has been in Georgia for three decades. … Look at the time we wasted!)
The two couples came to Woodstock for a nice long Sunday afternoon visit and for a Hughes version of Southern hospitality. (We fed them Williamson’s Barbecue. How cool is that!)
We looked at scrapbooks and photo albums, swapped some stories, talked about their other siblings, and tried, yet again, to figure out how Ed Snyder and Mildred Waters met and married in 1933. (Ed lived in Denver, Colo., and Mildred in Dalton. He was 49 years old, she was 17.)
Schneider family members have always talked about Ed and his wanderings, and never really knew the circumstances leading to his decision to change his name to Snyder, an action apparently taken sometime between 1903, when he was a student at Lock Haven School, and his first marriage a few years later.
We may never get all the answers. We don’t even know all the questions. But we are reaping the rewards of finding each other and establishing relationships that can be passed along to the new generations.
And for the first time in my life, I have a sense of the mind and heart of my father, a man who was always a stranger to me.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.