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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



The faces stare back in their sepia tone world as if they are beckoning us to discover their stories, to learn about them, unlock their mysteries and remember them. The front row the patriarch of the family sits with his wife and two daughters while their five grown boys stand, with their bushy mustaches, behind them. Thomas and Sarah James were married in Illinois and moved around a bit while raising their family, spending time near Bethany, Missouri then in Bloomfield township near Des Moines before spending the last of their days near Woodward, where they rest in the cemetery there. We know more about Sarah than we do about Thomas. She came from a family in Pennsylvania that is easily connected and documented. Thomas on the other hand has been a mystery for many years and more than one person in the family has been driven to the brink of insanity trying to trace his lineage.

We know, or at least we have documentation, that he was born in Ohio in 1820 and there the trail had been cold for many years. No mention of siblings, or a mother or a father. Over the years there have been many family legends and conjecture about who he was and more important who gave life to this gentleman that started our branch of the family. Last year while going through census records we stumbled on a name, Blanche. It was easy to connect him to this woman who is believed to be his mother. What we weren’t expecting was word that Thomas had two brothers who were successful land owners in Normal County, Illinois.

An internet search provided a name of a long unknown cousin living on the family farm there who has also been interested in the story of the family. What is most interesting is that she also has run into dead ends trying to discover who Blanche’s husband and the father of the three boys were. It is a mystery still today with few clues and even more confusing information about Blanche who seemed to change the state of her birth every time a new census taker came around.

But it’s this photograph that stumbled its way back into our eyes that has kept me up at night. We know about Mose who lived in Perry and drove the dray wagon there whose daughters brought us in connection with the Rhodes and Koch family name. There is Alfred, who with his wife Mary, spent their entire lives childless in Adel, but took in great nephews and nieces and gave them many of the lessons that their father was unable to. The daughters lived their own lives and left an easily traceable path. But two sons, standing slim and tall, Thomas Jr. and William have seemed to follow the paths of their ancestors and silently slipped away into the world leaving it to future generations to attempt to piece together their travels.

It is the mystery of this family who has stayed connected for years, why this generation in particular tended to not concern themselves with being remembered. It is this photograph, the only one we know of the family, taken perhaps twenty years before the death of Thomas and Sarah, that provides us with an undeniable record of their existence, if not a reminder that in every family search there tends to be a bit of mystery and digging that must occur. Maybe in a way that is what makes all genealogical searches so very addictive. It’s finding that little piece of information as the puzzle of their lives presents itself that keep us going, and maybe in a box tucked away in another branch of the family tree is the hint to finally solving the mystery all along. Until it is found we keep searching, uncovering just a bit of the roots of this tree one small step at a time. See you next week, remember…we’re all in this together.