Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 5, 2022

From tenacity to trips

In husband Art's family tree, there is a touch of obsessive-compulsive behavior that on several occasions has driven me to distraction. But it also has delivered substantial benefits. Nowhere is this more evident than in our family-history-related excursions.

We always thought it would be neat if my mother, who was all Swede, could visit Sweden and meet her distant relatives. But while we had maintained connections to mom's Carlberg kin, we didn't know what had become of her dad's Mostrom side of the family. Art began the quest with computer searches during the Christmas holidays in 2004 and by the next summer, mom, my sister Gaila and her girls, and I were in Sweden communing with all of mom's clan.

Art dug into my Scots-Irish background, too, and in 2008, we traveled to Ireland to visit places where my Freeland and Stewart ancestors had lived.

This past May and June, we spent two weeks in Germany and four weeks in Wales. That trip also was directly traceable to Art's dogged determination to sort things out.

About 1989, Art's cousin Jeff found some papers his mother had saved. It was a small family history penned about 1840 by their great-great grandfather Ernst. Art taught himself to read the old German script and learned a fair bit of German in the process of translating the text. Because of the world wars, few records remain from that part of Germany, so the chronicle was a key find.

In 1991, we rented a place in the former East Germany to use as a base while visiting the places mentioned in the papers. Over time, we became friends with the owner's family. That led to her visiting us one Christmas, her son spending six weeks with us, his sister-in-law becoming our exchange student, and a friend staying with us while he completed an internship in Manhattan. Visiting those friends early this May all grew from that translation project.

In contrast, it was a single slip of paper that led directly to the Wales visit. When Art's grandfather Edgar Vaughan was a boy, he asked his father the name of the village where he had been born. Tom wrote: "Llansilin, Denbighshire, North Wales, G.B." Art's dad said his dad always wondered what Tom's home was like, but never had the opportunity to find out. Art's aunt Dorothy kept the slip in a scrapbook Art inherited after her death.

This was before the internet and personal computers, so Art began writing letters to Chris "Kit" Carter, the vicar of the Llansilin church, asking him to go through the church records. That culminated in Art's first trip in 1983. Tom's "home" had been by then reduced to a pile of rubble, and the place where the family had lived later was not in much better shape.

It was during that trip he formed a close friendship with local Jan and her family - a friendship that now spans 39 years and three generations.

Our trip to Wales this year included daughters Mariya and Katie, their spouses Miriam and Matt, and Art's daughter Karen and granddaughter Katrina. It took more than genealogy work to pull it off. It was challenging to book convenient flights, locate comfortable housing and make local travel arrangements without breaking the bank. Four couples were traveling from various locations at differing times. Four different cars were rented and three different vacation homes were required.

In 2017 and 2018, we had rented a little Welsh cottage about two miles from a waterfall at the end of a one-lane road near the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. Art's research showed the waterfall was where Tom's parents Richard and Anne had met during a church picnic.

But with six of us together at one time, that cottage wouldn't be big enough. I probably would have just looked online for another place. Instead, Art asked Paul, the cottage's owner, if he knew of someone who had a place. Paul referred us to Marie, but she was moving. Art "chatted her up," as the Brits say, over several weeks until Marie came up with a suggestion.

It was a holiday house not yet open, but would be by our arrival. Lins and John Vaughan own the home and run it with the help of their sons David and Owain. We haven't yet established a family connection, but more than likely there is one as their Vaughan relatives - as Art's - go back several generations in the village.

"Ceirios" (cherry tree in Welsh), their holiday home, sits on a hill with a small garden to the north, pastures filled with sheep to the west, and a panoramic view of the mountains to the south and east. Every morning, Mariya, cup of coffee in front of her, sat at the dining table looking east. She commented it seemed like a painting and she wouldn't mind starting every day that way.

Lins generously shared her Bara Brith - a traditional Welsh tea loaf similar to our fruitcake - which Art loved. None of us could get enough of her homemade six-seed bread. She brought rhubarb, lettuce, and Damson jam she had made from local plums. Art and Dave plan to pursue the family connection.

And if that wasn't enough, Art is planning another trip for us and two friends for later this year. He already has our flights lined up and he generated a large map marked with various places we might like to see. He located three homes where we will stay for one week each. He estimated he had checked on more than 500 places on Airbnb alone.

I find the whole process mind-boggling. But Art sees it a bit differently. He has often said that he doesn't understand why people look for challenges in games when there are plenty to be found in quests that result in enduring real-life rewards. I know our family has definitely benefited from his efforts - but am hesitant to tell him that. He doesn't need any additional encouragement!

Top (l-r): Katie, Art and Mariya in 2003 at southern edge of Llansilin; Vicar Carter; Katrina, Karen and Art by the remains of "Tan-Ban-y-Bryn" (House below Edge of the Hill) where Art's great grandfather Tom Vaughan was born; waterfall where Tom's parents met - Art, Miriam, Mariya, Matt, Katie and Gloria. Bottom (l-r): Lins with loaves of her Bara Brith; main street of Llansilin looking northwest from the churchyard; paper where Tom Vaughan wrote the name of the village near where he was born. Note the misspelling of Llansilin. It is believed by comparing handwriting that "near Oswestry" was added by Art's grandfather Edgar.

Comments? [email protected].
Other columns from this year may be found at: Current year Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home