52 Ancestors Challenge: So Far Away

August and Theresa

August and Theresa Yess

“Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  This would have been a fair statement to have been attached to the photo my mom found in Grandma’s things. Mom and her only sibling, her brother Jerry, had the task most children do of cleaning out the family home in preparation for a sale to settle the estate.  There were photos…lots of photos and none filled with very much information, save a few.  “August and Theresa Yess” is what the handwriting said on the back of the yellowed image.

August and Theresa Yess – my 2nd great grandfather and great grandmother had kind smiles, wrinkles from a lifetime of adventures living and mystery behind them.  The first mystery was that name, “Yess“.  The whole family pretty much knew that wasn’t the correct name.  August had immigrated from Germany according to family tales and we’d never met any other “Yess” family in the United States that was related to us that weren’t of direct lineage from August and Teresa.  He’d married Teresa in Peoria county, Illinois in the 1850’s, bug what was THAT name?

Mystery #2: Why did he immigrate from what was to become Germany?  Was it the lure of family or friends who had previously come to Peoria, IL?  Was it some other decision that caused the journey?  Was he perhaps the second son, one who was required a lifetime of military service back in the mid 1800’s?

Mystery #3: Where were they buried?  Somehow we had lost them?  Few clues were in the papers to indicate where their mortal remains were.  Maybe there was more information on the tombstones that would help us to put “clothes on their tombstones” as my Mom puts it.

Mystery #4:  What happened to their daughter, Amanda?  She was fourth out of six children.  In some papers it appears she was married to a mysterious Mr. Bontz.  In other papers, I found her committed to a mental hospital in Bartonville, IL.  What was her story?

These people seemed closer than they really appeared because it has taken many years to unravel the stitches in the fabric of their lives.  Family stories, genealogical study, tramping around in cemeteries, and talking, YES TALKING to my ancestors has helped to bring them closer.

As for Mystery #1, our best guess and study of documents seem to point to August’s last name as being Gess.  It would be an easy error made by some English-speaking form filler.  Couldn’t understand the Bavarian?  Well, it sounded like he was saying Yes and it would be too confusing to spell it “Yes”, so add another S and be done with it.

Mystery #2 was not as easy to solve. Asking fellow researchers and studying more about church documents from the area that would become Germany will eventually solve the why of the immigration. Most likely that lifetime military service caused him to take a ship to the United States.

As to Mystery #3, I had finally narrowed down a very large cemetery in Peoria, IL where August and Teresa were buried.  I stopped by one spring day when I was in town for a meeting….little time to spare in a true search for their tombstones.  I had some help in pointing me in the general direction and as time continued to tick down, I finally said out loud to them, “If you want me to find you, I’m going to need some help.”  Lo and behold, a beam of spring sunshine came down to light a gravestone over near the trees in the ravine.  I chuckled to myself thinking, “Oh sure…yeah, right,…I BET that’s their stone.”  And as I walked over toward it, there was YESS on the canopy of the stone with “August Yess – Born: Jan. 24, 1829 Died: Oct. 6, 1905″ “Theresa his wife, Born: Apr. 23, 1824  Died: Mar. 1, 1910” on it.

All life’s mysteries shouldn’t be easily solved. The journey of our lives is piecing together what happened to our ancestors, sharing their stories, admiring their tenacity and bravery.  Sometimes the people appear much closer to us than they actually are.

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