52 Ancestors Week 1

It’s been a while! My goal is to get back into blogging this year and 52 Ancestors from Amy Johnson Crow is just the inspiration I need!

This week’s ancestor is the theme: start. So I’m starting with how I got started in genealogy. That beautiful woman up there is my grandmother, Mary (Hummel) Witherell. She is my main reason for getting into genealogy. When I was younger, she would tell me stories about our family. I so wish I would have written down or recorded those conversations now, but I was very young and didn’t know the value at the time.

My grandmother was born in Oakland County, Michigan May 11th, 1930, the youngest of seven children born to Ada and Oliver (Ollie) Hummel. The family eventually moved to Saginaw, Michigan by the time she was ten with the rest of her family. It was there that at least two of her older brothers went off to World War II and she wrote her diary, which I was lucky to get after my grandfather passed away.

She married my grandfather, Bobbie in 1951 – that’s one of her wedding pictures at the top, and one of my favorites of her. To me, she reminds me of 1950s movie stars – gorgeous and glamorous. She definitely had a great sense of style as well!

My grandmother died in 2000 and it was very hard for me. She was also the first close death I experienced, which likely made it all the more keenly felt for me. It took me many years before I could visit her grave, in fact.

One day, while I was home from college, a friend and I decided to go check out a cemetery in my hometown: Oakwood Cemetery. My grandfather said there were some ancestors there and maybe some Civil War ancestors there (which is true).  So, in a true early-genealogist fashion, we went to explore the cemetery! While there, we happened to find a gravestone that stopped me cold: Mary Witherell Hay Owen. This was not my grandmother, of course. She was in a different cemetery not to mention had a very different name. However, just the fact that it said Mary Witherell had me now incredibly curious.

Who was this woman? Why did she have my maiden name as part of her name?

Those questions started me on a journey to the Hoyt Public Library in Saginaw and the amazing librarians there really introduced me to the study that is genealogy. From there, I was hooked!

So why did Mary Witherell Hay Owen have Witherell as her middle name? I have some thoughts on that one that I will share another time!

Happy New Year everyone!

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  1. Sue

    G’day Nichelle,
    So many of us wish we had listened more closely to those stories told to us at our grandparents knees. I know I am gathering as much as I can from my parents who are in their 80s.

    Cemeteries can be such interesting places to visit and in my local cemetery, I have ancestors buried there going back to the mid 1800s. Last year we added plaques to some that did not have headstones but were just buried in a plot of land.

    • Nichelle Barra

      I thankfully still have my maternal grandparents alive and have been asking them many questions! And DNA tested them! I love that you added a plaque to some headstones that were buried without one. I have a few I hope to do the same for. Thanks for the visit and comment!

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