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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Serendipity in Genealogy

My ancestors are not generally among the movers and shakers in history. They were average people living average lives. That doesn't make them any less interesting to me; it just means that if they appear in a newspaper at all, it won't be on the front page.

So when I visited the Depot Museum in Batavia Illlinois several years ago, it was to get a glimpse of the work done at the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company. My second great-grandfather was a blacksmith there for many years.

The museum was very interesting. The displays were wonderful - I took many pictures of the USWE&P display and was grateful to the volunteer who answered my many questions about 19th century life in Batavia. At the end of my visit, Marilyn Robinson encouraged me to sign the guest book and add the surname I was researching. She said other guests sometimes look through the book and connections are made. I signed the book and wrote the name "Tolf".

A few days later Marilyn mentioned my from-out-of-state visit to another volunteer. The volunteer asked what surname I was researching. Together they looked at the guest book. The volunteer (also named Marilyn) said Tolf looked familiar. When she returned home, (the second) Marilyn looked in the scrapbook created by her husband's great-grandfather Charles Wenberg. He had been a professional photographer in Batavia during the time my family lived there. Inside the scrapbook she found these pictures:

l-r Charles Wenberg, Peter Tolf and Claus Pederson
These three men were instrumental in founding the church below 

First Swedish Mission Church in Batavia Illinois

Peter Tolf (center wearing tie) blacksmith foreman
at US Wind Engine and Pump Company

Peter Tolf and his wife Augusta Landström with their children
(l-r) Ranghild Henrietta Katarina, Harry Wilhelm, and Raymond Johan Carl

Helena Åman Tolf with daughters Christina Tolf and Amanda (Tolf) Peterson
I know I thanked both women at least a hundred times. Marilyn Robinson has since passed away, but her extensive work in the Batavia Historical Society surely guaranteed her a place in genealogy heaven. I will be forever grateful to the second Marilyn who gave me something I would never have seen without her generosity. I'm also grateful to Charles Wenberg who wrote captions at the bottom of his photographs without which his great-grandson's wife couldn't have made our connection.

And to my Tolf, Åman, and Landström ancestors: For putting the two Marilyns and me in all the right places at all the right times - there are not enough words in my vocabulary to express the depth and breadth of my feelings.


Jo said...

A lovely heart-warming post - and well done to the two Marilyns - you were lucky that day :-) Jo

Laura Aanenson said...

Thank you Jo. You're right, the stars were definately aligned!

Jenny Lanctot said...

How very fortuitous that you were all in the right place at the right time, AND had the right relatives! Some of that serendipity needs to rub off on me. Soon. :)

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