Monday, June 25, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part III

See my previous posts for the backstory on this one, but I finally found the time to post the process of finding my great-grand uncle's home that he lived in when he was a Kansan in the 1950s and 1960s.

Through a search on FamilySearch.org, I was able to find the death certificate (full original image and all) for Martin Witbeck. He and his wife had two sons, and one of them was living in North Carolina.

While visiting his son there in 1962, Martin had an unexpected heart attack and passed away. He was only 63 years old. This doesn't surprise me because the Witbeck side of my family has a huge family history of heart problems.

The death certificate listed Martin's son as the informant for the death. And also listed was Martin's home address in Prairie Village, Kansas. I covered the address with a gray box because the house is still there, and I didn't want to cause the current owner any issues with having their home address published on a blog.

A few weeks ago, I went ahead and took a drive up north to that area, which was just one street over from State Line Road (the boundary line between Kansas and Missouri in that part of the city). It's definitely an older neighborhood, but very, very nice. It has big, towering trees lining the narrow streets, and it was very quiet. All of the houses have been extremely well taken care of. It is one of those pre-HOA era neighborhoods where the homes were anything but cookie-cutter. They each had a different layout and character. Some were brick, some had stone facades, and many had a combination of siding and brick or stone. There were columns on some, turrets on others, wrap-around porches on a few, and they were all beautifully constructed!

In fact, I was sure I was going to get pulled over and arrested just for driving a Toyota instead of a BMW. Add to that the fact that I was slowing down to take a picture of the home, and I'm lucky I didn't end up booked on stalking or harassment charges. Is there a charge for being too economically challenged in a ritzy neighborhood? Well, luckily, I had a getaway driver (kind of - my mother), but I still didn't want to spend a ton of time (or risk my felony-free record) getting out of the car and standing on the sidewalk to get a better picture. So this is the best I could do.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part II

A few weeks after visiting my great grand uncle's gravesite in Raytown (see Part I), I went to a regional meeting for my church. (Stake conference for my LDS readers.) These meetings fill up quickly so even though my older girls and I got there early, the main chapel was already full. We sat in the cultural hall overflow just a few rows back. I was on an inside aisle seat.

During these meetings, various people are called up spontaneously from the congregation to share a brief testimony. About halfway through the meeting, the gentleman sitting across the aisle from me in the same row was called up. His name was Tom, and I had never met him before.

He started by saying how it was amazing to see the growth of our church in this area. He had moved here when he was 6 months old and had lived here for all 67 years since. He said he remembered when our church first organized a stake in the Kansas City, Missouri area. (A stake is like a regional area for our church, similar to a diocese or parish.) He remembered the first stake president of this new stake in the 1950s, Martin Witbeck. Imagine my surprise when I heard that name after just visiting his grave a few weeks before.

Of course, immediately after the meeting, I stepped across the aisle and introduced myself. He said that President Witbeck was a great man. He moved to Kansas City from Utah as part of his employment as a regional sales director for Safeway Stores. He said he was a wealthy man, but you would never know it by the way he treated others.

Tom's mother was a single mom, and she also worked for Safeway. One night, after a long shift, she went out to her car and saw people putting groceries in her car. She went back in to tell them that someone was loading purchases into the wrong vehicle, and Martin Witbeck told her it wasn't a mistake. The food was for her.

Apparently, Martin lived in the Ward Parkway area of Kansas City, which is still a wealthy area. Tom took down my information and promised to try and track down some pictures for me.

How great it is to have an experience where you learn something about the kind of person an ancestor was and not just factual data. When we start to see a story emerge from what was once just dates and places, that is when genealogy becomes something more than a hobby. It becomes a history lesson, and it evolves into a passion.

Watch for my next post about tracking down the house Martin owned here in Kansas...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part I

My husband and I have lived in the Midwest for 9 years, but I am originally a Utah girl. My mother's family has been in Utah for several generations, so I never expected to find a close link to any of my maternal ancestors here in Kansas City.

As I was going through my lines on the new Family Search system several weeks ago, updating and merging duplicates, I discovered a great grand uncle who ended up here in the Kansas City area back in the 1950s.

I did some quick "digging" and found that he and his wife had both died here and had been buried in the Floral Hills Cemetery in Raytown, Missouri.

Four weeks ago, my mother and I decided to go try and find their grave sites.

Luckily, this was a cemetery that is still selling new plots, so it was easy to find a phone number on their website. While at the cemetery, we called and asked for the plot information, and they called right back with it.

We found the plot, and I snapped this picture.

We drove home, and I added the picture and information to my files and then didn't think much else about it.

Two weeks ago, I would have another experience with this uncle that wouldn't be so easy to forget.

Part II coming soon...