A Beginning

March 26, 2010 at 6:42 pm (Willis Family)

Biographies tend to be chronological, starting with the crib and ending with the coffin. But we do not actually meet a family that way, especially when it stretches out over 300 years.  We begin in the now, gradually grasp something about the then, and come to recognize tentative movements toward what may unfold in a new time and place. 

We yearn to know “where we came from.” In order to create excitement a family historian might jump backward as far as he can to forgotten times and  exotic places. But the validity of those beginnings for us flow from our own present experience as we trace back along routes already taken by us and by others, always linking them to the world we presently inhabit.

I know directly representatives of four of our eight families: Willis and Hermsen most directly as from such are my parents; McKanna most certainly through my father’s uncles in Yakima and Alaska and Fleming through my mother’s aunts in Portland, Oregon. I will, therefore, start this familial exploration by sharing memories and stories surrounding each. You may find them growing in the pages indicated on the right-hand column of this blog.


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Purpose of the Blogsite

March 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm (Uncategorized, Willis Family)

The convergence happened on June 13, 1933. Robert John Willis, a fledgling attorney practicing law in Yakima, Washington, married Winifred Mae Hermsen, a teacher of third to sixth graders  in LaConner, Washington. The Reverend Anthony Barrett, pastor of the Church of the Assumption in nearby Bellingham, officiated. Family and friends from that parish, one in which she had been raised and attended school,  celebrated with the young bride as she became Mrs. Robert Willis, ” Mike” Willis to her friends.

The Wedding Church of the Assumption

This marriage completed a process begun  seventy-five years previously in a small church in Germany.  On April 4, 1858 Heinrich John Hermsen, Mike’s grandfather, married Theodora Steltjes, a twenty-four-year-old woman, born in Groesbeek, Holland, and raised in Germany. This wedding took place at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Frasselt, a small farming community in the Lower Rhine region, in the orbit of  the city of Cleve, and within twenty miles of the Dutch border.

A Side Altar in St. Anthony Catholic Church, Frasselt

For the past twenty years I have been researching this coming-together of  families. Documents of many kinds fashion the structure of this movement of Mike’s people from Germany to Wisconsin to Washington, from Ireland and England to New Zealand and, finally, Oregon. They illustrate how Bob’s family followed a not-too-dissimilar route: from Ireland to Eastern Canada, to Minnesota and Montana and Alaska, or from Ireland to California to Alaska. Bob and Mike at last ended up in Washington State, in Bellingham for her and Goldendale for him. They lived their married life together in the foothills of the Cascades, in Yakima.

In this blog I wish to share the facts about this family, but not only the facts. Along the way I have accumulated many stories that flesh-out what otherwise could appear to be simply a genealogical exercise. I will, moreover,  indicate the sources that I have found most helpful in my search. In addition, I intend to highlight the unresolved questions that  lurk like flitting shadows avoiding the light. My hope will be that others interested in this familial drama may bring fresh facts and other stories that may penetrate the darkness and lift the shadows.

Please join me as I continue this people’s journey.

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