What is Your Origin Story?

Origin: the point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived.

or·i·gin

Its simplicity at its finest… where does someone come from?

I used to joke with people and say “my mom!” followed by a lengthy laugh. Sometime around 33-years of age I decided to visit the “homelands” of my American ancestors. It’s smack dab in the middle of farming country in Central America, a short distance outside of Neenah, Wisconsin.

This small rural town and its surrounding area has a population around 24,500 people. A short drive from downtown Neenah is the homestead where some 136-years ago my ancestors settled. This land and farm has fed, bleed and raised a multitude of generations of my relatives. These are all third, and fourth cousins, their parents and other distant relatives.

The original homesteaders dated all the way back to our original ancestors who fled the potato famines of 1845 to 1852 that was spreading throughout the United Kingdom. Many of our ancestors came directly out of the farming valleys near Ennis, County Clare, Ireland.

One afternoon a few of my cousins and I were sitting on the back porch of our grandmothers townhome talking and laughing about random topics. Then someone mentioned to me there was a nearby graveyard which held several gravestones of our ancestors. The afternoon wore on but I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to see this cemetery prior to my departure a few days later.

At dinner that night I started asking questions about this cemetery that I had heard of. I was curious to know if it was the same cemetery that my grandfather (my mother’s father) was buried in? I was told that this particular cemetery was considered a “rural cemetery” even though it was still inside town limits. That this cemetery was one of the original cemeteries when this was only homesteads and farms. This information really struck a chord inside and I asked, “can someone please take me to this cemetery prior to my departing on Saturday?”

My mother agreed to take me out to the cemetery, on Thursday mid-morning before we were to head out of town for a luncheon with my aunt. As we departed the townhouse we drove South two blocks slowing down to a California rolling stop then turned left and headed East towards the highway. As the highway approached I thought aren’t we getting onto the highway to go out to this ‘rural cemetery’? and I kept my mouth shut and just watched the houses go on by. Then we crossed under the highway and took the first road past the onramp to the highway heading North. Less than a mile up that secondary road, the signal light was turned on as we pulled off the road and into a small dirt parking lot. We had driven less than 10-minutes from the townhouse. What! Are you Serious! I shouted and SCREAMED inside my head.

“Hey, what are we doing here?” I asked my mother. “Well, you said you wanted to see the old cemetery. Right?” she replied. I starred in disbelief.

This “rural cemetery” had been literally right beneath our noses for our entire lives. This was the first time anyone had ever mentioned that our ancestors were buried within jogging distance of our grandmother’s home. I’d been coming to Central America for three-decades and this was …

unbelievable!

We walked over to a small gate standing about 24-inches. Its wrought iron twisted by hand a century ago. A total labour of love. The raw material must have been heated and pounded out by hand. It squeaked as we pushed it forward allowing us enough space to enter.

Instantly you could tell this “rural cemetery” was special with the crumbling headstones. These were ornate and very large pieces of stone with slightly flat faces. Names were not on plaques but chiseled into the stone by a hand, hammer and stone tools. These were rudimentary as rudimentary can be. I stood dumbfounded at the history laid out before us.

We wandered around the graves looking at names, dates, and messages.

“Here you go,” she said, pointing at a head stone. “These are your ancestors.”

My mouth hung open. Gapping at the stone.

GRIMES, WILLIAM P.
b. 1825 ~ d. 1874 
Dublin Ireland 1847 
Father, Farmer, Religion

These were my ancestors. They were great-great-great uncles, aunts, and children. They were from Ireland, and they had been resting in this cemetery all this time! They were patiently waiting for the day when their long lost cousin would come searching for his own roots, and their histories. He would be eager to hear more about his ancestry and begin his own genealogy research into how these Irish homesteaders found their way into the middle of Wisconsin.

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