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Tuesday, July 14, 2015


This morning I learned that my grandfather's grandfather was born in Westphalia, Germany, he in 1823, and his wife, Mary, in 1853. It is the first time I knew my great grandfather's name, who died before I was born, John Henry, Johann Heinrich Brink. His wife, my great grandmother, I knew. She died in my late teens. Both were born in Lawrence, Kansas, where, evidently, both families settled. I remember her in childhood, Kansas City KS, old dark house with big, heavy furniture. A round dining table on a stand in the middle. Pictures around the walls of dogs playing cards. In the late Forties, early Fifties, the pictures were ancient-seeming. Her name was Anna Schmidt Brink (grandma Brink), daughter of George and Johanna Flosser Schmidt. My suspicion is they went to America from someplace other than Westphalia. I vaguely recall being told in childhood that one was from northern Germany and the other from southern Germany. Westphalia is western Germany, bordering on Netherlands and Belgium. My guess is that George and Johanna came from another part of Germany. I thought, before, it was my great grandparents made the crossing, but it was their parents. 

This explains why, when in Germany, everyone I said I don't speak German to, said, "Yes you do," with an annoyed air like I was attempting a prank. The look that says, don't try to fool me. Westphalia fits my missing link in the DNA reading from It has my physical history, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, England, Ireland and Sweden. I'm white. I knew rumor of all but Netherlands and Belgium. Borders have a way of changing over centuries, people move across borders for work and marry across borders. I'd guess Westphalia has a large population of Dutch and Belgian ancestry that goes centuries back. Possibly even Dutch and Belgian influence in some of the architecture. I vaguely recall possibly a brother of my grandfather, who went by Dutch. I wondered if it meant Netherlands Dutch or German Deutsch. Probably an Americanization of Deutsch. I'd wondered all my life what state in Germany my grandfather's people went to the New World from, to land in the new Kansas territory not long after the Civil War. My other grandfather's people went to Kansas from Ninemile, Tennessee, in the Sequatchie valley of the Cumberland Plateau, where they farmed for several generations on good soil, sixty miles north of Chattanooga.      

This rush of genealogy info came in the mail from my mother. Last week on the phone I asked what she knew about her grandfather, her mother's dad, Milton Forster. I'd only recently learned his first name, which set me to wondering more about him. His name was John Milton Forster. Oh how I  hated Paradise Lost in school. A John Milton on grandmother's side and a John Henry on grandfather's side. The name, John Milton, tells the English origin of the name Forster. He was a brick and stone mason. Mother told me of some houses I remember from childhood that he did the rock work on. He died a decade before I came along. No information on where he was born or his parents, only that he was born in 1869. He married my great grandmother, Ettie Zerilda Mann, in Nevada, Missouri, 1897. I remember her from childhood, her long, thin hair, remember loving her like crazy, grandma Forster, and mourning her death when I was 14. The name, Mann, has a German ring to it, Thomas Mann. Might be some more German blood through her. John Milton Forster is definitely English, and Protestant. Forster would be an English name, going by EM Forster, the early Twentieth Century writer. Must-be English is as far as I can get with the Forsters.  

I learned about a decade ago of my Worthington origins. original multiple-great grandfather left northwestern England, Morley in Cheshire county. He left in exile for being a Quaker. Must have been some seriously divisive religion politics going around at the time. He went to Dublin with his wife, Alice Taylor, worked three years to gather money for the crossing, and went to the new Quaker colony, Pennsylvania, 1714. A month crossing on a sailing ship. He kept an inn in the town and a farm in the country. He applied for and received a land grant of 3,000 acres in what is now Orange county, Virginia, where he died. His heir who carried my line went to Botetourt county, north of Roanoke, and as generations went by, on to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, down to Ninemile, Bledsoe County, Tennessee, where they stayed a few generations. After the Civil War, the whole next generation went west. A few generations later, my parachute landed me in the Central Blue Ridge, the same culture as my Tennessee grandpa grew up in. He passed the culture unknowingly to my dad, who passed it to me. My grandmother's people came from Pulaski county, eastern Kentucky. This explains why I felt like I had come home to my real home as I became acquainted with mountain culture in the people I knew. It was already in me. It felt like I had found my people. And the hillbillies became my people over time. I'm grateful for every step along the path that brought me here.  



  1. I like how you moved the dogs along with your story. Generally it takes living a long life to become interested in ancestry, don't you think. Enjoyed the read.

    1. Sabra, thanks. Yes, I didn't get curious about genealogy until I was 60. I used to think it's only the history of the body. It's also history of cultures, even a history of personality.. I've an idea I'd be as comfortable in German culture as Appalachian. I've been to Germany once and loved it, wanted to stay, was depressed for six weeks after coming home, for missing it. I find what little genealogy I know, about like astrology, fascinating when it comes to self-knowledge.