…print the legend.

By J. L. Starkey

My yesterday’s in front of me, unfolding like a mystery.

– Jenny L. Yates and Troyal Garth Brooks

Portrait of a legend?

“I proved a family legend…maybe it’s time to share it?” I nervously typed a response to the call for article submissions. I had discovered an amazing story about “my Deadwood third-great-grandfather” and wanted to tell the world!

But oh, that dratted self doubt. Why must we question ourselves at life’s most amazing moments? And yet, that is exactly what I did. What would people think? Would I sound uneducated? Would someone say my writing was awful?

Fortunately, the members of the group connected to GAA Magazine are some of the very best people anywhere.

“Go for it!” urged one group member, while another member asked, “How will other people know if you don’t share it?” Still another member reminded me that they were “a pretty accepting crowd,” and that I was among friends.

My decision was made. I was doing this! A few days later, I clicked send and submitted the article for consideration. Then I sat back in shocked silence. How had I gotten to this point?

I blame J.C. for all of it.

Discovering the Legend

Thought to be the Muehleisen brothers in the 1880s. If I had to guess, I’d say that J.C. is the dashing man seated on the left! [Photo courtesy of Gary Dix]

It started with a few sentences and a photo on a Rootsweb page. “Some of the brothers were gold miners,” the author wrote. “Family history says that one of them lost his way in a snowstorm and froze to death in the Black Hills.”

“Look at this!” I said to my husband. “That brother? The one he’s talking about? That’s J.C.!”

It was true. The mystery brother was my third-great-grandfather, Johann Conrad “J.C.” Muehleisen, and the details of his short life and tragic death had consumed my research hours for months. He had a story that was begging to be told.

I submitted When the legend becomes fact…print the legend to GAA Magazine on Father’s Day in 2018. The date was significant, as was the title, which was a quote from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. My dad loved that movie, and the quote was one of his all-time favorites.

Dad passed away in June 2014, and his funeral was held on Father’s Day weekend. My uncle gave a beautiful eulogy based on that quote, and it resonated with me. Ever since that time, I’ve tried to honor dad’s memory in a unique way on Father’s Day.

In 2018, fate had a hand in things, since the quote that dad loved so much was also the perfect title for the article about J.C.

In August, I was shocked to learn that the article would be published in GAA Magazine’s September 2018 edition. J.C.’s story would finally be told! (You can see the original article by clicking here.)

J. C.’s story is published in GAA Magazine, September 2018

The Thing About Legends

But my research on J.C.’s life was far from complete. Anyone who has proven a family legend knows that there is always more to the story.

I had – and still have – questions. A lot of them.

Telling the rest of J.C.’s story is now a genealogical goal…or maybe it’s an obsession? My mother wants me to write a book about him, and one of my sisters wants me to pitch him as a character for any future installments of Deadwood.

Meanwhile, my son wants to know if we’ll get any sort of discount when we finally take that long-awaited trip to Deadwood, seeing as when J.C.’s property was sold, the lawyers failed to find all of his rightful heirs.

But that’s a story for another time, isn’t it.

Soon after the GAA article was published, I started my own genealogy blog. Negative thoughts and doubts, please step aside. There were stories to tell, and legends to prove!

Home to a legend: Deadwood in 1876
[NARA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=125749]

J.C.’s daughter, Melcena Millison

My first goal was to revise J.C.’s story to coincide with the 52 Ancestors Challenge prompts of Unusual Name and I’d like to meet.

And after that? Well, the stories just kept coming.

It turned out that J.C. surrounded himself with family and friends who also lived amazing lives. Obviously, I had to tell their stories too!

First on my list was J.C.’s daughter, my great-great-grandmother, Melcena Millison. She of the unusual name and mysterious life was a problem child from the start, but I found her hiding place eventually.

The first wife of a legend!

You can read about Melcena by clicking here and here.

Next, I wrote about J.C.’s first wife, my third-great-grandmother, Gabriella-O’Neill-Royce-Muehleisen-Buckingham (click here for her story). Her tale of secret divorces and half-truths fascinates me to this day.

Next, I wrote about J.C.’s second wife, Carrie Olson, a woman who was probably his one true love. Writing about Carrie convinced me that some rabbit holes are truly worth a family historian’s time and effort.

But J. C. wasn’t the only Muehleisen brother with a story to tell. William Ludwig Muehleisen (you can read about him here and here) chose a different path than J.C., but he had a few secrets of his own just waiting to be discovered.

So, too, did the youngest sibling, Gottlieb (Lee) Muehleisen, who settled in Texas and tried in vain to establish a relationship with his estranged son.

Brother of a legend, Lee Muehleisen

Legends? Yes, the Muehleisen family certainly had their share.

The Legend Continues

This week, it is fitting that the 52 Ancestors prompt is legend. It has been one year since I nervously clicked send and began my writing journey. In that year I’ve proven a few legends and discovered countless surprises. As I looked at this week’s prompt, I thought about the legend of J.C., and I wondered, “Is his story complete?”

That answer is no. Not even close. There are so many unanswered questions, and I just can’t leave well enough alone. In the world of genealogy, that can only mean one thing.

Yes, it’s time to introduce the members of J. C.’s FAN club.

Starting next week, their stories will be told.

Next up: The Curious Case of Bob Bauman

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