By J. L. Starkey
“ My yesterday’s in front of me, unfolding like a mystery.”– Jenny L. Yates and Troyal Garth Brooks
“I’ve 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 Facebook group connected to GAA Magazine are some of the very best people anywhere. “Go for it!” urged one group member. Another one asked, “How will other people know if you don’t share it?” Another one 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
It all 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 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 that particular quote was one of his 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. Since then, I have tried to honor dad’s memory in a unique way on Father’s Day. In 2018, it seemed like fate had a hand in things, since the quote that my dad loved was also the perfect title for the article about J. C. Muehleisen.
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 article by clicking here.)
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.
Yes, I had questions. A lot of them.
Telling the rest of J. C.’s story is now a genealogical goal…or maybe 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 at auction, the lawyers failed to find all of his rightful heirs…but that’s a story for another time.
Soon after the 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!
It turned out that J. C. surrounded himself with folks who lived some pretty amazing lives. Obviously, I had to tell their stories too!
First on my storytelling 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. You can read more 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 that article). Her story of secret divorces and half-truths fascinates me to this day.
After that, 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 genealogical rabbit holes are truly worth the time and effort.
But J. C. was not the only Muehleisen brother with a story to tell. William Muehleisen (you can read about his life here and here) chose a different path than J. C., but he certainly had a few secrets waiting to be discovered. Gottlieb “Lee” Muehleisen ultimately settled in Texas, where he tried in vain to establish a relationship with his long-lost son.
I haven’t yet told the stories of the other Muehleisen brothers, and I still need to write about the Muehleisen sister. You would not believe some of the things I discovered about this family!
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 have 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 wondered, “Is his story complete?”
That answer is no. Not even close. There are still 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 is time to introduce the members of J. C.’s FAN club.
Starting next week, their stories will be told.
Coming next week:
The Curious Case of Bob Bauman: How an independent medical report led to a clue in the death of J. C. Muehleisen