Friday, April 10, 2015

My Soul Remembers the Way

Last weekend was General Conference and we were able to enjoy it with the Sister Missionaries and our friend, Richard. Richard recently joined the church and we've been lucky enough to get to spend some time with him as he comes to learn and grow in his journey. He is an amazing man and we just love him. The Sister Missionaries are pretty lovable, too.

The talks were amazing, as always and I think my favorite was the talk by Elder Holland during the Sunday session. If you missed it:

I did some family history between the sessions, as I usually do and came across some information about the Westfall line that connected them to a town that is just over an hour away from where we live. Sometimes, doing family history work is emotionally taxing. There are so many broken branches among the living, so many people who take those broken branches and sharpen them into spears so they can stab others.  I have decided it is just about impossible to get information from members of the family about the history and have resigned myself to just having to collect the same information that others have already gathered, to drawing the same conclusions because heaven forbid, we share. Let's all fight about who owns the dead. They'd be so proud.
It's a rant for another time and place. 
Because of the issues and bad blood that never seems to stop flowing, I have not looked into my matriarchal line very much. I know there are family members who actively research those lines, who have more experience, better memories and more resources than I ever will. The line of my mother's father can be traced back to the 1100's and there isn't much to be discovered there. I don't have super great emotional association with that line, so I never really looked into it until last Sunday. Finding that they lived so close to my current home sparked my interest.
I learned that they started out in Germany- from Westfalia- surprise, surprise. 
From Germany, they went to the Netherlands and from there, they came to New York, which was founded by the Dutch and called New Amsterdam at the time. My ancestors were some of the original settlers in what is now New York City. 
That's pretty awesome. 
The ancestor who came from the Netherlands was a just a boy, ten or thirteen years old (I forget as I am sitting here, typing and watching Desperate Housewives.) His parents either died on the voyage to America, or he was sent alone and he lived with a friend of his father until he eventually left Manhattan and went about an hour north, to Orange County, New York. He stayed there until he was killed by Indians. 
His son moved to a town that is about a 15 minute drive from there, in Sussex County New Jersey. He purchased a plot of land on Minisink Island, right in the middle of the Delaware river. It was said that it was one of the safest places to live, because it was an Island and it was pretty shielded from Indians. Knowing his father was killed by Indians, that makes  sense. Some of his siblings went to Virginia, some stayed in New York. 
My ancestor's children went on to Ohio, but some of them came back to New Jersey to fight in the Revolutionary war.From Ohio they continued West and settled in Wyoming, then Idaho and Utah in my grandparent's generation.
My direct line had a lot of farmers who fought in a lot of wars. 
I never would have guessed that they started here, though. On Tuesday, after I took the kids to school, Matt suggested we take a road trip and go see the area. Parker was home to help if anything went south at school and we loaded up Kate and Jane and headed Northeast.

I didn't expect to find anything, but I thought it would be kind of cool to see the town my ancestors helped settle, the land they tried to start a life in. 
We went to the little town of Port Jervis and found the cemetery where it is said that my ancestor who came to America is buried in. 

There were two areas, one was a newer section and one was the old section with most of the headstones so worn that you couldn't read anything on them. Thankfully, there was a map and a legend kept by the sign at the entrance and we were able to find the worn headstones of some of my ancestors from the 1800's and we read that there were over 300 buried there in unmarked graves from an attack by the Indians and the Tories. That was the attack my ancestor was killed in. 

I stood at the headstones of the long dead Westfalls and had a quiet, reverent moment there. As the wind howled and the rain started to fall, tears also started to fall from my eyes as I thanked them for the sacrifices they made, for the hardships they endured and for coming to this place.
 I thanked them for calling me back to it.
I thanked them for the peaceful, but warm feeling I had, for the gentle spirit of love and family that I felt for them and I was feeling in return. 
The dead forgive. 

We visited the local library, where they had a room filled with archives and records of families who lived there. When they asked who I was researching and I told them "Westfall" they all knew the name and led me to the huge section of Westfall records they had. When they asked how distant my relation was and I told them my mother was a Westfall and I was a direct descendant of Johannes and Jurian Westfall- I got a couple of raised eyebrows and one of the women there said "oh, you're the real deal- you're an actual direct ancestor. We get a lot of people with Westfalls in their family, but you're an actual descendant!"  They said lots of people research the line, but they couldn't recall anyone who was in the direct line ever having been there unless they were from the area. They told me there was a big farm and winery just outside of town and this was the place where I came from. 
It was all a little overwhelming, but it was kind of fun to be in a room with people who felt like they knew me, because they knew so much about my 11 times great grandfather. 

We checked out the local church that my people were affiliated with. Their building was burned to the ground by the Tories, but they had eventually rebuilt and the 'new' building was massive and gorgeous. 

I made a lot of copies and have a lot of information to go through, but we found baptism records of my ancestors and history books with the names of my grandparents and Aunts and Uncles in them. I even corrected the spelling of my Aunt Vernelle's name in a book they had. 

We wrapped up the day with a trip to Dairy Queen and we stopped and snapped pictures of the Westfall Winery.

As we drove away, I daydreamed about what it would be like if we bought a little plot of land out there and settled where I began. 
It will never happen, I never want to live in the sticks, but if I did...Port Jervis would be an amazing place to be. There are beautiful rolling hills, trees and green grass everywhere and the Delaware River, just begging for someone to sit and drink lemonade in sunglasses and a floppy hat off her shores. 

The roads and paths were once traveled by my people and there is something almost holy in walking those same steps. It's like your feet are led by a memory that only your soul knew.  You watched your loved ones walk those paths and memorized them before you came to Earth and when you return to those places, it remembers and it all feels strangely familiar.

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