Traveling My Family’s Timeline

Yep, this is a photo of me, Mike Staton, author of this blog post.
Yep, this is a photo of me, Mike Staton, author of this blog post.

I’m watching Continuum on Netflix. It’s a Canadian-produced SF series about revolutionaries and a female cop from 2077 transported to the 21st century’ second decade. The hour-long plots have me pondering where I’d go if I owned a time machine.

Those familiar with my posts on Writing Wranglers & Warriors know I occasionally write about the challenges faced by my ancestors during the first several decades of the 20th century. As ideas ricochet inside my head, I’ve concluded I’d aim my time machine for 1920 and a landing in a small town in Northeast Ohio – Rittman. That’s the year my Great-Grandfather David Elmer Kurtz, his wife Icie Bell and their daughter Helen passed away.

In 1920 1,803 people called Rittman home including the Kurtz family who lived in a house at the end of Fourth Street on the outskirts. Over the years Icie Belle birthed thirteen children including my grandmother, Mildred. By 1920, some of those siblings were married and living on their own. Some were just toddlers.

I'd head back to a time when my Grandmother Mid was 12 years old. I love this painting of a gent riding a time machine bicycle style. It looks like the innards of a clock, doesn't it?
I’d head back to a time when my Grandmother Mid was 12 years old. I love this painting of a gent riding a time machine bicycle style. It looks like the innards of a clock, doesn’t it?

On Wednesday, June 23, twelve-year-old Mid was visiting an older sister — Maude — in Michigan when their mother collapsed on the back steps. Her eyes on an approaching thunderstorm, Icie Belle had just gathered up a brood of baby chicks. Maybe one of the youngsters still at home rushed up the street to older sister Ethel’s house and shrieked for help. Ethel was probably at the house looking after her one-year-old toddler, Russell. If I could step back in time to that horrible day and loiter near the houses, I could get a close-up look at what actually transpired. Would I do it if a time machine actually existed? I’m a retired newspaper reporter bursting with curiosity. Think of the family history I could write.

Back then families held funerals in their homes. I assume that’s the case for Icie-Belle; some time spent in June and July 1920 could verify it. If I didn’t lose my nerve, I’d pay my respects to David Elmer and rest of the family. I’d claim to be a distant Hockensmith relative who knew Icie Belle’s mother Sarah. Some of you are no doubt thinking: why in the world would Mike want to intrude on their grief, even if he’s Icie Belle’s yet-unborn great-grandson? I dearly love my Grandmother Mid, gone from this world for the past twenty years. If given the chance, I’d like to sit beside her, take her hand and say, “Things are dark now and will get even darker, but I predict a wonderful man will come to love and adore you. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will shower you with love. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” And I’d add, “If one of those grandchildren – a boy – gets too close to your stove and is about to touch a still-hot burner, slap his hand away. He’ll be thankful you did.” Hopefully she’ll smile, even giggle.

Sounds morbid... I'd set my time machine for mid-June 1920 so I could witness a tragic time in the lives of the Rittman, Ohio, Kurtz family. These are my great-grandparents, Icie Belle and David Elmer Kurtz, who both died less than two weeks apart in the summertime of 1920.
Sounds morbid… I’d set my time machine for mid-June 1920 so I could witness a tragic time in the lives of the Rittman, Ohio, Kurtz family. These are my great-grandparents, Icie Belle and David Elmer Kurtz, who both died less than two weeks apart in the summertime of 1920.

I’m not sure David Elmer, known as Elmer, would have been present. He might have been in a sanatorium. In late June 1920 bacterial tuberculosis, or consumption, had ravaged my great-grandfather’s lungs. He’d die on July 5, less than two weeks after his wife’s heart-attack death. In the early 1900s TB killed one in seven people. Many TB patients sought treatment in Arizona sanatoriums where therapy included fresh air, sleep, wholesome food and exercise, but the Kurtz family wasn’t awash in cash. Elmer worked on a rich man’s farm.

As a kid, I knew many of Grandma Mid’s brothers and sisters. To me, they were old people, nice, wrinkly and old fashioned. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve had a chance to explore old photo albums and see the photos of them as young, vibrant men and women. Those old photos contain voices that echo, “Come see me, Mike. I’d just love to chitchat.”

Yea, I know it’s a period of back-to-back funerals, of young relatives like Mid shuttled off to live with older aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. But I don’t think I could resist the lure of sharing a conversation with loved ones at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, especially folks who died long before I took my first breath.

As a retired journalist, I'd be interested in knowing what my ancestors liked to read back in 1920. It would give me ideas for conversations.
As a retired journalist, I’d be interested in knowing what my ancestors liked to read back in 1920. It would give me ideas for conversations.

Would I find a newspaper in Ethel’s house down the street? Maybe a McClure’s or a Saturday Evening Post? Perhaps a magazine on baking? Ethel’s husband Raymond Snyder and his father owned a bakery in the Realty Building in downtown Rittman. Raymond died in 1962 when I was just ten, so I don’t remember much about talks on politics; I was too busy playing with toys that had belonged to their kids, Russell and Harold, toy trucks and a bean-bag game. I admit it… it would be fascinating to talk adult-to-adult with Uncle Raymond about post-World War I politics and his life as a baker.

So I ask… would you go back in time to another era and visit with your ancestors – if given the opportunity?


24 thoughts on “Traveling My Family’s Timeline

  1. I’ve often thought it would be fun to visit my grandparents, Paul, called PK, and Hazel when they were younger. I only knew them when they were quite advanced in age and have heard so many stories from my father, aunt, and uncles. I think it would be fascinating.

    I enjoy your writing. You have a comfortable voice. Thank you.


  2. Great post Mike. I love your family stories. I love mine too and would be thrilled to travel back in time to meet some of them and to observe those I loved in an earlier setting. I often wondered how my paternal grandmother and grandfather lived as children. My maternal grandparents were farmers, no nonsense, and our favorites to visit when we were small. We know very little about my mother’s side of the family so I’d love spending time with them in an earlier time and meeting their ancestors. It’s a loaded question and one I’m not sure everyone would take advantage of, but many of us are very curious, myself included. Thank you for this post, it certainly gets one thinking doesn’t it?


    1. Knowing that something bad is going to happen to a loved one and going back in time to spend a few days with that person… yep, it could be tough for some of us. In the fantasy movie “Peggy Sue Got Married,” the character played by Katherine Turner cries when she sees her deceased grandparents.


  3. Had never thought about traveling back and to what time period I would like to visit. I have often envisioned what life must have been like for grandparents and great grandparents though. My mom was 3 months old when she rode and emigrant train with parents and siblings from Iowa to North Dakota, where they lived for a time on the prairie in a tar paper shack. My dad was born in a sod house where a baby had died under tragic circumstances to the family before my grandparents took over the homestead. My grandparents later had many barn dances on that place. People came from 40 miles to attend. Have thought that would have been fun to see. Enjoy reading about your family and love your idea to comfort your grandmother.


    1. Your comment got me to thinking… how would time change if a time traveler could ‘save’ that baby’s death? Another thought: attending one of those barn dances.


  4. I’d be afraid of doing something that might change the course of my own life. Did you ever see Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox about a boy who goes back to the 50’s and meets his parents?


    1. Yep, Abbie, seen all three Back To The Future movies. Enjoyed them all, especially the first. One of the favorite themes of time travel is the paradox of having two Michael Statons in the same time line. What if they met? Can they co-exist or is there some natural law that won’t allow it?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Had to make a correction to this post. Grandma Mid — in June 1920 just twelve years old — couldn’t have gone running up the street to her older sister Ethel’s house to shout out that Icie Belle had collapsed. That’s hard to do when you’re visiting another sister in Michigan. Still, there were other children still living at the house and perhaps one of them dashed to Ethel’s house. I still perhaps would have had an opportunity to share kind words with my grandmother… she returned to Rittman shortly after Icie Belle’s death. See, even if you’re a time traveler, it’s still good to check family chronicles to refresh one’s memory before hopping in the time machine.


  6. Mike, what a wonderful trip that would be. I had the good fortune to spend time with my great grandmother and many other older people in the town I grew up in. I was that odd child who loved to listen to my ‘elders’ talk. But, if I had the chance, oh the journeys I would take. Doris


    1. I’m with you, Doris. I’d love to see the younger versions of all my “old, wrinkly” relatives. And I would so love to spend some time just hearing the voices of people I only know through their photos. I’ve copies of a few photos showing relatives who were old and wrinkly in 1910, so they’d be great-great grandparents and aunts and uncles — maybe a Union veteran or two.


  7. I would like to travel back and visit ancestors. I didn’t know either of my parents grandparents — by the time my mother was born, her grandparents had already died, and though my dad knew his grandparents, I did not — they were either already gone or we lived too far away to visit them often so I didn’t really know them. I’ve began looking into my family history and it’s been an interesting journey. As I began reading your post, Mike, I thought of the movie, “Back to the Future,” as Abbie obviously did. Great thoughts! Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Mike!


    1. Thanks, Gayle. I have to admit, though, I was disappointed in myself for not remembering that my Grandma Mid was up in Michigan visiting an older sister when my Great-Grandma Icie Belle passed away at the young age of 48. Luckily it was easy to revise the post so that I didn’t have Mid in Rittman on the last Wednesday of Icie Belle’s life.


  8. Interesting idea. I think getting to know my father as a child would be an interesting prospect. I know so little about his upbringing and he was gone long before I had a chance to really get to know him.


    1. I wish I could go back and do some visiting with my fraternal grandfather. I hardly knew him. He passed away in August 1960 at age 55 when I was just eight. Luckily, my mom, sister and me were vacationing in Ohio at the time, so I did get to visit with him some. But the vacation memories are pretty dim.


  9. That would be an interesting time to visit, Mike, if dark. I might want to go back and visit my parents when they were young, to really witness some of the things I’ve only heard about–like how my mother lived in someone else’s home cooking and cleaning after she left her parents’ house and before she married my father.


    1. Lots of jobs for women back then were as domestics. In my Great-Grandmother Icie Belle’s case, she took in other families laundry. She lived a pretty hard life, and that’s not even taking into consideration the 13-14 children she had. No wonder she passed away at 48.


  10. Absolutely! I’d love to go back to 1874 and find out first hand how my great-grandfather managed to get married to two women that year. From research I’ve done it seems that bigamy wasn’t completely unheard of in country places in Scotland back then- even though official State marriage records had begun in the mid 1850s. My great grandmother, of the ‘second’ marriage, seems to have been quite a character as well and I’d love to meet her, too. (ps I’ve already started a ‘fictitious’ family saga using some of my ancestral denouements! *she winks*)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I about spewed out my drink when I read the first part of your comment, Nancy. Your great-grandpa must have taken a Mormon correspondence course on wooing and marrying multiple lasses simultaneously. You’ll have to write a column on your great-grandparents, telling us about what you know about them.


  11. Love it. You do have a reporters minds, a writers mind. I love this post. I went back to 1920 with you. I’m going to look up the 1920 magazines. I have a couple from that era at my Florida house and I l I ve look I ng at them. Cher’ley


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