OUR COMMON ODYSSEY:THE JOURNEY OF THE BILLICK AND JACKSON FAMILIES FROM EUROPE TO THE SHORES OF LAKE ERIE
Why A Common Odyssey?
Common, because I imagine tens of thousands of other Middle-American families like mine whose origins lie in England or Central Europe. And most important, Odyssey, because that journey, whether in one generation or over centuries must have been arduous beyond our modern psyche’s ability to comprehend. Our predecessors fled war, famine and religious intolerance. They trekked hundreds of miles by horse-drawn cart or coal-powered locomotive. Passage across the North Atlantic, even in the 19th century was terribly uncomfortable. For the 17th-century Pilgrims it was surely a wretched and occasionally deadly experience.
Once in the New World, Colonial-era settlers in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania encountered heavily-forested, rocky land inhabited by not always friendly Native Americans. Nineteenth-century immigrants were herded about unceremoniously then sent out to bustling cities like Philadelphia and New York from whence they dragged their families to rural, sometimes remote hamlets in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Whether it was the 1600s or the 1900s, everyday life was hard. But our intrepid ancestors endured, undertaking one peregrination after another; felling a single tree, then a hundred; unearthing a field of rocks here and a colossal boulder there.
In these pages, I attempt to trace my mother and father’s ancestry, as far back as I’m able; fourteen generations for one branch.
The narrative focuses on Bonnie Billick’s parents, Dorotha Krotzer Jackson and John Jablonski (Jackson), their siblings and their direct ancestors back to about 1500, although one line is reliably traced to 1376.
Several generations of the Krotzers had large families: Grandma Dolly was one of thirteen children! Several of her siblings had three to five offspring as did some of her ancestors. The first Ohio resident of the group, Adam Brunthaver, Jr., may have fathered over twenty children himself. Herein I don’t undertake an exhaustive inventory of those more than one thousand individuals that could be traced back to our most remote progenitors. Rather, I follow only those connections that can be substantiated via official documents or other written records, like local histories. There is a plethora of family trees online, but these do not always provide generational relationships validated by unambiguous proof.
On my father’s side, this work only goes back one generation. For lack of any obvious links, his ancestral story ends with his parents’ arrival in America in 1906. On my mother’s side, both the Jackson/Jablonski and Krotzer families offer an abundance of source material and their forebearers are readily tracked after their arrival in North America: around 1892 for the Jablonskis and 1630 for the Krotzer line.
On both sides of the family tree, I focus on the most direct lineage in each generation and occasionally call out other relatives with particularly interesting or poignant biographies.
Blame it on the weather. It’s December 2016 and I’m sitting at my computer looking at still another rainy day outside Seattle, Washington. I’d been aware of Ancestry.com, Cyndi’s List, Familysearch.org and other online genealogy resources for years. I think my experience as a reference librarian working in government documents and U.S. Census records made me want to never have to deal with such resources again. But that was ages ago¦ and the format was microfiche and microfilm. Nearly thirty years into the Internet age, so much of that kind of investigation can now be done online, at my desk.
And at a certain age, I began to regret not being more curious about my roots and not having asked so many obvious questions about mom and dad’s youth and how my grandparents came to be where they ended up. Thus one drizzly afternoon, I signed up for a free trial on Ancestry.com and more than a year later, I’m still digging.
When I mention my research to friends, they inevitably ask, sarcastically, if I’m related to George Washington or some European royalty. I’m not but the connections to past generations are hardly less interesting and insightful. So what did I discover having lived with my ancestors for over a year?
First and foremost, I had no idea that our family stock had such extensive roots in England. My generation’s knowledge of our ancestors knew only of Polish and German origins. However, on my mother’s side, Germanic blood wasn’t introduced into the family line until around 1800. All the ancestors before that, for seven generations and some 300 years were 100% British. And from around 1600, they were predominately Puritans.
One trait that stands out among those many long-gone relatives is their courage. Just getting to North America, be it in 1640 or 1900, required incredible daring and resolve. I’ve constantly asked myself what drove these people to gather all their earthly possessions and set out for a land they’d never seen. It’s such a monumental commitment and evidence, I suppose, of a degree of fortitude and courage that is difficult for the 20th-century mind to comprehend. Studying the history of the period when ancestors left their European homes provides a general context of why they might have resolved to begin a new life, thousands of miles from their familial lands. But I still wonder when and how, for the specific individuals recounted herein, the need for a new horizon became so compelling.
Secondly, I envision individuals of unbounded tenacity with an inexhaustible capacity for hard work. The 17th-century Pilgrims endured a tortuous two-month Atlantic crossing followed by hunger, cold and Indian attacks, but endured to build one after another home, farm and town.
The English, German and Ukrainian ancestors alike were closely linked to the soil, both by circumstance and disposition. There would be an occasional shoemaker or carpenter or blacksmith, but most of our precursors worked the earth. Until this past century, most of the planet’s human inhabitants were farmers so it’s no surprise that most of the individuals noted in the following pages led an agronomic life. Like so many immigrants, the Billick-Jackson forefathers relied on farming until the forces of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression offered or forced them to follow other avocations.
This link to agrarian life was exemplified, in my experience, by my grandparents, Louis and Tekla Billick. Their property, next door to ours, reserved over half an acre for a vegetable garden, chuck full of tomatoes, green beans, dill, carrots, etc. My mother would occasionally send me to fetch fresh eggs from the hen house. And there was a long row of pear and apple trees between our lots. This configuration was very common in that Polish neighborhood. These were not hobby plots but a source of fresh produce in season and canned and pickled items in the winter.
Family life was central to the immigrant experience in several ways. Given the perpetual tribulations of pioneer life, everyone had to contribute just to survive. Pioneer and immigrant families tended to be large. The Billick-Jackson ancestors were champions of big families. Thus the maternal experience of our ancestors was very different from 20th-or 21st-century motherhood. Today, nearly one in four mothers gives birth to a single child. The average number of children for the marriages traced in this document was more than eight; and a few mothers bore seventeen or more children. Pregnancy was almost a permanent condition. One of my 4thgreat grandmothers gave birth to the last of her twelve children when she was forty-seven years old. My own mother, Bonnie, was 42 when my sister was born :some sixteen years after me. Another unexpected fact was the relative rarity of infant and early childhood deaths. Only three or so of these tragedies are documented out of the scores of families I followed.
Many of the ancestors discovered in these pages , and a few, three times. The Puritan forebearers, especially ,seemed to not be able to tolerate more than a few months without a spouse.Second marriages often occurred within a few months of a spouse’s passing. And it wasn’t always to have a helpmate to raise or support children. A good number of these second and third nuptials occurred when the female partner was past child-bearing years. There just seems to have been a compelling need to have a wedded partner.
It is difficult to assess the role of formal education among our ancestors. It is not a piece of information typically recorded in any official document until the time of the 1850 U.S. Census. We know the Puritan ancestors placed significant importance on the education of their children even though they did not early on create a system of public schools. From what can be surmised from documents and activities of our ancestors, virtually all of them could read and write although few had any formal education until the 20thcentury. I sense that although traditional schooling was not available, all the antecedent families ensured the children acquired these foundational skills.
Women are not very prominent in the Billick-Jackson annals. Unfortunately for historians but in accord with the societal norms of the time, women’s activities were rarely documented, except for birth, death, and marriage records and occasional wills. That’s not to say they did not have a profound role in family life. They were likely the primary teachers of the children and worked as hard as their husbands dealing with the needs of maintaining a house in the pre-electricity, pre-running water era. And, they were pregnant about half their adult lives.
Finally, it’s a commentary, I suppose, on American history that so many Billick-Jackson males served in the military. They participated in virtually every conflict from the Colonial period French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, and so on up to the Vietnam conflict. It’s surprising, really, that only a few perished in these conflicts.
As will be apparent, the Brunthavers, Clinks, and Krotzers are challenging to trace and astutely summarize both due to the number of individuals involved and the plethora of potential documentation about them. It’s easy to confuse one John or Adam or Mary with another and equally difficult to track children by second spouses. There are over 100,000 records in the Ancestry.com database somehow associated to the Krotzer name alone and some 5,000 related family trees. The Brunthavers and Clinks are scarcely less abundant.
Peak farm in the Unites States occurred in the 30s; farmer ownership has declined from a peak of over 6 million in 1935 to fewer than 2 million today,