Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Straight from me to you: A few Journey Stories

The Smithsonian has a traveling exhibit known as “Journey Stories.” It showcases journeys Americans have made to make a better life for themselves and their children – everything from ocean journeys from the Old Country to the New World to highway journeys from the East Coast to the West Coast.

All American families have journey stories but some are easier to chronicle than others. That’s because family history can easily get lost if the memories of older generations were not passed on through the written word.

I’m thankful that a couple of family members completed the necessary research to uncover the journey stories of several branches of my family tree.

Let me relate some journey stories of my family. Here’s a story of sailing ships and a father and his sons from Alsace who booked passage to the American colonies in the late 1740s. In the mid 18th century, Alsace was a French province even though the people spoke German. French and German armies had laid waste to the Alsace countryside during the 17th century religious wars. With the population decimated, many Anabaptist refugees came from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lorraine and Savoy to Alsace between the 1670s and the early 18th century. I figure the father and his sons, including Jacob Franks, my maternal great-great-great-great-great grandfather, were Anabaptists, probably Mennonites.

In 1749, six-year-old Jacob, along with his brothers and father, boarded a sailing ship that voyaged to Philadelphia. Jacob grew up in German Township, Pa., and married Barbara Brandenbiger. He served in the American militia during the Revolutionary War. His great-grandson Jesse Franks, Jr. married Mary Ann Fox and moved the family by wagon to Apple Creek in Wayne County, Ohio. My mother was born in Wayne County and I was born in neighboring Medina County.

Here’s another journey story, this time a branch of the family tree from my dad’s side of the family. Great-Grandmother Lena (Russell) Iuppenlatz no doubt told stories of the Traveling Church to her children. That’s because her mother Sarah was a Craig who could trace her family history back to Benjamin Craig, a Baptist preacher from Spotsylvania, Va., who along with his brother Lewis angered the Anglican establishment for preaching without a license.

In 1781, Lewis led a wagon train of about six hundred souls – including his 30-year-old brother Benjamin, Benjamin’s wife Nancy and their children – into the western portion of Virginia that would in time become known as Kentucky. Benjamin was one of the founders of Carrollton, Ky., and he built the first brick house in Carroll County in 1792.

Sometimes a journey story includes tragedy. In the case of the Craig family, it happened in January 1847 when Benjamin Craig, Jr. and his son Silas, along with four other men, drowned in the Ohio River when their skiff capsized in a storm.

Sometimes a journey story can even include murder. My Great-Grandfather Louis Iuppenlatz, a railroad man for 60 years, had a younger brother, William, who married Anna Young, a woman with a wandering eye. After 22 years of marriage, Anna ran off to Indianapolis in 1914 to be with her lover, John Lee, a barber. A jealous, possessive man, Lee shot her in June of that year and then killed himself. Anna was taken to the city hospital, but when it became certain she had no hope for recovery, she asked to be taken to her sister’s house in Indianapolis to die. She took her last breath on June 24 and her body was returned to her home in St. Paul with burial in Paul Hill Cemetery.

I have my own personal journey story, and it’s very much a story anchored in the mid-20th century. In the midst of the Cold War, my dad moved the family west to Rialto, Calif., in the summer of 1957. The aerospace company my dad worked for in Brecksville, Ohio, had purchased a plant outside of Rialto and intended to manufacture rocket engines for the Minuteman I missile. So dad packed my mom, my sister and me into the 1955 red-and-white Ford station wagon and we followed the yellow brick road – U.S. Highway 66 – to California.

For a few days before we moved into a rental house, we stayed in the Wigwam Hotel in Rialto. For a five-year-old kid on the verge of kindergarten who loved wearing cowboy outfits and watching TV shows like Wagon Train, staying at the Wigwam was like visiting Heaven.

So all you folks reading this…you must have journey stories of your own eager to escape your mind and find life on the written page or on the kindle or nook. Listen up…flex those fingers and start typing.


  1. Nice post, Mike. Enjoyed the history.

  2. This is brilliant stuff, Mike. Funny enough my present WIP is set in an alternative Colonial America circa 1720 so I have been mugging up on C18th America in general.