Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Della's Sister....

I knew almost from the start of my research that the lady on the right in this photo was my GGGrandmother. She always looked the same. The lady with the scowl. I knew that she was my Grandparent because we had many photos of her. There was the one with Alvin Smith holding a baby and Della Sparks, one with Dora Jackson, Ruth and Ruth’s baby seated outside, pictures of her seated with all of her children and their families standing behind her. The list goes on… What I did not know for sure was her name. I knew she was a Denney and I thought her name was Della because that was what Grandma Lillian called her. I’ll talk more about her in another blog. So for now we just know the crabby one is Oella Denney Smith. She always looked like that I am told.

For years I wondered who this other woman was, the one on the left who seems to have a slight grin! My only clue was a note from Grandma Lillian on the back of the photo. It said Della’s sister. ( Remember that the name Della is wrong…)

I circulated this photo with all of the Denney researchers I have made friends with in hopes that someone would be able to match this photo with one of the Denney woman in their families. None of the researchers seemed to know who she was.

The more I looked at the photo I decided that these two could not be sisters. They did not look at all alike. I know that all sisters do not look alike but there are always some similarities and these two had none. One had a permanent scowl but the other had a bright face, maybe she is squinting but I do not want to think that is it! She has a smile! How could the lady with the scowl and the lady with the smile be sisters…. In my mind it just can not be. Yet this woman was very much apart of the lives of these relatives of mine. She was at the Baptisms, the picnics and all the family gatherings even after Oella seems to be gone. So who is she? SO I kept looking at her and wondering where she belonged.

I would find clues and not really realize that they were clues. When I found the death record for James’s brother Joseph in Chicago, I would get a burial date in Fort Wayne. With that I would get and Obit who mentioned a sister, Mrs. Ralhman. I could not find a Ralhman in Fort Wayne. For years I searched for Rahlman, Ralhmen, Ralman, Rehlman, Relman and every version I could think of but no one was found. James and Joseph did have sisters. All of the sisters which were older than them, had died long ago. One was named Susan she was younger than the brothers but I knew little about her. I wondered if this could be her but who had she married? They also had a sister Martha who was the youngest sibling, could it be her? I would later find that Martha would marry Henry Hauss and settle in the neighboring county of Huntington where she would die at the age of 21, in 1877. So it is not her. Who could she be?

So I started to search for a woman born between the years of 1850 and 1853 whose first name was Susan or Susannah. Eventually I would add the criteria of a surname (married name) beginning with “r”. After a few weeks of searching, there she was Susanah Rehnen. Could this be her? It would take some time but eventually I would obtain Obits for Susanah, her son Bernard, his son Parnell and Parnell’s son, James who died in Larkspur California in 1994. Eventually I did a search on a website called and much to my surprise there was a B. Rehnen who was listed in Larkspur, California. As I recall, this was around 2003. I have used this tool several other time successfully to find children who are still living who had been listed in their parent’s obits. Usually I write down the name, address and phone with a note about who I think they are and how I suspect they are related to me. After finding several, I would write a generic note explaining who I am and that I am looking to confirm information and provide them with information on how they can contact me. Sometimes they do get back to me and sometimes they do not. Not everyone is as interested in their families past as I am.

I had been looking at this photo and getting to know this woman for years and I just had to know who she was. She was another lost relative who spoke to me every time I looked at her just begging me to find her. This process of elimination had been so slow that I took a bold step. I picked up the phone one Sunday afternoon and I called the number. A sweet elderly woman answered the phone, as I explained to her who I was and how I thought I was related she quietly listened. Eventually she broke her silence and said, well you know, you are not actually related to me, it was my husband that you were related to and he has been dead for some time. Then she went on to tell me that his sister still lives in the Fort Wayne area and that I should call her. Susan Katherine Brown is her name. 

After talking to her, I was able to identify this sweet woman as Susannah M (Smith) Rehnen (pronounced Wren like the bird…as she explained), Susan Brown’s Great, Great Grandmother. Susan is named after her. Susan would supply me with several other wonderful photos’ of Aunt Susan and I was able to supply her with a few that she had never seen.

It would be a day that I would solve another one of the “needles in my haystack”. The clue on the photo would have helped if it had said “James W. Smith’s sister, Susan”. She was Oella’s sister-in-law not her sister but as I think of it, that would have made it too easy and I would not have learned so much about this part of my “Haystack”! I thought it was amusing when I received this photo from Susan Brown, there is Oella scowl and all…

  Susan M (Smith) Rehnen

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