Feeling Thankful

This weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, we find ourselves giving thanks for family and friends. Thinking of being thankful brought this story to mind.

In the spring of 1906, Samuel Andrew Cook starting planning a reunion. A reunion to bring his brothers and sisters together for the first time in 50 years. There had been trips made by many members up to Canada over the years, but they had not all been together in one place, and especially not at the old homestead in Stockbridge. This excerpt is taken from A Snapshot: Jacob Harrison Cook: [1]

“He [S.A. Cook] set the weekend of August 2-4th as the date weekend for the festivities. Coming from all over the North American continent, the whole family gathered at his home in Neenah.

Present in birth order were: Kate Healy, and her husband, Conner Healy, Unity, Wisconsin; Watson H. Cook, Washington, DC; Loretta Elliott, Toronto, Canada; Jacob H. Cook, and his wife, Anna Cook, Appleton, Wisconsin; Sarah Drake and her husband, Isaac P. Drake, Stanley, Barron County, Wisconsin; James M. Cook and his wife, Helen Cook, Baker City, Baker County, Oregon; S. A. Cook, Host, Neenah, Wisconsin; Alfred Cook and his wife, Amanda Cook, Unity Wisconsin; and Albert Cook, Lewiston, Nez Perce County, Idaho.

This was the first time that they would all be together since the early years when the family first settled in Stockbridge, and the last time. Loretta had not been back to Wisconsin for over fifty years, and as Louis Cook, son of Alfred, remarks in his paper the Marathon County Register, the Calumet County of 1906, ‘will present a striking contrast to the wilderness to which they removed from Canada over fifty years ago.’ [2]

Stockbridge, Wisconsin, 1908

Saturday, August 4th, ‘S. A. Cook with his touring car and three other like machines that he had chartered left Neenah with the party for a trip around Lake Winnebago, arriving at their old home in the town of Stockbridge during the afternoon where they received warm welcome from many old neighbors and friends. Dinner was served at the Stockbridge Hotel, and the party was regaled [sic]  with good things furnished by Mr. and Mrs. P. F. Gillespie. The trip was enjoyed by all and they were greatly impressed with the wonderful transformation in the old home they loved so well during their younger days. — Chilton Times.’ [3] It must have been quite a sight to see these three cars, each carrying five people, heading around Lake Winnebago and into Stockbridge.

Such a large group could not all stay with S. A. at his home on Commercial Street, although some of them may have stayed with him.

Alfred and Amanda stayed at the Kasson Hotel in Downtown Neenah, and a letter written to Louis Cook by his father, gives a wonderful first-hand view of the boisterous time that they were having.

The Kasson Hotel, Neenah, Wis, 1906

Alfred writes from the Kasson Hotel:

Neenah, Wis. Aug 6th, 1906                                                                                                                                     Louis Cook  Unity Wis

My Dear Son will Drop you a few lines this is Monday morning and we are all a live and that is saying a good Deal after them acting as they have. We have all had a good time

We will Be home to morrow noon, the most of them will not go to Unity for a nother week. Tell Mabel and the Rest of them that their Mother has acted offel and if she Continues to Eat as much after getting home it is going to cost us a good dealt to keep her and they must be shure to have some Potatoes Corn-Meal and sawdust on the table when we get home. Your Father A. Cook. [4]

From other newspaper accounts, we know that the family extended their time together beyond this fun weekend in Neenah and Stockbridge. They traveled first to visit the Drakes’s in Stanley, and then back to Unity to visit with the rest of the family before returning to their homes. A good time was had by all!

On the steps of the S. A. Cook home, Commercial Street, Neenah, WI ((Sharon Cook Family Archives))


  1. Susan C. Fassbender, A Snapshot: Jacob Harrison Cook, (Appleton: Self Published, 2006): 14-15.
  2. ‘Family Reunion,’ Marathon County Register, (Unity, WI), August 3, 1906, front page.
  3. ‘From the Chilton Times,’ Marathon County Register, (Unity, WI), August 17, 1906.
  4. Alfred Cook to Louis Cook, August 6, 1906, Neenah, Wisconsin. Original letter, transcribed as written. Robert D. Sternitzky Family Archives.

A Story Too Late

As a genealogist you get used to discovering stories about family long after they are gone. Most of the time it is enough to just know the story, to fill in voids in the family history. But every once in a while, you discover a story that you wish, oh you wish, that you had known before it was too late. This is one such story.

The St. Francis Schut is a Hollandtown tradition that dates back to 1849. It was originally held on the “Schut Grounds” near St. Francis on the second Sunday in August. As the Schut grounds are located so close to the road that leads into Hollandtown, the event has been moved to a clay shooting range, and the original grounds left as a historic spot. The Schut in a nutshell is you have the “bird” that has been placed on a high pole, and the participants/shooters take turns shooting directly at the bird till the last piece is shot down, and the King is crowned. Then everyone heads to Van Abels for dinner. Don’t yell, I said it was a nutshell version.

The Kaukauna Times, dated 17 Jun 1920

In 1920 the Schut was held June, and as happened every year, it was a popular event, cars and other “machines” lined the road. My father-in-law, Butch, was seven years old that summer and was playing with friends alongside the road. We know from newspaper articles that Henry was a frequent participant in the Schut, so it is likely that the whole family was at the Schut grounds enjoying a Sunday with friends and neighbors. According to this newspaper report, Albert Haas came down the road at a “high rate of speed” and as he moved through the pathway left by the parked cars “swerv[ed] sharply narrowly missing three youngsters and in the consequence struck Bernard.” The article states that no bones were broken, and no internal injuries, but he was badly bruised.

Oh how I wish that I had found this in time to ask him about it. So many questions unanswered. Did the family know Albert Haas? Did he take responsibility for his actions? Granted Butch and his friends probably should not have been playing near the road, but Albert should have known to slow down when passing the Schut, and I find it hard to believe that other people were not standing in or near the road. But mostly I wonder how he felt, how long did it take for him to recover, were there any lasting effects from the accident.

A Perfect Wedding

Horseshoe Bay, Door County, Wisconsin
Horseshoe Bay, Door County, Wisconsin

Yesterday, we had the privilege to witness the marriage vows of the daughter of dear friends of ours. The family moved into the house next door 19 years ago, when the bride was just five years old. It was a beautiful day, unlike this morning as I sit here listening to, and watching the pouring rain.

The wedding took place in Egg Harbor, Door County, Wisconsin. For most couples this would be considered a destination wedding, but as the bride’s family has owned property in Door County for years, it was home. The wedding was perfect. It has been a very long time since we have attended a wedding where as much detail and thought went into the ceremony, as into the reception. It was a ceremony filled with love – love for each other, for family, and love of God. This theme was followed through as we settled in for a delicious meal, and listened to the loving words that each of the fathers, the bride’s brother, and their attendants shared with the couple, and with us.

Obviously I enjoyed myself. The beautiful setting of Door County, and the Horseshoe Bay Golf Club, created a mini vacation for us. But all of this beauty is not the reason for this post, the sharing of love on the other hand is the reason for the post.

In the month of July we lost three family members. One too early from cancer, and the other two, a brother and sister, who had lived long and fulfilling lives. Sitting through the funerals, one thought kept coming back to me – how sad, that while the priests did their best, but because they did not know the deceased well, if at all in this day of combined parishes, they missed the boat as to how amazing these people were. Or they just rambled on with platitudes to fill time.

By contrast, yesterday I sat listening to the priest from Stella Maris parish give a meaningful homily for this young couple that he barely knew. He has a strategy that I wish would be used for funerals, and for weddings. He prefaced his homily by stating that as his parish was a destination wedding spot, he in a sense, vetted each couple to see if they were indeed ready for this important sacrament. As part of the process he asked each of them to write down five words that described themselves, five words that described their fiancé/fiancée, plus answer other questions that forced the couple to look at themselves, and to look at their intended. The homily then was built around the answers that he received. The result was meaningful, humorous, and at times touching, for not only the couple, but to those of us witnessing their wedding.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that if this model was used as part of the funeral preparation, funerals would be much more meaningful. And I bet it would ease a lot of the stress of creating a homily about a person you never knew. When meeting with the family at the time of planning, asking them to each list five words that described their loved one, would give a much more rounded and personal view of the deceased. I know that I would have appreciated this approach as funerals for immediate family members had been prepared.

Weddings and funerals. It may be because I am a genealogist and family historian that I want to hear something meaningful. Something about the couple/person that I can take away from the day, and ponder.

Yesterday gave me much to think about.

My Genealogy Bucket List

The site of Doctor's Hospital, NYC
The site of Doctor’s Hospital, NYC

I was born in New York City, in a hospital that is now a high rise condo building, and was baptized in church that has since been razed, and parts of it placed in a chapel that is a few blocks away from the original site. Although the apartment building we lived in is still standing, it has now been condoized (is that a word?) It’s not my parents New York City!

My first visit to New York took place over my 25th birthday. Gary and I were there to attend the Eastern Dairy Deli Association conference and show. My mother asked us to walk by our old apartment at 649 2nd Avenue, so that she could see what it looked now, 25  years later. She said upon seeing this image that the building looked the same. Although I am sure I did not!

649 2nd Avenue, NYC. October 1987
649 2nd Avenue, NYC. October 1987

It would be another 25 years before I would have the opportunity to visit the “site” of my baptism. By this time the church, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which had been built in the Greek Revival style in 1915 at 307 East 33rd Street, had been razed. It had been closed in January 2007, merging with the Church of Our Lady of the Scapular-St. Stephen, and was razed in 2008.

A small chapel dedicated to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was opened in May 2009. It is located at 325 East 33rd Street. According to the church website, the statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart of Mary as well as those of St. Jude and St. Anthony are from the old church, as is the “baptismal font and the copper cross above it are from the church. Within the worship space on the north wall is the restored painting of the Sacred Heart. There are six restored and backlit leaded glass windows on the east and west walls that were originally in the church. The altar was created by using central panels from the side altars of the church along with some new marble pieces. The cross with corpus that hangs on the reredos as well as the electronic organ were also taken from the church.”

Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC

In 2012 as Hurricane Sandy was gathering strength, we headed south from our daughter’s apartment on East 93rd Street, to walk past the apartment (completely hidden by construction on 2nd Avenue) towards the chapel. We were lucky in that the chapel was open, but we didn’t have much time to look around as they were ready to lock up for the day. I snapped a few pictures, but was unable at that time to ask about the origins, or even photograph the baptismal font. We were able to get some nice shots of the chapel courtyard.

Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The day we visited the chapel was Saturday, October 27, 2012. As I mentioned earlier, we had no idea how strong, and exactly IF Hurricane Sandy would hit New York. At this point in time, we assumed that we would still be able to enjoy my birthday, celebrating on my actual day of the week, and date of birth, and be able to get on the plane home early Monday morning.

Well we soon learned that we would have to make other plans. As this was our first trip together to New York to visit Kate, we had turned in hotel points for the weekend visit. Kate was living in a very small

Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC, 27 Oct 2012
Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC, 27 Oct 2012

studio apartment. Space was limited, and we had assumed that we wouldn’t be able to comfortably sleep three in the apartment. Gary and I got up early Monday expecting to be able to get to the airport, but no flights were going out of LaGuardia. So we hightailed it up to our daughter’s apartment, knowing that if we waited too long we might not get a cab. We spent the next five nights living together, sleeping Tetris style, between her twin bed, a twin air mattress, and the floor.

It was an adventure. It was actually kind of fun. Well, fun for us as we were not in the flood zone, we did not lose power – although we watched transformers blow to the north of us, and we watched on TV as lower Manhattan flooded – and we had enough food and wine. We learned on this trip that

Tetris style sleeping arrangements
Tetris style sleeping arrangements

we could easily spend a visit staying all together, in a small apartment in Manhattan.

As part of my Genealogy Bucket List, I did want pictures of the baptismal font. Kate was kind enough to head down to the chapel and snap a couple of pictures for me. Thanks Kate!

Next on the Bucket List is to see if the original St. Francis font is still in the church in the Hollandtown church. This font would have been used to baptize my father-in-law and all of his siblings, and also would have been used for Gary and his brothers.

Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC
Baptismal Font, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, NYC


The Cook Peony

Unity, Wisconsin
Cook Peony Blossom
Cook Peony
Appleton, Wisconsin
Rumford, Rhode Island

A “Shiny!” Distraction

This past weekend I became distracted. Headed off onto another path, and away from my intended goal. But that’s o.k. On Saturday I gave a talk about land records at the Menasha Public Library. It went well, and we ended with a great give and take conversation, with everyone sharing their own experiences in the archives and with the records. I had included in one of my slides the Campbell homestead, and in the course of the talk mentioned that not everyone was able to identify a home as still standing, and still being lived in by the descendants of the builder – in this case his great-grandson. At the end of the talk I was asked to go back to that slide, and a woman asked me whose house it was. When I told her she said “that’s MY family!” I had found a cousin of my husband’s. She is only just starting her search on this side of the family, and does not have any photos. Thus my distraction. Since Saturday I have been hunting and gathering and preparing photos and information to share with her. So much fun to have seen her face when I showed her a picture I had in the Dawson file, and she clasped her hands and said “that’s my dad!”