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By Daniel Hubbard | October 1, 2017

It has been ages since I have posted. As we must remember when we think about our ancestors, sometimes life gets in the way—not just for us as researchers, but for the people we research. Sometimes their lives were simply filled with events, some probably good, some probably bad, that left no records behind and kept them from doing anything that would leave a trace.

When my dad passed away, I knew I would take a break from blogging, not necessarily stopping, but not worrying about doing it regularly. One can break a good habit as well as a bad habit, I’ve learned. Sometimes the distractions from blogging have been good things, but often things that I could have done without. This summer, I thought I’d start blogging again, only to learn the hard way what happens when nearly 2 trillion gallons of rain fall on a relatively small area over the space of a few hours. If I remember right it was four times our normal July rainfall in just six hours. The cleanup from that is still a work in progress. When you live in one of the flatter parts of the world and you see water squirting up out of the middles of roads hours after the rain stops and have neighbors tell you in disbelief about the wall of water that smashed their basement windows or the sewage geysers that erupted from their drains, it is not good. The day I was to do an interview with a local NBC station, I was happy to find a bridge that was open. I was less happy to find that the traffic I saw coming toward me on the other side of the bridge consisted of a flotilla of picnic tables. Time to reroute. The day in August that the family decided to take a day and go hiking to get away from hauling up ruined appliances and mopping and sterilizing floors was to be my return to blogging as well. However, the altercation between my skull and a boulder was unplanned. Officially it ended in a tie, since neither the bolder nor my skull actually cracked but I don’t remember seeing it in the emergency room with me.

Ancestral Footsteps

Fort Winnebago Surgeons’ Quarters

The reason that I thought I would return to blogging after that ill-fated hike has to do with where we went before hiking. One of the joys of genealogy is when we can start breaking down the wall of time, and our knowledge of an ancestor’s life just gets richer and richer, with no end in sight. One of my ancestors who fits that mold fits it so well, that over the years I have slowly been visiting the places that were along his journey. After visiting Fort Winnebago, only the most far flung remain.

In some sense, it is not true, even now, that I have visited Fort Winnebago. The fort was destroyed by fire in 1856. The site remains, but the fort itself has been gone for a century and a half. In a way, that is even better for me. When my ancestor arrived there in 1828, the fort did not yet exist, one of those facts we reconstruct only to be presented with a deeper mystery. Yet that mystery too has its explanation, though it took years to sort it out. A mystery may be a sign that we have something wrong. It may also be an invitation to deeper understanding.

As you may be able to read in the sign in front of the surgeons’ quarters, it was built well before the fort. It was, in fact, built for a totally different reason and then eventually sold to the army. When my great-great-great-grandfather and his family arrived, they probably stood at the spot where I stood to take this picture, because it was the only building that existed and this was the route to the door.

My ancestors paused here until the spring of 1829. By then much had changed. Soldiers had arrived and the fort was at least partly built. My ancestor, an ex-soldier, who had had a hand in building forts before, was almost certainly involved somehow. His stay there, and the likely motivation for it, form a link in my chain of interlocking puzzle pieces that are what I know of his life. Though I would have loved to have seen a building he might have had a hand in constructing, it somehow felt fitting that all that remains of what he would have known there is the one building that he and his family would have seen as they emerged from the forest during the late summer of 1828.

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