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Wednesday, 03 August 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten

By Madonna Dries Christensen of On Worlud Pond


When I was a child, my mother sometimes talked about her maternal grandfather who had been killed by lightning, along with a young daughter, Essie. The story, especially the girl, intrigued me.

As an adult doing genealogy, I uncovered the details through Henry O’Brien’s 1909 obituary in the Britt News Tribune. I had misunderstood; 12-year-old Essie did not die with her father; she’d been struck down 17 years earlier. I wrote about this coincidence, “Lightning Strikes Twice”, for Family Tree (December 2002) and for The Elder Storytelling Place (March 2010).

Essie was buried near Garner, Iowa, where the family lived at the time. Henry was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery near Britt, Iowa, where he had farmed. His wife, Bridget McLaughlin O’Brien, died in 1913 and was buried beside him. A year later, Alice Hahn joined her parents there.

A small metal plate is stuck into the ground marked each grave. On Henry’s and Bridget’s markers, their birth years were incorrect.

More than 100 years later, the O’Brien’s great-great-grandchild, Dawn Foley Huisenga, visited the cemetery and found the markers cast aside. She returned them to their proper place. Then, at a family reunion, she began a collection to purchase a permanent headstone bearing all three names.

Bridget O’Brien’s obituary in the Mason City Times stated,

“Mrs. O'Brien suffered intensely for five months with cancer. Her faithful companion at all times was her rosary and her crucifix. She made a request of one of her daughters to have a white lily and a crucifix in her hand when she was buried."

For the headstone design, Dawn requested a rosary wrapped around a crucifix, and a lily.

On Memorial Day weekend, 2011, three generations of the Foley clan traveled to Britt to dedicate the headstone. The sky loomed overcast and it rained in the morning, a reminder of the stormy afternoon when, seven miles away, a farmer in the harvest field “was hurled from this earth to eternity.”

But as the group of 15 gathered at the grave site, sunshine broke through. Dawn read Henry’s and Bridget’s obituaries and Mary Foley Palmer offered a prayer and spoke of how God works through families: “The commandments remind us to honor our mother and father, and we are honoring our great-great-grandparents with our ceremony today.”

The relatives then held hands and recited The Lord’s Prayer.

The patriarch, Roger Foley, said, “It’s great that our kids would think about something like this. The history was new to me and it was great to find out about all of this. It was a touching story about the rosary, crucifix and lily, and I was happy to see it on the headstone.”

Roger’s daughter, Cynthia Ramirez, added, “It was a wonderful day. I wondered what Bridget and Henry would think - a hundred years later - their great, great-great, and great-great-great grandchildren dedicating a headstone for them. It was a proud feeling. I believe they were looking down and smiling on us.”

Great-great-granddaughter Karen Teeselink commented, “I was telling my daughter their story and my granddaughter was fascinated that these were also her relatives. She wants to do her own family tree, and I'll be happy to help her on her journey.”

An old adage claims that people are less afraid of dying than they are of being forgotten. Thanks to devoted genealogists in every generation, many of us have not — and will not — be forgotten.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


My mother was the historian of our family and kept old newspapers such as the Titanic sinking. Recently I learned the home of her ancestor Treasury Secy John Sloane was sold for $26,000 as it was in a commercial district. This was in Wooster, Ohio, and it makes me sad. Thank you for your reminder to us all. Pass the torch as you have done.

Thank you for this beautiful chapter of a family's history..my youngest sister is the geneologist (sp) of our family..has been doing it for years..now she teachs others in her church center how to begin and everytime I read a little story like your family's, it makes me wonder at the strength of people as they live their lives..no one ever knows what will happen in our times on the earth and getting to have a window into other folks' days and lives is always inspiring..love that the great, great grandchildren feel the kinship of the ages..I will get after my sister to read this piece...just loved it...

Thank you for this tender loving story. I am doing the genealogy of my family and find unusual and interesting stories. I enjoy sharing them too.

Very interesting and well written. The photos added so much to yur story. Thanks.

I really don't type so please forgive my unintended misspelling. I didn't hit the key hard enough.

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