Sunday, May 17, 2015

She Turned 100

Lena Reynolds and her mother. 1976

A community’s history is bigger than any one individual but collectively we all play a part.

Back in the early 1970s, a woman named Lena Reynolds took a class to learn how to do family history and spent the next thirty years or so actively pursuing this project, researching, collection and documenting the stories of those who had gone before her. 

Front of Lena's childhood home, Ellicottville, ca. 1910
By doing so, Lena did her part in helping to preserve much of the local area’s history. Indeed, the home in which she was born in and spent the majority of her life is one of the oldest in the village of Ellicottville, New York. In her day it was a veritable museum of family items handed down through the years. The family history work she did also helped preserve part of local history as well, for the history of a people is a history of a community. Lena was the town historian for a time and her scrapbooks and notebooks are filled with information relevant to the area.

 I took an early interest in history as a young girl by exposure to historical characters such as Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie fame. I was just 20 years old when my paternal grandmother passed away and I discovered the world of family bibles, old photographs and written information about my ancestors. I was hooked from that point on in passionate pursuit of family history. 

Some twenty years later, my research interests broadened and I found myself in a different place than where my ancestors lived. By following the motto of “bloom where you’re planted,” I’ve become actively involved in local history, starting with my children’s roots on their father’s side. It was here that I found a connection to a woman who started doing family history before I was even learning to write my name. 

In a local museum, I ran across a typewritten notebook of information on German families in the area and made copies from it. The information suggested a connection between the maiden name of a woman who had immigrated from Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany and the name of my children’s third great-grandmother whose father also immigrated from Mecklenburg-Schwerin. I filed it away for further research when time permitted, although the name of the person who had initially typed the information and put the notebook together remained a mystery. 

About ten years later, a friend asked if I’d be willing to sit with a woman who was recovering from a broken hip. I agreed and found myself in a charming old home filled with family memorabilia including some large, framed portraits of ancestors long-ago hanging on the wall. My hostess Lena was stubborn enough not to let a broken hip keep her down long and soon recovered enough so that my assistance was not required. During the time I did get to spend with her, she shared with me some of her family research notebooks (having sternly admonished me to put them back where they belonged when I was finished). 

Looking through the notebook on her mother’s family, I recognized the typewritten pages as similar to the ones I had discovered in the museum several years prior. Sure enough, her mother’s German ancestry appears to be connected to that of my children’s German ancestry and it was Lena who had typed and donated information to the local museum. 

Lena turned 100 last Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Her health now requires more constant and skilled care outside of her home and she is no longer active in the community. Nonetheless, she has left a legacy for others for which I am grateful. Lena has played her part in the community’s history. Now I am committed to playing my part by commemorating her life and efforts to preserving history to continue the legacy. Thank you, Lena, for helping us to realize that we are all a part of something bigger and to remember that we are connected to those who have gone before. We will remember you.

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