Now for the lead into my own scandalous family history story. It started when I was 15. My Aunt Jean indoctrinated me into the skill of genealogy by doing oral interviews. I would spend a couple of weeks with her during the summers working on her ranch. There would be many side trips for genealogy. I was hooked and it became worse when I moved to Utah with the company I work for years later.
Aunt Jean identified with our Irish lineage or background so to speak. She had taken multiple trips to Ireland to trace the lineage of her grandfather (my great-grandfather) George Gowan. He was an interesting person to say the least. George Gowan married Elizabeth Holtzhammer at her tender age of 19. She was 23 years younger than him.
By the time I was making these research trips with my aunt, my grandfather Judson Gowan had been deceased for about 10 years. So we would go see his little sister Goldie, along with her three older brothers for genealogy information on the Gowan family. The brothers were in their 90’s, but told great stories of the family. My aunt would get frustrated though when we would take the long trips on the windy road to Goldie’s house. It seemed as though Goldie was always holding out information. Later I would find out what that information was, but many years after her death too.
When my aunt finished her book on the Irish side of the family, she turned to me on one of the trips and said “now it is your turn to do Elizabeth’s German side of the family.”
Fast forward to 1984, I was transferred with my company to Utah. This was my second indoctrination to genealogy. I had the luxury of visiting the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The FHL as it is commonly called is “The Mecca of all family history libraries” for research. I was also taking German classes at BYU because I identified with the German side of my family. This is when I really started to research my “German side” of my family.
As I gathered information about Elizabeth’s family many underlying stories revealed themselves. The first was Elizabeth’s parents ran away together from Wisconsin and ended up in Rock Island, IL where Peter Holtzhammer worked for Weyerhaeuser-Denkman Lumber Co. Peter Holtzhammer and Fredericka Schmidt would not marry until 5 years after Elizabeth was born (first scandal, or was it?). I did not ever find a divorce for Peter, but there was proof of a divorce between Fredericka and her first husband.
The family story was that Elizabeth’s father dis-owned her because she married an Irish Protestant much older than her, and that she was German Catholic. George Gowan also worked for Weyerhaeuser –Denkman during the same time as Peter Holtzhammer. George Gowan had hired Elizabeth as a baby sitter and Elizabeth turned up pregnant.
The true story is: Peter Holtzhammer was killed in a log jam in the Mississippi River while working for Weyerhaeuser and Denkman Lumber Company in Rock Island, IL. The family received life insurance for the accident which found Peter 200 miles down the Mississippi River after the log jam. Very soon after the log jam accident, George Gowan divorced his first wife Florence, Florence married George’s brother James, George married Elizabeth, and Elizabeth continued to babysit the children from both families. When George did log exploration in Northern California for the lumber company, he wrote some beautiful letters back to Elizabeth who was still living in Rock Island. I know it turned out George loved Elizabeth very much. As for Peter dis-owning his daughter, it is not true. He died just a few short years after George and Elizabeth were married. Another mystery is Elizabeth’s younger brother who died at a very young age (in his 30′s) from “exhaustion” while running a Saloon in Rock Island, IL. Things did not turn out the way I had thought they would in that side of the family. I do not know which part of the story Goldie was hiding or if she knew about all of it. But you will find out as you explore your own family history people hide things, embellish things, or just do not know because they would not talk about it. It is so important to document all parts of your family history. If you cannot find the information yourself, then hire a competent researcher. There are many people out there whom are fine researchers including myself!
Elizabeth of course out lived her husband George. I was lucky that she had exchanged letters with her younger brother that came in to the possession of my aunt. Elizabeth also exchanged letters with many other people. The letters were a huge help to find the burial-place of Elizabeth’s family. She also had just a few photos when she passed away and amongst the photos was a photo of a nun.
Stay tuned for the next blog…..