Gathering Leaves as a project, began as a labor of love over ten years ago, but the work that it represents actually started over thirty years ago. For eight nights in January 1977, the ABC television network aired the granddaddy of all mini-series, "ROOTS", and the American viewers stayed glued to their television sets to watch the story of Kunta Kinte, an enslaved African brought forcibly to America, and the story of his descendants as told by Alex Haley. This memorable program’s last episode had the highest rating of any single-episode ever aired. Despite the criticism that has been leveled against Mr. Haley that stem from charges that he plagiarized large portions of Roots from another author and that parts of Roots which Haley claimed were true turned out to be fictional, his efforts to tell the history of his family were then and still are to this day an inspiration to me.
In 1977, I was a soldier in the US Army and had only a minimal interest in my family’s history. That is not to say that I had no interest, as I loved history. I loved to read about history, but as far as the history of my individual ancestors, I had the least inclination that I would be able to go beyond what I had learned from my father and my maternal grandmother regarding my own family’s history. It seemed to be nearly impossible and beyond my expense.
Then one day in the fall of 1978, while stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington, I received word that my grandmother had died on the other side of the continent in Florida. I felt a strong sense of loss and emptiness. I could not be there to attend her funeral as my father suggested that I not try to come home because my grandmother’s funeral would be the following day. I felt very strongly that I needed to do something and I felt at that point that the best thing that I could do – for myself and for my family – was to come up with some way of paying homage to my grandmother, her life, and her family. The feelings that I had at that moment took me back to the "ROOTS" series that I had seen the previous year.
In the winter of 1979, I was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Korea. I was feeling a little homesick and I wrote a letter to my Dad asking him if he could provide me with a "family tree" of what he knew of our family’s history. On two or three pages of notepaper, my Dad jotted down all he knew regarding his family. At that time, I think both he and I realized how little we both knew about our family’s past. This did not upset me; actually, this gave me something to do. Suddenly I became the self-proclaimed family historian.
On my mother’s side, I had spent many hours quizzing my grandmother about her side of the family. My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Kollros (Dobbs Coarsey) Askew, and I got along very well. She had told me many wonderful stories about her family and the family of my grandfather whom she divorced in 1938. Some of things that she told me when I was very young were easily accepted, but as I became older and started on the road to research, I began to question some of things that she had told me. This is not to say that my grandmother had lied to me. She may have exaggerated certain things or perhaps embellished the truth a little. On the other hand, I may have misunderstood the stories that she told me – adding my own interpretation of what I heard told.
When I first started researching my family’s history, virtually everything I knew of my family history was purely anecdotal. I had no records; neither primary, nor secondary. Everything that I knew came from what either my father had told me of his parent’s families or what my mother and maternal grandmother had told me concerning my grandmother’s family and mother’s father’s family. Over the course of more than twenty-five years, I have learned a considerable amount regarding my family’s history.
The purpose of this book is to present the results of this effort in a way that I hope will be not only informative to the reader, but will also be readable and comprehensible. In effect, there are three histories presented in this book. There is the history of individuals and their families – individuals and families of whom the author is descended. Intertwined with this family history is the inevitable public history – a history not only of America, but also of Western Europe. Alongside of this is a third history that tells the story of how the author working with a number of other fellow researchers and, in some cases, mentors, was able to collect and compile the histories presented in this book.
In this book are the histories of family branches on both my mother’s side and my father’s side. I have attempted to present these histories in a chronological order against the backdrop of the larger canvas of the history of America starting with the early colonial period and ending in the period just before the Great Depression of the 20th century. Interspersed with this historical recounting is the story of how these histories and genealogies were discovered and compiled. While the dry recitation of a genealogy would have almost no appeal, a narrated family history would still only hold interest for a small audience. Therefore, it is my hope that even the casual reader who finds that they have no relationship with any of the families discussed in this book will derive benefit from the overall presentation.
For those who might have a personal interest in this book or who might be wondering why they are not listed or mentioned in this book – other than the behind-the-scenes story of my search for my ancestors and in the interests of privacy, I have avoided any mention of what we might consider to be modern-history. With a few exceptions, most of the individuals discussed in this book lived and died many, many years ago.
On my mother’s side of the family, the focus of my research has been on three family surnames: My maternal grandmother’s maiden name Kollros, the Bannon family of my mother’s maternal grandmother, and the Dobbs & Prothro families of my maternal grandfather. On my father’s side of the family the focus of my research has been on three family surnames: My surname, DeBacker; the O’Malley family of my paternal grandmother; and the Gaume family of my father’s paternal grandmother.
In the first section, which begins with this introduction, I describe why my first efforts of finding my family’s history focused on the Bannon family. In Finding The Long Lost, I describe how I came to learn things regarding the Dobbs and Prothro families that my own mother did not know. In My French Connection, I describe my involvement with a group of fellow researchers who were interested in the French who settled in Ohio and who helped me greatly in researching the Gaume family. In A House Divided, I present the Bannon family and then follow this with a discussion of the impact of the American Civil War on my ancestors. In Brick Walls & Puzzle Pieces, I discuss the frustration and rewards researching the Kollros, Spiegel, O’Malley, and Gaume families. My research efforts regarding the DeBacker family are described in Small World, Isn’t It.