My paternal grandmother, Retta Stahl Henrichsen, was nearly 76 years old when I was born. She died shortly after my ninth birthday. Her final years were shrouded in dementia so I never really knew her.
In early 2008, I opened a box of photos and other memorabilia which had belonged to “Grandma Rett”. Within days of looking into this box and making a few Internet queries, I discovered the possibility my Stahl ancestors had arrived in America in the early 1700s. I spent 18 months doggedly researching the Stahl line and ultimately was able to prove the Revolutionary War service of my g-g-g-g-grandfather, Leonard Stahl, as well as documenting subsequent Stahl generations. My application to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was approved in October, 2009.
I don’t think “Grandma Rett” was aware of her Stahl ancestors. My dad, who loved history, would have gotten a kick out of learning about his long American heritage and had he known, certainly would have talked about it.
With little more than facts and dates, I started a narrative about my grandmother. I tried to flesh out her story by adding historical context. My oldest Henrichsen cousin, Carol, who is 20 years older than I, remembers much more about our grandmother. After I shared an early draft of my narrative with her, Carol was prompted to start writing down some of her remembrances. We agreed to work toward combining our two “manuscripts” and sharing the story with our Henrichsen kin.
Along the way, I realized one document required more digging: a yellowed, undated copy of a newspaper article about Grandma. A reporter had interviewed her about her history and service as a teacher in Iowa and South Dakota. The article noted she’d once again been asked to return to teaching – after multiple “retirements” – at the age of 69. I wanted to be able to cite information contained in this important source.
From the article, I concluded it had appeared in the Huronite and Daily Plainsman, published in Huron (South Dakota) sometime during the fall of 1946. Microfilmed newspapers from that time period can be requested through inter-library loan from the South Dakota State Archives, but it took several months for me to get around to ordering the roll I thought I needed (1 July 1946-30 Sept 1946). About a week ago the Hennepin County library called to notify me the microfilm was available for viewing.
I’ve not always had good luck finding what I wanted on microfilm so I proceeded with some misgivings. I thought it likely I was looking for a Sunday feature story published after school started that fall, but I scrutinized every page of every issue starting Sunday, September 1.
I was nearing the end of the microfilm roll, and my heart began to sink. Then, as I scrolled through the pages of the last Sunday edition, I saw my grandmother’s photo and this headline: “Aunt Rett” Begins 28th Year of Service in Teaching Profession; Now at Jerauld County Rural School.
“Sunday, September 29, 1946” appeared at the top corner of the page. Almost exactly 65 years ago! Eery. Who could have anticipated this as they read about my grandma in 1946? That on the 65th anniversary of the article’s publication, Retta’s granddaughter would seek it out on microfilm and re-read the story?