LaBarbera thanksgiving churchAre you into genealogy? If not, you probably don’t often think about your ancestors. We’re not just talking about grandparents, but those who came from “the old country,” literally blazing a trail in the wilderness to build a cabin, raise a family and struggle to earn a living, usually off the land.

Perhaps most us don’t appreciate what our ancestors went through to keep body and soul together by cultivating the land, maybe erecting a church, establishing a school and creating a cemetery in the vast wilderness of what is now Indiana shortly after it became the 19th state on December 11, 1816, 200 years ago. They, of course, didn’t have electricity, bulldozers, snow blowers and power lawn mowers – but then there was no such thing as paved sidewalks or manicured lawns.

A few years ago members of our family attended a Founder’s Day celebration held in a country church adjacent to two cemeteries and a one-room schoolhouse on the Huntington-Wabash County Line, about 25 miles southwest of Fort Wayne. Earlier, we helped monetarily with restoration of a few old tombstones, many marking graves of not only my mother’s parents but the grave of my great, great grandfather dating to 1855. The cemeteries, church and schoolhouse comprise a 20-acre site about a half-mile from the farm where my mother was raised with her 10 older brothers and sisters. She attended school there, studying the Bible and the German language, and was taught by an older brother. She also began playing the organ in the church at age 10 even though her feet didn’t reach the pedals. (A brother reportedly sat at her feet and pressed the proper pedals). All her siblings, in fact, comprised a small orchestra, which performed in the church.

These, and many other details, were revealed at the recent event, and we met a few people who remembered my mother and several uncles. We also learned about our heritage there, called “the German Settlement,” and of the extreme hardships the original five pioneer families endured as they migrated to Indiana beginning in 1837, traveling westward on the Wabash and Erie Canal through Ohio, and settled the land. Many children died of diphtheria as evidenced by their multiple graves.

We can’t fully realize what our ancestors and early pioneers went through to make possible the good life we live today. And just as many of us do, they did it for their children and grandchildren, but with a lot less certainty and a great deal more pain and suffering.

We might think of these trailblazers of yesteryear as we gather around our Thanksgiving table this month with family and friends. Perhaps we should consider how we have been blessed by past generations, and how we will bless the next!

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer