News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 5, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: Sharing the family history

Liz Ciancone
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — My Grandmother lived with us. Ed and I were eager audiences for her family stories about the Cooks. Mom also shared her memories of growing up with three brothers. She became a Cook when she married, but she had been born a Koehler, so I learned about both sides of my family.

Sometimes I wonder if I am unique in filing away these stories.

Some years ago, two of my cousins wrote to ask if I knew why they spelled their last name differently. I was able to draw on one of Mom’s stories.

It seems that my cousins were sons of two of my Mom’s brothers. Larry’s father, Uncle Jack, was an insurance representative while Bob’s father, Uncle Bob, owned Ba grocery store in Dubuque, Iowa, where the Koehler family had been raised.

According to Mom, folks were suspicious of anyone with a German name when World War I was blazing away, so Uncle Jack, with his business dependent upon the goodwill of insurance prospects, dropped the “E” from the family name, while Uncle Bob, doing business in a predominantly German community, retained the “E.” He figured it was good for grocery sales to “belong” to the majority.

More recently, my brother Ed phoned one evening to ask if I would send a notarized letter stating that he was born a male!

It seems that his company wanted to send him overseas on a corporate audit and he needed a passport. (Incidentally, he hadn’t needed either a passport or a birth certificate to serve in the Navy during World War II, the government didn’t question his sex then.)

But, the government now required a passport and when he sent for his birth certificate it arrived stating that he had been born female! So, the government required notarized statements from two older relatives certifying that he was, indeed, male from birth. Since only Uncle Jim and I qualified as older (and living) relatives, we were asked to provide the evidence.

I was only about 14 months old when Ed was born, but I WAS older and willing to attest that he had always been male. Uncle Jim thought it might be a laugh to talk about sex change surgery, but cut the jokes and stepped up. Ed got his passport.

Now that Uncle Jim is gone, I seem to be the only repository of family lore. You know, it was more fun to listen to family stories than it is now when I have to tell them.