How far back in your family tree can you go?

The earliest date on my family tree is 1714, over three hundred years ago. That’s on my paternal grandmother’s Darr branch and thanks to my great-aunt Mary “Ollie” Darr Peyton Stebbins (1888-1976). Aunt Ollie wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, which required documentation to confirm her early American roots. The earliest American birth was my fifth great-grandmother, Magdalena Bollinger, born in 1738 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. However, the Darr roots go back another generation to Germany, where my sixth great-grandfather Abraham (Dorr Doerr Derr) Darr was born in 1714.

Abraham emigrated to Pennsylvania where he settled and raised a family. As generations proceeded, my branch moved west to Ohio and founded Darrtown in Butler County before moving on to Iowa, Missouri, and Texas. Then around the turn of the 20th century, they traveled by train (with eight children, some still in diapers!) to Puyallup Washington, where they joined a utopian socialist commune. Yes, my lefty roots run very deep.

The Darr Clan had annual family reunions throughout my childhood in the 1950s-60s and occasional ones even now. And we’ve kept a Circle Letter traveling house-to-house and coast-to-coast since the 1930s. We cousins (the grandchildren of the children the photo anove) still keep in touch and visit now and then.

Other branches in my family of immigrants include Joe Smith (aka Joseph Schmidt), born in Bavaria in 1862. His wife, Margaret Adreann Condrue was born in Petaluma, California, and makes me a fourth-generation native Californian and whose parents traveled by covered wagon from Tennesee. Mary Johnson, my maternal grandmother was born in Sweden in 1863. Her mother, born in 1831. Joseph Funston, my maternal grandmother’s grandfather was born in Ireland in 1784.

Genealogy can be a rabbit hole. It’s easy to lose hours looking at census, immigration, birth, death, and voter records online. Ancestry.com is helpful to a point, but searching through a sea of records for dead relatives when everyone is named Joseph, John, Mary, and Margaret can be a challenge. Especially with so many Smiths and Johnsons! I’ve learned that spellings were quite fluid as well, especially when navigating a language barrier or the handwriting of census takers. And women tend to get lost when they marry (or remarry) and take their husbands’ names.

I haven’t found any cattle rustlers or royalty in my tree, just folks who worked hard, cared for one another and kept moving forward. I guess that’s enough. Maybe more than enough.

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