First Look: Visit to family homestead stirs reflection on legacy

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

So what did you do on your vacation in 2018?

Regular readers of this column may recall my post-vacation reflections on European immigration written from Budapest, Hungary; or the European economy and Germany’s stalwart bankers written from Munich; or even a touching moment last Fourth of July walking on Omaha Beach, where thousands of Americans gave their lives to free Europe in World War II.

This year?

Can you imagine standing in front of a cemetery marker, sobbing as you looked at the memorial testimony to a couple who died almost 150 years ago? Well, I did.

It was a visit to the Swiss — Bavarian — Austrian roots of the Waltz family in America, in Vevay, Indiana, a tiny map-dot of an Ohio River shore town midway between Cincinnati and Louisville.

George Waltz, who was born about 1750-60 in Bavaria, had made his way across the Ohio River to Southern Indiana about 1800, where he was among the first settlers in what was not yet a town.

In all likelihood, although I don’t know this for certain, he’d arrived about 1790 in America, come through the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he may have taken his wife, Catherine Heddrick, and then in all likelihood journeyed down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and through the Cumberland Gap (where Daniel Boone had blazed the trail into Kentucky). He crossed the state and arrived in an area that looked a lot like his home in Central Europe.

All that history was lost to me growing up, since my grandfather was born on the farm in rural downstate Illinois in 1882 and my father in 1914. No one ever talked about that family history — and perhaps they didn’t know it — when I was a boy. It was only by chance that I encountered it early this year.

So a trip to Vevay (pronounced VeVe) was on my to-do list this summer.

My reading already had found that Catherine and George Waltz had a family of 12 kids. The ninth of them was Joseph “James” Waltz, born 1811, who died in 1881. He was married in 1838 to Burry Ann Courtney Waltz, born in 1820, who died in 1883, and they had 11 kids. Presumably they were farmers — as were all my ancestors — since that’s how 90 percent of the population of America made a living early in the 1800s.

So it was on a Sunday afternoon stroll through the Vevay Cemetery I found that marker. Although I never expected it, I still feel overwhelmed thinking about it.

Hopefully, vacation for many readers is more than leisure. It’s time for introspection, reflection and goal-setting, even growth.

I had no idea how my great-great grandparents James and Burry Ann Waltz had lived their lives, but here I stood at their feet, 140-some years after they were laid to rest, even before my own grandfather Samuel E. Waltz, their grandson, was born.

What would they think of how I’ve lived my life, I wondered? What would they think of what I’ve done with the blessings that I’ve enjoyed?

It was almost a moment of being called into judgment, as if standing before St. Peter.

Proverbs 22:6 came to mind in that moment, when Solomon wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Perhaps today, I remain a legacy of James and Burry Ann, as all those who I may have touched remain my legacy. After all, we take nothing with us when we die.

Our real legacy is those lives, perhaps generations, who we have touched, like a footstep along a creek can mark a highway a century later.

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