I Am Here Because Of Immigrants

Today in America we celebrate Independence Day. It is a good day. It is a day that makes me reflect on my immigrant ancestors. I wonder what they felt when they celebrated their first 4th of July. Was it momentous to them? Were they proud to live in America? Were they happy they made the sacrifices they did to come over?

My family history’s immigration stories happened around the 1850’s/1860’s for the majority of the branches. There is one branch (looking at you Dunlap line) that I don’t have that date as of yet. [Isn’t there always that one line??]

They came over to escape hardship. They came over to escape conscription. They came over as single men/women. They came over as families with young children in tow. They came over mostly from Germany and Ireland. They were all seeking something more.

I hope that America exceeded their expectations. I hope their road to and within the U.S. was paved with easy choices and few turmoils but we all know that is never the case. They struggled. They persevered. Most of all, they stayed and didn’t give up.

Perhaps they didn’t have any other choice.

I have a shirt that reads “I am my Ancestors’ Wildest Dream.” I truly believe each and every one of us is just that. When you look at your roots and where your family began and then look to how your life is now, it is pretty amazing. And just like them, we have troubles, we have hard choices but also like them, we do not give up.

Happy Independence Day! May you never forget where you came from and where you are going.

Be Your Ancestors’ Wildest Dream.

**Where did your immigrant ancestors come from? How long has America been home for the branches of your family tree?**

What Started It All : My Love of Genealogy

An early memory. I walk into my parents’ bedroom and see my mom looking at a big piece of paper that to my 8 or so year old mind covers up her entire bed. I ask “What is that?” My mother responds “It is a family tree.” She then showed me her name and my grandparents’ names. She went on to explain that she had recently talked to her Aunt Caroline (her dad’s sister) and with her help had written down all the names and dates of those that encompass the Klein Family Tree. “Am I related to everyone on here?” I asked. “Yes” was her reply.

I was amazed. Both of my parents are only children. I grew up in a very nuclear existence with my brother and sister and I being the only (and I indeed mean only) grandchildren on both sides of the family. Were we spoiled? I don’t think so. I like to think that our grandparents treasured each of us a bit more because we were it.

But looking at this family tree, my world suddenly expanded. A seed was planted.


My father died from brain cancer when I was ten. Understandably, his death deeply impacted my life. His parents were still alive when he passed and I subsequently formed a strong relationship with his mother, my Granny Dunlap. She was an interesting soul. She was born in 1909 and was never the happy homemaker. Though she loved to cook, she was a working-out-of-the home mom all of my dad’s formative years. She could also handle her alcohol better than a person twice her size (she wasn’t even five feet tall). “Oh, the stories I could tell you…” she would often say when she was feeling a bit tipsy. But that was as far as it would go.

As she got older, old photos would begin appearing around her home. We would ask her who they were and she would tell us. She was great at labeling the backs of said photos as well. The stories she would share would be few and far between (especially when sober). But I was a teenager at this point and not too concerned about asking the right questions.

When she passed away at the age of 81 in 1990, so went the stories that were never shared. Since my father had no siblings and now both of his parents were gone, I felt a loss of connection. I had no one left to ground me to that side of my identity. My last name’s meaning and origin was a big question mark in my mind.

All were gone (on that side of my family tree) and in their wake was a heart-shaped hole.


Flash-forward to my early twenties. I am living near Madison, Wisconsin, just out of college, newly employed and lots of free time on my hand plus access to a world-class Historical Society Library.

Libraries are my second home. I began investigating first the census records and then requesting death records, marriage certificates, you name it I searched it out. This was in the early 2000’s so the internet was still in infancy. Not everything was online (hint: it still isn’t).

I started asking those questions to my dad’s cousins and my grandmother’s remaining younger sister. I began paying closer attention to our annual trips to Southern Illinois and visited cemeteries with my mom and her cousin for that side. I began filling in some of the blanks.

And the more I fill in, the more is left gaping open.

So I press on … with no end in sight.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


What got you started investigating your family history? Do you know your family’s story? I can help.

One page of my mother’s original family tree

Love Reading Old Diaries?

If you enjoy reading Tillie’s Tales of the 1930s, I highly encourage you to check out the website Paper of the Past. Mandy is a scrapbook collector who shares the stories of those who wrote in them on her Instagram page. She brings to light what might have been forgotten and/or discarded.

Starting tomorrow, June 16th, she will be emailing excerpts each week from a diary she discovered that dates to 1891. The author, Leona, is 16 when the diary begins and lives in Houston, Texas.

You can subscribe to these emails by clicking here.

Thanks again for your ongoing support of Tillie’s Tales.

Your Photos Hold a Story

Did you ever look at a photo and think: I know there is a story behind this! I just wish I could know what it is!? This happens to me more times than I can count.

Sometimes a family member is dressed up silly which is the case in a photo of my grandfather wearing nothing but a native Hawaiian hula skirt and a huge grin. Where did he get this skirt? What drove him to put it on? Was it even his?? Unfortunately I didn’t come across this picture until after he was gone to ask him these questions.

And sometimes it is just a group shot. All filled with smiles and I can only identify a couple of people in the photo. Oh, how I wish I could know who the other folks are and why they were important in the lives of my relatives.

This past summer I attended St. Augustine’s KirchenFest in Hecker, Illinois (the town where my grandmother’s journals are written from). St. Augustine was my grandmother’s home parish and the church in which she married. I enjoy going to this church festival every year with my husband and daughters as well as my mother (Bertille’s daughter).

While we were eating the delicious chicken dinner at the fest, I had the delightful opportunity to meet Iona Buehler Heidel. Her daughter had seen a photo that I had posted on the Tillie’s Tales Facebook page  where I knew some of the names but not all. Not only was Iona able to identify everyone in the photo but also had a great story to accompany it:


Her daughter, Janice Pautler, later emailed the details in full.

She wrote: “Willie Birkner was not present for this picture but his wife, Lena Birkner, wanted a partner for the picture. Lena said that Irvin Buehler, her nephew, should take Willie’s place. Willie wore a hat and had a mustache so a hat was put on Irvin’s head and Lena said to put some chicken feathers under Irvin’s nose for a mustache.

On the photo from left to right:
Lena Birkner and Irvin Buehler (Iona Buehler Heidel’s brother)
Mary Birkner and Fred Birkner
Frieda (Birkner) Buehler and Christopher Buehler (Irvin and Iona’s parents)

Willie Birkner and Frieda (Birkner) Buehler were brother and sister.
Fred Birkner was Frieda’s uncle. Frieda’s dad, Louis Birkner, and Fred were brothers.”

I am so appreciative to both Iona and Janice for sharing this wonderful information. I always wondered what that was in front of Irvin’s face but had no clue! Now we all know.

Do you have a family photo that you are curious about? Do you ask yourself: what is the story? Do you sometimes invent a story that could be the reason for that photo?

Yet another reason to share your photos with your family members while you are still here to share your story!

P.S. This is another great way to get older relatives to start talking about their past. Get out some photos with them in the picture and ask and listen!

Get talking! 22 Interview Questions to Discover YOUR Family Story

The dreaded interview. We all have had to endure at least one that didn’t go quite the way you wanted. Or, in my case, you thought it went really bad and you still ended up with the job! It all goes to say what you may think is one thing isn’t always the case!

But I am not talking about those kind of interviews. Let’s talk about the interviews where we take some time and just sit and chat with our oldest family members. What if you are the oldest family member? Well, then interview yourself! Get a nice journal and jot down your answers to these questions. Perhaps use them as a jumping off point for a story or two that you would like future generations to know.

If you are blessed to have an older family member in your vicinity then I can’t encourage you enough to ask them questions now and not later. You truly never know when you won’t be able to sit with them like you can today.

Below is a handy FREE printable that I made just for you of 22 questions to get you started.

Wondering what the best technique to use to get your subject to start talking? Head on over to the Tillie’s Tales FaceBook page and enter the word “INTERVIEW” in the message box that will pop up.

Comment below who you would most like to ask these questions to if you had the chance (living or passed away).

Family History Interview Questions by Angie on Scribd

Changes at Tillie’s Tales

There are changes afoot on Tillie’s Tales!

We are now deep in 1937 for my grandmother’s (Bertille “Tillie” Brand Klein) entries of her “Tales.” She ends her entries on December 30, 1939 so that means we have a little over two years left to go.

With that being said I (Angie Kelly – Tillie’s granddaughter and the person who posts her entries) have decided to expand what I post on this website. Starting today you will occasionally see posts by me about various family history/genealogical topics. For example: interviewing your relatives, how to get started with your own family tree, the importance of journaling and how it relates to genealogy, etc.

I am also in the process of revamping this website so please excuse the “dust” as I move things around. You will soon see a services tab where I will offer my help to work with you to unearth your family’s story like I have done with my grandmother’s news diaries.

Feel free to comment below with any topics you would like me to cover as well as any questions you may have about Tillie’s Tales and my grandmother’s journals. As always, you can email me at Angie@tilliestales.com or message me on the Tillie’s Tales Facebook or Instagram pages.