By Barbara Falconer Newhall
The maple, ash and elm trees were turning gloriously gold and carnelian in Red Wing, Minnesota, earlier this month. Front porches up and down neighborhood streets sported witches, spiders, ghosts, and fat, round jack o’ lantern faces trying hard to be scary.
As for me, I was hunting phantoms of my own. I was looking for my ancestral ghosts, one George J. Richards and his mysteriously named Dutch wife, Bandenah.
My Ancestral Ghosts “On the Other Side of Lake Michigan”
Born early in the 19th century and arriving in this pretty little city on the Mississippi around 1855, Bandenah and George are my great-great-great-grandparents. I never knew them, of course. But growing up in Michigan I had heard them alluded to. The family elders spoke often and wistfully of our female ancestral home — Red Wing, a mythic place “on the other side of Lake Michigan.”
Red Wing — I Found It in Minnesota
It wasn’t until my son went off to college in Minnesota that I learned that Red Wing was located on the Mississippi in a state farther to the west. A few months ago, with the help of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, I finally tracked my ur-grandparents down. Census records showed that at one point toward the end of her life my great-great-great grandmother owned and lived in a house near the corner of Third Street and Cedar in Red Wing.
Armed with a GPS and my trusty point-and-shoot, I located the address. It turned out that the spot was now occupied by flesh and blood humans with a passion for Halloween. Pumpkins, witches, cobwebs and black cats were everywhere. And so, I like to think, were the ghosts of my long-ago ancestors.
More about my Minnesota forbears at “My Long-Lost Dead Ancestors — I Found Them in a Parking Lot.” Read about sending Peter off to Carleton College at “Geographic Mobility in the U.S. — Watching My Grown-Up Kids Disappear.”