Fragile Thread to my Past

How many of you have boxes of old letters, papers, or diaries in your attic, garage or basement? My grandmother Marguerite died back in 1980 and awhile ago my dad’s brother, Uncle Tom was going through some of her things that had been boxed up and ignored for years. He found some papers that chronicled the story of my great great great great grandmother, yes that is 4 greats!  Her name was Elizabeth Bussard. She was a German who worshiped in the Church of the Brethren. Persecution drove Elizabeth and her husband from place to place until they finally turned their faces to the peaceful shores of America, the home of religious freedom.

grappling hook
A grappling hook fished Elizabeth out of the Atlantic.

On their long and perilous voyage of months’ duration her husband and their only child became ill, died and were buried at sea. I can’t imagine how traumatized she must have been to lose her family at sea while journeying to a strange land. Adding to all the sorrows and bereavements of the voyage she met with a serious accident. She had lowered a kettle into the sea to fill it with water and fell overboard. She was rescued with grappling hooks and managed to hang onto her kettle as she was raised up back onto the ship’s deck.

That grappling hook is a fragile thread connecting me to my past. If a sharp-eyed sailor had not seen Elizabeth fall overboard and thrown her that hook, I would not be here. Some folks would say that fact was a coincidence that eventually led to my birth on down the family line, but I would like to believe it was the hand of God in my life and the life of my ancestor Elizabeth Bussard.

But that was not the end of her hardship. Upon arrival of the ship in America, the young widow was sold as a bond-woman for 3 years to pay for her passage across the Atlantic. She was sold to Colonel George Welton of Virginia and then sent into the fields to cultivate corn and tobacco. But because she was a hard worker her Master set her free after just one year and as a free woman she married John Stingley which is the maiden name of my father’s mother. This all happened in the 1740s through 1750s.

Marguerite Stingley, my father’s mother. Her great great grandmother was Elizabeth Bussard.

I love this story and am in awe of Elizabeth Bussard and her tenacious spirit. I feel honored knowing that she is my ancestor.  I am a Christian and her story is part of my spiritual legacy.  Knowing that her faith was strong enough for her to risk a journey to America to escape religious persecution is so meaningful. But I only know this because my uncle took the time to sift through old papers; papers that had been moldering in his attic for over 3 decades! That is my challenge to you today. If you have papers from the estates of your loved ones, take the time to see what treasures they reveal. It’s your family history, your legacy! Preserve it while you can.