Due to a variety of circumstances, I knew very little about my paternal grandmother’s family growing up. All I knew was that it was rooted deep in our family lore that we were of Native American lineage. It’s only within the last 15 years, since I started genealogy research, that I discovered that the family lore was just a tale (thanks a lot, AncestryDNA 😉) and that so many factual stories were there for the telling. When I discovered that my paternal great-grandmother had a half-sister born on the same month and day as me, well, I’ve been fascinated with Aunt Reba ever since.
In May of 1924, my aunt Rebecca “Reba” DeYoung entered the world and made a positive impact on those around her. You only need read the comments from her sister’s son (who lived with Aunt Reba and his grandparents) to confirm.
“At the age of 25, Reba bought us our first car and took driving lessons and learned how to drive…Reba had also bought a house and we would now have a home of our own for the first time and I would have my own bedroom.”From writings of George E. Chapman, 2008
My Aunt Reba never married, resided with her parents, and was close with her family – a path I see myself walking five decades later.
I had no image to match with her name, because I’d never met (to my knowledge) my grandmother’s mother or aunts and uncles. Plus, there are limited family photos of that side of my family tree. Aunt Reba was a mystery to me, until this past year when a distant cousin reached out to me via a genealogical site. He found a whole collection of family photos of my direct branch of the tree and generously sent them to me. I finally, finally, met my great-grandmother, her siblings, and the woman who stills intrigues me – Aunt Reba.
According to her nephew, George Chapman, Reba was an important part of his life – as he recorded a decade ago in writings for his children and grandchildren; a copy of which his daughter-in-law shared with me a few years back. George’s grandma Nina and Aunt Reba were close according to his writings – and the family photos I recently received include many pictures of them together. George recollected with his Aunt Reba before her death about their time growing up as they were but nine years apart in age.
I see her smiling face in the treasured photos and feel a kindred spirit looking back. Perhaps next year, once we’ve slowly found our new normal, I’ll travel to Michigan and visit the places important to Aunt Reba. To pay my respects and honor a woman much like myself. Learning about the women who came before me reaffirms my confidence in the woman I have become. I am honored to share their roots and will continue to tell their stories. Happy birth day, Aunt Reba, and may your spirit be full of love wherever it now calls home.
[Sidenote: I named one of the characters in my debut novel, THE SPIRIT PROJECTOR, Rebekah before I knew about Aunt Reba. The fact that the real person was also a beloved family member, maternal figure to the next generation, and full of joy fits in perfectly with the character who became my favorite (shh, authors do have favorite characters).]