By Zach Henke
My ancestors, David Mitchell and his brother, came to America in the late 1800s after leaving Londonderry, Ireland.
Mitchell left behind his farm, which was taken over by relatives for a few generations before farm hands were changed. The two-story, stone-farm house still stands today along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The brothers came directly to Geneseo Township, Iowa, where they were employed as farm hands for several years.
While in Iowa, Mitchell met Mary Horton, who was from Oswego, New York. The couple, who would be my great-great-grandparents, were later married and had six children. While in his mid-40s, Mitchell was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and was advised by a physician to move to a warmer climate. The couple moved to Alabama for a few years before he died in 1897 at the age of 48.
After her husband’s death, Mary moved back to Iowa to live alone and take care of her children. But she could not afford to feed all six children so some were sent to be farm hands in the surrounding area or, in the case of my great-great-grandfather, Robert Mitchell, sent to live with another relative who recently immigrated from Ireland.
Robert moved in with and became a farm hand for his uncle, who was David Mitchell’s brother. Robert lived during the Depression, and his primary task was to stay home and work on the farm to help put food on the table. An eighth-grade education is the highest he received.
During this time, Mary found a job as a midwife, working for a doctor in Traer, Iowa. After spending years working and saving money, she was able to afford a house where she could take care of her six children again. By this point, most of the children were old enough to help around the house and find jobs to support the family.
While Robert was working on his uncle’s farm, he met Mary Catherine Burr, whom he later married. Shortly after their marriage, they bought their own farm but lost it after the economy turned.
Like his parents, Robert and Mary Catherine had six children. When the economy improved, they managed to buy another farm in Hudson, Iowa, in 1938. Their son, Joe Mitchell, who would be my great-grandfather, grew up on the farm until he was drafted into World War II. He joined the flight crew of a Boeing bomber. Even after his required serving time, Joe stayed in the Army and was involved until the war ended.
Growing up on the farm
Linda Mitchell, who would become my grandmother, was one of Joe’s four children who grew up in Robert and Mary’s farmhouse with her father, two sisters and one brother.
One of her favorite memories from growing up involved showing cows across Iowa through a 4-H club. She remembered winning the Grand Champion award for a calf called “The Last Penny,” because her brother and his wife had loaned her the extra money she needed to buy the calf.
Linda met her future husband, Nicolas Crawels, while living in Iowa. Nicolas and his family had recently come to America from Holland. In 1969, Linda gave birth to a daughter, Angie, who would become my mother. They continued to live in Ames, Iowa, until moving to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the mid-70s when Angie decided to transfer colleges from the University of Iowa to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They’ve remained here ever since.
Angie met Todd Henke in college when they worked together at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Lincoln. After dating for several years and eventually getting married, the couple had two children. My sister Paige was born in 1994, and I was born in 1996.
While we may live a different life than our ancestors, our family continues to grow and stay connected through traditions and memories that started in Ireland and still live on today.