Chasing Windmills – “Ancestral Windmills” that is!

I retired from work when my mother was 90. Although she had lived independently for many years after my father’s passing, the time had come when she needed my help to make life just a bit easier for her. The timing of my retirement worked out perfectly for both of us. I moved in with her so she could stay in her own home for the rest of her days just like she wanted. The two of us were quite close and we got along famously. Both of us were delighted to get to spend a lot of quality, uninterrupted time together.

She grew up in a very close-knit family. Familial relationships and ties have always been extremely important to her. I had been researching my ancestry for a few years and had already made two trips to Scotland discovering the origins on my dads’ branches of my family tree so I was particularly delighted to have the time and opportunity to delve into her side of the family and pick her brain. One day we decided to drag out the big old box of pictures she had stashed in the closet. We began looking at them, reminiscing, laughing and having a really good time.

As we sorted, I took the opportunity to scan them into my computer and get them all properly labeled. She would name each person in each photo and start telling me a story about the person and/or the place the photo was taken.  She had a BIG box and there were a lot of photos as you might imagine. It kept us busy for many an afternoon. I learned so much from her. Many of the stories I had already heard for years, but it was fun to hear them at least once more for posterity and I gained a few new ones in the process! Her memory totally amazed me.

After we finished sorting through those precious photographic memories, I was putting them back into the box when I came across one very small photo of an old Dutch windmill with some small children standing in front of it. It was one of the oldest photos in the box – from the early 1900’s.

Windmill Illinois

The children in the photo are probably relatives because this was a windmill that stood in the town where her parents had been born and raised – Golden, Illinois.

As I pondered over the photos I posed the question, “Do you think maybe that windmill is still standing?”

“Nah, probably not,” she replied, “I heard it blew down in a tornado years ago.”

“Well, what do you say we just “google” it?”

So I googled “windmill in Golden” and lo and behold up popped a contemporary photo of it!

“Well, what d’ya know, mom, look at this! It IS still standing and it’s a museum now!”


I followed the link to the museum’s website and was extremely happy to find out more, such as historical information, as well as visiting hours, contact info, etc.  We couldn’t believe our eyes! We looked at each other in amazement, blinked, and then I asked, “So are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Should we just go and see it up close and in person?”

“You mean a “Road Trip”? She grinned.

“Yeah, exactly!”

“I don’t know,” she hesitated, “I’m getting kind of old for that…that’s a long, long way clear back to Illinois!”

“Yes, it is, but we’ve got all the time in the world, mom. We don’t have to do it in a hurry. We can take our time; stop whenever we want. And I’ll tell you what – if you get too tired or don’t want to go any further, I have no problem with doing a “U-ey” in the middle of the road wherever we are and head back home if you find it’s too much for you.”

“Well, okay then – why not?” She grinned.  “When are we leaving?”

In short order I sent an email to the museum curators inquiring about the opening times and hours of operation in the upcoming season explaining my intentions of bringing my 94 year-old mother to visit and outlined our ancestral connections to the town. Much to our delight we received a response quite quickly from a very nice gentleman from the museum, Roger Flesner. He told us that they would be delighted to have us visit anytime we could arrange it and also informed us that he is one of our very own relatives – we share common German ancestors who were the pioneer settlers of the town way back when! Mom and I were so excited upon hearing about this new development and were astonished with our luck.

Roger also put us in touch with his lovely wife, Diana, because she too is a genealogy buff like me and could probably help us further with our search for family information in that area. (Boy was that ever an understatement!) Within about a 20-mile radius of Golden, all of the branches on my mother’s side of the family lead to small towns nearby. Diana suggested I send her a copy of family sheets listing my mom’s various grandparents’ surnames: Tholen & Franzen (German); Poling & Stewart (English and Scottish). She explained she wanted do some research before our arrival to help us save precious time during our visit.  (Ka-Ching! Can you hear the genealogy jackpot ringing again?)

As you’ve probably guessed, one doesn’t have to twist my arm very hard to get me to take a trip! I immediately brought out the Road Atlas and began planning the route we could take, noting the places we could stop and visit en-route and started packing!


After waiting for just a couple of short months for the warmer days of late spring to arrive, we were on our way!


The first major stop on the ancestral trail we followed took us to Reno, Nevada where she married my father.

William Kenneth Daphne Claire Frew 1st yr anniversary

Daphne Claire Tholen & William Kenneth Frew

December 30, 1940

Our next stop – the granddaddy of ancestral archives at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City – The Family Search Center.

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Yuma – a small town in eastern Colorado was the next stop.

Mom was born in one of the apartments above the old Ford Garage in the town’s center!

DSC03522         baby Daphne Claire Tholen

Yuma Museum      DSC03521 - Copy


These wonderful ladies, Shirley and Arlene, met us after church one bright and sunny Sunday in May and surprised us with a personalized grand tour of the museum’s treasures and the town. Mom had never visited Yuma after her parents continued their migration from Illinois to California when she was still a toddler. She had a such a wonderful time seeing it for the first time and I enjoyed experiencing it with her.

A little further east the road took us to Kansas City, Missouri. My youngest daughter, Emily Clarisse, was living there at the time so we also had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with her sightseeing in her fine city.

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We had traveled quite a ways by this point in time; about 1700 miles. Our next stop would be Quincy, Illinois just northeast of Kansas City. We utilized Quincy as a home-base to explore Golden and other towns nearby that my mother’s grandparents were born and raised in.

Before we left on our journey, we contacted my cousin Marianne. Her mother, Roberta, was one of my mother’s three sisters. Marianne and her husband, Russ, had been thinking about flying out to the west coast to visit us from Wisconsin, but when they heard we were making the trek back to Illinois, they decided to drive down and join us there.

Mom and I pulled into the hotel we would call home for the next week or so and everyone was there waiting for us; Marianne and Russ as well as our host and hostess, Roger and Diana Flesner! We all became acquainted with one another over a very nice seafood dinner along the banks of the Mississippi River.DSC03605DSC03606

Over dinner we chatted, laughed, told stories and discussed our plans for the couple of days. Much to our surprise – and delight – Roger and Diana presented a few ideas for an agenda of daily activities they thought might please us:

  • Visit the Golden Windmill – a grand tour package with exclusive viewing and personal tour guides
  • Visit old ancestral cemeteries
  • Enjoy a guided historical tour of Golden and surrounding area towns, including visiting the original homes built by several great grandparents
  • To top it all off – it would all be followed up with a backyard BBQ complete with surprise guests

It felt like one of those episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TV sponsored by!

Bright and early the next day everyone was energized and excited about the days’ plans; especially my mother. She wasn’t a bit tired like she feared she might be. In fact, it rather invigorated her. She woke up bright and fresh each morning, excited in anticipation of the discoveries at our fingertips. Our first agenda item – the Golden Windmill (up close and personal!)

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The windmill was absolutely fascinating. I was delighted to actually get to climb up all of the levels on the inside, right up close to the gear mechanisms in the cap head. It is still operational and in impeccable condition after all of these years. To stand there and see all the fine local woods carved, crafted and built by my ancestors…..  Priceless!

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We spent hours there touring the museum and admiring their collection of interesting treasures that our ancestors probably ate off of or enjoyed having them sit upon their shelves or mantelpieces in their homes. Russ even modeled and demonstrated the “Lightning Seed Sower” which great, great grandfather Harm Heinrich Franzen invented, patented and sold all over the United States in the late 1800’s.

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Roger explained the mechanics of the Windmill and demonstrated how to position the sails ‘just so’ in order to fully utilize the wind power to grind the grain on the mill stone inside.

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The following day was all about visiting cemeteries and finding headstones of our ancestors. Diana, especially, had gone to great length to study the family sheets I mailed to her. She scoured the county records for locations of grave sites of individuals from our family in the various burial sites scattered about the surrounding countryside. She and Roger had taken the trouble to go around and locate the gravestones ahead of time so that they could take us directly to them when we arrived. All I had to do was follow them in the car and they took us right to them. All that mom had to do was get out of the car, stand up and walk just a few short steps to see each one!  WOW!  (Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!)

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As a final ancestral treat, Roger and Diana invited other distant relatives and the village historian, Larry Herschmeyer and his mother, over to their home for a delicious backyard barbecue after making the grand tour of beautiful downtown Golden by the Mayor himself, Roger Flesner, and visiting various homes built by our ancestors!

residence of Walter Sullivan Stewart Golden IllinoisWalter Sullivan StewartMartha Allen (Mick) Stewart


The home of Walter Sullivan and Martha Ellen Mick Stewart (my 2nd great grandparents)

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Walter S. Stewart built this house and here it is still standing today!DSC03656

The Emminga house

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Another great grandparent’s house – Harm Heinrich & Margaretha Franzen – the inventor of the “Lightning Seed Sower”



Tholen John Home Golden ILJohn and Anna Tholen wedding photoJohn and Anna Tholen Family



This house was built by John Tholen, my mom’s grandfather. This is the house her father, Claas Tholen, lived in as a child.





All of these wonderful people made our trip so memorable. Roger and Diana opened their hearts and their home to us and made us feel welcome to our ancestral home of Golden. Talk about mid-western hospitality! They went way out of their way to ensure we didn’t miss a lick on our ancestral treasure hunt. It was really difficult to say goodbye after so many fun-filled and informative days and get back on the road for the return trip to Oregon. Mom really enjoyed herself and remarked that she wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for nothing!

To make the return trip we decided to take a more northern route through South Dakota and Montana.  We visited Mount Rushmore…..


…..and headed for the BIG SKY country of Montana where we met up with another cousin, Kathy Frew.


My father was born in Montana. As a child growing up mom and dad took me and my two sisters on vacation there often to visit relatives. It was fun to reacquaint ourselves with some of the old haunts from years past and make new discoveries about my dad’s ancestors as well.

We started out in his home town of Sheridan, where his grandmother, Nancy Anne Brundage and his great grandfather, Hiram Brundage, also lived many years before.

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We even discovered an old log cabin still sitting among the willows in California Creek that my own grandfather had built!DSC04014


A surprise visit to an old friend of mom’s was also in order. She and Vi really had a delightful little visit after not seeing one another for at least 40 plus years.


DSC04089  Grandma Redfern Elizabeth Agnes Williams

More ancestral homes – this log cabin was the home to my great grandmother, Elizabeth Agnes Williams Clapp Redfern, or more commonly known to family members as Grandma Redfern.

A little further on in the Ruby Valley is an old mining town, Virginia City.





It was also the home of another set of ancestors, my great, great grandparents, Hiram Brundage and his wife Elizabeth (Lizzy) Holiday. She died a couple of months after her last child was born at the young age of 29. She is buried in Boot Hill Cemetery above town. He started the first newspaper in town bringing news of the Civil War to the miners in the local hills.

DSC04403Elizabeth (Lizzy) Holiday




Their fourth child, Nancy Anne, followed her father to Sheridan (where he started another newspaper) and later to Dillon, where our travels took us next. Hiram once again established yet another newspaper, The Dillon Tribune, which is still being published today.





Nancy Anne was a mere 16 years of age when she met a handsome photographer in Dillon – an emigrant Scotsman from Dingwall, Scotland by the name of William Rose Frew. Before long they were married and my grandfather, William Rose Frew II was born.

DSC04456William Rose Frew I Bozeman Montana


Our travels had taken us to many beautiful, interesting and deeply rooted locations. As a capstone we decided to take the Grand Loop through Yellowstone National Park as we headed south and west back to Southern Oregon.





We had the time of our lives exploring the trails our ancestors had taken us on. I am extremely grateful that we had the opportunity to take that trip and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about our escapades of chasing Golden Windmills on our Genealogy Road Trip to Illinois.

Mom passed away peacefully in her home this past spring. This post is dedicated to her – Daphne Claire Tholen Frew – the wonderful, resourceful, fun-loving and family-first woman that she was. I feel fortunate and honored to resemble her in so many ways.

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Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

4 thoughts on “Chasing Windmills – “Ancestral Windmills” that is!”

    1. What a nice surprise to see a comment from you Mary! Thank you for your kind words about my blog post. That was such a great trip with my mom discovering our ancestral ties to those places together. Little did I know at the time that I only had about 6 months or so left to be with her. We had a stupendous time. Glad you enjoyed it too.. yes, We DO need to cross paths sometime and soon especially because we are relatively closely related! I look forward to it!


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