Always looking for ways to improve my own writing, I enrolled in Improving Writing Skills through Autobiographical Applications (check it out!), an independent-study graduate ENG class. I was absolutely thrilled as I browsed the course manual and perused the required writing assignments. The very first exercise/assignment was to write a character sketch based on a picture or artifact. I knew immediately about whom I would write --Lucy Dolezal! Other than knowing that Lucy was my grandmother's aunt, however, I knew almost nothing else about her. I needed to do some family history digging, stat.
Enter my sister in law.
And so we began our quest to learn about Lucy Dolezal. We quickly learned, however, that finding out about ancestors who have been gone for a long time and whose immediate family members are gone as well is not an easy task. Nevertheless, we both became obsessed with our mission as we encountered inaccurate information, took wrong turns, backtracked often, and even ran into full blown dead ends. Still, those obstacles only made us more determined to find Lucy Dolezal, and we spent most of July searching.
All we had was a simple piece of paper indicating that my Grandmother Emily was baptized on July 11, 1904, and Lucy Dolezal was listed as her "sponsor." My mom remembered that Lucy was Grandma's aunt, but that was all we had.
So where do we start? As Glinda says in The Wizard of Oz, "It's always good to start at the beginning," and so we did. We Googled Lucy Dolezal, of course. And just like that, we were off, down our own Yellow Brick Road of discovery.
From that initial Google search, we located many Lucy Dolezals all over the world, We quickly realized we needed to refine our search. We added dates and places (Nebraska) and names (Anton, assumed husband) until we thought we had something. We thought that our Lucy Dolezal at some point became Lucy Dolezal Fisher. We speculated that 1) she and Anton divorced (I never wanted to believe that) or 2) She remarried after Anton died. From there, we spun the story that he died from injuries or sickness incurred in WWI (the info we had said he died in 1928) and so Lucy remarried and became a Fisher. We even found the gravesite of a Lucy Dolezal Fisher in Wahoo, Nebraska.
Something didn't seem right though. The dates were slightly off. The unexplained Fisher name was out of sync. We had hit our first dead end. But we weren't going to let a Wicked Witch throw apples at us on our journey. Just like Dorothy and friends, we refocused and continued on.
Somewhere in here I changed my search to Lucy Franta, her maiden name. The result was super exciting--I actually found a mention of her marriage certificate!
I immediately sent the link to Joy, and we both were recharged--we had a glimpse of our Emerald City! The dates all worked. We were finally on the right track for the right Lucy and Anton Dolezal. For a few steps, anyway. It wasn't long before we hit another dead end--we weren't finding anything beyond the marriage certificate. That Wicked Witch was throwing fireballs at us now.
It was at this point that Joy and I both remarked that it was a good thing it was summer and we had the time to do our search. We were into week three at this point, and we were driving our loved ones a little crazy with our obsession. We found ourselves stopping to read text updates in the middle of Home Depot or staying indoors tethered to our iPads on gorgeous summer days. And we were starting to get a little weary. Was that a poppy field up ahead??
Just when we were thinking we had found as much as we could, my mom handed me a faded piece of paper. Any spell of weariness quickly wore off after reading the words on that paper. It was an old, hand-typed, brief Franta family tree. At first , I thought it was just another dead end---there was no Lucy listed. But once again, It was Anton's name that led to Lucy. Anton Dolezal was listed as husband to Aloisie Franta. Light bulbs went off. So Lucy used a nickname?? Her real name was Aloisie?? Was that why we seemed to be going one step forward two steps back??
From there, things moved quickly. We began searching for Aloisie Franta Dolezal, and we found our Emerald City. Through U. S. Census sites we discovered that she and Anton had seven children. We discovered that they all stayed in Nebraska, most in the same eastern area.
I got teary when I saw these images. I couldn't help feeling that my great, great aunt Lucy Dolezal was a part of me, and I was sad that I never got to know her.
But I also smiled when I saw that Lucy and Anton are together even now. Although I don't know their real love story, I can imagine that their life was filled to the rim with love for their children and grandchildren and each other and that they have their happily ever after somewhere over a Nebraska rainbow.
(Oh, and about that writing assignment that inspired this summer-long search for Lucy Doleful? You can read that story here)