Roma Clara Josephine Rasa Siegel (1909-1988) was my maternal grandmother. She passed away when I was a senior in high school but has nevertheless remained a presence in my life for a number of reasons. The biggest reason, perhaps, is that I’m fascinated with her life story.
Roma grew up in a small town, the daughter of a well-respected, prominent business man. The most dramatic turn in her life occurred when she was just eighteen years old. She made a fateful decision—she decided to elope with a man twenty-two years her senior!
Roma was born in Florence, Missouri two days after her fellow citizens celebrated Independence Day in 1909. She had two sisters, went to school in Florence, and graduated from the two-year high school in town. Although it is difficult to know for certain, I have gained an impression through my research that from an early age she was already searching for something, even if she did not quite know yet what it was. Carl Siegel owned a general store in town, had married in 1914 and had three sons. His wife Mary died in 1919 of influenza leaving him with three young children. In 1921 Carl bought his store from H.A. Bremer and lived in the house next door. His sister Tena moved in with him to help care for the boys.
Florence, Missouri had been a flourishing village in the mid-19th century, but its fortunes changed after the Civil War. The event primarily responsible for this reversal of fate was the opening of the railroad in nearby town of Versailles, Missouri. By 1920 the population of Florence was 98 citizens, who lived in 22 households. The townsfolk attended the three churches in town every Sunday. Carl and Roma chose to attend St. John’s Evangelical Church. It is not hard to imagine that the two knew of each other in a town of less than 100 people but it is difficult to say precisely when Roma caught Carl’s eye.
One way I have connected with Roma is through family photos. Among her photos I found a few simply labeled “Gravois Mills,” a picturesque location on the Big Gravois Creek (now the northern side of the Lake of the Ozarks) on the southern end of Morgan County. The photos, dated 26 July 1925, show a group preparing and enjoying a picnic. Roma and at least two of Carl’s sisters are shown in the snapshots. While Carl is not clearly seen, it is easy for me to imagine he was there. In my mind’s eye, and perhaps because of how her story stokes my imagination, this picnic could have been when their romance began.
Even though I have no hard evidence this is when they began courting, researching her records and collecting family stories gives me a feeling that it likely was around this time. Genealogy is not a hard a fast science constructed solely of hard facts such as dates and places; it ultimately seeks to better understand people; the places they lived and worked; and their relationships with friends and family. Fortunately for me, Roma and her family took a number of pictures and as she grew older she took the time to label many of them. When I look at the photos, as well as other family mementos, they often act as a portal through time and connect me with my ancestors and heritage. I am reminded of this heritage whenever I look through their records, photos, and mementos or walk through the town in which they called home. On this blog I will continue to share many of Roma and Carl’s stories. I hope you will join me on this journey.