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The Ancestral Home

Friday, July 28, 2017


Lots of people ask me what my name means. Zickefoose is a corruption of the German name Ziegenfuss, which means goat foot. It's not derogatory, not based on our looks. It refers to a nimble way of walking. Much better! I have had only two bad falls in my life, and both were when I was hugely pregnant. Amniotic fluid is a great cushion. Just ask my kids. As for the falls, I'm sure I can arrange more as I get old and doddery. But for now, I'm getting around pretty good. That was always what my grandparents said when asked how they were. It was all about mobility. I never understood why they emphasized how they were "getting around" then, when I was a little kid, and I moved as easily as I breathed. I get it now. Oh boy do I get it. 

Zickefoose is quirky enough that, when I got married and the pressure was on to change my name, I didn't. Wouldn't. Couldn't. I am a Zickefoose and will always be. Actually the decision had been made when I was very young. I loved my name, even though I was last in every line. I loved being my father's daughter, of being identified in some tangible way as his. He was a very cool man. My mom knew we'd have a special bond, with me being the last of six kids. She wanted my middle name to be Dale, to honor him. My dad voted it down. So my middle name defaulted to Sue. Which honors no one. A placeholder. Damn, and oh well. Why DOD, why?? Well, you know now that it would have been the right thing to do.

 Once I started doing freelance art as a freshman in college, I figured if I was going to hang out my shingle, I might as well have a memorable last name, one that, once learned, isn't forgotten.

What follows here is a small and shallow exploration of Zickefoose roots in America. I'm doing it mostly so my kids and family and I have a record of the things I've been told about our line. I don't expect it to be particularly interesting to anyone who isn't a Zickefoose, but I'm glad to know these things. Some people, like my brother Bob and especially our first cousin Brad Braga, have an aptitude for genealogy. Brad has an entire climate-controlled room in his Marshalltown, Iowa basement devoted to family photos and original records. He can answer any question we throw at him about who's related to whom and how.  He is a meet keeper of the Zickefoose flame and records. I am thankful for Brad. We all are.  He can explain what a third cousin, once removed, actually is. I can have something like that explained to me a hundred times and still not get it. Genealogy is like math to me. Genealogy lore goes through me like a dose of salts. So I'm determined to record it so I have it.

In 1751, Johan Jacob Ziegenfuss came to America from Germany. It's thought he had a son named Peter, who settled near the little town of Blue Grass, Virginia, in Highland County. At that time, Blue Grass was called Crab Apple Bottom. I guess I can see why they changed the name to Blue Grass.

  Peter had a son named George. George settled near Pipe Stem, West Virginia, with a land grant. At that time, Greenbriar County, WV, encompassed Pipe Stem. Larry Zickefoose, historian and genealogist for the West Virginia clan, says that during the time George was living there, you could be born, live and die in the same spot, but the county lines were changing such that you'd have lived in three different counties.

 So whether the Ziegenfuss/Zickefooses come from Virginia or West Virginia is a bit muddled. George's son, Benjamin, married his first cousin, Susannah Buzzard. DOD had told us this, and West Virginia genealogist Larry Zickefoose, who's written a book called From Zigenfuss to Zickefoose, confirms this. Marrying one's first cousin is forbidden in the Old Testament. 

This photo of Benjamin and Susannah entrances me. As I look at the pair, the set of their wide mouths and the shape of their heads, with prominent cheekbones and high foreheads, is very familiar to me. Susanna in particular looks like my dad's sisters, in a big way. 
The cheekbones alone belie their bloodlines. 


My father always said that he thought Ben and Susannah went west to escape the disapproval of their family. I'm glad they did.   They lived for a short while in Ohio (!) and Indiana, then settled in Henry County, Iowa, near Olds, around 1837. They had eight children. The first three were born in Virginia, the fourth in Ohio on the way to Iowa.  Their sixth was Western Summers Zickefoose, born near Olds, Iowa in 1842. That would make him just the right age to get caught up in the Civil War. He fought for the Union, with the 25th Iowa Regiment.



Western Summers was my great grandfather. 

He was at Vicksburg and other battles along the Mississippi, and was with Sherman around Atlanta and on his famous march. As they marched through the Carolinas Wes got malaria, and was sent north on a boat. He regretted missing the grand mustering in Washington D.C. Western's older brother, Clark, was killed at Arkansas Post and died in Wes's arms. He had been hit in the temple by a spent Minie ball. I remember DOD saying, "It never even broke the skin."  

Western was in Buell's Army of the Ohio, reinforcing Grant after the first day of fighting, when troops were being boated across the Tennessee River all night long. But Wes never got off the boat to join the fight at Shiloh. Good thing. 

My sister Micky has a tin plate and cup that had belonged to Western Summers, part of his mess kit. He lived through that terrible war and went on to live a full life. Missing Shiloh might have been the key there. Attaining the age of 83 is remarkable for a man, for those days. 


Western Summers' grave, Asbury Cemetery, Henry Co., Iowa




Western Summers Zickefoose, my great grandfather.


Martha Jane Yancey, my great grandmother.

Wes went on to marry Martha Yancey and have a son named Charles Summers Zickefoose. He was born in 1878, and remained unnamed for two years. Not sure what that's about. What do you call him until you decide what to name him? Hey You??  I remember Grampa Charlie Zickefoose being pretty crochety, but then he wasn't feeling well by the time I came along. My grandmother Elnora Zickefoose was the sweetest person you could imagine, so she more than made up for that. Whenever Nora would hear us Zickefoose kids singing in harmony, she would say, "They got that from the Yancey's." That's still a catch phrase in our family. It came from the Yancey's. Thank you, Martha, for giving us our musicality. It somehow escaped my dad. He loved music and could sing just fine, but had little sense of rhythm. Singing (or dancing, Ida said) with him was an adventure in compensation.


My DOD, Charles Dale Zickefoose
He may not have had much rhythm, but there was a lot he could do. Like, everything.

 I love the fact that my immediate family originated in Iowa, my grandparents and both my parents being born there, thanks to Ben and Susanna's moving west. When we moved from the Midwest to Richmond, Virginia in 1962, we were coming back to the homeland, though that fact was lost on me then. I remember missing terribly the big skies of the Great Plains. I was born in South Dakota and lived my early years in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas. We were used to seeing the weather coming. In Richmond, we had to look straight up through the trees to see the sky, and storms always took us by surprise.

So you might imagine the feelings that coursed through me when my brother Bob gave me and Liam a route home from his place in Mt. Solon, Virginia, back to Ohio, that went right through the ancestral Zickefoose home along the Virginia/West Virginia line. (We were heading home from the wedding of Bob and Bonnie's daughter, Holly).


There are not many places in this world that I look at and say, "Yes. I could live here." But this was one of them. Rt. 250 went up, down and around through gorgeous healthy national forest with scattered agriculture and mountain vistas. 



Speeding car out the window photo. Near Blue Grass, Virginia. Ohhh yeah. It's sooo beautiful here.


Liam loved the ride so much he rolled down the window and hung his head out like a dog. He couldn't get over the views and the beauty of this place.



Before long the highway, which was all but deserted, rolled down into a valley where beavers had made a beautiful series of ponds, like beads on a big watery chain.


The clouds and reflections were perfect.


I've never seen Liam respond to a landscape the way he did to this one. We pulled over and got out to revel in it. 


I loved to think that our ancestors may have ridden or driven wagons along this route and loved this valley, too. I wondered if the beavers were there then.


I don't know if a landscape or a place can be so deep in your genes that you somehow know your ancestral place when you see it, but Liam and I knew something special was going on here.


I am grateful to have children with a sense of place, genetic or not. Who know beauty when they see it, and stop to wallow around in it.


Here's a little movie of Route 250 near the Virginia/ West Virginia line. I hope you've enjoyed this exploration of Zickefoose roots as much as I've enjoyed ferreting out the information and photos. Many thanks to Bob Zickefoose and Brad Braga for keeping the genealogical flame for know-nothings like me.




And because it was the song in my head the entire drive, here's Jonathan Edwards and the Seldom Scene with "Blue Ridge."

16 comments:

Wonderful. I am always struck by people who DON'T know their family story or stories and are totally incurious about them. I revel in my family stories. And I have almost as difficult a family name to spell and pronounce as yours--Climenhaga. However, I am a few years ahead of you and when I got married I took my husband's last name. People say--didn't you used to be Donna Climenhaga. Of course, my answer is "I still am."
Thanks for taking us along on this family journey with you.

Nice stories. My son did a lot of investigation into our family, taking us on road trips to scan photos and documents. Meeting family we never knew. I took my husband's name and have had it longer than I had him. Kinda sorry I did that. I believe we should keep the name we are given at birth. There is instability in changing stuff like that. Old fashioned ideas.

Ms. Climenhaga, Ms. Musella, thanks to Facebook I know your true names. :) I believe incuriosity to be the Eighth Deadly Sin. Always astounded when I ask someone about their name and they don't know what it means, don't know where it or their people came from. How can this be? How can one not wonder and do the work to find out?

I am the Brad of not only my families but my husband's as well. My great, great grandfather and his best friend, also his brother-in-law, fought in the 31st Illinois. My great, great grandfather was wounded in one of Grant's first battles--Belmont-- and fought at Forts Henry and Donelson before being invalided out. So I loved hearing your Zickefoose stories. Thank you for sharing them.

Yes, my middle sis has done a lot of family genealogy and it’s always interesting (almost addictive) stuff… especially love finding pics of Mom or Dad as teenagers or 20-somethings (like who knew they were EVER that age!; and think of ALL the pics current generations will have available!). Anyway, always odd to think what our ancestors had to go through for us to end up here… what were the chances!

What a cool story! I love to hear about the names in people's families...Western Summers has got to be the best one I have heard. Always love to see that you have posted something new here Julie. Please give Chet Baker a hug, he looked great picking beans with you.



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Loved it, I'm a history nut, mine, yours, ours, all good! That visceral feeling is really weird isn't it? I had the same feeling flying into the UK for the first time, something in the bones calling out.

When an older gentleman asked whether I minded that my wife Joan hadn't taken my name when we married, I said, "No, I'm not through with it yet."

My great grandmother was Mary Ellen Zickafoose, spelled with an a. She was born Sept 26, 1854 and died April 16, 1950. She lived her whole life in Iowa except for three years in Kansas and three years in South Dakota. she married Archibald Shore and they had 10 kids.

Great that you are preserving and passing on the family history. I am the keeper of our genealogy, and I mourn the fact that so much of our history was lost because past gereations neglected to do this.

Your story of Charles Summers and his remaining unnamed for a couple of years recalls for me the story of a man who lived down the road from my family when I was little, in (then) rural, central Ohio. Henry Osborn was reputed to have named himself. When he was small, his parents simply called him "Babe." However, on his first day of school the teacher had a list of students' names, and his entry showed only his last name. So she asked him his first name. The boy was bright enough to realize that "Babe" wasn't a REAL and proper name, and so, thinking quickly and recalling somebody his family knew, he answered, "Henry." And so that was his name from then on.

I'm the only one of my sibs who took any interest at all in family genealogy. Now that the older generation is long gone, I find that my sibs are coming to me with questions. Mmmph. (And with a last name like Sprayberry, you'd better believe I hung on to mine even after marriage.)

And I agree with several other commenters that Western Summers is one of the great first/middle name combos ever.

Have both Shenandoah and Greenbrier County kinfolk. Just recently read about Buell's Army too. All good stuff from the beaver to the music and landscapes. Thanks.

10 years after my dad passed away my mom met a most wonderful man who hiailed from Greenbrier West Virginia. They were married and she took on his name of Zicafoose....
So interesting how many spelling incarnations of a name there can be.

Very, very cool!!

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