L to R: Uncle Fred (tiny sailor), Grandpa (big sailor), Grandma Kate, Dad (grumpy baby), Aunt Joan (in little dress)

L to R: Uncle Fred (tiny sailor), Grandpa (big sailor), Grandma Kate, Dad (grumpy baby), Aunt Joan (in little dress)

Letters  And Photo Hint At Truth Of Great’s Real Father

A couple of months back, I was contacted by a woman in Wisconsin (who will be called simply S. henceforth).   She wanted to know if I was related to the people in a picture she had. She’d come across photos of individuals with similar features that were on the Ancestry page of my cousin (via my page) and thought they might be the same people as those in her picture. After viewing her image, I was able to confirm that they were indeed my family members– my grandmother, Kate, grandfather Fred, and their children, Fred, Joan, and Phil (my father).

Great as a young woman, probably in her 20s or 30s

Great as a young woman, probably in her 20s or 30s

S. went on to state that her husband was the grandson of a man named GeorgeWilka, and that she believed he was the brother of my great-grandmother, Minnie (Riebe) O’Reilly. (I should take a moment to mention that my nickname for Minnie was “Great” when I was little.  It seemed to catch on with the whole family).  Since S. had the picture of my family in her possession, the chance of there being a family connection seemed like a very real possibility and  worth exploring. The link was that Grandma Kate (in the photo) was Minnie’s daughter.  Great must have shared the photo of her daughter and her grandchildren with her brother.  Since our initial communication, S. and I have exchanged a lot more images and information and now it feels like we’re actually getting closer to pinning down the heritage of Great’s real family.

Great Writes To Her Brother George

Great and Great Grandpa, Tom O'Reilly

Great and Great Grandpa, Tom O’Reilly

Things have really taken an interesting turn today. This morning, I woke up to see that S. had sent me some letters written by both Great and her husband (my great-grandfather), Tom O’Reilly, to her brother, George in 1932. Although the letters don’t discuss her parents, it was fascinating to see her thoughts written in her own hand– I could “hear” the humor, sarcasm, and even her political beliefs in her literary “voice”. She greeted her brother warmly, chastising him for not writing often enough, and went on to explain that she never got sick during cold and flu season because she always dashed “madly for the soda”, as it kept her body alkaline and created an unfriendly  environment for germs. I had to laugh at this since I’ve been using baking soda for the same reason for the past few months. It seems like quite an ironic juxtaposition of habits between the generations. Another unusual detail involved the complaint Great made about the government and how she felt the economy was being strangled by those with the most money. Sounds pretty familiar today and a sentiment I’ve often expressed myself. If only she and I could sit down and have a conversation right now!

Anton’s Life Comes Into FocusGreat's father, Anton Wilka

In another document, S.’s mother-in-law left notes as to Great and her brother George’s father, Anton Wilka. It stated that Anton was a Catholic and had been a soldier in Austria and immigrated to America where he later became a naturalized citizen on 18 Dec 1877. He settled mostly in Kansas, where he married a woman named Sarah Todd in 1873. Their son, George was born five months before Anton became an American citizen. The note also went on to say that Anton made a deathbed confession, claiming that he had another family that included two daughters in Colorado– a reference to Great and her sister Mamie.

Taken together, these details seem to strengthen the possibility that Anton was indeed Great’s real father. However, I’m still in the dark as to who her mother was. From the information that I’m gleaning through S. and my own research, it appears that he was married 3-4 times, with the last possible wife being Pauline (Youderian) Riebe– Great’s adoptive mother. I suppose this could also mean that if (or when) Anton married Pauline he also inherited her children and their welfare. Until I look under just the right rock, I may never know. Hopefully another wonderful new relative like S. will appear with more tantalizing clues… If you have any information, you know where to find me!