Growing up, I was never really all that interested in my heritage, but my father always told of his grandmother being a Native American woman. Outside of her name, I never knew anything more about her, since my father never really talked about her. I’m not sure if he actually knew anything more about her, to be perfectly honest. I live in the same area that I was born and raised in, the same area that my father was born and raised in. I think that, if I really looked hard enough, my family was among the original settlers of the town.
A few years ago, the Historians of the town and village of Van Etten, New York decided to hold a gathering to tell the old stories of the area. At the time, I was just finding my way out of the cocoon I’d buried myself in since my father’s passing and I dragged my husband to the gathering. I wanted him to learn about the town that I grew up in and loved so dearly. He had never really understood why I’d want to live in a town with a population of under 5000 people when we could have stayed in Las Vegas, Nevada. I thought that hearing the stories of my home would help him to understand.
So, the first gathering was held and we attended. My husband and I went and we sat quietly, listened to the stories that were told. Many of the stories, I already knew. I knew about the history of the railroad in the town, as my grandfather worked for the railroad. Somewhere in my home currently are railroad records, even, from his time there. I knew the story of the biggest business in the town and the fire that destroyed most of it. One story, however, I had never heard before and it took me surprise. The Historian who was speaking, Bill Gallow, told a story about prohibition and about a Speak Easy that existed on one of the back roads just outside of town.
Why would this story surprise me? Well, the woman who owned it was Katherine Peters, my great-grandmother. The Native American woman my father spoke of ran this illegal establishment. When the story was first told, I didn’t realize who she was. I knew that the Peters name was uncommon in this area, however, I wasn’t sure if the other family of Peters were native to the area. I asked a couple questions and within a month, I had the answers and I learned that it was indeed my great-grandmother’s establishment. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find any further information about her, nor about the establishment. I haven’t given up on my quest to find out more. I never will.
Since finding this information, the town historian has passed away and I have stepped up and taken over the position. My learning about my great-grandmother has made me want to learn more, both about the town and about my own family. I feel that, as a historian, I can keep the history of the town alive and keep others interested in their home.