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Keeping her family's past alive in writing

Aaron Krause • Oct 25, 2015 at 8:00 AM

BELLEVUE — Martha Burr was living a dream.

The Bellevue woman had a large collection of documents from her family that her daughter, Elizabeth Burr Marquard, read and became intrigued.

Someone should write about the Seibel family, Marquard thought: These were German immigrants who came to the U.S., showed resilience in the face hardships and toiled to become established. To complicate matters, they had to contend with an immediate family member’s mental illness.

Burr agreed with her daughter; someone should write this story.

“She always said ’That someone is you, Liz,’” Marquard said. “(It was) sort of my mother’s dream as well as my own.”

The notion of writing such a story stuck in Marquard’s mind for about 30 years.

Nine years ago, when she turned 50, Marquard had a “bucket-list moment” and decided to begin writing.

“And my mother was thrilled,” Marquard said. “She eagerly anticipated each new chapter. She loved it; she just eagerly anticipated each new chapter.

“Unfortuantely she did not live to see the book published,” Marquard said.

About five years into the writing process, Burr suffered a major stroke.

Marquard stood by her mother’s deathbed and made her a promise.

She would finish the book.

And she did.

It had taken Marquard nine years to complete the book, which comprises 650 pages, 140 photos and takes place in Norwalk, Monroeville and other places of interest.

You can purchase copies in print and Kindle form at the Historic Lyme Village Gift Shop, 5001 Ohio 4, Bellevue, and at the Golden Acorn, 106 Southwest St., also in Bellevue. 

“I feel like I came to know my family,” Marquard said.

She said she harbored no memories of most of these people, her mother’s family, and “came to know their essence.”

The main characters are her great-grandparents and their eight children. Marquard knew two of her great-aunts. She was 18 months old when her maternal grandparents died.

Marquard, a Chardon resident who used to live in Lyme Township, said about seven of the real-life characters are buried in Monroeville’s Riverside Cemetery, which is where the beginning of the 650-page first half of the biography takes place. Marquard is working on a second half now.

“I think my maternal ancestors would be surprised that their life story was anything anyone would want to write a book about,” she said.

Marquard believes in their mind, her relatives thought they were living an “ordinary life.”

“I do think their story is very unusual and very interesting,” she said.

The book covers the early years of the family’s history, Marquard said

According to a description of the book submitted to the Reflector by the former area resident, it spans “from a young man’s journey down the Mississippi River in the 1880s, to the backbreaking labor necessary for a small strawberry farm to succeed, the lingering agony of the Spanish Influenza pandemic and a nation on the brink of the Great Depression. For the eight Seibel siblings, all choices, opportunities, and hopes for the future are complicated by one overriding shadow—their mother’s mental illness.“

Diane Boumenot, a genealogist and blogger, wrote this about Burr’s narrative: “I can’t put it down. Every genealogist imagines that someday they will pull their family’s story together into a vivid and fascinating book, complete with pictures, that will keep even the younger generation interested.

“Very seldom is that goal achieved, but Elizabeth has done it. I have seldom read a book that captured my interest as much as this story. I laughed and cried along with the family. I recommend it very highly to all readers and aspiring family historians,” Boumenot told the Reflector.

Marquard will make the following local appearances, where her book will be available for purchase:

  • 11 a.m. Oct. 24  at the Monroeville Public Library, where she will give a presentation and sign books
  • 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Bellevue Public Library for a book signing.
  • 2 p.m. Jan. 17 at Historic Lyme Village. Marquard will be the guest speaker at the village’s annual meeting.
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