Moxie Section of Post and Courier, June 18, 2010

In Her Own Words

I believe everyone is entitled to my opinion.  Therefore, I believe the best trip I ever took will be the best trip you will every take:  I went to Collinsville, Oklahoma.  Before you start scratching your head or rushing to the phone to make reservations, let me tell you why.  Then I'll tell you how.

My Father, Art Goldsmith, left Collinsville in 1934 when the combination of the Dust Bowl and Depression made it impossible for a young man to stay.  But it never left him.  The Collinsville News came to his doorstep in Chicago every week for 68 years.

You could take him out of Collinsville, but you could not take Collinsville out of him. He loved to talk about his "kinfolk" from "the town the highway passed by."  And I loved to hear him. I absorbed the sense of community he felt, the values he found and the culture he shared.  They are more valuable than anything else he could have given me.  For years I traveled there in my mind; I simply had to come in person.  Had Collinsville survived?  Might there be kinfolk who remembered the Goldsmiths?

I revved up my computer and started down the information highway by googling "Collinsville, Oklahoma," and up popped the website. I fully expected to find strip shopping centers, gas stations, and nondescript subdivisions thanks to Tulsa's urban sprawl. To my utter shock, my eyes say the "P" word: Preserved!  My Father's childhood hometown had been preserved, probably because the highway passed it by. I could not have fully appreciated that significance had I not lived in Charleston. Breathlessly, I clicked on its Chamber of Commerce and newspapers and told everyone at the other end about my plans.  The response was instantaneous; everyone was delighted to help.

The webmaster turned out to be the great grandson of the founder of the newspaper that had linked my Father to Collinsville all those years.  He had the archives and started sending photos of my great-grandfather's store (which is still standing), ads he placed, and articles mentioning my family in life events such as a remarriage, a heroic deed, and a graduation.

He also sent me my Grandfather's obituary.  In it, I read about a brother I didn't know he had who settled in Tulsa.  I quickly got back on the Internet highway and googled "Goldsmith" in Tulsa.  Up popped 10 names.  Bu the second one, I reached my second cousin, who just happened to have done the family genealogy!  Along with his meticulous records was a photo of the house and address where my Father had lived.

Even as I write, even though my trip was two summers ago, I get goose bumps knowing I stood on the porch of my Father’s home, in the same spot he had stood in that photo.  I found a dime as I walked down the sidewalk to leave.  My Father always found coins on the ground.  He knew I was there!


It was just one coincidence of many.  Doors opened to the point where my name appeared on the bank marquee when I got off the highway that no longer passed by Collinsville.  Others can take this trip of a lifetime. Let your fingers do the walking on the internet highway. Tell as many people along the road you are coming. Use the power of the press to help you find your way, literally and symbolically. 


Remember those ads from my Great Grandfather’s store?  They were for hats…some of which resemble the ones in my closet.  I did not merely find my Father’s roots in Collinsville; I found my own.  I was always proud of being a Chicagoan.  But my family’s contribution does not warrant a footnote in its history.  It is a far different story in a little town in Oklahoma.


Now that I live in Charleston, I understand what it means to be “one of them.”  To learn that my Great Grandfather got to Oklahoma when it was still I.T. (Indian Territory), to realize he was an original Sooner because he got there sooner than most everyone else, gives me a sense of heritage I didn’t realize I was missing. What I really brought back from the best trip I ever took was myself.


The full story and photos of A Daughter Searches for her Roots can be found on www.hatladies.org


Archie Burkel

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