Family History >
of My Family's History
One of the reasons
that I decided to take this
trip was to learn about my family's history. I've always been interested
in where I came from but, working at an 8-to-5 job for many years, never had
time to do much research. After my mother passed away a few years ago, I
decided to make time for it and to document as much as I could about my family's
history for the benefit of future generations in my family... and to satisfy my
spent several months so far traveling around the U.S. researching the history on
both my mother's and father's side. As I've learned, both families have
had interesting histories. Most of my mother's ancestors were
homesteaders from Norway who moved to the upper Midwest in the late
1800s. Some of my father's ancestors came from England, arriving a few years
after the Mayflower, while others came more recently from Switzerland. The
two lines shared several things in common though, including the immigrant's work
ethic and a desire for land... a desire that, with each generation, pushed them
further and further west across America in search of a place of their own.
summarized what I've learned about my family's history with two maps showing
where they came from and how they moved across America, culminating in 1943 when
my Mom met my Dad at a U.S.O. dance in Dickinson, North Dakota (since it
was on the July 4th weekend, you could say that the sparks really flew!)
I've summarized these stories with maps and photos on two pages:
summarized the stories of my father and mother, describing some of the
family stories that have been passed down through the generations.
Donald Leu, grew up in Seattle, Washington in the 1920s. He moved with his
family to the small logging town of Skykomish, Washington during the Great Depression, where
his father, George, worked as a grocer. My Dad was attending his first
year of college when World War II broke out. Being in college, my Dad was
placed in the Navy V-12 Officer Training program (like in the movie, "An
Officer and a Gentleman") and was sent to Dickinson College in North
Dakota, where he met my Mom. They got married a year later in Florida
where my Dad was training for the Scouts & Raiders (today's Navy SEALs) and,
in 1945, was sent to interior China to train the Chinese Nationalists who were
battling the Japanese.
returning to the U.S., my Dad got a doctorate in Education and, with a growing
family, moved to Michigan where he became a professor of Education. Our
family later moved to San Jose when I was eight years old, then my parents moved
Oregon. During this time, my Dad was recognized as one of the top
educational planners in the U.S. My Dad passed away in November of
2002. I've posted a brief biography of him at News:
March 28, 2003.
Mother, Anne Leu, was born in North Dakota and grew up on a farm. When she
was a young girl, her father lost their farm during the Depression and they
moved to the small towns of Wing and Wilton before moving to Bismarck when she
was about 10. Her father, a carpenter, died when she was 13. Shortly
afterwards, her mother, Helga,
went to work to support the three girls, my Mother being the eldest. In
1943, a month after graduating from Bismarck High School, she visited a
girlfriend in Dickinson, North Dakota during the Fourth of July weekend
and they decided to go to a U.S.O. Dance. That evening, my Mother met my Dad, who was in
Dickinson with the Navy V-12 Officer Training Program, they went horseback
riding the next day and the rest, as they say, is history.
folks got married, my mother
raised a family of five kids (one girl and four boys, me being the youngest)
while my Dad worked at various universities around the country as a professor of
Education and educational consultant.
Although my Mom didn't embrace camping as much as my Dad, together they drove us
all over the country on numerous trips with the five kids packed in the back of
the family station wagon. Her main priority in life was to raise a good
family and, if I may boast a bit, I think she did a wonderful job. My mother passed away three years
ago during a winter trip to Las Vegas. She was a wonderful person and a wonderful mother.
Left: My Mom and Dad in Dickinson,
North Dakota, in 1943, a few months after they met at a USO dance. My Dad, who
was in Dickinson training to be a Naval officer, is wearing his Western Washington University
sweater that he still has.
a summary of my four grandparents and where they came from. Being
the youngest of the five kids in my family, I have only dim memories of two of
my grandparents (George Leu and Helga Swang) and no memories of the other two
(Minnie May Plane and Edward Reinhard) since they died before I was born.
Leu (my grandfather)
great-grandfather, George Leu Sr., was born in the Schaffhausen canton in northern Switzerland. As a teenager in
the 1880s, George became angry about an inheritance that he thought he
should have received, stole $400 from the family, and hopped on a boat bound for
America. He made his way to Toledo, Ohio because his former neighbors in
Switzerland, the Schneiders, had moved to America years before and had settled
there. A few years after arriving in Toledo, George married the
Schneider's daughter, Emma. They named their oldest son (my grandfather)
George Jr., and the family moved to Cleveland.
grandfather loved baseball and played briefly
with the Cleveland Indians when he was a teenager, around 1905. His
parents forbid him to play baseball, though, and didn't realize that George Jr. had been
playing baseball with the Indians until he was hit by a pitch and
sent to the hospital.
1910, George Jr.'s brother, Cliff Leu, got into a dispute with his parents and
ran away from home, hopping on a train bound for Seattle, Washington. George Jr. got on the next
train to Seattle, determined to bring Cliff back to
Cleveland. When George reached Seattle, he found Cliff in the first place he
looked, the Pike Place Market where he learned that Cliff had
changed his name from Leu to Lee. George Leu decided to stay in Seattle and
became a grocer and, at age 25, he married my grandmother, Minnie May Plane.
May Plane (my grandmother)
May Plane was born in Michigan in the small town of Mayville, Michigan in
1892. Her father, a French-Canadian fur trapper named Everette Plane, died
when she was eight years old, much to the great despair of her mother, also
named Minnie May. The elder Minnie May, having lost both parents just a
few years earlier and now her husband, decided to leave Michigan with her
eight-year-old daughter and together they rode the train to Seattle, where they
had relatives. Twelve years later, on Minnie May Plane's 20th birthday,
she married my grandfather, George Leu. Minnie May Sr., by the way,
married three more times but never found the true love that she had known with
her first husband in Michigan.
& Minnie's Family
Minnie May Jr. stayed home and raised a family of six children, George
became a prominent grocer in the Seattle area in the 1920s, becoming president
of the Puget Sound Independent Grocers Association. However, George lost his business during the Great
Depression because he had extended credit to many of his customers, which they
were unable to pay. In desperation, the Leus moved their young family to the small logging town of Skykomish,
Washington, where George opened up a store he named "Leu's Grocery."
The Depression was tough for the Leus and the family lived in near-poverty
conditions (my Dad recalls the family living in a shack for a while in the forest), but
George and Minnie worked hard to raise their family and to put food on the table
each night. George operated his store in Skykomish for the next 25 years.
who helped run the grocery store occasionally, died in 1957. George
suffered a stroke the next year and was confined to a wheelchair. Our
family, living in Michigan, visited George in a Rest Home in 1965 near Seattle,
a brief visit that was, unfortunately, the only memory that I have of George
because he died three months later at age 78. My Dad told me that George
loved it whenever my family visited him in the Rest Home and he often had a
tear in his eye when we said goodbye.
Above left: My grandparents at Leu's Market in Skykomish,
Washington, around 1950. George moved his family here during
the Depression after his store in Seattle failed because of the credit he'd
extended to his customers. The family was desperately poor
during the Depression but, because of George and Minnie's hard work, they
scraped through it.
Above right: Three generations at Leu's Market. That's my Dad and
Mom with their first child, Doti (my sister). This was taken
just before my Dad, who was a Navy Seal, went to China during World War II.
Reinhard (my grandfather)
mother's father was born in Westbrook, Minnesota in 1894 into a large
family. In 1907, at age 13, he moved with his family to the small town of
Regan, North Dakota where his parents, Henry and Petrina Reinhard, homesteaded
on 160 acres. Edward was a farmer and in 1923, married my
grandmother, Helga Swang. The following year, my mother was born, the first of
their three children (all girls).
died in a car accident in 1937 when my mother was 13, leaving Helga a widow with
three daughters to raise during the Depression.
Swang (my grandmother)
mother's mother, Helga Swang (pronounced "Swong"), was born in a sod house in South Dakota in
1898. Her parents, Nels and Anna Swang, had arrived in South Dakota
covered wagon in the 1880s and grew up on homesteads a few miles apart just north of the town of
Webster where they met and married. Shortly after Helga was born, Anna and Nels
Swang moved the family to Fessenden, North Dakota, where Nels was an engineer
with the Soo Railroad Line. A few years after moving to Fessenden, Anna
and Nels divorced and Anna was left to raise her five children, including Helga,
graduated from Fessenden High School in 1915 and, with the career opportunities
for single women being limited at that time to becoming a nurse, secretary, or
teacher, she chose the latter and taught in a tiny one-room "country
school" (as opposed to a "town school," as they were called) on the North Dakota
plains. In 1921, Helga graduated from Teacher's College at Minot, North
Dakota and moved to the small town of Regan, North Dakota, where she had gotten
a job teaching the primary grades (Kindergarten through 4th grade) in the 3-room
Canfield Consolidated School. She taught here for a year before marrying my grandfather,
Edward, a local farmer, in 1923. They continued to live near Regan for
several years where Edward farmed and Helga raised her three girls, before
moving to Bismarck during the Great Depression.
Left: Helga at the Canfield School,
near Regan, North Dakota.
This was taken about 1922, a year
before she married Edward Reinhard, a local farmer. After they married,
she moved to his farm nearby.
and Helga's Family
after getting married, in 1924, Edward and Helga had their first child, a girl
whom they named Anna after Helga's mother. Edward
and Helga had two more daughters, Elizabeth (Betty) and Corrine (Corky) before
Edward died in 1937. My mother went to Bismarck High School, was a good
student, and played a violin in the orchestra. During the summer of 1943,
shortly after graduating from high school, my
mother met my father in Dickinson and they married the following year.
mother's sister Corrine
died in 1995 and my mother passed away in 1999. Elizabeth, my Aunt Betty, still lives in Capistrano Beach,
photos and maps of the Swangs, Reinhards, Leus, and Planes, see