As a pastor the first funeral I performed was for a great aunt in 1989. Her greatest contribution to me was a stack of typewritten notes full of family history. In 2000 I began perusing the archives at the Ohio Historical Society in search of ancestors. Thanks to the aunt’s records, the family could be traced to southern Ohio. I pulled a volume containing the history of Meigs County, produced for the American Bicentennial, off the shelf in the Archives. Paging back to the “t’s,” I was thrilled to find an entry under “Trainer.”
There was a picture of an old farmhouse, and these words at the beginning of the paragraph, “My great-grandfather, James Trainer (1803-1875), justice of the peace and veterinarian, married Mary Patterson (1809-1886) in 1828.” At the bottom of the article was the author’s name and she was residing in Lancaster, Ohio in 1976. Days later I walked up a driveway to a fading green house in Lancaster. A little old woman came around the corner of the house, watering can in-hand. I surprised her, but she quickly recovered, and I introduced myself to my second cousin three times removed.
Ada Belle Robinson Trainer and I began a relationship. She produced old photo albums, newspaper clippings, diaries, family bibles, and heirlooms. Ada kept notes of each day’s events, saved everything, and possessed a memory like a steel trap. Ada revealed a heritage my family never knew existed.
I visited Ada briefly on the day before she died. She could barely talk as I quoted a Psalm, touched her hand, and told her to rest. The next day her daughter called, “Mom is gone. She asked you to do her funeral.” On the morning of March 15, 2005, I stood beside Ada’s casket celebrating her long life and our short friendship.
I glance over at Ada’s picture on my office wall. In the photo she is in her late teens and holding the hand of a young man she will not marry until much later in life. I am transcribing her dad’s diaries. I leaf through the pages of her our ancestor’s Bibles. My children can hear her voice in our recorded conversations. In one sense it can be said that I found all of this in the archives of the Ohio Historical Society, but finding Ada Belle is the greatest treasure of all.