Jonathan W. Wanzer (1967 – )
I have always been interested in history, not just what happened, but the circumstances around the event, the myriad of details that lead up to an event, how everything inter relates and reacts. So it is little surprise that I would find myself under the tutelage of my maternal grandmother, Wanieta “Nita” Ruth SULLIVAN Wanzer (1916-2004), a lifelong teacher and librarian by trade, and a renegade genealogist by avocation.
In 1978 there was a Sullivan, my grandmothers maiden name, family reunion back in the Midwest. My mother was relocating us and jumped on the opportunity to send me on a 2 month genealogical adventure with my grandmother while she packed and moved us across town.
It was on this trip that I first experienced history as we traveled from the San Francisco Bay Area through the Southwest, up into the middle states, crossing the Mississippi River in Hannibal Missouri and coming back through Colorado and Utah to return home to San Jose, California.
May of our stops were tourist traps built around historic locations or well known people, Laura Ingles Wilder’s house, Roy Rogers Ranch, Samuel Clements’s house, and the Alamo, all of course having a museum of some sort and a gift shop. We steered away from the souvenirs for the most part, though I did get several of the Little House books while we were at the Wilder house for the long periods of driving between stops. These were physical connections to the history they represented, something tangible, being in the place, among the objects. What came later in Kansas, where my grandmother grew up, was deeper still, a visceral link, not just to historical past, to my historical past, places my family lived, and in a few cases still did.
There is a reason we have physical senses, sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. They all make strong mental connections between the facts and emotions of our experiences. They are key factors in establishing memories, memory retention, and in recovering memories of things we thought we had forgotten. To this day, certain smells cause a strong memory / emotional response for me. The smells common to old books and documents affect me strongly. You can tell a lot about the environment a book has come from just by smell, and yes, I do like the smells that accompany old books. Every old book I buy gets a sniff test as well as a thorough structural examination. Old books are just one thing I have strong sense memory attachments with.
Thought the farmhouse my grandmother was born in had been torn down decades before, the one-room schoolhouse she attended for elementary school through eighth grade, was still there. The school is no longer in use, but it was left standing as one of the few mid-19th century prairie schools still standing in Kansas. As a fan of the Little House on the Prairie TV show I had a foreknowledge of the one-room schoolhouse idea, and she told me that it reminded her of her school but it never made a real impression until we were standing on the steps of her schoolhouse, the full sensory experience made it that that much more real to me.
Life took over as it has a tendency to do, and my draw to history was relegated to a back burner until my grandmother got even deeper into genealogical research, predominantly for the Sullivan side of the family. I occasionally went with her to a local genealogical research library and helped when I could. She eventually put together a book of her research and sent out at least 200 copies to family who requested it. When Nita passed in 2004 my mother, Gini, took over the mantle of family historian and genealogist. When Gini passed unexpectedly on December 23, 2007 the mantle was passed on to me.
Over the following 15 years I had a few opportunities to dig in for several weeks at a time and make some progress, particularly along my grandfathers side, the Wanzer side. On the Wanzer side, my grandfathers, fathers, mother, Malvina “Vina” Abigail CHASE Wanzer. In the Chase family Bible there were some undiscovered documents, at least undiscovered by my grandmother and mother, that sparked my interest again.
Around 2012 I was going through filing cabinets full of Nita’s notes and came across the Bible. Inside was an envelope addressed to Gigi, who I had actually met a few times as a small child, in the envelop were 5 letters from here father-in-law, Andrew “Jack” Jackson Wanzer, to her mother-in-law Vina, while he was serving in the Union Army’s, Wisconsin 5th Infantry Regiment, at the end of the Civil War.
Many people have family letters from the Civil War, some have correspondence from the Revolutionary War period, and a few even earlier, but this was one of those inspiring moments in my history journey. There were some additional documents, a pastoral reference for Vina and her mother, and several sheets removed from another family bible with births, deaths, and marriages recorded, Vina’s being the latest entry.
This discovery reinvigorated my interest in history, archival preservation, and restoration, the bible is in very poor condition with a significant amount of leather dry rot. I recently ordered some preservation materials to try and stabilize the cover before it just crumbles away to nothing. This brings me to my areas of interest, while I am certainly interested in research, in archives as well as in the field, I am also very interested in preservation and restoration, mostly of books and documents, and in collection curation and presentation, i.e. museum work. As a maker and costumer, fun hobbies in their own right, I am also interested in producing museum quality replicas of books, documents, and properties.
In 2004, when my grandmother passed, I finishing flight school. In 2007 I was enrolled in a university aviation program intending on a Bachelors in Aviation. The school went belly up, as did my first flight school. Thinking it very unlikely that my third aviation school would shutter, in 2011 I enrolled in an Airframe & Powerplant school. I did earn an AS in Aviation Maintenance Technologies. This school is still open. After graduation I held Commercial Pilot, Advanced Ground Instructor, and A&P Mechanic certificates from the FAA.
I was sure I was on track for work in aviation education, and I did teach one semester of Airframe at my alma mater. Opportunities in the aviation industry for someone just starting out are tied to a couple of things, long hours, travel, and relocation. None of which were in the cards for me at that time. I do have plans to get beck to flying and building an experimental aircraft at some point. What did go well was an opportunity to spend some volunteer time at an aviation museum.
A few odd twists of timing and opportunity, and I was back in school working on a Bachelor of Science in Religion. Philosophy and theology have been topics of interest for many years, Church History has also been an interesting topic for me so I began working on the degree a year after we moved north to Klamath Falls, Oregon. I started the degree in 2018 and completed it in 2020.
I enjoyed working on that degree but it became clear I would not go further down that academic path. It was also clear that I was going to continue on to a masters program. There are some threads flowing through my journey since the day Nita and I headed out on our adventure to the family reunion in Kansas, I enjoy to teaching, history, and research. I also enjoy the hands-on work, in the field, in the lab, and in the workshop.
Moving forward, I started a Masters program in Spring 2022 that should conclude in Spring 2023. The classes are primarily American History and Military History with a little Historiography. I am looking forward to all of the classes in the program and completing my Masters Degree. Which of the many paths open to historians I will follow is yet to be seen. I plan to teach while I hone my research skills and narrow my field. As I mentioned above, I have a few trade interests as a historian, and I do have subject matter interests, mostly mid-19th century through early-20th century in time frame, conflict and technology, particularly communications as topics, I also have an interest in documents, ships logs, journals, civil records, correspondence, etc.
For me, history is all about connections. Connections to people, their lives, how they lived, what they did and how, how they faced hardships and overcame obstacles. History should not be done solely in the cloistered library or archive, these places are important to be sure, but history is also done in the fields, workshops, and shipyards, doing history. Questions are often answered in process of replication. Do what they did, does it work? Did they have the technology? Are we sure? The Antikythera Mechanism and its replication by maker-historians has changed the way we think about ancient engineering and what was possible by the ancients.