Toni Schmid takes the phrase “keep the family close” seriously.
The Austin, Texas, resident had sought for years to connect descendants of the Schmid siblings — Joseph, Benedict and Maria — who emigrated from Württemberg, Germany, and settled on the shores of Lake Minnetonka more than 160 years ago.
Her work paid off Saturday, as more than 400 people from around the country descended upon the Gale Woods Farm for the first Schmid family reunion. The gathering was held a few miles from Joseph Schmid’s stone farmhouse, whose ruins were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
A majority were, in one way or another, connected to that first generation of Schmid Americans. They came from more than 20 states and spanned generations.
It wasn’t technically a reunion, because many were unaware they were related until recently. Toni Schmid, who knows the history of the Schmid name better than anyone, said she felt connected to them all.
“I’m just thrilled at how pleased this whole group seems to be,” said Schmid, 65. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
Genealogy has exploded in popularity over the past decade, with websites such as ancestry.com and familysearch.org drawing millions of people seeking to learn about the past.
An Air Force brat who lived around the world before settling in Texas, Schmid first heard of Joseph Schmid’s farmhouse ruins from a cousin in 2009. That piqued her interest, so she hopped online to learn more.
She came upon an article describing the work by the Three Rivers Park District, which owned the property, to nominate the ruins to the National Register of Historic Places. The Park District and the Minnesota Historical Society had, in their bid to get them on the register, done a substantial amount of research on the original Schmid immigrants, she said.
The farmhouse ruins, hidden in Minnetrista off the southern shore of Lake Minnetonka, were added to the National Register at the end of 2015. The listing put the ruins on the track for restoration and preservation.
“I’m getting pretty excited, and I’m telling my cousins that we need to go up there and see this place,” Schmid said.
Her mother’s side, descendants from France and similarly curious about genealogy, had held massive family reunions for decades. Schmid went along, taking notes and figuring out the logistics to organize one of her own.
She began reaching out to potential descendants of Joseph Schmid and assembling her own database of names. She contacted even more people once she learned about Maria and Benedict, who came to the country at the same time and settled just miles away from the Minnetrista farmhouse.
In all, Schmid estimates she reached out to 350 people. “It was slow and kind of painful,” she said. “I made a lot of cold calls. Never got hung up on, though.”
With the help of a family historian, she connected all the lines in the Schmid family name, from the three original siblings to the hundreds of great-great-grandchildren and beyond. (She, for instance, is the great-great-grandchild of Joseph.)
On Sunday, the walls of the Gale Woods Farm pavilion were filled with references to the Schmids: family tree charts, newspaper clippings, marriage certificates and black-and-white photos of the different generations. Descendants gathered around the charts, slowly trying to figure out just how they were related.
Dolores Vos Burger, who lives in Lindstrom and at 101 was the oldest in the room, wore a blue shirt affirming her connection to one of Joseph Schmid’s daughters. A photo of her as an infant, being held by her parents, was printed on the back of the shirt.
Several of her relatives surrounded her, including her son, Al Burger.
“People are, for the most part, interesting,” Burger, 73, said of his relatives. “A person has their own life to lead, and for a good portion of your life you don’t concern yourself with what everybody else is doing.”
Mary Ann Schmid Blume lives farthest away, having flown in from Juneau, Alaska. She grew up in Rapid City, S.D., and remembered vacationing as a child in the Dead Lake Township of Minnesota.
She stood between her brother, who lives in Oklahoma, and her sister, who lives in Colorado. Organizing the gathering, she said, was a “labor of love” by Schmid, who is also her first cousin.
“I need more than a weekend to do this,” said Blume, 56. “I will definitely come back.”
Schmid looked around the room as her relatives sat down together to eat lunch.
Organizing the reunion was meticulous work that paved the way for the next reunion 10 years from now. Schmid said she felt overjoyed that everything, and everyone, ultimately came together.
“I have 25 first cousins, so already I have a large family,” she said. “But now I have many more cousins, don’t I?”