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My Grandma Miller: An Orphan

May 11, 2019

Grandma Barbara Miller and Grandpa Uriah Miller, a little younger than I remember them.

Another Way for week of May 10, 2019

My Grandma Miller: Orphaned

I was fortunate to grow up in a three generational home. Now that I’m a grandmother I’ve been thinking about what a having a grandmother means to children.

My Grandma Barbara Kauffman Miller and Grandpa Uriah Miller, on my dad’s side lived in an apartment or “dawdy haus” (in Pennsylvania Dutch) built on the side of our farm house. It was a precious way to grow up with Grandma and Grandpa just a door away. I remember her sugar cookies and dunking them into large wide coffee cups with a saucer underneath to catch the spills. We loved snuggling with Grandma on her lap: it was very ample, and grandmotherly. I know she loved us dearly even though she was not able to get down on the floor and play (although Grandpa did!).

See Barbara’s name and age–6–and her older brothers. She had additional siblings who were already out of school and some married when she was 6.

On a recent trip to visit my own mother, I was elated to discover a paper showing my grandmother’s enrollment in first grade at the age of six in 1886. That really turned my head: the original document with a list of the other students in her school, including the names and ages of her brothers. They were orphaned when she was five, and bravely she started school approximately a year later.

Barbara lost her mother just 11 hours after she was born. Her mother was 42. This kind of loss was more common at that time, but how sad. It reminds me that there are plenty of women during this month of celebrating mothers, who feel torn and tormented by not having children, losing a precious child, or having an abusive mother or family situation.

Their wedding picture!! So formal!

My grandmother was very attached to her father those first five years. There were nine siblings in all, some of them already married by the time she was born. In a speech she wrote to share at a family reunion about her history, she noted, “me and my father were great chums.” When she became an orphan, she was moved around among relatives. I think not all of those experiences were happy because she got married at 17. That wasn’t considered so young of course in those days, but their marriage blossomed for 67 years, until Grandma died at the age of 84.

I was just ten when she died. We grandchildren all remember Grandpa Miller taking a bud from one of his rose bushes to put in her hand for the days of visitation by friends and family and for the actual funeral service.

A treasured formal photo of my grandma at age 11.

One reader of this column, “Elsie” gave me more insights into the life and times of Grandma Miller. Elsie said she worked as a hired girl in the home of my Grandma and Grandpa while my dad was still at home: she was 18, my father was 19, and his only brother, Truman was 26. She recalled that the family asked Elsie if she could stand to be teased and replied, “Yes, I have two brothers.” Elsie recalled my grandmother having a huge iron skillet which “made the best fried potatoes” she ever ate. She also recalled my grandma making excellent rolled out lemon cookies. Every Saturday, Elsie and my grandma baked around ten pies to feed the family dessert all week.

Grandpa Uriah Miller and Barbara Miller the way I remember them, in front of the playhouse Dad build for us. We have a replica of that playhouse at our home today for our grandsons to play in, also built by my Dad and renovated in 2013 by my husband and daughters.

You can bet that those snippets of memories from my grandma’s kitchen are very precious. May they remind you to write or videotape stories so you and your loved ones will remember and know some of the history of your family. Sometimes it appears that younger folks don’t value or remember family history, but many will come to treasure it, especially as they are older.

Plus, don’t forget to show love and appreciation to the mother you have, even if she wasn’t “the best.” If your mother was destructive or abusive or “not present” much in your life, use the bad experiences to be the best mother (or father) you can be and reach out to children who are in difficult, dangerous, or sad situations. Let’s hear it for great moms—and grandmothers!


Grandpa and Grandma on their outrageous jet plane trip to California from Indiana. My grandpa traveled by covered wagon and jet, all in one lifetime. Love Grandma’s head shawl here and Grandpa’s hat–and cane!

I’d love to hear your memories or stories of your grandmother.


Did your parents or grandparents ever do anything outrageous–read the caption on the photo to the left to learn of an amazing trip they took very late in life.


And if any of you with Indiana or LaGrange County, Ind. relatives see any names you know on the school roster, please let me know!! I would love to hear from you.

Comment here or send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  




  1. What a benefit to grow up in a 3-generational home. I count the blessings of “My Two Homes.” What strikes me about your artifacts is the formality, especially of the photos.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Melodie!

  2. Yes, the formality is so unlike today, right? I love also what my cousins are sharing on Facebook. (One of the better things about facebook, connecting with relatives that we see too seldom). Thanks for the happy wishes and the same for you.

  3. Mary Mishler permalink

    I was looking through your very interesting readings and came across this article! Very interesting! Found my husband Al’s great grandfather Jacob Reinheimer on the school roster!! Also Mary, Carrie, Christian and Lizzie Reinheimer were Jacobs siblings! All there ages are correct according to there birth dates! I have a lot of information on our families history! Love your writings!!! A former classmate .


    • Mary this is exciting, glad you found some connection with your husband’s relatives–most interesting. So, my grandma and your husband’s great grandfather and siblings went to school together! So weird. My Dad was 27 before he got married and in his mid 30s by the time he had me, and Grandma had her children very spread out (Dad was the youngest of 9) so I’m thinking that is why it is my grandma and your husbnd’s great grandfather that went to school together. Interesting. We’ll have to have a mini-reunion of us friends next year. Hope I can come to Bethany’s 50th. Take care!

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