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Tues. May 28th: Some Family History

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<– Day 24 – Mon. May 27th: Peter Debella Jeep Parts  | Trip Overview | Day 26 – Wed. May 29th: Exploring Mystic –>


I undiscovered some gems for my upcoming book on my family’s history.

Over Memorial Day Weekend we stayed  in Sea Cliff, New York, at the Guerci’s house. My relationship with the Guerci’s is another internet-sent miracle. The Guerci’s live in my great aunt Emma’s painting studio, one built on the former Eilers’ Estate.

A few years ago, Leslie contacted me and told me they were living there and were looking for a Emma Eilers‘ painting for their house. Mom and I gave them one for free that needed a little restoration work. Since then, we’ve built a very warm relationship and they have opened their home to Ann and I any time our weary traveling feet climb their stairs. Last weekend they welcomed Karson as well, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to explain some of the family history to him and show him the remaining family homes in the area. I never expected to have that opportunity.

After we said our goodbyes to Sea Cliff, we drove a short distance to Darien, CT, for a dose of family history from a man named George who married one of my father’s cousins.


Tuesday’s drive from Sea Cliff, New York. to Darien, CT.

I’d never met George and barely knew of him before we exchanged a few emails prior to our trip out here. I told him we were traveling east and he invited us to stay right away.


George Ratcliff and I

A former president of a reinsurance company, the eighty-five year old had plenty of interesting family stories from the ‘eastern Eilers’ clan, as well as pictures and information. One of the most fascinating tidbits of information was the reason behind my grandfather’s 1924 trip with his brother through Europe. His mother (my great grandmother) made him take his brother to Europe so that he wouldn’t marry the ‘wrong’ girl. That scheme didn’t work and the man returned from Europe to marry the ‘wrong’ girl anyway and have a happy long life with her.

George enjoyed painting for much of his life. He said that he couldn’t wait to retire so he could paint all the time. However, when he retired, he stopped painting altogether, something he never understood.

George told us about a house on Martha’s Vineyard he and his wife purchased (and later sold – then, it was torn down and replaced). He painted their island house and allowed us to take a picture of it. The painting is full of specific references to family members and life at the vineyard. You might recognize the house as the location used as ‘Brody’s house’ for the first Jaws movie.


George’s wife Jean Eilers passed away a few years ago. In a sweet gesture, he still kept her recipe holder on the counter that held a recipe she’d placed there before she died. The funny thing is, he never liked that particular recipe. He likened his marriage to baseball. Some batters walk up to the bases and strike out a few times. If they are lucky, they might hit a home run. With his wife, he walked up to the plate and hit a home run on the first pitch. With a batting average of 1000, he explained, he has no desire to step up to the plate again. Very romantic.

A little family history:

Below is the first page of an 1859 story that was originally written in French by my great great grandmother’s brother, Eugene Farny. In it he describes the Farny family’s move in 1959 (along with all their possessions, including horses and chickens) on a 30-foot raft from Tionesta, Pennsylvania, down the Allegheny River to Cincinnati. It was quite the journey!


Here’s a photo of my great grand parents, circa 1913, sitting at a desk. It may have been part of a photo shoot for their 50th wedding anniversary. I can’t think of another reason to create such a casual photo.



This photo of the family hiking in the Alps was likely taken in 1914, just prior to the start of the war. My family got stuck in Germany as WWI engulfed Europe.


My great grandfather Karl is far right. Next to him is my great grandmother Leonie. Their daughter Leonie is behind them, followed by their youngest son Farny and their oldest son, my grandfather, Fritz.

Another interesting piece of art was this painting by Emma Eilers showing Farny Eilers, my grandfather’s brother, riding a bike around his parents house (my great grandparents place). The house still stands in Sea Cliff.


Not the best photo of it, but it’s an unusual painting, as I believe it is one of only two paintings Emma did that included a male. She preferred painting landscapes and women.

We had a great time with George, as he was full of stories. On Wednesday, we drive to Rhode Island.

<– Day 24 – Mon. May 27th: Peter Debella Jeep Parts  | Trip Overview | Day 26 – Wed. May 29th: Exploring Mystic –>


2 Comments on “Tues. May 28th: Some Family History

  1. Alan Johnson

    Hi there I live in Norway Maine. I highly recommend that you visit the Owls Head transportation Museum. Their website is I have been following your website ewillys for about a year. I am a WW2 living history rein-actor. I grew up with 3 Willys Overland Whippets my Dad had and loved them. After I started doing WW2 living history events I had an opportunity to ride in a Ford GPW. I was in love instantly with Willys jeeps. It must be part nostalgia, they sound so much like the Whippets I rode in growing up. We also went offroading through the woods and that beat all! I am constantly looking for a fixer upper I can make a project with my son. If you are headed up rt. 26 email me. I’d love to say hi.

  2. mmdeilers Post author

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for the suggestion. If we break camp early enough Sunday morning we’d planned to go by there, but if we don’t we’ll have to pass on it (this time). I know they have a great collection.

    My earlier plans had us on/near route 26, but now we’ll be heading farther south before making the cut through New Hampshire. We’ll be spending Sunday night in Montpelier or Burlington. We plan to head north and travel along the Canadian border before dropping into NY.

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