I like to say Uncle DeMilt was my favorite uncle, but in reality, he was my only uncle. He was the kind of uncle all the kids thought of as a fun guy. When our family went to visit the lake house, Uncle DeMilt was the one who took everyone out on the sailboat, or in canoes. With water sports, he was in his element.
I never gave much thought to my uncle's name, though admittedly, he did have an unusual name. It wasn't until long after those fun-filled lakeside years that I discovered Uncle DeMilt's first name was, like his father's before him, actually George. Perhaps to differentiate between father and son, the younger became known by his middle name.
I had always thought DeMilt was a name like, say, the surname of movie producer Cecil B. DeMille: unusual, but a name nonetheless. After all, I had to grow up with a name not exactly on the Top One Hundred list for American kids' names, so I could relate.
Come to find out there was a history for my uncle's name, one having to do with a family treasure shown to me only a few years ago, an antique navigating instrument engraved with the family's surname. DeMilt, it turns out, was a namesake linked to the history of the Eggert family's business in New York City from generations before my time.
Though this, for me, is the family story of what my cousin calls an "outlaw"—Uncle DeMilt was my father's brother-in-law—I promised myself that some day, I would trace his family's story and their small part in the history of America's navigational equipment in the 1800s. That "some day" begins this month, finally.