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Genealogy Family Secrets

Researching Indirect Relatives May Provide
Unusual Stories Not to be Missed

Today’s Post:  Dead Line Child — William Byron Baker — 22 May 1930 to 29 February 1936 — Fact that can Read Like Fiction
By J. B. Trayer

When Marlene Badger first started showing me her hard researched do’s and don’ts of genealogy she made one point perfectly clear — Always Go Wide, meaning just don’t focus on your direct blood line alone, take the time to gather information on siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., of your direct relative.  Family Group Sheets are imperative for a variety of reasons, especially when you can’t find something on your direct ancestor, yet plenty appears for a brother or sister in genealogical data.  Somewhere within their information you may discover what you need for your own direct-line research.

There is another advantage — a purely emotional one. Once you encourage yourself to go wide, you’ll find a plethora of interesting stories that can be added to your own collection on the general family name.  Sometimes you’ll get so emotionally attached to these indirect relatives that you just can’t seem to stop yourself from researching further, even if you know in your heart the information has no relevance to your own direct line.  You become caught in the story they left behind, entranced by something… a strange newspaper article, a haunting photo, or a group of census records that just don’t add up and the mystery carries you along until you have satisfied yourself with the conclusion.  This is especially so with children who shared this earth for a short period of time.  They won’t leave a direct blood line for you to follow; yet, there is a part of you when you find them that just won’t quit.  They need to be acknowledged, and you find yourself putting just as much importance on them as your own direct relative.

Every family has stories and anecdotes of indirect relatives, and in the telling over the years, you can bet that a great deal of the embellishment has no basis in fact.  Yet, they are fun stories, interesting facts, or tearful memories that make up the tapestry of your combined family history.  Most importantly, this history belongs to you, and if you are so lucky, your children and great grandchildren.  When you are interested in genealogy it is most often not for yourself alone that you research — it is for those to come.  Your eyes are always on the future, even though your nose is buried in the past.

When writing down a family story realize that you may not always know the right answers, and you can couch your verbiage in a way that explains this very fact.  Newspaper articles, obituaries, diaries, census records, wills, etc., can help support what you’ve been told.  It is okay to draw conclusions as long as you are clear this is your analysis.  Someone else in the family may study the same story and get an entirely different end scenario of the events.  That’s okay.  People make judgments based on their beliefs, their background, and their current emotional situation in life.  These conclusions are not always logical.  Things like religion, politics, and self-esteem can, and will, pummel your story from another relative’s point of view.  Truth is an enigma, after all.

Such is the case of William Byron Baker, a little boy who died tragically of an unknown malady at the age of six.  Billy would have been my uncle, had he lived to adulthood.  His brief sojourn here on planet earth and in the Baker family left a lasting impression on all who knew him, and these memories are those I heard from several older family members as I grew up.  Billy came to the forefront of my interest this past month when I decided I would drag out that proverbial shoebox of stuff I hadn’t gotten around to organizing in my family notebooks.  Sometimes, you are so concentrated on making headway on your direct line pedigree that you leave the more recent historical information you have to gather a bit of dust.  You already know the information, even have a few photos, so the mystery that might drive you isn’t really there.  We forget, I think, that just because we know this information, others in the family do not.  I’d promised myself that I would scan a large number of pictures into my gedcom file, and update my tree on-line as well.  As I was working through the photos — scanning, annotating, and inserting them into my private tree and the one on-line — I came across several of Billy that I never really paid attention to.

Hmmm, I thought, as I looked at some of the snapshots.  So…just who did have a camera in 1934?  Several of the photos weren’t professional.  I wondered who, in my family at that time, could actually afford a camera.  And, how interesting, that the only photos I have of those years in that family unit…are of Billy or have Billy in them with his mother and brother (my grandmother and father).  I realized that I’d never written Billy’s story for my genealogy notebooks, about his unusual meeting with death, nor what happened…afterwards.  My mind drifted to what I remembered hearing about Billy.

The Story of Billy Byron Baker

William Byron Baker at approximately 5 years of age

August.  Sweltering.  I am a teenager not yet driving and my normally over-protective mother has allowed me to ride my bike across town to frequent the local pool on one condition — I must always check in with my Grandfather Baker who lives one block away from the swimming club.  I have no problem with this.  My Grandpa Sam is pretty cool, even if he is in his early eighties.  He gives me rock hard cookies he baked himself, homemade iced tea, and pocket change for the pool vending machine on a regular basis.  He also shares with me, that blistering summer, stories of family and life in the early part of the 1900’s that I will take with me to my grave.  I don’t realize this then, of course, I’m too busy relishing my new found freedom from a West Virginia bred Scorpio mother who never did lose her distrust of her Pennsylvania relatives and co-workers.  Oh yeah.

We always sat in the kitchen, my grandfather and I.  He had his chair, facing the back door.  I had mine, angled toward the white wooden cupboards filled with a variety of mismatched dishes.  The cupboards were particularly special in this house because they were hand painted by my grandmother and decorated with distelfinks of her own design long before I was born.  Although she passed a year or two before, her presence could still be felt with those magickal birds of good will.

Sunny.  That kitchen, even though it was positioned primarily in the shade of an old cherry tree.  It is how I remember those afternoons, though.  Bright.  Cheerful.  Plastic tablecloth sticking to your elbows.  Dappled light.  That funky, country smell that I still don’t know where it comes from; but, if you’ve ever experienced it, you know what I mean.  Its not bad.  Just…different.

And stories.

But, it wasn’t until I really dove into genealogy that I experienced a strange clicking moment.  You know, like when you are turning the dial on a safe and suddenly the combination softly snicks and the door swings magically open and a true treasure evokes a jaw dropping moment?  Like that.

Truly.

William Byron Baker Studio Photo 1934/1935

There’s so much I could tell you about Billy — William Byron Baker — and these things are always mixed with poignant sadness.  I never met Billy.  How could I?  He died in 1936 at the age of 6; yet, his death resounded through the family with such heartbreak that it resonates in my own life.  Indeed, I deal with the results of Billy’s death now, seventy-five years later, with the behavior of my father, a man whose fear of loss is so astronomical that he sits paralyzed by it in a big, old recliner, watching the western channel all day.  A thousand times, it seems, I’ve heard various stories about William Byron.  My Dad even has a toy that belonged to him.  A wooden monkey that climbs up and down a stick.  It sits safely in a drawer near my father’s chair.  It is one of the few things he remembers these days — Our Lady Dementia his only mistress.

The short saga of Billy’s death is very unusual. It is a tale of death, justice, and perhaps…revenge.  My sources are from two people — my grandfather and my father — told at different times by father; but, so painful, only once by my grandfather.

On that summer afternoon.

In August.

In the sanctity of the Baker family kitchen.

“Neighbor boy hit him with a rock in the back,” said my grandfather.  “Never healed.”  He shook his head.  “Left a hole that just kept getting larger.  By the time he died, it was as big as a softball.  To this day we don’t know what it was.  Doctors couldn’t do anything.  Your grandmother even went to a Braucher.”

“What’s that?” I asked, as I crunched through one of those concrete snickerdoodles my grandfather loved to make.

“A Pow-Wow.  Faith healer of sorts,” he answered.  “Your great grandmother was one; but, she was long dead, so your grandmother found a man to come.”  He shook his head again, his faded blue eyes staring at a tragic mental scene I could not see.  “They couldn’t do anything, though.  They said we called him too late.”

“What happened to the nasty boy who hit Billy with the rock?” I asked, my own fury slowly burning at the injustice of it all.  “How dare that mean boy hurt Billy!  Just a little boy!  Only six years old!” I said.  “As my father tells it,” I went on.  “He and Billy were outside the house, and this awful bully ran up behind Billy and slugged him with the rock square in the back.”

My grandfather nodded.  In the Baker family there has always been a lot unsaid on any subject.  It isn’t a gossipy family, in general, this unit.  Almost entirely German and Scottish stock, closed mouths on personal business has always been the norm.  It went, unsaid then, that day with my grandfather, my Dad’s entire telling of the story.  My father, at the time, was aged nine.  He was supposed to look out for Billy.  That was his job in the pecking order of the family, the others available for baby duty being older, male, and uninterested in watching out for their littlest brother, who to hear my father tell it, was viewed as a burden by his older siblings.  Until my father began to lose his mind, he carried the guilt for not standing up for Billy his entire adulthood.  He was supposed to protect Billy.  He didn’t.

All this went unsaid.  My grandfather knew the guilt my father carried.  He made no mention of it.  My attention drew back to my grandfather, who was strangely silent until I looked straight at him.  I was hoping that he would answer my question of what happened to the bully.  He didn’t.

Instead, he said, “All the neighbors made fun of your grandmother for calling that Pow-Wow in… you know, when your great grandfather died, D.B.?  They burned everything.  All of his personal things.  All his papers.  They say the Johnstown Flood was a terrible thing.  That was back in ’36.  Your grandmother was never the same, after that.  Took a lot of life out of her.”

I could understand the loss of a child and my grandmother’s heartbreak.  How the flood that occurred almost three hours away driving distance and my great grandfather’s papers related to Billy, I wasn’t sure.  Indeed, at the time, I didn’t know a thing about Johnstown or the horrific disaster that occurred there.  By now I’d lost interest, itching to get to my friends, swimming fun and maybe an ice cream or two.  As I peddled down the street toward the distant sound of splashing and delighted squeals I forgot all about the morose story of little Billy, his wasting disease, or my father’s small part in it.

Lottie Grace Baker, Living Relative, William Byron Baker and Skip the dog.

My question of what happened to the boy who threw the rock went unanswered for thirty-eight years.

Now, you might think that my grandfather, at eighty, was just letting his mind wander; but, don’t you kid yourself.  He lived to be 100, and stayed in his home taking care of himself into his late nineties.   Unlike my own father now at approximately the same age as when my grandfather first told me Billy’s short story, his mind was needle sharp.  I attributed his side-dance verbal thread of Billy, D.B., and the flood to the way conversations sometimes go with human stream of consciousness speech (something my entire family is in a habit of doing) and thought nothing of it.  After awhile, I forgot all about it.

In the ensuing years I remembered pieces of the conversation with my grandfather that day for a different reason.  He’d mentioned the Pow-Wow man and that my great grandmother had practiced.  Curious I began to do research and eventually found a man to teach me.  In the meantime, I also learned that my Great Grandfather — D.B. Baker (my grandfather’s father) — was quite a character as well as a graduate from Dickenson College.  In his lifetime he wrote a book, sold textbooks, farmed, and taught school.  His best friends were judges and bankers, politicians and such — let me be clear about this — of a small town.  He had a very varied net of interest — including the occult, and wrote copious letters to relatives in Germany to further his research.  Which is probably why his sister burned all his papers.  This was another story I picked up that summer, verified by my father when he still had his wits about him.  Don’t panic, though.  When I say the word — occult — I’m talking about astrology, phrenology, healing herbs, Braucherei (Pow-Wow) etc. — not devil worship.  These subjects, at the time, were all lumped together under the word — occult, and so for the sake of historical accuracy — we’ll just keep the same label.

Fast forward to 2009.  Dementia patients go through stages which are varied according to personality type.  There are periods of rage or at best anger, normalcy, crystal clarity of the past, and a return to childish behavior, etc.; but, no retention of the day before.  It is as if the hippocampus takes a vacation for long periods of time and the information of the now doesn’t follow the bridge to the long-term memory banks.  This means that you never know what is going to come out of the patient’s mouth.

We are sitting at the dinner table — my father, my husband, and some of my adult children.  We are talking about history.  My father, who takes three hours to eat a meal (no kidding, he chews in ratcheted slow motion) looks up from his plate and says, “You know, so-and-so that hit Billy with that rock?  Rock as big as your fist.  He died in that flood.”

“What flood, Pop?” asked my husband.

My father gave him an irritated are-you-stupid? look.  “Johnstown!  The Johnstown flood!”

I glanced from my father to my husband, who passed me a silent what-the-heck expression.  “Wait,” I said.  “How did the kid who hit Billy with the rock die in the Johnstown flood?  Lemoyne isn’t anywhere near Johnstown.”

“The boy moved,” said my father.  “He hit Billy with the rock!” he said, shaking his fork at no one in particular.  “Billy died.  That family sold everything and took off within the month.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.  They were a crude lot.  Violent people.   Went to Johnstown.  Nasty bastard was dead in no time flat, like Billy.  He got what he deserved, just like old D. B. said he would. ”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I asked.

My father shrugged.  “You didn’t need to know.”

And just like that, I heard a snicking sound in my head.  And my jaw dropped.

You see, my Grandfather Sam (the original story teller) was a pretty slick fellow indeed.  He was always careful what he said and to whom he said it and how he said it.  That Baker thing of no-gossip?  Grandpa Sam certainly understood that if he told a teenager unusual facts they might drift back to her mother who (unlike most of the family) couldn’t normally keep a secret to save her soul, and who may not approve of the unveiling of said knowledge, let alone how it would go through the rest of the family like a Tsunami unlike the world has ever seen.  And so he said nothing of D.B.’s prediction that day.  Nor the untimely demise of the bully.  My mother simply wouldn’t have approved.  Instead, he gave me side-step data, and if I was smart enough, and I thought about it long enough, I would eventually put it together myself.  D.B. had made other predictions during his lifetime that have come true, including the idea of cell phones, television, and something like Skype — no kidding — and remember, he lived before Star Trek.

Except…

I didn’t think this was a prediction, and to this day I’m certain there’s more to it than that.  D.B. (Grandpa Sam’s father) was known to have a tremendous temper.  When you look at D.B.?  Think of a Banty Rooster on crack (except he didn’t do drugs), and that was only when he was angry in the key of minor.  Major fury would make a category five hurricane look like a pansy attempt at destruction.  As a grandparent myself, invested in the lives of my children…I wouldn’t stand down at the death of a grandchild.

I don’t think he did, either.

*******

Historical Information:  William Byron Baker (22 May 1930 to 29 February 1936)
Samuel Cornelius Baker (13 June 1891 to 20 September 1991) Billy’s Father
Lottie Grace Knaub Baker (28 July 1891 to 10 March 1971) Billy’s Mother
Living Family Member:  Brother, my father
Daniel Bentz Baker (D.B.) (10 April 1859 to 14 May 1940)

Story Location: Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, USA

Burial Site of aforementioned family members: Dillsburg Cemetery, US Route 15, Dillsburg, PA.

Johnstown Flood: On March 17, 1936, Johnstown experienced a devastating flood caused by heavy runoff from melting snow and three days of rain.  The 1889 flood is not the only flood in Johnstown’s history that caused significant loss of life and property damage. The most famous of these occurred in 1936 and 1977.  Source:  http://www.jaha.org/FloodMuseum/1936.html

Distelfink: Stylized gold finch (bird) used primarily in Pennsylvania Dutch artwork symbolizing luck, success, and happiness.  Distelfink means thistle-finch in German European and painting them on birth certificates, marriage certificates, hex signs, and home furniture was a common practice in South Central Pennsylvania.

How This Story Relates To Your Own Work
And that’s how I left the end of the story that I recorded — open.  The reader, depending upon his or her own background will now be left to draw their own conclusions.  What did D.B. do?  Did he take his political and family connections and put them to use by so denigrating the bully’s family that they picked up and moved the month of Billy’s death?  Only to vacate into the arms in one of the worst disaster’s of Pennsylvania history?  Or, did D.B. focus his intent on justice in a different way?  Those with more colorful imaginations will draw one conclusion from the belly of mystery and magick.  Those with a belief in an avenging God will think another.  What doesn’t change are the few facts we have:

The kid hit Billy with a rock.
Billy died.
The bully moved.
The bully died within the month in a terrible disaster.

The genealogical facts we have are Billy’s death date and the date of the Johnstown flood.  Upon research, we find the flood date fits the memories of both story tellers.  We tie the flood to the event of Billy’s death through two first person accounts through their narratives.  We also have pictures of Billy, which help to boost the story and give the reader an emotional tie to the child.

Too, Billy’s story is actually two stories — you read about Billy in 1936, and you read about memories of the family unit as time progressed past his death through the eyes of the storyteller.  You learn a little bit about each person mentioned within the story, which makes them seem more real.  Tags like the distelfinks my grandmother painted makes it plausible that she might, indeed, consult a Pow-Wow as that was a strong belief within her childhood.  D.B. was smart (Dickenson College), a character (his temper), and a researcher on the occult as well as other subjects (letters to Germany).  And so forth.

What I’m trying to express to you here is that your genealogical work and what you share with future generations does not have to be boring.  Too often we are accustomed to reading genealogical accounts that are so full of dates and relationship information that the real meat of the story gets lost.  By the end of paragraph one, you are yawing and maybe you’ll get to the end.  To me, that’s what the Ahnetafel or Register Reports are for — and if you like that, that’s fine.  Just don’t forget that there is room for creative expression in your work.  By adding the historical data at the end of the story we’re allowing the reader to relish the story for what it is without sacrificing the facts to fiction.  Many facts in this tale read like fiction — the setting for example, in the kitchen that hot summer.  Although it moves like fiction — it isn’t.  The added touch of photos of Billy throughout the story helps the reader to remember this is a story about Billy even though the major characters in the telling are other folks.  Finally, the postcard type Photoshop 9 collage that will go on my title page in my notebook allows the reader to see all the characters for themselves.

Those interested in facts alone can find them at the end of your story with as many notes as you wish to provide.  In the story of Billy I included the birth and death dates of all the real-life characters, where they are buried, and a cited source for the flood date and the devastation as a result.  I chose my source — a bricks and mortar museum that will hopefully exist in the future, even though access information for the facts is currently on the web.  I also added the definition of a distelfink.  Just because I know what it is doesn’t mean the reader is familiar with this type of stylized art form.  If your inner researcher is truly in panic mode that the facts must prevail, consider using footnotes, or even better — endnotes.  That way you can still satisfy that inner itch for accurate data and still keep the flow of your tale moving in hopes of keeping your future reader interested enough to actually get to the end!

Finally, some of you reading this article are asking — Do you know the name of the bully?  Yes, is your answer.  I didn’t include it for a variety of reasons, and am still undecided whether or not I will put it in the family account.  Our family, as you have read, sees the injury done to Billy and his resulting death as a murder with Billy the victim and the bully the cause of his demise.  Why should the bully be remembered at all other than the fact that Karma definitely operated here with an unusually swift sword?  On the genealogical side, however, there is credence in adding at least his full name and a record of his death in the flood.  What would you do?

Did you find this article helpful?  If so, please leave a comment.  Didn’t find it interesting?  Tell me why.  We can all learn from different points of view and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.  Have a good story of your own?  Please do share!  Thanks for reading!

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Missing Family Units & Search Stories

Write Your Own Search Stories! Let the next generation enjoy your heartfelt prose!

1930 Missing Family Group — Cletus Ward Strader

A cold February afternoon.  Icicles hanging long from the trees and spouting.  The white house across the street stark against a snow grey sky.   I know the world is moving out there beyond my office window.  I just don’t feel a part of it.  I’m cocooned among old photos with no names, documents with faded handwriting, and the oh-so-many mysteries of family genealogy.  Today I am bound and determined to solve one of those puzzles — where the heck is the census information for Cletus, Ina, and Mildred in 1930?  A cursory search on all three names on various genealogical sites came up empty.  It was time to put my sleuthing cap squarely on my head.

I have always lived in Pennsylvania; but, not so for Cletus (my grandfather), Ina (my grandmother), and Mildred Mozelle (my mother).  They were born, bred, and raised in Upshur County, West Virginia.  I’ve learned that when you are looking for a family group, go with what you know and allow room for error.  It is highly possible that for a ten year period, your missing family group might have moved to another state, and then moved back.  It can happen.

Try Logic First
Review what you know.  If you are a kinetic personality, you may like to set up a story bulletin board in your work area, or use 3×5 cards that you can move around on your desk when you are working on a particular family group.  Every person could represent the one key to success that you are looking for.  What you know about each of these individuals can help you to solve the mystery of the missing group.  In this case I only had three people to work with.  I considered what I knew:

1.  They all lived beyond 1930.  I knew my mother and grandmother, and was present when they passed in later years.  I also knew that Cletus died in West Virginia in 1944.  Therefore, all were alive in 1930.  Therefore, there should be a census record for them.

2.  My grandfather was a West Virginia coal miner.  I’d heard stories about his profession, and found that he worked in Century No. 2 mine according to his obituary.  In 1930 he was most likely in West Virginia.  A quick search for Century No. 2 mine, however, didn’t give me the location of the mine.  If I had to, I could go back to that and dig deeper.

3.  My mother was born in 1928, therefore I knew that the family group was most likely (notice I said, most likely) together in 1930.  Her birth certificate indicates Buckhannon, Upshur, West Virginia.  Given that they were all together in 1930 they may still be in Upshur County.  Unfortunately, the 1940 census records at the time of this search are not available.  I could, however, search business directories if necessary.

With these three facts in mind — my mother’s birthplace because the date was in close proximity to the census date, Cletus’ employment, and that they were all three living in the selected year — my focus should be on West Virginia first, Upshur County second, and possibly the Buckhannon district.  I then looked at the most unusual name of the three individuals.  Ina is an odd name, so is Cletus.  Mildred is common; but, throughout life she used her middle name as her first — Mozelle.  I’d already plugged in all four names in the search engines with no success.  I finally chose the head of household, Cletus Strader as my focus in reviewing the census records.

Perusing the 1930 Census

Using Ancestory.com I went into the 1930 Census Collection and bypassed the individual search options as they previously didn’t hit.  Instead, I pulled up Upshur County and the districts associated with Buckhannon.  For two hours I searched line by line, checking every head of household entry.  I realized quickly why I couldn’t find my family unit — the handwriting was abysmal, the spelling was atrocious, and the condition of the document images was extremely faded.  No wonder I couldn’t find them in the general search!

As hour two slipped into hour three the sky outside my window blazed a birdie blue.  Sunlight now streamed across the white surface of the house across the street and the sound of melting snow and ice tapped its own beat on the sidewalk outside.  I was just about to take a break when, in Buckhannon District number 4, sheet 20 B, Upshur County, I found my family unit!  Whoopee!

Talk about a messy entry!  All three names were spelled incorrectly, and my mother was listed as Mazelle.  I shook my head.  Even the last name was spelled wrong, and the handwriting was so bad that in tracking back under individual records, I found the family unit listed as Anders — of course it wouldn’t come up in previous searches — the last name was totally different!  I’d been dealing with a faulty record to begin with and a transcription error on top of that.  I didn’t blame the transcription process — if I didn’t know what I was looking for, I would have probably made the same mistake.  Luckily, Ancestory.com allows you to add transcription changes so that future folks can find the information easier.  On the other hand, I did mutter an explicative or two in regard to the enumerator’s handwriting and spelling abilities.  I wondered who that person knew back in 1930 in order to get the job in the first place.  Argh!

Collecting the Data

The best way to work with the census records is to use a blank form (you can get them for free at Ancestry.com) and copy the census information onto the form.  Yes, you can digitally copy or photocopy  the actual record (which I do) to your tree and put a hardcopy in your file without writing anything out; however, when you take the time to write each entry by hand you get to know the family unit better, see things that you might have ignored before, and have a legible copy as a bonus.  This process takes only a few minutes and allows quick eyeball review for information that can be used in later searches.  By the end of the day I’d added the information to all three individuals on my tree both on-line and in my hardcopy notebooks.

Search Story

By the end of the day, I was excited about what I’d found; but, when I tried to share the information with my family they were all just too busy.  Genealogy is a subject that you have to be enamored with to appreciate it.  Someone 2,000 miles away may congratulate you whole-heartedly on your success; but, the people you are doing it for, right under your nose, won’t put much import to it at the moment because their life cycle hasn’t brought them to the place where they are ready to quietly enjoy the mystery — and that’s okay.  As I cleared the table after that night’s supper I realized that whenever I showed my research to family members, all they saw were charts, data, old documents and perhaps some pictures.  There was nothing there to really bond them to the material.  All they saw were burgeoning notebooks filled with boring facts.  They needed a presentation, of sorts, to hold their focus.

I decided that I didn’t want to lose this moment of personal joy in solving just one piece of the puzzle that would be locked away in a musty notebook.  Instead, I wrote about it, and developed a new format for my genealogical books — pages that say:  Search Story, along with artwork and how I found the information.  It took a bit of ingenuity.  I worked with PhotoShop9 and Word2007 to create a background template that could be used for multiple stories, though I’ll change the theme per family generation to keep the book interesting.

To me, the journey is just as exciting as the mystery and I really wanted to share that with my family.  Someday, somewhere, someone will be delighted when they find these stories.  I probably won’t be around when their interest brings them here.

But, my stories will.

And that’s enough for me.

In the Beginning…

Lottie's Reminder

“I’m bored,” said Marlene.

“Me too,” I replied, and then concentrated on my soup.  I hadn’t seen Marlene in…geeze…ten years?  Okay, I’d run into her around town, said a few words; but, I’d gone my way and she hers.  Once upon a time we were good friends.  Life, kids, spouses, work… got in the way.  And then, a week ago, she called me and said something about lunch.   So.  Here we were.  Eating lunch at the local diner.  Catching up.

It wasn’t so much that I was bored.  Exactly.  I felt…adrift.  A tad angry.  And old!  I was staring my 55th birthday in the face, three of my grown children had long left the nest, with the fourth one  (presently eating lunch with us) still hanging in there, trying to find his way in this gawd-awful economy.  When he graduated five years ago, I thought my husband and I were finally free to do the things we wanted to do.  I was euphoric that I no longer had to be so darned responsible every moment of my waking life.  In that same month, my father became ill, was hospitalized, somewhat recovered, and walked smack into Alzheimers.  Although its not right — my anger at my circumstances boiled — that my career had been derailed by the needs of others.

Again.

By the time Marlene called for that fateful lunch I was monitoring medication, cooking full meals, doing laundry, playing cabbie for doctor appointments — flap hand, yada — for my 84-year-old father who simply refused to do anything for himself.  We’d just gotten over a major fight because he insisted on pissing in a bucket instead of walking ten paces to the bathroom.  He didn’t see the sense in using the brand new toilet if the bucket was at hand.  I won the battle; but, carried emotional wounds and the near miss memory of a swinging cane.  Although my husband of thirty years was sympathetic, he’d long since retreated to the television on a daily basis as soon as he got home from work, nurturing his own frustration in the boob tube escape.  I felt like an unappreciated, old biddy servant who’d be better off dead.

Yeah, bored was a good catch-all word — and then some.

“I’m thinking of taking a genealogy course,” said Marlene.  “I’ve been doing it for years; but, I’m sure I could learn something new.  The local historical society is giving a class.  Its forty bucks — six weeks.”

“You know,” said my son.  “You two should do something together.  You really need to get out of the house more, Mom.”

Hmmm.  Ain’t that the truth.

“Why not go to class with me?” asked Marlene.  “I’ll even come and pick you up.”

“I don’t know…” I hesitated.

“I think its a great idea,” encouraged my son.  “You should do it!”

I could feel my right eyebrow raise.  Genealogy?  Okay, so I knew that meant looking into your family history.   I knew some things about my family, especially my father’s side — my mother’s side was a different story and I’d always been curious…

“Oh come on,” wheedled Marlene.  “We’ll have fun!”

Had I but known.

We waited about a month for the class to start, which gave me plenty of time to prep my husband and father.  Hubby was great about it — not so my father.  At the time, whenever my father knew I was going somewhere he would have “spells” — sometimes they were angry outbursts, sometimes he would just collapse on the floor (no, not writhe or black out — just plop down), and other times he would push my buttons with well placed words of complaint.  However, I remained firm.  I was going to that class if it killed me because my lifestyle was certainly murdering my brain now!  Oh, did I mention that my father is OCD?  Yeah — mix that with Altzheimers and see what sort of puppy you get.

The night of my first class came and my father decided he would take three hours to eat his dinner (he usually takes two — no kidding).  He played with his food as much as possible so I couldn’t clear the table before I left.  When Marlene came to the door he tried to brain the dog with his cane, screaming at me that some woman was on the porch.   I gave my husband a look of quiet thanks, grabbed my notebook and literally fled.

In the next six weeks my father calmed down about my leaving, resigned I guess, that there would be a time or two that I would be unavailable for a few hours.  Every week my husband would make a of point of helping me gather my genealogy gear and usher me out the door.  Marlene and I had a great time.  Suddenly, around week five, I noticed I wasn’t so angry with my life any more.  By week six I knew how to spell the word genealogy, bought the Family Tree computer program, and had 235 people in my tree.  I worked on my tree, at first, on the weekends and about once a week — building, documenting, and researching.

Throughout the genealogy course my husband asked me if I’d started his tree yet.  At the time I snorted, because although he was supportive, he had no real clue how much work it was.  He was just happy that I was becoming a human being again, and I think that he thought that if I finished my tree I would go back to the old me.  Understandable.

When our class ended, Marlene didn’t want to give up our weekly time together.  “Why not meet at my office (she owns several businesses),” she said.  “Let’s keep going!”  She asked a few others in the class if they would like to participate, and they agreed.  Marlene is an excellent researcher and I owe her a great deal.  Not only did she provide the means to pull me out of my mental muck, she gave me tons of good advice on just about everything on the subject of genealogy.

In the following weeks I bought a subscription to http://www.newspaperarchive.com , http://www.Genealogybank.com , and http://www.Ancestry.com .  I was really getting into this new genealogy thang.  In honor of Marlene, I bought the rights to my website — Gravediggersgenealogy.com (Marlene’s father among other things, was a grave digger, and his father before him).  I didn’t exactly know what I was going to build; but, I knew I wanted to build it.   Marlene took me on my first historical society archive trip, and I found a gold mine of information.  I was revved — there’s no doubt about it.

One weekend, my husband drove me all over the county on a Sunday afternoon looking for one particular old church so I could get photos of a few of my ancestors graves.  When we got back he said, “When are you going to work on my tree?”

Ohhhhh.  “Soon.”  Uh-huh.

Later that week my husband said, “I’m bored.  All I do is sit and watch television when I get home.  Everyone else is going places and doing things… and I’m not.”

I felt really bad.  “Give me some names,” I said, “and we’ll start your tree.”

Had he but known.

I’m delighted to say that we  began a whole new and exciting chapter in our marriage.  Genealogy gave us both something different to explore, time together, good conversations, and a common interest other than my father and our children.  Recently, we joined Find A Grave, and have started to take pictures for others across the country.  This blog is about our adventures, the mysteries we ran into (and continue to wrestle with), things we have learned, and hopefully…just cool stuff about genealogy.  Our website is still in its infancy and we hope that as we grow, it too, will grow in interesting material and content.  Don’t worry, we didn’t leave Marlene behind.  You’ll be reading about her, too.

Come join our crew — the GraveDigger Genealogy gang.  We’d love to have you travel the road of ancestral history with us.  The more the merrier!

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