Family Stories

3 03 2017

barnett-family-1900ish-005
March 3, 2017

I’ve been doing some family genealogy research and I enjoy the detective work, putting together pieces and tidbits into a tidy whole (at least when I can). In the process, I’ve uncovered some information that has left me wondering about the value of this work.

Several years back, I learned that a great-grandmother from Connecticut had died in New York City in early 1929. When I received her death certificate, I was shocked to discover that she had jumped out an apartment window. She and her husband had been in NYC only a few weeks. Why were they there? Was her issue emotional? Some family lore indicated that she had cancer. Perhaps it was to escape the pain and inevitable? We may never know.

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My great-grandmother who lost her infant son

Recently, I discovered that my grandmother had a younger brother who was still born. Her parents lived on a farm miles from a hospital and the cause of death was listed as “pressure effects and prolonged labor.” I hated the vision of my great-grandmother out in the country going through a long and fruitless labor. I wondered if he were buried somewhere; I’ve seen no record of it in the cemetery where this family is interred. Did they ever speak of this child? How would he have changed the family?

Then I learned that this same grandmother had a niece (half-niece actually) whom I’d not know existed. Her death certificate indicated she died from intestinal tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1927 in my home town. Her mother, my grandmother’s half-sister, had died eight years earlier (angina pectoris) and her uncle, my grandmother’s father had passed (chronic intestinal nephritis and pulmonary edema) five years before that. Two years later my grandmother’s sister, with four young children, lost her husband in a plane crash at the Chicago World’s Fair.

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These years in the early twentieth century were fraught with danger that impacted these ancestors, my people. They had left a dismal Eastern Europe and forged lives here in America that likely were immensely better than they would have had. But how do people handle these losses of family? How do they move on, under the cumulative uncertainty of who might be next? And why do I think I need to know this, to pass this on to future generations? Some of these facts were likely intentional family secrets. Couldn’t I have left them unearthed and allowed them to fade into nothingness? Or do they need to marked, noted, and honored?

Last month, I was waiting for the microfiche machine at the library to look for obituaries for some of the family mentioned above. A (handsome) young man was researching the 1938 hurricane and we started talking. He really wasn’t interested in the storm, but more how people shared information in those days. We discussed my genealogy research and he asked me, “Why are you doing this?” I managed to give him some type of an answer at the time. But since then, I’ve learned some of this other family history. And the truth of why I do this?

I really don’t know.

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3 responses

3 03 2017
Family Stories | Beth Lapin

[…] Source: Family Stories […]

4 03 2017
Robin

I truly believe that we are all a composite of family who came before us. Those traits in ourselves that cannot be explained by looking at our immediate circumstances or our parents – maybe it is from these distant relatives. Also -it is critical to remember the past and learn from it even if the lessons are not immediately apparent. Re our great grandmother – wonder if anyone spoke to her about how she wanted to live out the rest of her life or did she hide her illness and if so, why? I have so many questions but all worthwhile ones today as well. My two cents …..

6 03 2017
Beth Lapin

All these unanswered questions. I wonder what our great-grandchildren will wish they’d asked us.

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