My Mom and I worked together on our family tree during two week-long visits she made to my home. As she leafed through notes and charts, memories from her 50 years of research flowed from her lips.
We had spent weeks together last year scanning pictures of the same people onto the computer. Because we had done that, many of the names we were typing this year were familiar, and some could even be matched to faces.
While Mom recounted her own memories, and stories she had been told, I raced to type enough of her words to form the entire story later. Here are some of our family’s stories she has shared.
“When mother Nina was dying of esophageal cancer in a hospital 60 miles away from her home, the only thing she could keep down was goat milk. Her daughter Freda milked her mother’s goats every morning and drove the 60 miles to the hospital to take the goat milk to her mother and then drove the 60 miles back every day. That was in 1941, before the days of an expressway system so it was a long drive.”
“Uncle Everett was a pro at dressing chickens. He did it so fast that their hearts were still beating when he was finished.”
My Gramps recorded this: “My wife tells a story from her childhood when she and her mother were in different rooms in an old 14 room farmhouse where they lived. Her mother called out that the neighbor lady had her baby and the daughter asked what they named the baby. With the voices bouncing off the walls of the old farmhouse, her mother misunderstood the question and replied “8th of May”. Her daughter passed along to others the unusual name of “Aatha May” the neighbors had named their new baby. That family story brought a chuckle for many years.”
There were two brothers in a family with five children. One served in World War I . When he returned home, he took his brother’s wife away from him.
When my mother’s sister was born in early April, there was a terrible snowstorm. All streets were piled with snow and traffic couldn’t move. The doctor used snowshoes to get to the house in time to deliver the baby.
One man in our family married and had three children. He was gored to death by his 5-year old bull. His widow remarried. Her second husband and her youngest daughter became intimate. She was pregnant with his child when she was 22. The husband divorced his wife and married her daughter. He was labeled by family thereafter with a very unflattering nickname because of what he had done. It’s not surprising the unfortunate wife did not marry again.
I thought it was interesting that my grandmother’s half-brothers married sisters from across the street, but discovered that brothers on my husband’s side also married sisters from another family. Perhaps that wasn’t so uncommon years ago.
There were facts and stories we could include for some people on our family tree, but for others there were names only. Whether or not names had additional information, sometimes the names themselves were interesting. While I wouldn’t have wanted to wear the names as a child, they would be unique to have as an adult and looking back on family history, they are names that stand out now. Not sure if these names show creativity or a lack of creativity.
Thomas Thomas Gilbert Gilbert
Although we named a son after his grandfather who died early, I didn’t realize at the time what a common practice it has been through the years. While research does not reach further back than these boys’ father, perhaps their grandfather’s name was John and that is why one brother is named John and another is named James John.
And then there’s William. Yes, William. Our tree-making included a segment called Adventures in Williamland. There were plenty of Williams in other families we recorded, but in one particular family it was of utmost importance. A father, William, had a son named William W. Then William W passed along the name William to his firstborn son, but that son died in less than a year. Next, they had a girl and named her Mary Jane, and then they had another boy. They named him William. But that William died in infancy also. They must have been a little spooked about naming sons William, for they named their next son Samuel, then had a girl and named her Ann Catherine. Their next son was named Griffith, then came Ellen. Their next child was a boy. Can you guess what they named him? Yes, another William. Four children followed. The third William lived 58 years. He married, but we have no record of him having children or passing on his name to a son. However, the 6th child, Griffith, did marry and named his firstborn son ….you guessed it, William.
At my last count of 25, William is our tree’s most popular name.
As we typed in birth and death dates, we were struck by the infant mortality rate and the large number of children in families years ago. It was impossible not to imagine the disappointment and heartache some families may have experienced as they lost children, sometimes one after another. We realized the impact modern medicine and birth control has had on our country’s family composition. We wondered what the impact will be of the even more recent legislation on marriage in our society. I wished more of our ancestors had written about their lives, but I’m guessing there wasn’t time for such things while they were busy making a living and living their lives.
I’m grateful for the stories we do have. My Mom rattled them off quickly. Some she had heard numerous times. Some she had the presence of mind to scribble on paper as she heard them, and some she typed later. Others we discovered together while we took the sometimes shuffled names and placed them in order on our tree. I scrambled to record the stories so they would last. Now I’d like to match them to the names on Family Tree Maker software so they can be shared on ancestry.com and others can read and enjoy them.
Some stories about our ancestors hit my funny bone. Some stories were sad and difficult to imagine. Other stories warmed my heart. Families, they are all collections of misfits and managers, commoners and community leaders. They are all ours to claim, ours to learn from, and ours to remember. They are our place to belong.