Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I'd met Shirley last at a family reunion in 1993. I wasn't interested at all in the reunion (I was 18) and spent most of the time driving with my cousin in her Fiero.
When I called Shirley this past winter, I knew that I'd met her, but didn't know anything about her at all. After exchanging pleasantries, I began to ask her some questions. Most of my questions were to confirm data that I had already collected. I'd compiled a lot of information from census records and a book called "The History of Park County, Montana” (which I found in the Everett Family History Library by accident). S
he didn't share too much about my grandpa, Eddie, but I did want some specific information about her mother (my great-grandmother), Thelma. "Where did she die?" I asked. She said "Everett, Washington.""No kidding! That's where I live!""Yeah, her and my grandma, Flora. I went to their funerals. Aunt Noni is buried there too. She married a guy named Goodman."
Shirley gave me a couple of approximate death dates, but when I took that information to Evergreen Cemetery in Everett, they weren't able to find a Thelma Williams or Thelma Bullock or Flora Francis Eby or Williams. The cemetery indexes the graves manually, and they aren't able to search by first name.
I called other cemeteries, but heard nothing back. I had the name, and I had a month and year of death for Thelma and thought her mother would be buried next to her. If I could only find one, I could find the other. I did find great, great aunt Noni next to her husband, and walked with my son across that whole section searching each tombstone. Why is this so hard? This would be my first research trip away from family or computer and I was wondering if it all would be this difficult.
Finally, a thought dawned on me. I went to the library and asked them if they had microfilms of the Everett Herald. They did. If Thelma and Flora died in Everett, they would probably have obituaries published. Eureka! I found Thelma, but her last name was Stevens. I read the obituary and the relatives were all in line with what I knew. The chance that anyone else named "Thelma," born in Virginia City, Montana, and having the same relatives’ names (including a father named “Williams”) was beyond possibility.
The more interesting thing was what I found while scrolling through that film.
Just over two weeks before Thelma's obituary, A "Flora Grotts" died. Flora may not have been as uncommon as it is today, but it caught my eye enough to notice. After I printed out Thelma's obituary, I scrolled back and found Flora Grotts. Her obituary was almost identical to Flora's, with the same relatives listed. Her brother's last name was "Eby." I found them both! I printed out Flora's obituary, found Flora's and printed it out, and went back to the cemetery. Armed with the new data, the woman at the cemetery office was easily able to produce the locations, and gave me copies of their burial records.
For the first time in my short genealogical quest, I'd become sad. As I stood there looking at the graves of my great grandmother, and great-great grandmother, I imagined what could have made Thelma die so soon after her mother. The loss she must have felt. Then, when she died, how the upset the rest of the family must have been. Finally, it became personal. On an intellectual level, I always knew these were people, but to finally stand next to their graves and read their obituaries made it hit home.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Some of them had writing on the back, but I was hoping not to skew anybody's judgement on who is in the photograph. If there is a discrepancy, I can bring it up, but this is probably the most scientific way to learn more
Now I can go to bed. Good night.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
"There are more around here somewhere," Mom said. "There's a whole box of stuff."At the same time, Dad was looking for his father's pocket watch to give to me. Since I was the only one really interested in the family's history, and I was named after him, he felt I should have it. Plus, he was suffering from liver problems (despite never being a drinker) and waiting for a transplant, so he felt it was the time to pass it to me. We didn't find the watch and didn't find the box. I talked to Dad almost every day, sometimes about his family, but most of the time about work and cooking and stuff.
Dad called me on December 22nd at one o'clock in the morning. "I got a liver! I'm going to the hospital to get ready for the transplant!" I was excited and worried, but he said there was something like a 95% success rate. The surgery went fine for the most part, with a minor heart "event," but when the anesthesia wore off, he was awake and joking and we were all so excited. He wanted us to open presents on Christmas Eve without him, but he called us from the hospital, probably sad that he was missing it. For the next week, his stay at the intensive care unit kept being prolonged. Then they stuck a tube down his throat and put him under. After 50 days in the ICU, my dad died with my mom and my brothers and I holding his hands. I'm still not over it and am having a hard time writing this.
I started writing all I could remember about him and asked my kids to do so too. To me, the only way he could live on is if it was written down. All of the stories and experiences and knowledge and love that he had were gone. Why didn't I write anything down before? Because he wasn't supposed to die yet.
My mom has been clearing stuff out of her house since. Our whole family chose a few things that were meaningful to us. I took Dad’s barbecue, old oil can, some of his clothes, and a wooden tool box that was my great-uncle's. I didn't want to throw anything away. Bit by bit, mom has organized the house and become more aware of what is there. She came up to my house to spend some time with my kids two weeks ago when I wasn't home. She called me when she was leaving and said "I left a box of stuff for you.
When I opened it, I saw that it had some genealogy stuff, so I closed it up and dropped it off. I found Eddie’s pocket watch too." "What's in the box?" I asked. "I don't know," she said, "I just saw what it was and figured you could go through it."When I finally got home, I immediately went to my study to take a look. It literally took my breath away. Hundreds of photos, documents, and cards had been tossed in there. Here is some of the most interesting stuff:
- A complex diagram with an accompanying notebook listing over one hundred names of my relatives.
- My great grandmother's half-brother had created it and sent it to her.
- My grandfather's report cards, school reports (including an autobiography), and photos
- A huge wall descendant tree chart from a family reunion
- Personal photos of a German soldier that was taken from his pocket by one of my grandfathers
- A copy of a lengthy family history from one branch of my family I knew nothing about
- My first photographs of many ancestors
Now I have so much stuff that I almost don't know where to start. I've gone from a couple three-ring binders less than a year ago to portable file boxes and now I've filled up most of a huge four-drawer filing cabinet. Time to organize!