We all have people. You know, like the people next door, the people we meet, the people we work with, but I think when most of us use the term ‘people’ they are imagining family.
My birth family was pretty small– just my parents, my sister and I, one set of grandparents in the city of our suburb, and the other set in a trailer next to the Seminole Indian reservation in Central Florida (long story).
My father was an only child. No one in his extended family liked each other much. The back-breaking manuel labor of working the railroad lines and drinking away your salary at the end of the week which resulted in weekly bar brawls fueled by cheap hootch and pissed-off wives, had seen to that.
My mother had two sisters, but one had run-off with a priest to Texas and the other stayed in Florida (My parents moved to Ohio from sunny Florida because they were always bucking the trends).
I grew-up being told that my Dad was English (and maybe Jewish somewhere along his line since that’s what I remember hearing behind closed doors when my grandmother was pissed at my grandfather) and being certain that my Mom was French Canadian because I could barely understand a single word I ever heard those grandparents’ speak and when my mom was really pissed at me she swore in French, which, btw, does not have the intended effect.
Later on, after I married into a large family, and became aware that they not only knew a lot about their heritage (Czech/Swede & English) but that they were proud of it, I wanted to know more details about mine, but by that time all of my grandparents had passed and my Mom & Dad didn’t really know more then that, and I wondered, ‘What’s wrong with you people?’ (which is something I’ve asked myself repeatedly in a myriad of situations over the years), but because it was 1991, and our son’s First grade teacher told use we needed to get this new thing called a Personal Computer for the house because she just knew it was going to be the future and she thought Chase should write that future, and I said, ‘Are you kidding? Do you know how much those things cost?’ so we took out a loan and bought a first generation PC that was about as big as the freezer in our fridge and had it’s own room- I was able to do the research.
On my own.
And it has been quite a ride.
Before there was Ancestry (dot.com) there was the Ancestry Repository of the Church Of Latter Day Saints (which maintain that one should know who their ancestors are so as to have them greet you at the Pearly Gates and show you the ropes as you negotiate with The Lord in Heaven because if you thought LIFE was a negotiation ETERNITY’s gonna be a bitch), and they just happened to have a lot of information transcribed and available on the interwebs and since now I had access to the interwebs I dialed-up and if there wasn’t an electrical storm outside and there were no incoming phone calls, I was in my own kind of Heaven.
Twenty-four years later, I have unearthed:
* That one female ancestor had 18 children. Are you frigging kidding me? She had a baby every year after her nuptials….and then she died. Who wouldn’t?
* That one of my paternal great grandmothers birthed 14 children (again- really?) and that the oldest child was committed to an insane asylum four months after she died, (and her husband married her sister) and where she – my aunt, remained for 30 years, with her teeth removed because she bit another inmate and that inmate died as a result of those wounds. Interestingly, my father had never heard her name mentioned in all of his life. Not one visitation is recorded over those 30 years. She is buried next to her mother.
* That the golfer Tom Watson is my paternal grandfather’s Uncle’s son.
* That many of my ancestors owned and operated saloons with ’cause of death’ listed as ‘liver failure’.
* That one of my gggrandfathers hold’s two industrial patents on mechanisms that were pretty much obsolete by the time he filed them. One was a beer bottle holder that rotated tabletop-style. The other was a very complicated drapery rod. Why? I don’t have a God damn clue. His wife finally kicked him out and his last census record is in a flop-house in another state. He lists his ‘Occupation’ as ‘Inventor’. It should have read ‘Clueless’.
* That one ggrandfather died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 and is buried in a Pauper’s Field. Make of that what you will. I know I have.
* That another ggrandfather was a Justice Of The Peace. He mostly married his family members- to each other.
* That my maternal grandmother was an illegal alien until she was 54 and would have remained illegal if immigration services hadn’t knocked on her door at 2:30 in the morning threatening to deport her. I can imagine her hysterics in French. “Mais je na bebes dans ce pays!”: But I have babies in this country! “Mon mari honnete homme, le poissson trop, mais bon!”: My husband good man, he fish too much, but good!, and “Je tue personne!!: I kill no one! The officers probably just gave up. She got her papers pronto, btw.
* That there have been a few ‘pre-mature’ births of ‘full-term’ babies along the way- just sayin’.
* That 1st cousins married–a lot. A few had to get special dispensation from the Catholic Church- and they did.
* That I have ancestors that have fought in the Revolutionary War, The French and Indian War, The War of 1812, The Civil War, and each World War. My father’s cousin Jimmy, the only child of my Aunt Irene, died on an army base here in the States, during the Korean War, without ever seeing action. His death certificate remains ‘classified’. I don’t know where he’s buried.
* That there has never been a fortune made that wasn’t lost.
* That I’m only the second to graduate from College (after my father) and the first female. I am the ONLY person that ever went on to graduate school– until recently.
* And that, I am, of course, a direct descendant of Royalty.
But one of the most interesting tidbits that I have unearthed was that some of my PEOPLE are buried right here in Louisiana- and they’re Cajuns (Which were Acadians expelled from French Canada by the British because they wouldn’t sign an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown).
They were rounded up in the woods of Nova Scotia and herded onto ships in the Bay of Fundy, crammed hundreds over capacity, to Baltimore, Maryland, in the year 1761, to rot on the docks, until the City procured transport to French territory in the South, and they landed in New Orleans, and made their way upriver to St. Gabriel, and mingled with slaves and Indians and malaria and exotic spices and started all over again.
And I found them….
These are my people too.
Who are yours?