Monday, September 24, 2012

My Mother is Not a Genealogist

My mother liked her stories.  I can imagine her being the quiet one, sitting by with a book while the adults talked.  She said her ancestors came from Connecticut.  She said her cousin Edith disappeared.  She pointed out Lucius Colman's name on the bridge near her house.  Lucius and Lucien were the twins, she said, her great-uncles.  When she was twelve she visited in Holyoke.

Mom's photograph of Samuel and Nabby Colman's grave in Richfield Springs, NY was the beginning of my search for family history.  She transcribed the stone - inaccurately.

Except for the witch, she was only interested in people named Coleman.  When I told her that further research indicated we weren't descended from Susanna North Martin after all, she continued to tell people about the witch in our family tree.  She never forgave Governor Jane Swift for pardoning the accused at Salem.

I spent a lot of time searching for Edith Colman.  Sure, she showed up in the 1880 census with her parents near Cooperstown.  But anything could have happened in the 20 years until the 1900 census. Lots of women married, changed their names, moved west, died in childbirth.  Where did Edith go?  The world of searchable newspapers at finally yielded her story.  It is a tragic one after all, but that is a story for another day.  When I finally got the facts together for Mom, she didn't remember Edith.  But over the years I have enumerated Edith's descendants, and I may meet one in person next month.

Every time we drove up Rt. 91 she remarked on the Holyoke exit.  It was another world for a 12 year old from the country - apartment blocks with courtyards and laundry hanging in between.  I would prompt her, "Uncle.....?" First names, last names; were they Brodericks or Meeneghans?  I may never know. They were cousins.  Just like the cousins in East Springfield they used to visit on the farm.  I'm still looking for the right relationship to place them on the famiy tree.
Social notes in small town newspapers from the early 1900s are a gold mine for family historians.  Teas, vacations, visits from successful adult children all are revealed by the roving reporters.  I found Mom's school plays, Girl Scout camp adventures, and finally in 1936, a trip to Holyoke.  Who did she visit?  Relatives!

[From the Utica Daily Press, Friday, July 17, 1936]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Were You?

People of a "certain" age now have two defining moments in our lifetimes.  For almost 40 years, the "where were you?" question referred to the assassination of President Kennedy.  In 2001 that changed with the terrorist attacks by airplane.  In the first case, I was a kindergartener, but I clearly remember disbelieving the older kids on the school bus, because how could a President be shot? 

On September 11, 2001 I had gone to shower at my mother's apartment because I was in the midst of another bathroom renovation.  The background noise from the little TV soon became the centerpiece of our morning.  Peter Jennings became our closest informant. Although there was a special horror for Massachusetts folks because of the flight that originated in Boston, my focus was on New York City, where I had a personal attachment to the skyline from my years of living in Clifton, New Jersey.  It was in many ways the same sense of disbelief I had felt at the age of five, and in other ways very different as an adult and a parent.

We all know about the range of emotions that came in the days and months after.  I am not going to try to put it into words.  The feeling of silence struck me, though, knowing there were no planes in the sky for days afterwards. Empty.