In Search of Aunt Lizzie

Aunt Lizzie lived at the top of the steepest hill in the Valley. The half-gravel half-dirt road leading to her two story white clapboard house crisscrossed the hill to reduce the steep incline. Of course, in 1906 when the house was built, there were no cars but it would have made it much easier for both humans and horses to climb as well.

I was never sure why I called her my aunt. I guess because it seemed everyone referred to her as Aunt Lizzie. When my sister needed a costume for the school play, she borrowed one of Aunt Lizzie’s long  dresses. Likewise, when I dressed like a witch one Halloween, my grandmother had me go to Aunt Lizzie’s to borrow a long black dress. Of course it was much too long, cinched up with a belt, but it fit the bill nicely.

My earliest memories of Aunt Lizzie are sometime around 1962 after her husband passed away. I was about eight-years-old when I started going to her house. By this time, her bed had been moved downstairs to the living room as she was in her late 70s. I remember the bed well. The mattress appeared somewhat lumpy although always made to perfection. The small bed with its rounded metal headboard was tucked into a corner away from the front window where a view of the entire Valley came into view.

The front window was silhouetted by faded white lace curtains. An old wing back chair sat beside the window across from a small black and white television. It was there Aunt Lizzie sat every afternoon and watched her “stories” – a common reference to the old soap operas. I can still remember the intros for Guiding Light and As the World Turns playing on the small black and white screen.

Of all the houses in the Valley, this is the one house I recall visiting frequently. I would trudge up the hill, step onto the front porch and tap on the screen door. Sometimes Aunt Lizzie would be napping and I would just let myself in and wait for her to wake. Most of the time, however, she was already seated in her chair by the window. I would sit near her and watch her stories with her. I cannot imagine what we talked about, a 77 year old woman and an 8 year old girl.

Sometimes Aunt Lizzie would ask me to get her something from the small kitchen at the back of the house. She often had a small pitcher of water on the sideboard and sometimes a cookie to share. Those were the only rooms I ever entered. I would often stare up the grand staircase and wonder what beautiful things must be in those rooms no one ever saw. I imagine if I never saw them then surely no one else had either.

Last night my curiosity piqued. Exactly who was Aunt Lizzie? With the help of Ancestry, I dug into her background, working backward. Surprisingly, I discovered she was my Aunt. More specifically, she was my Grand Great Aunt – a half sister to my paternal Great Grandmother. Her name change after marriage is what made me think we were never really related. It made me wonder if my grandmother (her niece) sent me to check on her or take things to her. If she did, those memories have escaped me.

I try not to be regretful looking back. She may have known all the stories about what life my Great Grandmother lived and why her family ran my Great Grandfather out of town. If only I had been older and knew more and if I had been more curious. I am still content, however, remembering that 8 year old girl sitting in that huge house at the top of the hill, watching Aunt Lizzie’s stories taking for granted the view splayed just outside the window.

Blog, throwback thursday

Throwback Thursday #59 – Passing on Family Stories

Lauren is in charge of the prompt this week and I am looking forward to responding. She is tackling one of my favorite topics.  Head over to her blog to read the rules and join in.

This week’s prompt is: Passing on Family Stories

I would tell you I did not get interested in my family genealogy until just 10 short years ago. As a matter of fact, I hated it when my sister went on and on about her family research and her treks through family cemeteries. It was only a few years later that I began to tell my children (and possibly bore them with) the stories I myself had unraveled.

The truth is, my interest in my family history began when I was a child and listened to the family stories I heard at the feet of my elders. Sadly, in many cases, it was a broken history that did not extend much past my great-grandparents.

After my sister passed away and all her research lost, I joined Ancestry. I submitted a saliva sample to reveal my DNA and started gathering documents. I have now become the holder of our family history. I have told many of those stories here in my blog and may link back to some of those stories today.

Our entire family was fascinated by the stories of when my grandfather was a teacher in the Philippines in the early 1900s. He worked at an agricultural school. He returned to the US, married my grandmother, and returned to the Philippines where their first two children were born. I was fascinated by the stories. I learned it took 30 days by ship to make the journey. I learned about the cultural differences and the friendships they made there. I actually found a letter of recommendation sent in support of my grandfather and this teaching position in the National Archives.

My paternal great-grandfather was ‘run out of town on a rail’. He had been married before he married my great-grandmother, but no one really knows exactly why he was so disliked. I just know it left my great-grandmother with five children to raise on her own. I have never been able to find the place where he was buried. I did find his death certificate and it led me to believe he may have been an alcoholic as well.

I found my paternal grandfather had been married before. It was not something anyone knew or talked about. There was a child, too, but I think it was his wife’s child from a prior marriage.

The best stories, though, are the kind that reveal personality and feeling. Like my grandfather’s friend who was killed in a crane accident. Or my Dad’s story of seeing little green men in the living room. I loved the daredevil stories about my mom, too.

After my Dad passed away, we found a note he had written about a near death accident he had as a child. None of us had ever heard it. It must have been traumatic.

For my children, I printed a copy of their family tree and printed photos of their grandparents as many generations back as I could find. They are in a beautiful leather album. At least they will have a head start once they begin to wonder about their heritage.

There are a million questions I wish I had asked, but in so many cases I was just too young.

I have a cassette tape my father recorded for me. My daughter copied the section of the tape where he told me he loved me and recorded it on a chip in a Teddy Bear. To hear his voice again always brings me to my knees.

I know most of my family came from England and Ireland. I have never made it to either place but I still hope I can make it one day.


Genealogy Countdown

I have been counting down the days until spring – 19 if you are counting with me in the U.S. I am also counting down the days until April 1st. Why? The 1950 U.S. Census will be released.

A new release of census records only occurs every 10 years. These records are released for public research once 72 years have passed. Why 72 years? No one knows exactly why, but there is an assumption this was the average lifespan at the time the “72 Year Rule” was put into place.

This is the census taken prior to and closest to my birth. I am not 100% sure where my parents lived at that time. My dad may have been living in military quarters. This census will answer those questions. It will also tell me information about my grandparents. I have learned a great deal from old census records regarding my family. I am hopeful there will be more revealed in this census.

The last time the census was released, the website crashed the day after. That shows how many researchers are waiting on these records. The census records are scanned using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and only certain fields will be transcribed for indexes on the National Archives website. That’s where volunteers come in.

Websites like Ancestry and Family Search depend on volunteers (like me) to transcribe many fields so more data is searchable. I have transcribed many records in the past – school roles, marriage certificates, court records, wills, etc.

It is a great way to volunteer from home and give back to fellow researchers. Our history is convoluted. Research shows that clearly. And these are not just unknown people annotated on a piece of paper. This is my family and your family. Our ancestors who, like us, would like to be remembered.

Tick tock. It won’t be long now.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

Blog, genealogy, Home

The Long and Winding Road

Day Three

I once read that our roots are firmly entwined in our DNA. The places where our ancestors settled, worked the ground and made a home is very much a part of who we are. Maybe this is why I feel so at home here in these mountains. It doesn’t matter  how stressed I am, once I see these mountains looming in the distance, I am able to release it and breathe again.

One of my favorite television shows is ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. I love watching these well-known people discover their ancestry. Some come from humble or dire circumstances and others from royalty. People in these shows often remark how much they were drawn to a place for years prior to knowing anything about their lineage.

phillipine funeral
My Grandparents Attending a Funeral in the Philippines

The search, for me, is cathartic. My sister, Rosie, tried to get me interested in her family research years ago and I just was not interested. I had struggles in my personal life at the time and learning about my ancestors was the furtherest thing from my mind. When she passed away years later, I was distraught because all her research was lost. My niece gave me access to her Ancestry account and there was nothing there. So, I started from scratch.

Questions Along the Way

My own family discoveries have been pretty remarkable. I now have a copy of a handwritten letter from my three times great-grandmother written in 1847. Her letters paint a remarkable picture of how difficult life was at that time. It has given me a greater appreciation about the struggles to make a path in preparation for my life, my home.

I have also taken a DNA test. I have discovered some unknown cousins and also discovered some misappropriated parentage somewhere in my Dad’s line. People I thought I was related to do not seem to be relatives at all. So, this mystery is yet to be unraveled.

As children, we always heard my paternal grandmother talk about her mother but rarely about her father. He disappeared – there were rumors he was ‘run out of town on a rail’. We might never know the back story, but what I have finally discovered is what I believe to be his final resting place. I have been working for a year to gain access to the site and I believe I will get there eventually. To ‘connect’ with some part of my great-grandfather holds great importance to me.

The Journey is Not Over

This long and winding road has definitely taken some twists and turns along the way. I know more about my family history than I ever thought I would. Some roads are dead ends – or brick walls as they are called in genealogy circles – and some go back as far as the 1100’s. I also know more about the tribulations of my ancestors and much more about the sorrows imposed by government institutions on the general population. I now commonly search ‘Bastardy Bonds’ when 10 years ago I did not even know those records existed.

This journey is not over – and will most likely not be over in my lifetime. I have managed to peak some interest in my children about their history, and I hope at some point they will take up where I left off.

For now, I am on solid ground. I know where I come from and how I got here. The people who came before me live on because I dug their history out of old crumbling pages in basements of libraries and court houses. My cousin shared a quote a few years ago and it has always resonated with me:

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

I understand now more than ever why I feel so drawn to this place. It really is home.

img_2203“Over the course of the millennia, all these multitudes of ancestors, generation upon generation, have come down to this moment in time—to give birth to you. There has never been, nor will ever be, another like you. You have been given a tremendous responsibility. You carry the hopes and dreams of all those who have gone before. Hopes and dreams for a better world. What will you do with your time on this Earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?”
Laurence Overmire