See this newlywed couple?
These are my grandparents, William McKinley and Lila Mae.
My father's parents that passed away before he was married to my mother, so I never met them.
I didn't know much about them a month ago. Hardly anything really.
Lila Mae died of breast cancer when my father was just 8 years old.
She was 38. She liked God and watermelon. And that's all I knew about her.
This is the only picture I have of Lila...she looks happy, doesn't she?
I have seen one other picture of her in another relative's home-
the first time I saw it, I just stared. I think I looked like her when I was her age.
I've always been curious about her.
I knew even less about her husband, William. He was a boarder of her family's home in the depression. He was a risk taker and a gambler. He doesn't look like a gambler to me. He looks like a lovestruck fool in this picture, doesn't he? He looks like he just won the lottery of love, with his beautiful bride, doesn't he? That's what I see. He died of lung cancer when my father was around twenty years old.
My father didn't speak about his parents. I think it's because thinking of them makes him cry. That's not a manly thing to do where he comes from. So he doesn't talk about those tender things. Well, he didn't when I was a kid. Now, he has severe dementia and lives in an assisted care center. so his memories, even if they were suppressed, are probably gone.
To know so very little about a generation of family just two steps back from my own is sad.
I'd been thinking about family history alot last year. I wanted to create a family tree art drawing or painting for my grandkids and that one impulse, blossomed into a beautiful journey that I didn't plan.
Truly. I have listened to people for years talk about family history, with tears in their eyes and wonder what the draw was for them? I wondered how they had so much time to waste "on dead people"...when my life was so FULL of the living people in my home--meals, car pools, mountains of laundry, and toilets to be scrubbed--how on earth could I "sacrifice" my down time for genealogy? I thought it would be too hard to find my nearly invisible relatives.
How wrong I was. It really started last summer when my niece came to visit and we got to talking about family and roots. We took a trip down to the Family History center and it was SO eye-opening, to see how easy, how accessible family history records are these days. We covered a good amount of years while she was here. But then school started, life got busy and I got distracted.
Then, I got that itch to do something artsy for my grandkids earlier in January, right after Mr. Wonderful had his knee replacement surgery. I had to be home with him all day long. School was out until late January for me, so suddenly I had all that time on my hands!
I opened up my Family Search and Ancestry accounts to find more leads/hints for new information on my ancestors than I could've imagined! I thought I'd find my 4 grandparents--both of my parents' parents. Once that was done, though, I kept following the hints/leads and that one decision lead to over 60 hours of family history research in one week! I found over 200 names, going back 5 generations on 2 lines! This experience has opened my eyes and touched my heart-- it feels like my ancestors want to be FOUND. That's the only way I can describe these feelings. They have helped me along, pointing me in the right direction...helping key words/names/dates stick out and grab my attention during my search. It has been such a rewarding experience, seriously.
After such a fantastic week, I let all of my cousins that I am in contact with on facebook, know what I had been doing and what I'd found. See, many of my cousins' parents are deceased, and along with their passing, the stories are gone. We've got names and dates and places, but man! alive it was SO endearing to see my great-grandfather's signature on a marriage certificate! That's all the evidence he left behind. No journals to be found, no letters, nothing. But I still belong to him.
I got stuck on Lovestruck Willy up there. I didn't know his parent's names. None of my cousins knew either. We have one living Aunt Patricia, whose in her 70s. I haven't seen her since I was 21 years old. But I got her number and I called her up hoping for something to go on. She said that William's father went by a nickname and his mother's name was Nancy. And that's all she had.
Before I went back to Ancestry.com, I said a prayer. Straight up, I needed help to find these people.
I was so delighted--truly, deeply moved--to find his parents in the leads/hints there for me. Since then, I have gone back to my 6th gr-grandfather on that one line.
And found distant cousins I never knew I had!
I found William and Lila's marriage certificate. And their names on census' and other records.
I found out that William had a 6th grade education; Lila, an 8th grade education. She was one of 6 kids in her family. William also had brothers and sisters. He was a "junk dealer" on one census.
I'd always heard that William would leave the house in the morning with a dime in his pocket and come home with a pocketful of money in the evening. Now, I understand why.
I'd love to know more about Lila. But now at least I know her and her people. Her mama's name, her birthplace, where they came from, and that she had a big Southern family. When I think of her, I feel more connected to her now. Maybe it's because I am a Mother to many--I know what it's like to have a big family.
Do I wish I had a journal or ANYTHING with her handwriting on it?? Oh yes. Yes, I do.
But I have her eyes. And I have always loved watermelon. And God.