Saturday, November 2, 2019
The Pathos Behind
Closed Genealogical Doors
Unexpected discoveries can await the unsuspecting family history enthusiast who chooses to test his or her DNA for genealogical purposes, but that isn't the only avenue ushering in research surprises. These upstart details can approach us from the more low-tech route of chasing the paper trail, too.
Thanks to a MyHeritage Theory of Family Relativity™ notice I received this week, I brushed up on one particular descendant line from my Tilson family connection. This MyHeritage match and I connect to each other as fifth cousins—and yes, that is according to my records, as well. However, in checking over the material I had included in my own family database, I noticed this branch's details were rather thin. It was time to rectify that oversight.
Usually, I look for obituaries when no death certificates are available online. This is, as it turns out, a family line settling in Tennessee—a place far from where I sit, right now. However, I could find no obituaries, and not even any links to Find A Grave or other such resources. At this point, I decided to alter my search approach. Rather than just entering the year of the death, I left the search parameters wide open, while searching in the various newspaper collections available to me. While that can leave me wide open to an avalanche of unrelated information, it might also capture some other news reports which include the individuals I am seeking.
In this case, that it did, all right. I ended up learning far more than I wanted to know about some branches of this family tree. Let's just say there was news copy on the messy aspects of life that go far beyond birth, marriage, or death. I can now understand why there might not have been an obituary published for some of the people in this line.
I ran across everything from the parental permission for a fourteen year old daughter to marry a sixteen year old groom—this woman died barely eight years later, after having given birth to four children—to a lawsuit claiming premature death due to corporate pollution of an entire town, on behalf of parents succumbing to cancer. In between these surprising details were many other deaths at ages far younger than expected, from such events as vehicle collisions or work-related accidents.
We may tend to adopt a clinical detachment from the ancestors we find on paper in our research, but remembering that they, too, were people for whom such horrific experiences triggered strong emotions, I couldn't help but experience a wave of pathos pour over me as I read through all these newspaper reports from bygone decades. Somehow, birth announcements or marriage licenses—even wills—seem so sanitized when we view their digitized form through our computer screen. But each slip of paper carries with it the weight of emotional gravitas. Somehow, that realization calls out for respect and solemnity as we uncover these family experiences, no matter how removed we are from the moment which first elicited such expected responses.