Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Legacy of Life's Hard Lessons

One of the benefits of knowing one's own family history is gleaning the treasures reaped by ancestors who went through tough times in life. Yes, surprise, life has been tough for untold generations before the Wuhan flu arrived on American shores. Not all of them lived to tell of their harrowing experiences, of course, but the memory of these ancestors' lives bestows us with a priceless legacy.

As I make my way down the branches of my family tree from any given ancestor to each of their descendants, I run across an incredible variety of stories. One of those stories emerged as I worked on the siblings of my second great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Warren Rainey. Mary, herself, was not an easy study; she made herself hard to find by being orphaned just before the 1870 census, then married just after that census to become mother of three daughters and, upon the final arrival of the long-awaited son, dying, along with her son, just after childbirth. And before the 1880 census.

With that leaving me with nothing more than oral reports from family remembering her to be an orphan, I had no way to trace her line further back. The only mention worth following was that someone recalled her maiden name being something like Ramey or Rainey.

Eventually, I did find a plausible explanation for who she was—and thus, who her parents were—along with a serendipitous DNA match with the woman's brother's descendant, which I've written about before. However, everyone knows a genealogist is never satisfied—which means, once having conquered that brick wall, I needed to press forward, er, backwards in time to the next generation.

My first ploy in that attempt was to research all of Mary Elizabeth's siblings. Believe me, there were many of them. My second great-grandmother was apparently the baby of the family, and the family was huge. And yet, do you think I could find any clues? Not much online, at least not back five years ago when I first began the process.

Fast forward to this Wuhan flu season, and "sheltering-in-place." What's a diligent genealogist to do with all this down time? Clean up that family tree, of course! That led me back to the Rainey family line, where I began checking records for each of the siblings of my second great-grandmother.

It was halfway down the span of the ten known children of Thomas Firth and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro Rainey (my Mary's mother) that I began work on Sarah—or Sallie—Rainey. Born about 1835 in Georgia, Sarah "Raney" was married to Isaac Hardeman Smith in Coweta County, Georgia, in 1852.

Four children later, Isaac was gone by 1867. What was a young mother to do? Remarry, naturally—which Sarah Rainey Smith did within a discreet three years of her widowhood. The February, 1870, nuptials took place in Fayette County, Georgia, uniting widow Sarah Smith with a gentleman listed as H. C. Fisher.

Mr. Fischer—as his name turned out to be spelled for the remainder of his life's records—actually had a given name: Hartford. Just as had Sarah's previous husband, Hartford and she had four children. And yet, at the end of Sarah's life, there was something strangely missing from her will: any mention of her husband. Though all her children from both marriages were mentioned by name in her 1912 will, there was not one word about Hartford Fischer.

Do not presume he had already passed away, though. His death was not to occur until 1930. We find the explanation for his absence in the 1910 census: he and Sarah had divorced sometime after 1900, explaining why, in her will, Sarah was so careful to emphasize that her son Hugh Rainey Fischer had "supplied my every want of eleven or twelve years."

With a lifetime of hardship and disappointments, it might be reasonable to assume that all Sarah's children had also gotten a rough start to life. For this, you would be correct—and yet, that doesn't take into account the energy each child brings to his own life's story. As I followed the "fortunes" of each of Sarah's children, I did see some down-and-out stories, but I also noticed, right from the start, the mention of a "Dr. L. C. Fischer" within Sarah's last testament.

While it is true that anyone who was a doctor at that time was considered to be of elevated status, if not financial standing, it also takes considerable financial backing to acquire the education to advance oneself to that level—something a widow and subsequent divorcee in that era might not be able to provide.

Perhaps it was the path that brought this forsaken son from a broken home to a healing profession that provided the foundation for what was yet to come in his own life—along with a heartbreak, as well—with a home of his own. 

1 comment:

  1. On behalf of my Asian and Asian-American friends, don't call it the Wuhan flu - call it the coronavirus or COVID-19.


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