Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Digging Deeper for Details


Sometimes, the answer we're seeking to our family history research question is buried in the details. Right now, I'm wondering just where the hereditary disease known as Marfan Syndrome might have first manifested itself in the family of Marilyn Bean, the woman whose photographs surfaced at a local antique shop after her death seventeen years ago. Most of those details point to Marilyn's mother-in-law Maude Woodworth Bean as the carrier. But was that legacy bestowed upon her and her brother from the Woodworth side of the family, or from their mother's Williams family line?

In trying to answer this question, there are complications in the research process. Who's to say what the cause of death was, barring access to the details in an actual death record? 

In searching for any sign that others in Maude Woodworth's extended family showed signs of the deadly Marfan Syndrome—either in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, where many in that family were born, or Sioux City, Iowa, where they stayed before emigrating to Los Angeles County in California—there were very few family members who died of any cause at a young age.

True, for deaths of that time period and location, it would take that old-fashioned research route of sending for a death certificate if the record wasn't digitized at any of our usual go-to genealogy websites, so we'd still have to wait for an answer. In the meantime, though, it seemed quite a few of Maude's relatives made it at least to retirement age, or well beyond it.

For those who did die far too soon, it is hard to determine whether the underlying cause might have been an as-yet not widely understood disease like Marfan Syndrome. Besides, in the time periods we're examining—Maude's father William was born in 1867—there were any number of diseases which could have claimed a child's life, or that of twenty-somethings, for that matter. Not to mention, just as we're experiencing right now, there were epidemics which felled large numbers of people, children and adults.

With that in mind, family history might have as its corollary research requirement the knowledge of the history of contagion. Perhaps not in all cases, but especially in ours, being aware of the ebb and flow of contagious diseases could help clarify signs of the goal we're focusing on. 

For instance, in pursuing this question of the cousins who met an early death, there were a few whom I wondered about. Take, for example, the instance of Helen Vanderburg Standard. Cousin to Maude, Helen was only twenty eight years of age when her husband put out an emergency call after midnight for assistance at their home. She died that March 3, 1942, still at home. What was the cause of death? Was it sudden? Was it lingering? Was it unexplained?

Another sad loss in the extended Woodworth family was that of Charles Sumner Woodworth. He would have been Maude's uncle—if he had lived beyond childhood. A clue to his brief life is carved right into his headstone, listing his name as "Charlie" Woodworth. The now-old memorial is difficult to read, and it is likely that the age marked on the headstone may have been transcribed in error as a younger age than Charles was at his passing. No matter: here was another Woodworth relative who may have been lost simply because of Marfan Syndrome.

Or was he? It is hard to tell without more information. But not even a death record from 1861 could have completely informed us—even if we could locate such a record at all.

One detail I did unearth as I was building out the Woodworth tree: Maude's grandparents had plenty of company when they made the decision to uproot their family in Iowa—including Maude's dad William—and move to California. Before we examine the roots of Maude's mother's family, let's take a look at just how many from the Woodworth side of the family made the move to California—and see what drew them to that vastly different region of the country.

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