Some genealogy documents I’d ordered from the Ohio Historical Society came in the mail today. Death certificates, to be precise. Even though the family information on them isn’t always precise, they always tell a story, and I love that. A few of the ones I got today are absolutely heart-wrenching.
There’s one woman whom it turns out I’m not really related to, after all, but her story is still a rough one. Helen was widowed in her mid to late-twenties. Shortly after her 29th birthday, she died by carbolic acid poisoning—suicide.
Then there’s Harvey, the youngest son of my great-great grandfather. His clothes accidentally caught fire from the fire grate, and he burned to death. He was two years old.
And we have Edna, the eldest daughter of another great-great grandfather. Not long after she married, she developed tuberculosis. She died after about four months of illness. Edna was almost 21.
Of course, there are always the standard “this is the way death should be” records, like my great-grandmother Margaret. She lived the last 25 years of her life as a widow, and died at the ripe old age of 90, while living at the home of her eldest son.
Still, though, just those few words and dates on a page can really bring to life (so to speak) the person they’re about, despite the fact that they lived and died generations ago. I think—no, I know that this is why I do genealogy. It’s my own weird form of religion and ancestor-worship. Think about it: how often do we console ourselves and one another by saying, “He’s not really dead, as long as we remember him,” a la Dr. McCoy in Star Trek? Part of me believes and acts on that premise. I could be the only person on the face of the Earth who has thought about a given ancestor for years and years, and they deserve better than that. They deserve to be remembered. These people didn’t leave any lasting legacy besides their own progeny, and I owe them, if not respect, at least acknowledgement.
I wonder what my descendants will think of me, someday…?