52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: First
My father died in 1994 at the age of 75. When he died, I would have said that I knew him. Instead, almost 25 years later, I’m still learning about him. A few months after my father died, I moved to Seattle and moved in with my oldest sister, who is 12 years older than I am. She left home when I was about 7, so until then we’d barely known each other. Part of the process of forming an adult relationship with a sister I hardly knew was that she learned to see our father through my eyes, and I learned to see him through hers. For those of you who don’t have siblings, learning to be parents and anything else that happened over the years changed your parents. No matter how hard they tried to be impartial, it wasn’t possible. The more years between the first and last children, the more they changed. So, with 12 years between us (and we’re talking about 1949 to 1961, when the world changed a bit, too), my sister and I realized what has since become one of our jokes, that we had different parents.
A few years ago I became an unemployed historian/architectural historian. I started thinking about projects I could work on that I could put on my resume, so that if I was unemployed for a while it wouldn’t look as though I hadn’t been using my skills. I like to tell people that I came to genealogy backwards, and that’s what I mean. I started all of this just for something to do.
I had done some genealogy research for jobs and as part of my master’s thesis, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Its been quite a process.
And back to my father… First I started to see him differently, courtesy of my sister, and then I started researching his family. I didn’t think I’d learn anything new about my father.
First my mom told me that my father wasn’t the youngest child. She said that my grandmother, who lived with my parents from shortly after they were married, had another child after my father and that the baby died. My mom was right. I found records of that baby. I knew that my grandfather left when my father was very young. We now believe that he left after that baby died, and my grandmother almost died. She always told everyone that her husband had abandoned the family. We now believe that she made him leave. Her mother died in childbirth when she was about 7, and I imagine that she was afraid that if she became pregnant again she would also die in childbirth.
I knew that my father was held back twice, when his family moved, and thus he was 19 when he graduated from high school and turned 20 before he started college. I knew that he was the first in his family to attend college, and to graduate. I didn’t know until I started researching the family and asking questions of my mom and cousins that he had first been the first in his family to graduate from high school. His five older siblings all went to school as long as they were legally required to, and then they went to work. With their mother and all of them working, they were able to keep my father in school, even as several of them married and started their own families. He worked during his summer breaks and while in school, but he couldn’t have done it without the support of his family. He graduated from high school in 1939 and from college in 1943, so his family didn’t just help financially. They also communicated with the draft board for him. I have a number of letters that he wrote to his mother while he was in college, and the draft board is mentioned again and again.
While my father was in college he met my mother, but that’s a whole other story.