Family Ties



I received a fat bundle of papers in the mail last week, from my mother’s cousin, Marilyn.

I met Marilyn – along with two other cousins I didn’t know existed – at my mother’s funeral.

According to my sister, Brenda, Mom was not hiding these relatives from us (or, as I wondered, hiding us from the relatives). She says we were probably just not interested. Or we have forgotten.

I don’t know.

If I forgot, then I certainly thoroughly forgot, because I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Marilyn or the other two cousins.

Anyway, Marilyn has been working on a family history.

I am interested.

She is willing to share all the information she has. From me, she would like the names of my mother’s children, with dates, birthplaces, names of husbands and wives, children and grandchildren.

She had asked Mom for this information, she told me, but my mother was a busy woman.

It turns out, Marilyn had first spoken to my mother about it in 1961, at my grandmother’s funeral.

Here she was – 50 years later – at another funeral, with the same request.

I’m happy to know this doggedly persistent and extremely patient woman is my relative!

I’d love to see those qualities in my own personality!

So far, no.

In any case, I am trying to fulfill her request for names and dates and latest generations. Already 18 months has passed since the day I assured her I’d get right on it.

I’m still tangled in the details of whether to type (a long, slow process for me!) or write out the information. I’m going over options on how to format it so that it’s understandable. I’m trying to  remember to pin my sisters down on the birth-dates and places of their grandchildren. Marriage dates…divorce information…step-children and their children…before I know it, another 50 years will have gone by!

And there will be Marilyn, kindly telling my children what a busy woman I was.

Though it’s taking me awhile to get the information together, I’ve wasted no time in going through the bundle Marilyn sent to me.

It’s fascinating to read!

Beyond Marilyn and the other two cousins, I had dozens of relatives living close to where I grew up. Some names sound vaguely familiar, but I don’t remember them beyond that. I had no idea that my grandfather had brothers and sisters that lived well into my adulthood!

I’ve gotten to know my great-great grandfather, Joseph. A small time thief, Civil War veteran, “opium eater and hard drinker”, Joseph defended himself in a couple legal matters, so his words were transcribed and saved in court records.

“In the first place I acknowledge that I did wrong in doing what I did, but I was entirely ignorant of the crime attached […] I did not think about it as much at the time as I did afterwards.”

“I am a man of no learning at all. I have a large family. I have always worked hard for a living. I never refused to obey an order given to me. I have always done my duty. I have tried to do what I could to put down this rebellion.[…] All I have to say is to ask as far as is consistent with judgement and principle, what mercy you can give me in this case.”

My great-great grandmother Sarah, Joseph’s wife, applied to the government for a Widow’s Pension, and later appealed the decision.

“I am 62 years of age, occupation: housekeeper, post office. I am the widow of Joseph W. Carpenter, who served as a private in Company “A”, 6th Michigan Infantry from March ’62 til March ’65, and then being sick and unable to work, enlisted about April ’65 in Company “A”, 8th Michigan Infantry and was again discharged in April ’66.”

Sarah wasn’t asking for much. She acknowledges that seven of her eight children were over the age of sixteen at the time of her husband’s death in 1874. Only little Nora was home, and seven years old. It appears that Sarah raised her family without aid from the government, and only started looking into it in 1889, possibly as a means of survival in her old age. She assures the court that she was legally married, that Joseph was her only husband, and that she has not “cohabitated with any man as his wife since his death.”

“Prior to my husband’s enlistment he was called as sound a man as there was in the community […] he was not sick at all ’til after his army service.”

“My husband used to doctor himself a great deal.”

It feels strange to read what other have to say about them, in these court transcripts.

“He was a very intemperate man and would dissipate whenever he had money, but in those times men would drink without being considered intemperate.”

“His habits both before and after the service were of the very worst. He was a drunkard […} and I fail to see how by any possible theory his habits can be eliminated in considering the cause of his death.”

“He was not a steady man […], but was considered a good worker when he did work, but he was rather of an indolent disposition.”

“They were in a destitute condition and doctors did not like to go and see him.”

“I have known his widow all of these years […]. She is considered a woman of good character. She has no home or means of support.”

The claim was denied.

I find myself – by turns – impressed, embarrassed by and defensive of these people that lived so long ago.

Obviously, they are family!


20 responses »

  1. I really enjoyed reading re: family tree, etc. I am in a hury with too much to do.But do get the info to your cousin. So that the family tree can be completed. My cousin is doing 4 famiy trees and is deeply engrssed in it. She said it had become an addiction. She has gotten lots of info through internet and by writing for records, etc.

    Did you ever find the little red notebook?

    • I have NOT yet found my red notebook! I can hardly believe it has not turned up!
      Thanks for your comments through all your busy-ness; I am well underway with the information Marilyn requested. I have two more sisters and one brother yet to contact. I’m sure I knew – at one time – all my nieces and nephews middle names, birthplaces and birthdays, but I no longer trust my memory. Also grandchildren have been added to the mix! Thanks for reading, Yvonne!

  2. This is SO interesting to me on so many levels.
    Reading of Cousin Marilyn, my first thought was “I hope this lady is legit!” My suspicious Italian nature had me wondering if she was an internet scam artist in the habit of attending strangers’ funerals with intent to defraud!
    Then reading further I thought if Marilyn has all this family history in her possession, she must be ok! 🙂

    Moving on with your post, what fascinates me most is realizing people have ancestors that lived in America before 1910! In my neighborhood, EVERYONE’S parents or grandparents had emigrated from Italy or Ireland and until I got to college it never occurred to me there were different scenarios. Decades later, I’m still impressed to read of those who can retrace their forbears steps on American soil back through the 1800-1600s! (I know I sound ridiculous, completely unworldly and with a small frame of reference, but I’m impressed!)

    Your intemperate (love that word!) opium eating Joseph is the type of colorful character I’d have befriended in my pre-sobriety days! Poor Sarah….life was tough for her and their kids, I’m sure.

    Wow! I hope you keep us posted as you work through the various branches of the ancestry tree. 🙂

    • Karen, most of my family – from what I can gather – arrived from Scotland, Ireland and Germany, usually through Canada, in the middle to late 1800s. The Irish potato famine and the Boer War each played a part in their immigration. My youngest daughter is pretty good at doing genealogical research. I like the findings, but have no patience for the dull aspects of research. Just putting my current family data on paper is a tedious chore that I’ll be glad to be done with. I’m getting there, though! I love the information about the past, and will certainly share more as it becomes available to me. Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  3. How interesting! I got pretty mad thinking of that poor woman denied benefits that she clearly deserved. Working for a government agency that awards benefits makes me very jaded, seeing who is awarded and who isn’t. Seems things still aren’t fair all these years later.

    I’m with Shelley ~ you totally have to write a book about this!

    • Thanks, Sara, for your encouragement and for siding with my poor ancestor over her Widow’s Pension! I felt bad for her, too. I’d love to know the inner workings of the family at that juncture. Did none of her seven living children want to take her in? Did they press her to apply, so many years after her husband’s death? Were the doctor’s cajoled into testifying – on both sides? My imagination runs wild!

    • I have two more sisters to speak with, then my brother, Ted, and I should be able to wrap up all the facts I knew and forgot, as well as things I never knew. My sister, Amy, has Mom’s bible…she was able to give me lots of dates that I was missing, as well as the correct spelling of Father Goentges’s name! It is wonderful to get the information, but I am not fond of the grunt work of family research. Thanks, as always, for your kind encouragement!

  4. my father, whom I never knew, had family who arrived in Canada in the 1700s. I would imagine there are wondrous stories to be heard about the generations. Have fun sorting through all this and………..don’t forget to send Marilyn that info. Before you know it, 50 years will have passed!!

    • I know! Fifty years goes by in a flash! I am on it now, and should have it wrapped up and in the mail by the beginning of next week. It doesn’t change our lives much, but I do treasure the knowledge of my family’s past. Thanks for reading, Joss, and for your comments!

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Tammy! I love to find a little bit of drama or scandal in the family history. It lets me know we are not the first generation to misbehave! Thanks for reading, and for your comment!

  5. Yes, indeed, Cindy you are the writer to share this with the wider world, or at least future generations of your family. Perhaps the Universe didn’t give your mother enough time for this task because it wanted you to do it. Fascinating to be embarrassed and/or defensive of one’s ancestors. When I think of all my live family members–and the gifts and challenges of all of us–it seems that we’re all pretty much uniquely ourselves. Nice read!

    • Kathy, in expressing embarrassment or defensiveness, I was only trying to convey how readily they seemed like family, just in the reading. Members of my family, too, are each uniquely themselves, but I do still feel admiration, defensiveness and – I have to admit – at times even embarrassment. Of course I know that embarrassment over the actions or behavior of someone else only comes from my own insecurities…but it’s still a sometimes reality in my life. Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  6. I envy you. None of my grandparents would talk. I’m convinced that I am descended from a group of axe murders. But certainly I don’t have any stories that match this one: A small time thief, Civil War veteran, “opium eater and hard drinker”!

    • My grandfather’s catchphrase was “We may be poor farmers, but none of my kids speak German!” As the son of immigrants who always struggled with language and other barriers, his idea of success was the ability to leave the past behind. He wouldn’t talk, either. I think our generation is the first to take such an interest in common roots…as opposed to “Daughters of the Revolution” type roots. I am fascinated by it all, but I don’t have the stamina for the research, I’m afraid. Just this little bit I’m doing has elicited whining like you wouldn’t believe! Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

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