Have you ever wondered about who you are and where you come from? I can relate.
I have always been curious about my family history and have done a bit of research on it. This is a hobby that I share with a vast community of pretty interesting people. I dread putting this detail out into the world because of the inevitable offers I will get for DNA testing. In our information age I can’t even order a pair of shoes online without getting 20 new catalogs from companies I never heard of. Imagine the crap that comes with a DNA test? I’d rather be blissfully unaware that I’m really not part Dutch than to be certain that I am going to go bald and to find it out when I start getting coupons for thinning hair after my DNA results get shared with marketers who are looking for people who meet my profile.
I am curious though about my people. As far as I can tell of the 4 families who converged to make my parents – there were a diverse mix:
- 1 destitute, my great grandmother married at 15 had 8 kids and died when she was about 35 a year after her 3 year old son died of diphtheria. I don’t know what she died from possibly blood poisoning and haven’t found a death certificate or obit. My great-grandfather was in the paper like a celeb on page 6 after she died. He was a religious man, became foreman of the quarry and raised his kids alone.
- 1 affluent, my great grandmother’s lineage goes back to the 1600’s; My great grandfather’s mother either had illegitimate children with a married man OR was abandoned by her husband who married someone else and peopled half the Midwest. It is unclear – he was interesting and had a birth certificate issued as an adult with a witness who knew him when he was a kid.
- 1 of middle class means – my great grandfather from Sweden confirmed; my great grandmother allegedly French but she was born in New Jersey? He worked in the acid factory, had 13 kids, one son killed in WWII.
- 1 moved around a lot – my great grandfather died young in his 30’s and I have seen photos of him as a clown; my great grandmother was a 19 year old widow with 3 kids and went on to marry and bury 3 more men. It appears that her mother also had lots of husbands who died young – possible black widows??
Unhelpfully, the site didn’t find my great grandmother- but popped up a clue to let me know they lived near the poorhouse – Oh joy! Their shitty life might have included a side of institutionalization.
The old newspapers have been my primary source of information. They can hold my interest for hours and I find myself up too late looking for information that might tie it all together. Aside from what I mentioned above, there was an extremely chaotic and uneven pace to the newspapers. A 3-inch square informs – The Mr RG So and So’s were in town visiting, unknown foreigner found dead in the woods, ice cream social to be held at the Methodist church, Worker falls in vat at acid factory ran out has not been seen since, Public defender dead of suicide – chloroform rag and bottle found on top of cliff that he leapt from. I find myself full of questions – Wait What??!! What happened to the guy who fell in the vat? How did they know the person in the woods was foreign? What about chloroform rag suggests it was suicide???
Sometimes there are answers and other times I am left to wonder. There is not always a happy ending or even a satisfactory explanation. And yet here I am. All the people who came before lived their lives and left their marks and now we are here leaving ours.
I offer one last thought – take some time to print photos and fill in your family on your history because sooner or later we all get curious about where we came from.
Anyway – Happy Tuesday thank you for reading
6 thoughts on “Poorhouses and stuff…”
It’s very cool that you have these details about older generations in your family.
A lot of your questions are solved by knowing a bit about historical times. It wasn’t unusual for someone to be married several times over. Life was hard and people married. If a widow or widower had children, they married a.s.a.p. to help raise the children. If you did not die young, you may have married several times over – not from divorce or a ‘black widow’, people just didn’t stay single. It was too difficult not to.
As to the odd deaths, death happened every die all around them. It was not unusual to die at work or in odd ways. Being a near daily occurrence, it was not a big deal. Today if someone dies because of job performance, since it’s so rare, it may be front page news and multiple lawsuits may follow. It would certainly have been sad, but people knew work was dangerous and it was expected – especially in certain lines of work.
Your suggestion to print out photos and label people is quite important. I think it’s also important to tell stories and give younger generations a reason to care about the people in those pictures. I find often younger generations feel no connection to these people are often quite willing to get rid of the pictures because the people in those pictures mean nothing to them. The past, history and heritage isn’t valued by so many people today. I would also create a notebook or something of stories or facts about these people, a memory they had or something they liked. Not just an occupation. People often work at jobs they don’t like just to pay bills. A job may not reveal a person’s personality. Write down something that shows their personality; something to make the people in those pictures real.
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Thank you for the comments. I have read a fair amount about local history and am well aware of the conditions that some folks endured.
History is full of vibrant characters and stories that can engage a wide audience.
interesting post and information. I found your link in the community pool asking for feedback. I can see your talent..and I love your voice! –at the part after the pink text…I was caught off guard and wondering what this list of information was. So maybe a small intro? cheers!
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thank you for the tips.
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At least one of my ancestors lived in a workhouse. They sound horrific, and leave me imagining all sorts of Oliver Twist-type scenarios.
I find family history fascinating, and want to print a book for my kids of the information I’ve found about their ancestors. 🙂