Yesterday was one of the proudest days of my life, both maternally and personally. Let me explain....
This weekend, I am a con mom. I've traveled to Boston with Zoe as she makes her debut at the Artists Alley of Anime Boston (http://www.animeboston.com/)--a huge annual gathering of the tribes (i.e., tens of thousands of costumed, role-playing aficionados of Japanese manga and anime, 98% teenaged). Artists Alley is a selling-place for amateur artists, and Zoe has been working for months on her wares...posters, buttons, postcards, all featuring her art. Yesterday morning the piece de resistance arrived here from the printer's: Mahou Shounen, an actual 20-pp booklet (she calls it a mini-manga) with her own original story, characters, and inventive, accomplished artwork. The moment that we huddled together over the box and extracted the first book is engraved on my memory. (I meant to keep that first copy, but later on I showed it to another con mom in the hotel elevator and she bought it on the spot!) So we finally have a published person in our family. Self-published, in this case, but that doesn't detract at all from the achievement therein...and in fact, it allowed us a great deal of quality control and editorial say-so. I'm so proud of my artist-girl!
Originally, we were planning to send Zoe down here solo. This past week, though, it became abundantly clear that mountains of details and the heft of her baggage were going to defeat that idea. Hence, my (expensive but necessary) presence in Boston. While we are plunked right in the middle of the city's tastiest retail district, I really wasn't looking forward to a weekend of H&M envy (you know, that wistful cruising through stores whose merchandise is priced above my head and sewn below my size?) A little pre-trip websurfing, though, reassured me that I would have another option: the New England Historic Genealogical Society is a few blocks away from here.
So I spent yesterday afternoon in my element, idly paging through dusty books in search of nuggets. To access this library, it's most cost-effective to join the Society, so I signed up onsite for an annual membership. (Speaking of proud, this means I'm now a member of two noteworthy genea-orgs...the other being the Association of Professional Genealogists. Ooh, I quiver just writing that!)
I perused books and basked in the researchiness of it all, then came back to the hotel. After awhile, I logged onto the NEHGS' website to look over their databases, which the membership coordinator had mentioned to me earlier. Turns out that therein lurked the final pieces of my most resistant genea-puzzle: the early marriage days of my great-grandparents, Blanche Guillotte and William Paquin. Peter has brought me to so many town halls and archives trying to recapture the stories of their lives...but this was a "brick wall" with shame and discord for mortar, so breaking through it has been near-impossible. Their daughter, my Auntie Winnie, sat with me for an interview 10 years ago (which I blessedly have on tape), but she remembered little of the father who'd abandoned them, and the mother who did the same by tossing her five kids into orphanages when money got tight. Winnie gave me surreal half-tales, and I've spent the ensuing decade giving bones to that flesh, slowly but determinedly.
The NEHGS database brought me closure, as I finally, finally found Blanche and William's marriage record (under William's alias, William J. Benson), and then, amazingly, the birth record of their first child, a stillborn son, two months after the wedding day. Winnie remembered hearing about that son and even visiting his grave as a little girl, but she knew nothing about when or where he was born. Well, the "when" is actually a key part of the story, for he was obviously conceived out of wedlock, and he was born and died, tragically, on Christmas Day 1908.
What bitterness and grief did that engender? How did such a horrible loss on a usually joyous holiday mark Blanche and William for life? And did it feel, deep down, as though their union might be cursed? because from that point on, the stories I've heard suggest that it was.
In a brief blog setting, I can't begin to tell you the sadnesses I've discovered on both sides of my dad's family. Untimely deaths, poverty, alcoholism, thwarted dreams, loveless marriages. But I can tell you that I have been driven, urged, pushed to seek and find. I realized fairly early into this that no one else in my family was going to be able to find the facts and stitch the quilt. I don't mean that to be self-aggrandizing; it's just that for most of my life leading up to these discoveries, I've been unwittingly assembling a series of skill sets that I now can deploy to find the answers. Somewhere inside me, I know now that that those answers want to be found. Last night's puzzle pieces convinced me of that. The ancestors speak, many genealogists say. They guide us. What I would add is: They want us to know them and understand them. To tell their stories. Their sadnesses and life lessons must never be for naught.
I am proud to know them.