And Result in a Book Called, "The Finest Hat in the Whole World"
I'm a genealogist. I love to explore the past. I want to know about the people whose DNA became a part of me. I want to know about their lives, their interests, their triumphs, their struggles. I want to know how their lives affect my life today.
I grew up knowing absolutely nothing about the paternal side of my family, except that my dad had one brother and two sisters, all of whom were much older than him and were people he never felt close to. It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I asked my father to tell me about his family. At first, he didn't want to talk about them. Eventually some gentle digging on my part encouraged him to tell me just a little bit. That little bit helped me understand him a little better - a few evasive (and painful) comments about alcoholism and how it ruined the family unit. He was the only one who escaped that curse, yet the fall-out from its effect on his mother, brother, and sisters did him some serious emotional damage that followed him the rest of his life. Knowing he was seven years younger than his closest sibling made me curious about that gap in time between his mother's pregnancies. So, digging a little further, I inquired if there had been any other siblings (imagining maybe there had been one or two that had died or something).
He thought for a few moments, and I could see him struggling with a decision. Finally, he nodded and said, "I heard there was another sister, but I don't know. I don't know anything about her."
"My gosh! Haven't you ever wanted to find out for sure?"
His face reddened with the abrupt surfacing of his Irish temper. "I don't want to know. I don't care to know. Now, drop it."
Let's face it: dysfunctional families are more the norm than the exception all over the world. Although some people suffer because of that, others find inspiration in their less than perfect relatives.
Thus began my genealogical odyssey three decades later. I discovered my late father's bloodline was rich in brave, intelligent and very astounding people - men and women who struggled and sacrificed all the way back to the Revolutionary War to build this great country for their future generations. Needless to say, I was gobsmacked.
In my journey through the generations of the 20th Century I learned my dad's parents had produced eight children in all, and five - five - survived into adulthood and lived very long lives. It turned out my dad did have a third sister, and if I had found her just two years earlier, I could have met her before she died.
To this day, I wonder how my dad would have reacted to my discovery.
That aside, the more I researched and learned about my newly-found aunt, the more I came to like and respect her. And through her I came to like and respect the man (her uncle) who raised her into adulthood. He gave her the love and encouragement she needed to be happy and successful in her life. Yet, there was a mystery there, an unexplained upheaval in the family unit. Why did her parents send her to live with relatives - a child of six years old - and keep their other children? I never learned the reason, and perhaps that is just as well - better left unknown, better left in privacy with the deceased. Still, like persistent ghosts they haunted me. The real-life story of the relationship between my newly discovered aunt Marge and my grand uncle Gene touched and inspired me. Eventually I realized I had a story that wanted to be written.
The Finest Hat in the Whole World is not the real story of their lives, but a work of fiction they inspired.