Other > Discovering Family History
Recently, our Co-Editor Katie Smith sent me information and a link to a project called Hearts Remembered. When I read about the work happening with this project, I was just floored. Finally. People who really get it.
At a Children's Home in the mid-west, it was discovered that 699 children had died and been buried at the Home's graveyard between the years of 1892 and 1980. Many of the children were in unmarked graves. "Medical notes" were found regarding some of the children, and in these notes babies were often referred in ways such as, "It was taken ill" or "It did not improve...". For some unknown reason -- maybe our culture's fear of death and dying!! -- these children were left nameless, unremembered, alone.
The people behind Hearts Remembered from the Care For Kids Foundation did not let this injustice go when it was discovered. They sought funding, created an entire memorial project, to mark the graves, to name the children, to create memorial and ritual. Their work not only honors the children in this cemetery, but they honor all our kids. But telling the world that these 699 children matter, they are telling the world that all our children matter.
This got me to thinking about all the children who are unnamed, gone without a mark. Many of us have unnamed kids in the family history. In my own family, it was not until after my own son's stillbirth that I learned of other babies and children who had died. I was almost 30 years old and thought I knew my family. And then in the midst of my own grief, I discovered the other previously unnamed ghosts.
Our Own Family History
What if we really want to investigate our family history? What if we want to create memorial and ritual, not only for our deceased children, but the others in family who died young? Where do we start when we hear the whispers of other babies who have died? How do we even find out who they were when families are so closed about grief in general? Well, here are a few ideas:
1) See if there are any Bibles in the family attics and whatnot. Very often the old Bibles held the family trees in them -- given to newlyweds, inscribed with records of births and deaths. Even if you do find a few family bibles though, it doesn't guarantee that you'll find records of the babies who died. There were, and in some cases still are, very bizarre beliefs that a baby who dies before birth or before ritual somehow doesn't count as "family". I tell you this only so that, if it does come up, then you won't be completely side swiped by it!
You might find public records at USGenWeb.org which is, by the way, and amazing FREE genealogy network that's been around for 10 years now. As you drill down to individual states and then individual counties, I think you'll find some comprehensive resources there. Check it out -- see how far back you might be able to get with something like this. I know for me, it will only go so far. Most of our family came from Italy, my husband's family from German and Africa. So at one point or another, the leads just peeter out into the global dust. But this is a great resource start!
Just Keep Trying
And if your first attempts don't prove really fruitful, don't be discouraged. Keep trying, talk to other family members, see if anyone else has started something like this before and might have clues for you. Make the family tree with everyone you can possibly think of on there. Then sit down with other family members and ask if they can think of anyone you left off. If you come across family who appear to have had no children or only one child, maybe look into that a bit more closely. Often if the only child died and then the couple found themselves unable to have others, there is no mention of it.