Down The Ancestry Rabbit Hole– More Drama Than A Soap Opera

This is a photo of my great grandmother, Mildred. I knew her name was Mildred, but to me, she was always Grandma Lulu. It’s confusing sometimes, keeping all the grandparents straight when you’re a little kid. My older sister Shannon came up with a solution: nicknames based on vacation spots.

Thus, in our family we had Grandma (my mom’s mom), Grandma Mexico (aka Margot, Shannon’s dad’s mom), and Grandma Lulu, short for Honolulu. Grandma Lulu not only traveled often to Honolulu, she was born there.

Now, Grandma Lulu was a fascinating character, on which I would elaborate here, if it weren’t for the fact I have decided her life will be the basis for my next novel.

What I can tell you is that while researching Grandma Lulu, I discovered she had a previously unknown 3rd husband. I remember at the time I looked into it initially, it was confusing, because all the evidence pointed to the fact that her 3rd husband had lied about his last name on their marriage license. Grandma Lulu, on the other hand, lied about her place of birth (she said she was born in Oakland, California, not Hawaii), said that it was her 2nd marriage, not her 3rd,  and shaved 5 years off her age. The age thing isn’t all that surprising, considering she was marrying a man 11 years her junior.

A couple weeks ago I began receiving messages from a man who is a relative of Mildred’s 4th husband, Jay. Mildred stayed married to Jay until his death, and, as far as I know, never married again, living her remaining fifteen years of life single, but dating. A lot. Her married boyfriend, who showed up at her funeral, handcrafted the wooden spice rack that hangs in my mother’s kitchen to this very day.

Grandma Lulu died when I was 10,  so I knew her, but I didn’t know much of her story. She was quiet, and tiny, and she always had froot loops when we came to visit. That was a treat for us, because my mother was a health nut and we always had Wheaties and Cheerios. I knew she liked birds, and she wore Hawaiian mumus, even while living in California. She gave me my first Barbie doll, a ballerina.

As a kid, I wasn’t privy to any of the details of her life, her choices, or her complicated relationship with my grandfather, whom she left behind at 18 months old. I have approached researching her life with curiosity, but enough emotional distance from the pain her choices caused my grandfather to recognize that she had a lot of pain of her own. Her pain likely lead to many of her actions, her multiple marriages, her wanderlust.

Anyway, the man researching Mildred’s life because of his connection to Jay, had lots of questions for me. He was confused by the last name I had attributed to Mildred’s third husband William, which was different from the information on the marriage license. I explained what my research had found, and it spurred us both on to try and figure out why William had not only changed his name from Woodcock to Hubbard, but listed his father’s name differently as well.

And that is how I found myself deeeeep down the rabbit hole of ancestry research.

The name change occurred after William’s father had passed away. He not only used his new name Hubbard when marrying Mildred, he used it on his marriage license to his second wife, Frances.

This is where the story takes an even more interesting turn. William married Frances in 1939. On their marriage license, Frances lists her age as 18, and that this is her first marriage. Initially I was perturbed by the fact that William was 32 at the time of their marriage, but the deeper I dug, the more I realized Frances was no naïve teenager.

In the 1940 census, less than a year after her marriage to William, Frances is back living with her parents. Along with her, is a one year old son, who has a completely different last name, Doiron.  Also living at home is her sister, a 19 year old divorcee with a 4 year old son.

That led me to a marriage record for Frances to a man named Melvin Doiron in October of 1938. At the age of seventeen, she married Melvin, and five months later gave birth to Ronald. Four months after Ronald was born, she married William. One must assume that in the nine months between the two marriages, there was a divorce or annulment. (I would hope)

You might ascribe this behavior to youth, however, Frances went on to marry FOUR MORE MEN. That brings us to a total of six husbands. There’s a possible indication of a seventh, but I haven’t been able to definitively prove that.

By 1941, at the age of 19, Frances was on her third husband. Of course, on her marriage license to husband number three, she said it was only her second marriage. Of all her husbands, Frances managed to marry a McQueen, a McKim and a McKibben. I wonder if there’s a strange psychological reason one might be attracted to a certain part of the alphabet.

I find myself pondering what was going through the mind of Frances, why she couldn’t keep a relationship. I can’t imagine she enjoyed all the ups and downs, although I suppose it’s possible. Part of me wants to believe so many marriages indicate a woman who is a hopeless romantic, even if she didn’t have the skills to pick a  man.

In 1970, Frances and her 5th husband, Gail, divorced after 8 years of marriage. Seven months later, she married her sixth husband, Charles. That marriage lasted from November through to May of the following year. Less than a year after her divorce, she remarried Gail. Somehow, that gave me hope that Frances found happiness. Unfortunately, they divorced again three and a half years later.

More than what was going through Frances’ mind, I think about her son, Ronald. From everything I can see, he was an only child, the product of a short-lived first marriage between his teenage mother and his 23 year old father, who himself ran off at 15 to join the military. Ronald was on his second stepfather before his third birthday. His mother would go on to bring four additional stepfathers into his life. That’s not a lot of stability, although her third husband was around through his teen years.

As for Frances, I’m not sure she got her happily ever after. When she died in 1989, at the age of only 68, She had outlived all of her ex-husbands. I have been unable to find an obituary for her, nor have I been able to locate her grave. Perhaps her son wasn’t sure what last  name to put on her grave marker, so he just had her cremated. If they charge by the letter it might be pretty expensive to create one that says: Here lies Frances Lenora Godfrey Doiron Hubbard (which really should be Woodcock) Fulmer Mcqueen McKim Mckibben McKim (didn’t work the 2nd time either).

For me, these people aren’t just names and dates on a chart. I mentally connect with them, imagine their lives, the era and geographical areas they lived, and I find myself rooting for them to have happy endings. I mourn their losses and cheer their success. The lure of the story takes me places I never imagine when I start looking.

You know you’re down the rabbit hole when you’re looking at the immigration papers of the second wife of your great grandmother’s ex-husband’s second wife’s fifth ex-husband, which is where I currently find myself.

If you would like me to go down YOUR family’s rabbit hole, please contact me at Shoreshfamilyreseach@gmail.com, visit my facebook page Shoresh Family Research, or my website Shoresh Family Research. 

 

 

Independence Day Confessions

 

 

This photo courtesy Pugsonparade

As I prepared to write this blog, I went looking for funny Fourth of July photos and memes. Instead, what I found were a lot of mean-spirited things, things that reinforced my dismay at the state of our country, and stuff that in today’s political climate just made me sad. It’s hard to be mad at patriotic pugs, so I went with this one.

This year, I must admit, I’m struggling to get excited for the Fourth. I guess that’s my main confession. Checking out at the grocery store, going in for a facial appointment, talking to friends, everyone asks, “Any plans for the holiday?” It takes me a moment to even remember what holiday they are talking about.

In years past, it was a big one for me. Since I was a little girl my family has celebrated, and I have fond memories of each. When I was younger, we would go to my grandparents’ or my great aunt and uncles house (across the street from each other) down in Laguna Niguel. We would spend the day at the beach, followed by barbeque and a very deliberate and organized firework display. Uncle Bud would light one safe and sane tower or cone, we would clap and cheer, and when it was done, he would move on to the next. The kids got the snakes and the sparklers, and my grandfather would randomly drop firecrackers to scare whomever was standing there, minding their own business.

After moving to Washington, we sometimes spent the holiday camping in Coeur D’Alene. Once again, my grandfather, who rarely talked and walked at the pace of a mummy, would casually let go of  a lit firecracker and keep walking. It was a little passive-aggressive, and he thought it was hilarious.

For the past twenty years off and on (mostly on), my parents hosted at their house. Sometimes we would have 15 people, sometimes 50. Many were people we would only see on that one day a year. My father used a propane torch to set off mortars from the launch tubes he nailed into the guard rail that lines the hill alongside their house.  Every year we knew it was going to be THE year someone lost a digit or set the house across the street on fire. It was always an extravaganza of food, fun and fireworks.

Last year was the first year we didn’t do the party, and I was okay with that, but a little melancholy. This year, I’m not even feeling sentimental about it. It’s as if this past political year has sucked the patriotism right out of me. Frankly, I was more excited about Canada’s sesquicentennial on July 1st.  (I think that technically makes confession number two.)

As I have been thinking about why I’m not excited, I’ve been  processing my patriotic feelings in general. Some are positive, some are not. And because I’m battling a nasty cold, my brain is too fuzzy to put these into any order of importance. Here, in a stream of consciousness, are my confessions:

  1. I hate apple pie. Okay, maybe hate is too strong of a word. It’s probably at the very bottom of my pie choices. I might eat it if it were given to me without alternative, but I really don’t enjoy it. I like apple crisp (as long as it’s granny smith apples) and I really like the apple berry crumb pie from the Snohomish Pie Company. I’d prefer “American as peach pie” or maybe “American as Rocky Road ice cream.”
  2. I cry every time I hear Neil Diamond’s “America.” I can’t help it. It makes me think of what real patriotism is about, not the kind where we only celebrate those who were born here, but those who were escaping dire circumstances in their homeland and saw this place as a beacon of hope and freedom. On the flip side, if I never heard “Proud to be American” or “Born in the USA” for the rest of my life, I’d be perfectly okay with that.
  3. I no longer idolize our founding fathers. I’m not even sure I like them. The amount of historical research I have done has led me to a place where I can appreciate the things they did with good intent, while not ignoring their serious character flaws. I think we do our kids a huge disservice by putting these men on pedestals, because I can say from my own personal experience, it sucks to see your heroes fall. Why do we teach only the cute little poems and legendary stories, while completely ignoring reality? While being men of great vision, they were not moral paragons. They definitely weren’t all (or even mostly) Christian, despite what my local town newspaper published this week. They were deists who had an agenda, and it wasn’t a utopia of freedom for all men, it was an opportunistic one that would benefit THEM. They wrote that ALL men were endowed with certain inalienable rights, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR, while simultaneously holding fellow human beings in bondage of chattal slavery.  Those are not traits I find admirable. And guess what? I can love my country and recognize their contributions while being honest about their flaws.
  4. I love Citizenship ceremonies. I love seeing people from all over the world, from every ethnicity, nation and religion, who know more about our democracy and our constitution than the majority of natural born citizens, pledging to contribute to the beautiful patchwork that makes up the people of this country. I remember going in to my dry cleaners and every time, the woman who worked the counter would put down her citizenship study guide to help me. It made me feel proud to belong to a place where she felt welcome, and that she wanted to be a part of it. At the same time, I recognize that our immigration system is messed up, that it’s too hard for immigrants to come legally, and too easy for some to come illegally. Because I was born here, I consider myself lucky, not entitled, and I don’t begrudge anyone born into a place where there is poverty, famine, war or authoritarian regimes wanting to come here to escape that. I don’t fear people who are not like me, I desire to learn from them.
  5. I am not a fan of the melting pot analogy. I am a fan of cultural diversity. I love to visit the International district in Seattle, Chinatown in San Francisco, Little Saigon in Westminster, Olvera Street in Los Angeles, Little Havana in Miami, Little Italy in New York, the French Quarter in New Orleans. I have no desire to see the colors of the rainbow melted into one giant brown homogenous goop. I want to know about where people come from, I have no desire to strip them of their traditions to ‘Muricanize them. Our country is great because of its people, and the people of this country come from all over the world.
  6. Hatred, fear, exclusivity, elitism, nationalism and racism are not American values, and they sap my patriotism. What invigorates my patriotism is unity, celebration, hospitality to those in need, men and women who risk it all to serve our nation in the armed forces, Veterans, the families of service members who have made so many sacrifices in support of their soldier, their sailor, their marine, their… what do you call Air force people? Ah, Airmen.  And the Coast Guard. However, our treatment of veterans is definitely not a source of national pride for me.
  7. I am related to Francis Scott Key, author of the poem that became the National Anthem. He’s my 3rd cousin, 6x removed. I was excited to discover that fact, less excited to read the 3rd verse that no one really thought about or knew existed prior to the protests of Colin Kaepernick, the now much-maligned and former quarterback in the NFL. On a side note, protests are as American as… peach pie.
  8. For those who have known me a while, it may not be a surprise that I have a strong affection for the First Nations people of America. As a young child, I wanted to belong to a tribe. I didn’t know enough to know that there are more than 500 registered tribes, all with varying languages, culture, traditions, history. I think we are really missing out by painting them all with one broad cultural brush.
  9. My great grandfather was a World War I veteran, National Commander of the American Legion, LA county Assessor,  candidate for governor of the state of California. and a strong advocate for veteran’s affairs. His father was an immigrant from Ireland who settled in the central valley of California, having left his home during the Great Famine. I can admire my great grandfather while also acknowledging that he had a huge blind spot regarding immigrants. You see, despite the fact that his father came to this country seeking a better life, he believed that immigrants, particularly those of Mexican descent, were taking jobs that rightfully belonged to veterans. Rather than solely addressing the failings of the US government to serve the needs of returning veterans and their families or the widows and orphans created by our involvement in global conflicts, he found a convenient  scapegoat. If he were alive today, I would argue to him that we can welcome immigrants and serve our veterans. These two issues are not mutually exclusive.
  10. We’ve spent hundreds of dollars, possibly thousands, on fireworks over the years, on something that literally goes up in a puff of smoke (with report). My husband used to joke “some have a 401k, we have fireworks.” This year, as with last year, we have spent zero dollars. I can tell you it feels really good.
  11. I used to think the American experience was the same for everyone. I didn’t know that there were different levels of “freedom,” depending on your ethnicity and/or your income. I believed opportunities were the same for everyone, and that the American Dream was a reality for anyone who wanted it. I still  believe it’s true, but I’ve talked to too many people for whom race and poverty have impeded that dream, obstacles had to be overcome that I never had to face, and discouraging discrimination that I never experienced. I don’t take my freedom for granted, not only because I know that it’s a rare and valuable thing, but also because I know many people who have been deprived of it in many ways. I acknowledge my privilege and fight alongside those who haven’t been born with it.
  12. Wonder Woman may be my favorite American this year, and she’s Amazonian. Or Greek. It’s kind of confusing.

I know this is rambling. Like I said, I’m in a weird place, I’ve got the remnants of a nasty cold, and it’s just been a strange year.

So, happy birthday America. Hope you get some therapy and next year I’ll feel more like celebrating. I’m headed to Canada in a couple weeks, and that Justin Trudeau and socialized medicine is pretty appealing. I just think you should know, I’ve got options if you can’t pull it together.