I thought I'd share something a little different this time around.
In addition to other things I fill my time with, I am also our town's historian. I've been at it a couple years and it's not always easy. This was a small, relatively poor farming community and things like cameras were a luxury not many could afford. In other instances old photos and history is lost to fires, decay of neglect, or just got lost. Those who do have something of historical significance are generally happy to share what they have, but those have been few.
Modern technology, specifically sites such as newspapers.com have made the job easier and revelations are more commonplace. But a couple years ago something took place that not only shed light on some of our town's history, but some personal family history as well.
I tend to remember things from my childhood incorrectly from time to time, so I hope I get this one right.
When I was a kid I recall there being discussion about our great grandfather being married prior to marrying my great grandmother. The story went that they were married very young and she died in her late teens due to pneumonia or the flu. My grandmother told me once that she was buried in the North Chemung cemetery, and our great grandfather leaving the cemetery never to return. He never really spoke of her and never got her a headstone.
That last part has always bothered me some. I recall family members trying to figure out where she was buried, and as I got older and the internet made cemetery searches easier, I looked for her name on the online listings, but never found her there. It was as if she never existed and sometimes I wondered. Years passed by and as I did more searches into archived old newspapers, I began to see her name, Mayme, mentioned in the social columns reported in the local papers back in the early 1900's. So there was finally proof that she did, in fact, exist. Was that her name, nick name, what ? I didn't know.
About a year passed since I found those old articles, and part of me figured that'd be all that we'd be able to find out. She existed, and that was that. A couple months later a neighbor e mailed me that she and her husband had some old history stuff they would like to share, and invited me up to look at it. Part of their collection involves genealogy of several families in the area, including the Butts family. As we looked through the binder I mentioned her name and Mary told me they didn't know anything about her. I said who I thought her parents were, and was told no, they weren't known to have children. They had a sketch of all the graves and who was in them, and there was a grave with the correct surname, but there was still some question of, was that my great grandpa's wife or someone else who is listed by the same name, albeit a different spelling ? Amazingly, on the second trip for more pics the subject came up again and as we were talking, their daughter, who suddenly remembered something she saw in the binders pulled out a photo and said, "Here she is."
And just like that, we put a face to the name. Still, there was no record of who she actually was. If she was their daughter, they would have been significantly older when she was born. Maybe she was a niece ? Was she adopted ? No one really knew. That night on a lark I decided to do a Google search of her name. I have absolutely no idea why I hadn't before, and if I did, why I never got a result. But all the sudden, there was a death notice which shed more light not only on what happened to her but a little insight into our great grandpa's early life. Perhaps more importantly, it listed her parents, although her father's name is misspelled. ( As is our great grandpa's name. At least according to how he spelled it. )
I was ecstatic, as a sort of family mystery was being solved minute by minute. Further searches on Ancestry.com confirmed Mayme's parentage, although little else much to my frustration. ( Life gave me an inch, I wanted the whole rope. ) Interestingly enough, after the recent death of my aunt, we were going through some of her old photos and again, Mayme resurfaced. This picture showed her at about age 18, a very short time before her death.
I tell this story mostly because it's an interesting event and I wanted to share it. We found someone who while not family by blood, still has felt like a missing piece of the puzzle. And another local family's genealogy just became even more complete with finding someone they never knew existed.
But I also find myself even more bothered than before that a young woman was laid in an all but unmarked grave, almost forgotten, and the image of our great-grandfather in the prime of his life walking away broken hearted. A small part of me feels like getting her a proper headstone not only to keep her from being forgotten but also as a favor to our great grandpa.
Headstones are expensive, so the reality is it probably won't happen, but at least now we know a little more about who she was. The mystery of her story is now a permanent part of the town's history as well as our family's.
While her life was short, her memory now lives on.