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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Broken Branches in the Family Tree

What a strange week I've had, one filled with family ghosts from a century ago. Their words, deeds, thoughts, and even a photo showing the face of a key player in a dramatic tragedy, someone I'd never seen, appeared with ease. It was as though they'd all been waiting for me to come along to release them and let them tell their stories. So fresh and real is the presence of my ancestors right now, that time means nothing.

It's a long story, one I plan to write a book about. It all began with some tattered and incomplete newspaper clippings discovered after both my grandparents were dead. I thought it had ended with me on my hands and knees looking for, and finding, my great-grandmother's unmarked grave. But no. The mysteries remained. Yet in less than a minute of looking at microfilm in the Tacoma Public Library's Northwest Room, I'd found another lengthy article and the complete versions of the rest. My family's tragedy made the news in Tacoma for weeks in that certain year. Those discoveries, along with others at the court house, and on the internet, especially in the Washington State Digital Archives, led to many more. All will become additional chapters in the family saga.

I sat in the library that day with a new friend and fellow researcher, Northwest author Lawrence D. "Andy" Anderson. I'd purchased his amazing book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain: A History of Early Graham, Kapowsin, Benston, Electron, and Vicinity," almost two years earlier. Now some strange coincidences, and a mutual acquaintance, had brought us together. Because of his interest in the area in which part of the story occurred, and having been caught up in the intrigue, he kindly offered to educate me on archival research. I showed him an old group photo I knew nothing about and he recognized three people in it. Now he's in deep, as excited as I am to uncover more information.

Today I called my mother's elderly first cousin on the East Coast. I've been keeping her abreast of these developments, since her father and my grandmother were both innocent children living out this drama, orphaned when their mother died. She told me a story I'll never forget. One day, when her parents were newlyweds, someone knocked on the door of their house on Vashon Island, here in Washington. Her mother opened it to find one of the people involved in this family story standing on the porch. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me," he said. She screamed. Her husband ran to her side but the man was gone. The next day they received a telegram saying this person had died, in New Jersey, just before he appeared to them.

I might have been more amazed had it not been a week full of these kinds of revelations. After Andy and I spent the day at the library, I came home obsessed with it all. I thought so much about my great-grandmother, whose high-collared dress and Gibson Girl hairdo frame a beautiful face with haunting eyes, in an old portrait I have. She seems to speak to me. I asked her to lead me in the right direction. Little did I dream I'd learn so much in one week, how many clues would fall into my lap. That night, just before bed, I realized something that stunned me; out of 365 possible days of the year on which I might have researched her life, that day, was the anniversary of her death. I hope she'll soon rest in peace.

Copyright 2009 Candace J. Brown

1 comment: said...

Just stopping by to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! I enjoy reading your blog.