Events that had large effects on your family

A few years ago I received a photocopy of my great grandmother’s handwritten memoirs. She is the only great grandmother that I interacted with as a child, so I found them interesting.

It has been years since I read it but I remember a few details. She was born in 1902 and had several children. The forth, a son, died at ~2 years old. She described her grief in detail over this.

A year or two later they had another son, and she also described her delight at this after the death of their previous son. This was their last child and he was a good bit younger than the other children. It was not hard to discern that he was a “replacement child.” That son is my grandfather.

Every once in a while I will think of that child that died. It is most likely that if he had not died, my grandfather, my father, and I would not be here. That one death cause a ripple of births, marriages, births, marriages, etc that changed the lives of dozens of people.

When these events happen (deaths, or even happy things) we understandably focus on the immediate effects. It is not often that we stop and think about how they change the fabric of history for generations.

Do you have a story like that in your family? Has one event (small or big) changed generations and you?

I sure do. In 1913, a few months before my mother’s birth, there was a terrible accident in which her 9 yo brother killed her 6 yo sister. This has had repercussions to this day. First place, in some obscure way, my g’mother blamed my mother. Her brother suffered terribly all his life and died at 41, an alcoholic and probable suicide. My g’mother was miserable to my mother all her life. When another son came along, she treated him better, but he also had psychological problems, although he overcame them. When my g’father died, g’mother moved in with us. Fortunately, I was in college and, although a commuter, not home very much (I was actually a part-time student with a full-time job) and not affected, but she made my brother and sister’ lives miserable and I think damaged them. Although I cannot prove that all this traces to the 1913 accident, it certainly seems so.

Around 1900, my grandfather came to America, as a 19yo draft dodger. He came from a place that was sometimes in Poland and sometimes in Russia, depending on who won the latest war. Once he got here, he brought over his siblings, one by one, as he could afford it.

Fast forward about 40 years. Every one of his relatives who didn’t come here was killed in the Holocaust. Today, we have a nicely populated family, but I can’t help thinking about the extended family that was totally wiped out.

My bio grandma had schizophrenia, in the 50s. Obviously this greatly impacted the lives of my dad and his siblings.

But what also happened was that grandpa needed help with the 4 young kids. Through his Mennonite church he was supplied a young woman to help around the house when grandma spent time in an institution. Grandma stabalized, I guess, and/or the kids grew up, and the helper was dismissed.

Thirty-some years later grandma died. Grandpa looked up the whereabouts of the young helper woman. They were married a year later. Grandpa had an incredibly different and incredibly wonderful (and long) second half of his life. The most amazing thing that could have come out of such an unfortunate time in his life.

My 18 year old mom was desperate to leave her household. She was going to go to college, but she didn’t get the scholarship she needed. So she married my dad at 18 and had five kids instead.

So my existence is dependent on that scholarship.

My great-great grandfather and small family were starved out of Norway, possibly because his hillside farm was just dirt-poor, or maybe because of the European potato famine, or both.

After arriving in Minnesota, he and great-great-grandmother went on to have bookoo more children, including my great-grandfather.

So, thanks to emigration and plentiful crops in the new world, lots of kids were born to go on and populate large stretches of the northern midwest prairie - all thanks to hard conditions back in Norway in the mid-1800s.

The only thing I can think of is that my grandfather was stationed in Galveston during the later part of World War II after his combat service was concluded.

After the war, decided that he liked it enough there to move there and raise his children. That put my mother and father within close proximity, and the rest is history.

My brother tried to track down my father’s relatives from the little information Daddy gave us about his family. We found out everything he told us was a lie. No record of him or his so-called relatives can be found.

My brother also had his DNA ancestry tested. Turns out he is 25% Inuit Native American and 25% Russian. That must be Daddy’s contribution, but we still haven’t been able to find out anything else.

My maternal grandfather survived being gassed in WWI, and while he recovered completely at the time, it’s believed that this may have contributed to him developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the kind that usually strikes young children, at the age of 61. It was still a death sentence at the time, and he succumbed to this less than a month later.

Shortly before they married, my maternal grandmother was at the wheel in a car that was parked by a river, and the gears slipped and the car rolled into the river. Nobody was injured, but she was so freaked out, she never got behind the wheel again.

My paternal grandfather had a bizarre whole-body tremor that was dubbed “Parkinson’s” but he didn’t look like any Parkinson’s patient I’ve ever seen; my dad has said, “You used to see people like that around, but you don’t any more.” Anyway, we believe now that this was a consequence of the 1918 flu epidemic; he was a teenager at the time.

AFAIK, my paternal grandmother had no similar stories to tell.

So, if any of those incidents had proven fatal, a lot of people wouldn’t be here either.

Well, our grandfather studied in America in the 1920s. He came back to our country, settled down and lived out his life. He died in 1975. Segui to 2012, at a party for our Mom’s 85th birthday. Our sister made a slide show about things she researched on the net. The first was a picture of the ship’s manifest (the one Gramps boarded on the way to Seattle) showing his signature. The second shows his signature on a certification (what do you call it?) that he made the Oath of Allegiance. That makes him American, right? He never told anyone.

My dad needed money to get his journalism degree. He entered a contest to write a radio script for a show called Rogers of the Gazette, about a small town newspaper editor. He worked on his entry for months and sent it in. A few days before the deadline, he submitted another one that he’d just dashed off. He won (guess which script), got a job on a small town newspaper himself, met my mother, and the rest is history.

I love this story! I’m so glad your Grandpa had a second chance at love.

My paternal grandfather was living in Pennsylvania around 1905. There was no work so he and two of his brothers hopped freights to Minnesota where they had heard there was work harvesting wheat. There they met some boys from Illinois. One had a picture of his sister. Gramps told the boy “when we’re done here I’m going home with you and marry your sister.” And he did. Hence: me.

Studying my family’s genealogy makes me very aware of how amazingly unlikely is my birth.

I’ve traced many family lines back to 10th great grandparents, of which I have 4,096. If any one of those people had lived the least bit differently, I wouldn’t be here. At some point, somebody in every one of those lines was motivated to sail across an ocean to a new land.

My maternal grandmother was a child during the Great Depression. Her family lost their farm in West Tennessee, so they were forced to move to the big city (Chicago) where my great-grandfather found work.

My grandmother grew up in Chicago and met my grandfather there.

So, if not for the Great Depression, I would not be here.

My mother had 4 children in 4 years. It should have been 5 in 5 but she miscarried the last. 3 years later my younger brother was born. If #5 had survived, we believe my brother would have never happened. Based on our current family dynamics, that would have been a pretty big hole now.

There is also some irony in this. My grandmother lost a child at 2 years old from scarlet fever, this child was my mother’s youngest sister. Her name was Evelyn Ann. My mother gave the same name to the miscarried fetus. Two years ago a cousin became a grand mother for the third time. Her daughter named the baby Evelyn Ann. We are all hoping that this child breaks the curse of that name.

Two items about my father: My father had two older brothers who both died in childhood, leaving him to be an only son, and his mother to be fretful and anxiety-ridden. That psychology has passed down the generations, both as imitative and reactive. And, it’s left us always wondering what it would have been like to have uncles and cousins like him.

He was drafted during the Korean War, and got assigned to the Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps. When it was time to select graduates to go to the war, the officer started at the end of the alphabet and had his quota filled before reaching Dad. So, he got to spend the war defending New York, trailing suspected commies, instead of getting targeted by a Chinese sniper. Without that, I might have had some stranger for a father instead.

If my paternal grandfather’s first wife hadn’t died, he never would have married my grandmother, and a whole lot of people wouldn’t exist. Of course, a whole lot of other people might have existed instead…

I’ve related this before, I’m sure. My great grandfather was captured by the Confederates at 2nd Bull Run. They wanted to kill him, but during the night he and one of his guards recognized each other and the guard vouched for him the next morning. He was released without his weapon and headed north. Pure chance saved future generations.

My mother’s plans to go to college went in the toilet soon after she graduated high school in 1929. The Depression meant that she had to work, and it was as a shop girl that she met my father, who drove a delivery truck. That likely wouldn’t have happened if the economy hadn’t tanked.

My parents had two children in the 30s. My father then headed off to Alaska to find work and his absences became longer than his home time. Apparently, to celebrate the end of WWII, they had unprotected sex, and I was born. He left shortly after that, and I never knew him. So, if not for the Nazis, I wouldn’t be here.

Two words: Potato Famine

My great grandfather left Ireland mid-19th century for a better life in North America. Made his way through Canada and eventually settled in Sacramento where he met my great grandmother. He was older when he started his family, and my grandmother was the youngest of 4 girls in a traditional Irish Catholic family.