Searching for the stories of women in history always adds an element of difficulty – but it’s the kind of difficult we should embrace. Yes – their names change more regularly and there tends to be less documentation of their lives the further back we go – but in the end, where would we be without them?
As a holiday storm bears down on the East Coast I find myself snuggled under a blanket, scouring Ancestry.com for more links to my family history than any sane person might be willing to uncover. I never liked puzzles as a kid – something about all the patience involved with the hours upon hours of staring at seemingly unrelated pieces… just ask my cousin Danielle – she was always the puzzle pro! But there’s something about following the branches of my own family tree that never ceases to engage me in an ever-unfolding story. When I come across a ‘wall’ in the search as I did today when trying to find more details about my great-grandmother Helen – I’m reminded that this is just another opportunity to talk with my own grandmother over Thanksgiving about what she remembers of her mother-in-law and see where that might take us.
While Helen’s story is on-hold until my own grandmother can shine a light into the proverbial darkness, I was able to follow the line of my other great-grandmother, Frances, on my mother’s side of the family back a few more generations to a certain Ellen who in one fell swoop – changed the futures of her family. Born in Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland – Ellen took a chance on a ship bound for the other side of the ocean. Whether on purpose or by chance, she ended up in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada and eventually married a man who hailed from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. How these two met and decided to create a life together is a story I can only hope to uncover at a later date, but what I find equally compelling is that in one generation – Ellen changed the path of her family – a path that through her daughter Barbara, and her daughter Frances, led to my grandmother, mother, and on to me. I won’t romanticize the journey – perhaps it wasn’t a move made by choice at all. But the point here is that five generations of women are linked by Ellen’s journey – and there is something truly special in that – no matter where the story takes us next…
(Originally written on November 27, 2013)