Weddings generally illicit warm, loving feelings. Sadly, I believe that too often, the wedding anniversaries of our ancestors go by without much notice. My father didn’t remember his parent’s anniversary; his sister was the family record keeper and I kept forgetting to ask her when it was. My mother, however, remembered her parent’s anniversary in 1917, and often commented about it. Since it was the Wersel family that I was researching, this was one of the first dates I committed to memory.
Of course, when you begin tracing your family history, you should always begin with yourself. So, when I purchased my genealogy software, I entered my own information, including my wedding date: February 29, 1996. That’s right, I chose Leap Day to get married. It seemed appropriate to me, since my husband and I had been together five years, and we both felt it was a leap of faith to take on the responsibility of being married. He asked me numerous times if I was certain that I wanted to get married that day; my reasoning was that a wedding anniversary should be celebrated generously and I believed if ours happened only every four years that we would be sure to do that.
I felt strongly about this, mainly because my parents always celebrated their anniversary in style, even with their meager means. My father always bought my mom flowers, and it was rare that they didn’t have a meal out or celebrate with the family. My parent’s wedding was a small afternoon affair, in Evanston, IL, on a beautiful fall day in 1954. They both came from very modest means, so there were cookies and coffee after the service, but no grand party. My mom often discussed how her much older sisters (by 11 and 9 years respectively) lived vicariously through her, and since she wasn’t one to ‘speak up’ she let them have their way. My mom wore blush pink, and her matrons/maids wore off-white, which was quite the fashion at the time.
My grandparents were married in 1917, and my parents in 1954. Nothing unusual there, right? Except for the exact dates: Frances Jeffery and Victor Wersel were married DECEMBER 7, 1917. On my grandparent’s 24th wedding anniversary, the family huddled around the radio listening in fear as the announcer recounted the disaster taking place at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And, my mother said, their anniversary was never quite the same, being overshadowed by such a catastrophic event. I always thought it was a bit sad that they allowed that to happen; after all, throughout the course of history there have been horrible events on nearly every day, but this didn’t prevent people from celebrating life’s happier moments.
Until, that is, 2001. That’s right. My parents would celebrate their 47th anniversary on SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. I was watching the morning news as I routinely did, when the events started to play out right in front of my eyes. I won’t go into detail, but I spent the day seeking out friends and co-workers in the financial and consulting industry that either worked in the buildings or in New York. But my first thought was, ‘oh no…not Mom & Dad too!’ The flowers my dad had arranged for my mom still arrived, but my parent's did not go out for their planned celebratory dinner. It wasn’t until 2004 that we had a party for them to celebrate their 50th; I think everyone felt it was time to start allowing ourselves to celebrate life, and love, again.
Do you know your grandparent’s wedding anniversary, or your great-grandparent’s anniversary? Do you think it’s important to celebrate and remember these dates, or is it just one more piece of evidence that needs to be located when researching your family tree? As the last leaf on this branch, I don’t think my Leap Day leap will garner much attention…