05 November 2011

Sentimental Sunday - To Whom It May Concern...

I'm so glad you found me. I'm much, much more than my birth date, the dates of my marriages (yes, more than one) and my death. Because while those will help fill out your family tree, I can assure you, I lived life in between those dates the best way I knew how and I would like for that life to be remembered.

It's not easy being the one on the end of the branch, the 'last'. For what it's worth, it wasn't by choice (perhaps that changes your perspective of the 'childless woman'). I grew up in a fairly large family group; I was the youngest in a group of cousins; my mom and her two sisters had 11 children between them of which only 2 were girls. My only other female cousin was 11 years older than me, and married by the time she was 18, so we never really got to know one another. As the baby of the group, I received a lot of attention and I grew to adore being a part of a large family; it was an essential part of who I was and how I identified myself. I always thought I would have a family of my own; I was 29 when I found out, via a near fatal illness passed down through my mother and her ancestors, that I could not have children.

It was many years after that I realized what it meant to be the last leaf on the branch. It was from this perspective that I began my genealogical research. Suddenly my unmarried aunts and uncles in every generation would catch my eye. As an Archivist and Genealogist, I tried to look beyond the vital records, to uncover any information that might shed light on who they were and how they lived their lives. The most obvious question was always, 'Why didn't you marry?' because without being married, there were no children to pass on their legacy.

My research uncovered three on my mother's side; a brother and  his two sisters who traveled across the country to settle in a new place, alone. The nature of the brother and one sister's personal relationships was lost to my knowledge, but the other, well, her Will revealed much. Imagine, as a woman in the early 1950s, having the wherewithal to ensure that the woman who had been your 'friend and companion' for forty plus years was cared for until her death, at which time your own estate was then divided among your heirs. It was a beautiful gesture. Oh, and they were buried together in one crypt in the mausoleum.

Sadly, though, I knew little else of them as people. What were their joys and sorrows? What were their stories? Of course, if I'd been independently wealthy, I'd have happily spent my days delving into these questions. But I was an Archivist and Genealogist, so money was often in short supply. My wonder at what the technology of my time could do was the catalyst for me to start to write. I hope that you'll be happy that in these writings I've provided more than just a little glimpse into who I was.

As I grew older, my life changed, as did the lives of so many in my family and our time together became more and more infrequent. I miss the warmth of Sundays spent with my family in many, many ways. I loved to cook, especially for groups of people, and I'd often been told I was a great cook. I loved to play cards (pinochle was a family favorite) as well as doing jigsaw puzzles (my granny and her daughters always had puzzles in some semblance of completion on tables in their homes). I knew how to stitch, sew and knit. I played the guitar and sang. I loved art; while I didn't have a talent for it I wasn't bad at it and enjoyed it a lot. I loved all kinds of music. I volunteered for service organizations because the feeling I got from serving others came the closest to what it felt like to be with my family; it gave me warmth even in the most challenging of circumstances

I hope that while you're performing your research that you'll think a bit more deeply about those of us at the end of the branches. We lived and loved, had joy and sorrow, succeeded and failed miserably. The only difference is we just weren't blessed with our own descendants to carry on the story of our lives. I wrote from my heart, in the hopes my story would be told. Will you do it for me?


  1. Laura, when I find people in my tree who did not marry, or more frequently, childless couples, I try to "adopt" them a bit since I know it's unlikely anyone else will tell their stories. In the last 150 years there are quite a few of them in my mother's family - thus, we are a pretty small family. Thanks for your words, I truly think you speak for a lot of people.

  2. What a moving post. I will admit I have not spent as much time as I probably should on the "last leaf" on some of my branches. But on the other hand I have tried to make it a point to tell the stories of some of those who never had the opportunity.

    Like my cousin Bob Brouk the Flying Tiger. He did marry but was killed in a training accident during WWII three weeks after marriage. My great great uncle Michael Kokoska who died during WWI and my cousins James Privoznik and Frank Winkler who died during WWII. All those men died young and never had a chance to have heirs or tell their stories. We need to remember those leaves as well.

  3. A beautiful and heart-warming post Laura. It made me stop and think not only because of some of my ancestors but also myself.

    Probably the time's past for another generation but for this last leaf there's the chance to enhance the rest of the forest when I fall off my branch. Until that point I'm soaking up the wonderful autumnal sun.

    Thanks for such a wonderful post.

  4. I've never really bothered looking into my family history (not a genealogist), but I'm sure that there are relatives that have not been lucky enough to expand their family branch. But family does not completely define us. I have no doubt that they touched and enriched friends' lives just as much, maybe more, than those who did expand their branches. I believe good friends are family members that we actually get to choose.

  5. Laura, So many of the childless family members impacted our extended family over the generations - the aunts and uncles who took in orphaned ancestors, the priests and nuns who continue to inspire us, the cousins and aunts who lived large in our lives because they were not so absorbed in their own children.

    Our value lies in the fullness of the life we live - not in whether we have children. And after we die, well I can't say it any better than Nigel did above.

  6. Thank you all for your generous comments. I've been touched by how many people have responded to this post; sometimes it's difficult to express things that challenge us, but I know that I'm not alone in how I feel and that's what prompted me to write it.


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