17 April 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Another Prevarication Put to Rest

With the fanfare around the 1940 Census, I've seen and heard many people new to family history, and even many grizzled veterans, speak of the importance of oral histories. As an Archivist, I believe I have an added incentive to know and understand how best to capture oral histories as a critical component to a more complete cultural history picture. But, a word of warning (or just a reminder): not everyone tells the truth.

In many, many ways, I'm very fortunate. I have first hand knowledge into just how far some people will go to lie. It's not even not remembering, we all do that. While trying to find out where my Mom lived in 1940, we had to have two conversations before she "properly" remembered that she hadn't lived in one place, but two, in Wausau, WI. As she began reconstructing her own memory, she realized that she was remembering bits and pieces of the two places and that they'd combined in her mind. She was seven years old then; she'll be 79 this summer. Oh, and she has Alzheimer's. It happens.

Nope, what I'm talking about is good ole garden-variety prevarication. I love this quote by Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist (1934-1996): "One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back." In my case, the 'charlatan' was my Dad's mother, Flo Leatherman Cosgrove. Truth is, Flo most likely suffered from mental illness. Now, even THAT sentence could be wrong; I have no medical evidence of this, but rather a long litany of stories, some of which had they happened in more contemporary times would have landed her in jail. However, much of what Flo passed on through oral history is now being uncovered as untrue by genealogical fact.

Yesterday, I received a wonderful gift. A Twitter follower, @Litherlander, took the time to travel to the town of Burnley, Lancashire, England to look for the grave of my paternal aunt, Mary Ann. From the notes in my Family Tree Maker 2011 database, "According to Marilou Cosgrove, her father told her that he had a sister named Maryanne (spelling unknown) who died when she was approximately 16 years old of spinal menangitis.  There is also a story first told by Flo Leatherman Cosgrove that when they tried to have her buried, the priest declined because they didn't have any money to give him...so she was buried in a pauper's field." It's always sad when young people die; it's the promise of life unfulfilled. And as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, my unknown aunts and uncles are often my focus. 

So, my greatest concern was locating Mary Ann to verify where she's buried, and to find out if she has a proper marker on her grave. Imagine my delight when I received these pictures:

Photo courtesy @Litherlander April 2012

Photo courtesy @Litherlander April 2012 

The stone says, "Pray for the Soul of Mary Ann the beloved daughter of James and Catherine Cosgrove, She died Nov. 7th, 1906, aged 17 years, 'I beseech all those who love me to grant me the help of their prayers.'" 

I can't tell you how happy I am that Flo was a prevaricator. It's sad that Mary Ann died when she was so young, but at the very least she is buried in a lovely spot and has a proper monument. I also now have to unravel the additional information provided by the cemetery: the plot has two owners, my great grandfather James Cosgrove and Francis Cosgrove, who I know nothing about. Of the five women buried there, I can only account for two, and I now have three more surnames to add to my list: Feeley, Maher, and Holihan. Ah, I do so love a mystery.


  1. What an amazing treasure, to receive these photographs from a kind soul across the pond! It looks like a beautiful resting place for your ancestors, and all the mysteries they may hold. I bet you're in line for some great discoveries. And thank you for introducing me to a new word: prevarication. As an English major, I love looking up words I don't know!

  2. Isn't it phenomenal, Shelley? And, I'm glad I gave you the opportunity to look up a new word. My mom loved(s) vocabulary, and I grew up 'reading' the dictionary. I find myself, lately, choosing words with a bit more meat, and I thought this'd be a great one to start with. Thanks!

  3. My grandmother... prevaricator extraordinary!
    Lovely stone for this young girl - and so nice to find out the truth.

  4. I truly enjoyed reading this post. I have so many relatives that were buried in the United States without a grave marker.
    One was even a Civil War veteran, but he later became insane and was unceremoniously buried by the mental hospital. Glad to see that your story ended up differently.

  5. Kathy, how terrible! Do you know where he's buried? If I'm not mistaken there's a way to have a marker placed on the graves of veterans who don't have one. If you haven't looked into that, please let me know and I can get the information for you!

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