Give a vigorous shake to any family tree, and in addition to a few nuts, other surprises invariably fall out! Mine is no exception, and you’ve already read about a variety of “surprises” I’ve found through the years. But if you are hoping for a juicy, scandal-laced, DNA-based reveal in this blog post, your time is better spent elsewhere. This one is pretty mundane.
It’s September, 1946, and my mom’s cousin, Jeanne, is getting married. She is second youngest daughter of George Edward (Edward George) Meintzer (Next to Last), my grandfather’s older brother. The two girls (both still living!) are two years apart in age (Mom is older).
Though they lived in the same town, Mom says she and Jeanne didn’t really see too much of each other, growing up. Their fathers had a good relationship, so there wasn’t a family rift. The families lived only a few blocks apart, and Mom remembers Jeanne’s older sister, Helen, babysitting for her a couple times. But Jeanne’s mom was Catholic, with the children raised Catholic, so the families attended different churches, possibly different schools. And you know how it is with kids — they don’t really want to hang out with younger kids — even cousins!
But, by 1946, everyone is grown up, with my mom married for almost two years! She and Dad arrive at Jeanne’s wedding, most likely with her parents. Also in tow is my sister, Carole, seven months old, cute as a button, undoubtedly enjoying her brief stint as “only child.”
Imagine my mom’s surprise to see Aunt Rose (The Maiden Aunt) and Uncle Joe Rau also attending! They are from my dad’s side: Aunt Rose is the sister of my other grandmother, Victoria. Why are they here at my mom’s cousin’s wedding? What was going on?
It turned out that the bridegroom was Uncle Joe’s nephew! Uncle Joe’s sister, Mary, was the mother of the groom. Who would ever anticipate that? Of course, it didn’t change anything — my dad wasn’t related to Jeanne’s new husband. The two of them were just related — one by DNA, one by marriage — to the same person (Uncle Joe). It was simply one of those random occurrences that pop up in families.
As so often happens, quirky little things like that are easily forgotten. When I began my research in my teens, Mom and I paid a visit to her cousin, seeing what she might know about the Meintzers. Jeanne brought out a thick binder with the genealogy of her husband to show me. Someone in his family had researched and put it together, and he obtained a copy. It was interesting, but it really had nothing pertinent for us. Of course, it showed Uncle Joe’s connection to Jeanne’s husband, which Mom had forgotten about. It also made my fledgling genealogy look puny by comparison . . .
Fast forward 35+ years . . . The “Great Photo Identification Project” was still underway. Mom and I were on a road trip to the Chicago area and stopped by to see Jeanne. It was just a “sit and catch up” visit, but the conversation turned to photographs and the difficulty in identifying some of them.
This photo of Aunt Rose holding my sister was one of the problem photos we owned. Aunt Rose was easily identifiable, as was Carole. The woman on the right proved to be a puzzle, though. From the corsages, we knew is was some “event” — we just couldn’t place it. So while they chatted, Mom mentioned it. Conveniently, I had an image on my laptop, and pulled it up to show Jeanne. She took one look and said, “That’s my mother-in-law!”
Say what?? How did Mom not remember it being from Jeanne’s wedding? I guess she was busy taking care of a baby, and didn’t pay attention to Jeanne’s new in-laws. At least the mystery was finally solved! And yes, the photo has been properly labeled.
What’s the take-away from this? First, it’s a good idea to be careful with what you say about whom. You never know who might be distantly connected to you — or to someone you know. And when DNA testing enters the mix, all bets are off!
Second, label the pictures! Now. ALL of them. Not just one copy, Every. Single. Print. If you label only one (that you have multiples of) and give it away, where does that leave you? Unlabeled again, that’s what! Just do it.
Lastly, write the stories down. It is too easy to forget about them, or forget to repeat them to others, so they know about them. We’ve all played “telephone” enough to know how that game turns out, and we know the effect it can have on our family stories (Colorful and Close Up)! Having the stories committed to paper at least locks them into a particular version. It may still be wrong (or not completely right — not quite the same thing as wrong), but at least there’s a more fixed starting point, and something concrete to either prove or disprove.
Most importantly, enjoy the surprises (good or bad) when they show up. They make our family history more interesting! That’s what keeps most genealogists coming back for more.