Blog world: But what matters to family herstory? below
She never quit telling the story — that and a few others. There was the one her being upset that Harry had served Black people in the soup kitchen during the Great Depression. She told that one even the last time I saw her. And the one about how her father would marry the “unfit couples” across the railroad tracks. There were many.
All were gossip. Vicious gossip. Our ancestor religion teaches about gossip in the Good Book – the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is called Lashon Hara and there are words for it in Greek, English, Arabic and all around the world; it speaks of the destructive use of words.
Ethel was mad at her brother-in-law Harry Knight. Period.
But I learned a couple of years ago that this one of my Great Aunt Ethel’s stories came all the way to the 21st century, like a broken telephone, with only part of the story. Almost 100 years after the events, the vicious gossip spilled over into the future, to make people suspicious of others, long after everyone that was involved was dead.
This came up because, years ago, I had left a case and a box with my jewelry at Ethel’s house. But when I asked about my rings and more, I was told that neither Ethel nor Ethel’s daughter Mary had told the third generation about anything being mine, and she would not do anything while her dad was alive.
The gossip, the evil-speak, was hurtful before and remained so throughout the lives of them all — Ethel and her sister and the wider family. And now, this hurt, this almost 100-year-old tragedy from the Great Depression, came to my life.
Yes, I was offered a chance to go through Ethel’s house at the deaths, but Mary had said she had already moved my things to her house. The things are all cursed. Even with the jewelry, these pieces were not valued for money, but treasured for the memories. My wedding ring set from my children’s father was being safely kept for them. Ethel even showed one of my boys the rings. And several jewelry pieces from family, even my mother. There were four portraits of me, two with my children; just one was returned.
It was when I asked about these pieces that I heard from my family. And Ethel’s story about how her “rings were sold” had become, decades later, a story of “who sold the rings?” This passed-down gossip now was affecting the reputations of a new generation of people. Lashon Hara.
It was the Great Depression and little Mary was very young. I cannot say the exact year, maybe 1933 or 1934. Arthur’s ordeal in No-man’s Land during World War I, well before his marriage, had caught up with him; he had gotten the shakes and become disabled. As Ethel told the story, some people questioned her judgment in leaving baby Mary home alone with a former soldier suffering PTSD, but she said she never lost faith in Arthur. She never doubted that he would care for Mary, and never let her get hurt. And she was right.
While Arthur was disabled, Ethel went to work, walking miles from Sandusky to the Ensley streetcar line to go to downtown Birmingham and work for the Jewish store – the best in town. She dressed the best women. But there was an unexpected expense — I don’t know what — and Ethel needed a loan. So she put up her wedding rings from the late Harford Farr, her first husband, who had died in the great influenza in 1919.
Whenever she told the story, she readily admitted that both Pearl and Harry had warned her not to use the pawnshop. But Harry had done the books for the pawnbroker, so she was sure this would make the loan secure. A year later she still could not redeem the rings. The pawnbroker gave her an added month, but in the end he sold them off.
Ethel always admitted that neither Harry nor Pearl had the cash to redeem the rings either. It was the Depression. But she would always say Harry should have done more to use his influence with the pawnbroker.
Now, Harry had only done the man’s accounts for a short while, both admitted, and this was a pawnbroker after all. Pearl would reply, in Ethel’s kitchen over coffee and cheese, that Harry had begged the man for more time. Standing by the violets in the window and getting louder by the minute, she would tell her sister that Harry had lost the man’s business because of Ethel’s carrying-on.
And now the gossip has spread to a new generation.
The story in the Good Book about Lashon Hara is an amazing warning to think before you speak. About spreading and using gossip to question or hurt people – whether it is true or not. The story says that on the Day of Judgment, at the Beit Din (the house of judgment), the judges can hear no more gossip about you than what you had spread. So if you never gossip in your life, the judges of the Beit Din will hear no gossip about you.
So here is my gossip’s worth. And let it be said: I have been crushed. It wasn’t things the that mattered, it was this clear point made…
“Well, daddy says someone sold E.E.s rings.”
I am sorry about what happened to E.E. — Aunt Ethel — in the early 1930s. It is happening to me now.
Blog world: But what matters to family herstory?
Death, estate fights in the courts are one of the best sources of family information one can find. Thinking of the phrase we all have to die and pay taxes is very true. A record could be used to confirm or discount a person in a record.
One of my best examples of a mistaken identity that is so blatantly wrong, yet folks will not let it go. There are two men. John Money was born, lived and died in Maryland. His 1795 probated Will is not in the early index of Wills and Estates in Maryland. But John Money’s will is there in Maryland. There is Jacob Money a man of North Carolina, maybe born, but lived with records all his life there and his last record of paying taxes with a squirrel (which was a common form of payment) was 1811 and maybe another in 1813, in North Carolina. The Maryland man had refined penmanship and the North Carolina man signed with an X. And the y-DNA does not match and so far, no one who has tested, shares any, even remote, autosomal DNA.
The wills and fights in this family of the rings are many and vicious.
There was, From the start-up money that paid for the mines at Tannehill to the support money that kept it going in bad times, contributions by family kept uncle John Bishop in business, flourishing at times. But never returned, not even interest on a dime.
Then there was, The 2nd wife, who completely cut out the children of the first marriage when the father died. None of the children’s 50% split (the wife got 50% automatically) went to wife number one’s children and all the property and the mine, had come from wife number one’s family money.
There is the 16 grave cemetery plot. Don’t get me started. The eight graves there are the only graves to ever be buried there. It is a snob thing. It is petty. It is unchristian. I certainly do not want to be there and would tell anyone to never, just because. But she left orders for no more burials – she will not be able to approve the pedigree, so control from beyond the grave is to keep the ground pure.
But then there is the other story – about who is buried on the other side of the plot – secretly.
County by county is where and how you search for any estate, probate and last tax bill daddy paid to Uncle Sam. Don’t forget orphan’s court if the person had minor children.
And name changes – and the laws varied from county to city to state and back. Simple to change your name if you say so in print? In a court? And those divorces and notices in the newspaper that no more debts will be paid by this man for his estranged wife.
Miss used to say, “God Bless The Child That’s Got His Own”.
I add, got his own, and it was in his or her name in a record!