Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From Whence We Came

My past has come to me in snippets and phrases recently in a way I have never known it before. Not the past of my own lifetime, but the past of those who came before me. Great-grandparents I never considered before suddenly seen in tinted black and white photos, great-great-grandparents revealed through obituaries or obscure signatures on censuses from centuries past.

Grandma Mary

If I’m honest, I have rarely given my ancestors much thought, other than to be grateful for their decisions which led to my existence. Occasionally I’ll be on the boat with hubby or shopping for a new pair of shoes, and I wonder what my depression-era great-grandparents would think of me and my lifestyle, so vastly different that their own. Would it be with pride for my accomplishments, or with censure for the frivolousness?

But recently, my sister and my aunt have begun sharing the fruits of their family-tree-building labors, and all of the sudden, the past is becoming real. My father’s mother, sporting a pageboy and giggling beside her sister . . . perched atop a huge motorcycle, adventure and challenge lighting her eyes . . . posing confidently in a daring bikini, her smile lighting her whole face. My father’s father, standing tall beside a plane, his lean frame hearty and hail . . . in his military uniform, straight-backed and full of pride . . .

And for the first time ever, I saw a photo of my paternal grandfather’s father. He looked oddly kind in the picture, unusual for the stoic photos of the era. He looked like the sort of man who would welcome his wife’s interruption of his work day, and slip peppermint candies to his grandchildren when their parents weren’t looking.

But the most striking of all of my family tree discoveries were about my great, great-grandmother, Cecelia McCrea Kelly (my mother’s mother’s father’s mother). Memorialized in the obituaries of her local paper in 1934, it was immediately clear that she was something special. She was well-known and well-loved in her community, universally referred to as Mother Kelly. She was “sought for advice in practically all births and illness. These services was (sic) from her kindness and benevolence to her fellowmen, and not for any material gain, which she never accepted.”

Great, Great Grandma Kelly

I read and reread the words, awed by the respect and love my ancestor had garnered. She wasn’t royalty, celebrity, or even wealthy—she was merely giving of her time, heart, and talents. The swell of pride I felt at having descended from such a fine woman was palpable, and I was inspired to somehow be sure that she would live on. But what could I do?

The answer came to me as I plotted the Christmas novella that I'm working on. Mother Kelly's gift may have been in healing, but mine is in writing, and as such, I have decided that Miss Cecilia McCrea wasn’t just a hero—she shall be my heroine :-) So keep your eyes out this November when my Christmas novella comes out. I do hope I’ll be able to do Cece justice! And more than anything, I hope that my great, great-grandmother would be pleased by my small gesture, and that she'd know how proud I am to be her great, great-granddaughter!

What are some of the surprising finds you've discovered in your own family tree? Who would you memorialize as your hero or heroine if you had a chance?


  1. I learned that when my paternal great-grandmother made the ship journey from Ireland to America, she brought her pet canary with her!

    Also the move from Denmark to England was precipitated by winning a duel against a rich man's son. Two brothers had to flee for their lives.

    1. Her CANARY?? Wow, that's amazing! I guess if I was crossing the Atlantic to my new home, nothing would keep me from bringing my pets too :)

      And wow on the duel - just wow. Unrelated, but to this day I regret not buying a set of dueling pistols I saw at a pawn shop almost a decade ago. Back then, $100 was too rich for my blood!

    2. My father went to her village and found some cousins. They all remembered the story of her taking her canary with her. He survived the journey.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes...that's so lovely you've named your heroine for her. It is amazing to think of them as living, breathing, feeling, motorcycle riding people isn't it? I wonder if we will be such a mystery to our ancestors...or if they'll know everything about us because of the internet. Will there be an internet?? It boggles the mind. I can not wait to go find more information like Janet Lee in the villages in Ireland to try and get more of the stories from our past...

    1. I know - it is one thing to know their names, it is quite another to see them shining with life, and read stories of their lives and exploits.
      And, seeing how I won't have any descendents, I doubt they'll think much of me ;) However, if I do become fabulously rich and famous, I'm sure my siblings' descendents will be happy to claim me!