Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Family Remains

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 09:39 pm
radiumgirl: (remember who you are)

Despite the fact that *facepalm* tends to be the default regard that I hold for pretty much everyone who shares DNA with me, I'm pretty fascinated by my family. I've been intrigued by my ancestors since I was a kid, mostly because I don't know very much about any of them and alot of what I do know is heavily ancedotal across the board. Apparently my dad's grandmother was a snake-charmer in a travelling carnival. All I have as evidence of this is a picture of an old lady in a pink sundress with snake tats all over her arms. Oh, and her name was Claire.

It's occured to me that if I'm going to talk about family history in Radium Girl (the memoir, not the Livejournal), I should probably have the facts straight.

So I signed up for an account. It's not the best method, I know, and believe me, if I could hire a real geneologist I would.  But it's something. And I'm making headway. But Jeebus, geneology is hard.

I really wanted to get some confirmation on the more ancedotal "facts" that my family swears by.

Ok, so really I wanted to get confirmation of the ancedotes that My-Mother-the-Convict swears by.

Melinda's family fascinates me. She was an only-child.  Her father killed himself before she was born. Her mother remarried an abusive alcoholic when Melinda was five and didn't divorce him until Melinda was out of high school. I'm fairly certain that alot of this plays into why Melinda is a psycho.

I even wrote a paper on it, once, for a Sociology class, about how fucked-up people make fucked-up kids, thus producing generation after generation of fucked-up people. It's why I'm completely terrified of eventually making babies because Melinda is a head-case and I'm not too far behind her and I want to think that my compulsive drive to be as un-like my mother as humanly possible means that I'll adore my kids and not ruin them, but then I guess everyone ruins their kids if you think about it. Most people don't even try. I would say that Owen's parents are, like, textbook suburban affluent borderline-obsessed-with-their-children parents who did everything "right": private school, stay-at-home mom, sports and piano lessons; and yet Owen can't sleep at night if he thinks too hard about whether or not his dad is proud of him and once he got really really drunk and cried about how he and his dad never do "father-son" things anymore.

Anyway, Melinda always made a big stink about how her grandfather was at Lakehurst the night the Hindenburg crashed, how he worked there, how her mother said she sat up all night with her mom listening to the radio broadcast and worrying.

I thought this was awesomesauce when I was a kid.

As I got older, I started to doubt this. I mean, Melinda's crazy, after all. And she told me the story after I came home with the book about the disaster when I was eleven, so she probably just wanted to...I don't know. Get me to pay attention to her instead of the book for ten minutes.

Well...I haven't exactly confirmed Melinda's story, but I've found enough evidence that I feel confident enough to make the claim myself.

1930 US Census, baby. I found him. There's a box for "occupation" and it said "railroad" and I was like, "see, lies" and then I scrolled over and there was a box for "employer" and there, in glorious scrawling ink, "Naval Air Station Lakehurst."

So, I think it stands to reason that he very well could have been there on May 6, 1937.

Then there's his wife. She's proving harder to track down because I don't know her maiden name and I'm not calling Melinda just to ask, which is a bit of a shame because she's the legacy here if we're being honest. She's the original (alleged) Radium Girl, and her nickname was meant to evoke a lot more than bad personality traits and inherent potential pickled in Patron.

And when I say she was "the" Radium Girl, what I really mean is that she was "a" Radium Girl because there were many.


All I know about Melinda's grandmother, my great-grandmother, is that her name was Olivia, she worked in a clock factory during World War I, she had two kids: my grandmother, and a still-born son who was apparently horribly deformed, then she died of a brain tumor when she was 39 or 40 and my grandmother inherited a buttload of money "because of it."

Apparently the money was squandered through the combined efforts of her alcoholic second husband and her "not-quite-right" daughter. That's a quote lifted from her diaries, there. I don't like to read them, but I made myself do it once because I remembered her writing in them when I was a kid and I was genuinely curious. They're pretty dark. Not alot of details, just general unhappiness with life. It bothers me how often she writes about Melinda being "not right" and "manipulative" and "nasty" though. The diaries I have in my possession cover 1975 until her death in 1992. I never understood why no one did anything about it if it was so clear that my mom has always had problems...unless they did try, and failed, like me.

So, Melinda says Olivia was a Radium Girl. I say the ancedotal evidence points that way,and the find about my great-grandfather definitely gives Melinda a shiny little brownie point in the credibility department (cherish it, crazy-pants), but I want confirmation before I make such a claim...especially if I'm going to put that claim in in, say, a memoir.

Ah well, back to digging. I have six hours on a bus tomorrow to get my hands dirty. Maybe I'll even cave and call Melinda once we're firmly across state lines.


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