Family Remains

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

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.


Date: June 9th, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey man, ancestry is fascinating. I had was similarly curious about my family because I knew hardly anything, and you know, years later, I still have roadblocks. I'm on too. Are you just doing the free account or are you doing a paid account?

I found what can often be helpful in this stuff is getting death certificates, though you often have to pony up about $20 a pop. Actually one death certificate I got threw a whole bunch of stuff out of whack on my family tree and has led to some weird findings, like maybe my great-something grandfather was in a mental hospital!

Anyway, if you have any questions or need any tips, let me know!! :)

Date: June 9th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Death certificates, huh? That's pretty awesome. Can I ask where you'd go to pay people to find them, or... whatever?

Date: June 9th, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Basically for death certificates, you need to know where they died and it helps if you have a date of death or a date of birth to help them find it. If you only have a county, that's usually fine. Then you can order them from the state's vital records. Usually you can find that information online if you just do a search for, say, "Oregon death certificates." All the instructions for what to do and the forms you need to fill out should be fairly easy to find from a search like that.

If they're only a couple generations back, you'll need to list your relationship to the person, but I've never had anyone call to check or anything.

Hope that helps! It's pretty easy, really. :)

Date: June 9th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Great! Thank you so much! I'll have to look into getting that done for some of my family :)

Date: June 14th, 2011 12:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Dude, if I had the cash laying around, I'd totally end up throwing it at death certificates and stuff. I'm especially intrigued when it comes to my dad's dad. He died in a car accident before I was born, but the opinions about what caused the accident are sharply divided between my aunts and uncles and it's fascinating. He had seven children and the older children, who were all grown when he died, stand by their story that he had a gangrenous leg from a work injury, his leg cramped up, and he drove off a bridge. The younger children swear that he was a mean old drunk who was probably shitfaced when he drove off the bridge. It's a pretty bitter subject that doesn't get talked about very often in our clan and at this point, most of the people who were there or knew him well, are starting to kick it.

I'm just doing the free account for now. I keep getting frustrated because I don't know female relatives' maiden names and end up hitting road blocks. Do you have any tricks for getting around that particular snafu? That would be awesome. :)

Date: June 14th, 2011 04:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The maiden name roadblock is admittedly one of the harder ones to crack. Sometimes you can find the marriage records by searching through ancestry. If there's more than one you can do some further research on the most likely candidates and see if any of them fit. You can also try seeing if any of the census records have any older relatives living with them, possible parents of the mother. Another option you can try, though it's harder, is to search just the mother's first name and year of birth in the particular city and see what comes up. Sometimes you'll find some records (like census records where it lists the whole family) that include names that appear in later generations, which is usually a pretty good indicator since lots of people named everyone after each other.

None of that is foolproof, obviously, but it's some things I've had some luck with. And one day when you have more money (we both have to believe this will happen for us, right?) you can just get the death certs to find out for sure! :)

Date: June 9th, 2011 07:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's pretty awesome. If I had the patience, the drive or the reasoning, I'd be interested too. And hey, that article on Radium Girls? Picture me informed.

Date: June 9th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That is fascinating. And I didn't know Radium Girls existed! O.O

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.

Ah. Um. That sounds a lot like me. >.> Right down to the insomnia over how my Dad and I never seem to connect like we used to and the constant hand-wringing over whether he's proud of me. >.>

My family despairs that I've no interest in our ancestry. But considering I hear different versions from different people and the generations before my grandfather lived in villages deep in the South with no proper documentation of events and such-like, I really don't see the point.

Date: June 9th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I guess as someone who has a fairly picture book family, immediately, I don't have proper perspective on this. I don't know what it's like growing up with a crazy mother. As this person who has no respectable opinion on the matter, I think it's pretty amazing that your family history is so colorful. Well, what you know of it, anyway, and what your mother's told you. I would hold those journals very dear to me. Or at least, if I were a generation or so down, I would. All my family really has is pictures. And we were all extremely boring from what research I've done. I've tried to find anything dark or mysterious, but no.

You're right though. Parents fuck their kids up no matter who they are. So you have to decide for yourself if you want children. Without thinking about them. I guess it has to be a selfish thing first, and then you know that you'll take care of them when they're born because they're YOURS and YOU wanted them.

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