Monday, September 17, 2012


My Great Aunt Gen passed away this weekend. I didn't know her well. She was the half-sister of my maternal grandmother, Betty, who I'm very close with. It made me realize that our time with Grandma Betty is getting shorter. Not only do I want to spend quality time with her, but her memory is still so sharp, and she has valuable information about our family history that could be lost when she passes away.

Due to some fantastic record keeping on my father's side of the family, we can trace our lineage back to the 1600s. I love scouring these records, reading Great Great Grandpa's letters and Great Great Grandma's letters and poems. I see glimpses of me in them, and it helps me better understand who I am and who I want to be.

I feel this bond closer with the women in my family, and consequently more so with my Mom's side.

The problem is, we have a bit of a history-mystery on that side of the family -- all trails lead to Pearl.

Pearl was Grandma Betty's mother. She was forbidden to marry Michael Kelly (Grandma Betty's father), but they married anyway. According to Grandma, the family then disowned Pearl.

Unfortunately she died giving birth to Grandma at 18 years old, and Michael would later forbid Grandma to ever contact Pearl's family. Grandma respected his wishes and never reached out to them.

Michael remarried a wonderful woman who loved and raised Grandma Betty as her own daughter. Grandma went on to marry and raise 6 children of her own -- my mother was the second youngest.

Last night Mom and I were talking about Pearl, and I decided to sign up for a free trial at to see if I could find out more about her. Luckily she had a fairly unique name, and I quickly located her in a 1930s Census record -- along with her parents, John and Mary, and brothers: Lawerence, George, and Francis. I could find no further info about them but will continue my search tonight.

Surprisingly, Michael Kelly was hardest to find. If Grandma Betty hadn't remembered his birth date, I may not have found him at all. His World War I draft card confirmed his identification. I saw that he was linked to his second wife, but there was no connection to Pearl or Grandma, his first daughter. I quickly linked them and filled in Pearl's date of death -- the same as Grandma's birthday.

It was a few clicks, a few typed words and numbers, but it felt so significant -- to link this woman to us, to give her an official place in our family tree.

Last night Ellie was up from 1am to 3am, and instead of moping over lost hours of sleep, I made sure to hold her extra close. I said a special prayer for Pearl and asked her to share in my joy of holding my daughter. I told her how sorry I was that she didn't have this experience, and I thanked her for giving my grandmother life, my mom, me, and E, in sacrificing her own.

I took a new look at my writing, too, and thought about what I would want to read about Pearl if she had a diary. I wouldn't need to know if she was involved in some major historical event, if she had tried to save the world, or if she had done anything at all very extraordinary. I'd just want to know: What was the weather like each day? Were you happy? In love? Were you excited about the baby's arrival? Afraid?

I'm going to try to blog more often -- a little each day about... just, life. I'm inspired by my sister-in-law who is writing so many wonderful life stories over at!

And hopefully I'll have more to share about our dear Pearl soon!


Laurel said...

That was just lovely. You are a wonderful writer, and I hope you do write more about Pearl and how she inspires you.

Gretchin said...

Thanks so much, Laurel!

KJ Gifford said...

Okay, I may be a bit biased because you mentioned me and because I teach memoir, but I LOVE this post! I'm sitting here crying, so touched. I think of the family letter you read us from your Dad's side I think, and how that letter recorded life and I think you have inherited that too. I think Ellie will be very happy to read these posts someday. I know they are making me happy now.