I’ve been telling you why I grew up with virtually no knowledge about my “great family” — in other words, about my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and whatnot. I had met some of them, of course, but their relationship to Mom or Daddy was a mystery. All I really “knew” was that there were many of them, that they were all German, and that Grandma Schuster had come over from Baden-Baden, Germany.
Then, in 2013 I researched the family history of my beloved wife, Loretta, who is British and was born in India. I ended up with a copy of her family tree going all the way back to 1788 in British Burma.
That prompted me to delve into my own lineage, where I received the surprise of my life. Not only did I suddenly have tons of aunts, uncles, and cousins, but I also found out that I’m not all German, as I had believed for over 80 years. I’m half Irish!
Yes, both Grandpa William Garrett on my father’s side, and his wife, Mary Confrey, a name I find quite beautiful, were Irish-Americans, born right on Staten Island, where I was born. Not only that, but I learned something about how our memories work.
It seems that the name of something, or someone, is stored in one part of our brains, but there is also an image of that someone or something stored in another part of our brains; and if you happen to have an eidetic memory as I do — often, but incorrectly, called a “photographic memory” — you tend to think in images.
Don’t get me wrong, however; a so-called photographic memory is not something super special where you remember everything at a single glance; it’s quite different. For example, if I am trying to find something that I have read in a book, I often remember where it was on the page, making it a lot easier to find that “something” by quickly scanning through the book; but an eidetic memory is not some kind of “super memory.”
Anyway, what happened when I began reading all those names on the census pages was really fun. For some of the names — not all — I was able to bring up an image of a face! So I actually remembered the faces of Aunt Mildred, Aunt Grace, and Aunt Mabel on Daddy’s side, plus those of Aunt Mabel, Uncle Frank, and Grandma Schuster on Mom’s side, as well as that of Uncle Frank’s wife, Mabel, who was always referred to as Mabel Sprague — her maiden name.
So much for the “three aunt Mabels” mystery.
Uncle Frank, his wife, and their young daughter Doris lived over in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Mom and I were sure to visit them each Christmas because Uncle Frank was a very talented man, and each year he set up the best Christmas tree display I have ever seen in my life.
So after 81 years of total ignorance, I not only now have Lolly’s aunts and cousins, with whom I communicate in England and Australia, I now know a little about my own family. Sadly, it’s too late to contact most of my relatives because Bill, Frank, and Charlie are gone, leaving no clue where those relatives may be, but I am at least in contact with Charlie’s son and daughter, and their progeny.
You know what? Knowledge of your roots is a great thing! Without it, I always used to feel like a leaf blowing in the wind.