In my experience, nowhere does the generation gap rear its ugly head more than in the world of genealogy. I am almost 31 years old and it seems that the propensity for my generation is to share share share! Let’s not stop with a Facebook post – make sure that what you had for breakfast is also on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, you name it!
For the genealogy world, all of this activity is an awesome thing, as the sharing of information with others is what it’s all about.
The older generation, however, does not seem to understand this sharing (and to clarify, for the most part I am talking older as in, born in 1920 and before older. I have seen 70 and 80 year olds getting hip and joining Facebook).
In my family, my great-grandmother took the “keep it to yourself” attitude to an almost militant level. Had she lived to see Facebook, Twitter, etc. she probably would have been horrified at the amount of personal detail being shared with the world. I understand and respect that particular generation's attitude of “it’s nobody’s business” … except for when it comes to needing a piece of family history that has the potential to change everything we have ever known about ourselves.
My great-great grandmother married my great-great grandfather (at least, we think he’s our great-great grandfather) in 1899, but did not have her first child until 1909. That child was followed by my great grandfather in 1913. I had some suspicions about the parentage of the first child. It seemed strange to me that a couple were married for ten years before the first child comes along, especially in that day and age.
My suspicions were recently confirmed in a conversation with my grandmother, during which she told me that the first child was not my great-great grandfather’s daughter. She also said, however, that my great-grandfather was definitely his child, no question. My thought was well, she would say that because that is our direct line and we can’t have any scandal happening, can we?!
I think Great-great Grandma might have been stepping out on the sly.
As background, my ancestors lived in Southwest Virginia, in a neighborhood that had a few other Italian men living there also. Many Italians had migrated from New York and Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines and had married native Southwest Virginia women (as was the case with my great-great grandparents). My great-great grandfather got a job, along with other Italians in the area, as a coke burner at the mine.
In light of this, my husband, who is Italian himself, brought up a good point. He mentioned that it was not uncommon in the culture back then for another Italian man to “step in” per se, if a friend or family member was unable to have a child. This practice would ensure that the man who was unable to produce children would have his family name continue without embarrassment.
I was hoping that this might be the case in my family, if the story of the first child not being my great-great grandfather’s was true. So, Grandpa needed a little help in that area, big deal! Without it, we all wouldn’t be here! But then… my grandmother mentioned the letters.
She said that my great-grandmother had been in possession of love letters written by my great-great grandmother to another Italian man in Chicago during the late 1910’s. She said “I think I have them, Grandma was going to throw them out.”
We all know that genealogy is an emotional roller coaster. My thought process while this conversation was happening went like this: “Oh my GOSH!!!! LOVE letters! Scandalous love letters??! I have to see them NOW….. wait….she was going to throw them out? NOOOOOOO!!!!!” (Fetal position on the floor).
My grandmother said she would look for them, but did not look to be in too much of a rush to do so. Me on the other hand?
I would have ripped the whole house apart looking for them if I could. The mere thought of these letters possibly existing keeps me awake at night. What if we found out that this man she was writing to was our actual grandfather? What would that mean for us? What other mysteries might we find? I mean... do we even have a smidge of Italian in us at all?!
Hence, the generation gap. Grandma wanted to throw these letters away, because they were no one’s business but my great-great grandmother’s and apparently, they were a sore spot. Point taken and understood. However, in my humble opinion, I feel that enough time has passed and these letters should be SHARED with the family. I have gotten to the point to where I NEED these letters in order to get a good night’s sleep.
Until then, I am going to be pouring over the census’s from 1900-1930, investigating neighbors, friends and anyone else that may have come in contact with my great-great grandmother. Who knows? Any one of those men could be my great-great grandfather.
©2013 copyright, Piper Oneto
©2013 copyright, Piper Oneto