Sunday, July 19, 2015

Grandpa Was a Bastard

My maternal grandfather was born out of wedlock in the 1920s.  He grew up with his mother and two maternal half-siblings.  His mother married several times over the course of her life, and she worked as a washerwoman when she was between husbands.  Grandpa's father was a widower who left his children with his parents when his wife died.  He went on to live in local boarding houses and impregnate women in the area.  But I didn't know any of these things when I started looking for their names.

My cousin's letters from our grandmother mentioned some of my grandfather's half-siblings' names.  She said Grandpa hadn't really known his father, so he ran away from home at the age of 14 to find him.  He learned that his half-siblings from his father's marriage had moved to California, so he traveled half-way across the country to find them.  Using the names in her letter, I found them too.  Census records showed that their father had been in their hometown all along.  I wonder if Grandpa found him when he got back home.  I wonder if he ever found him.

Grandma's letter mentioned another paternal half-sibling showing up at the house when Grandpa was in his sixties.  She was another illegitimate child.  She had already found the California half-siblings, the legitimate ones, and they had pointed her in my grandfather's direction.  Grandma didn't mention her name in her letters.  Much like my own half-siblings, she would have to take a mass market DNA test for me to find her now, if she's still alive.  Much like my own half-siblings, we don't know how many more are out there.

Since Grandpa had taken his father's surname and his parents were never married, I had no idea what his mother's first or last name had been.  I couldn't find a single census record with my grandfather on it until after he married my grandmother, and there is no evidence that he even existed by that name until he enlisted in the army during WWII.  Grandma's letters did mention his maternal half-siblings' first names though, so I took the names I had and enlisted help from an internet forum.  Someone who is better at genealogical research than me found them as children living with their mother in the right area under a different surname.  The next census showed them at the same location but with yet another surname.  They were simply listed with whatever married name my great-grandmother had at the time, which explained why it had been so hard to find them.  In reality, all my great-grandmother's children had different surnames and different fathers.  All were dead by the time I found this information. 

I was surprised to learn my great-grandmother had lived in the same city as my family until she died when my mother was a teenager.  My mother had never mentioned her.  She had inherited her middle name from her.  I wonder if they ever met.  According to her death certificate, she had died a couple of days before she was formally pronounced dead.  I think this means she wasn't found immediately.  I haven't been able to find a headstone for her or any evidence of a burial or an obituary. 

I found some old photos of my great-grandfather that had been posted on Ancestry.com by descendants of his legitimate children.  I have his nose.

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