At the same time that I was writing my article for August, I also wrote a letter that ended a sixty-five-year-old family disagreement. Although the focus of this article will be about my family, many of you may have a similar situation in your family. The disagreement took place in September 1942 between my grandfather and his older brother, my great uncle. It involved dividing possessions that belonged to the family when their oldest sister died suddenly. She had never married but stayed at home with their parents until they died a few years before she died. Because of their disagreement, my grandfather and his brother never spoke to each other again. Their younger sister acted as an intermediary, along with the attorney who was handling the settlement of the older sister’s estate.
My grandfather claimed that his brother took something that belonged to him and left behind the cream pitcher to the silver tea service that my great grandparents received as a gift for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. My grandfather was willing to give his brother the pitcher when he received his property back. I know this exchange never took place since I now have that cream pitcher.
I did not know that my father's brother was still living when I was growing up. It was not until about six or seven years after my grandfather died that I found out his brother had been alive when my grandfather died and had died two years later.
When I began doing genealogy, I found some information about my great uncle. I questioned some of my mother’s siblings about their uncle, but no one seemed to know much about him. My mother claimed she did not know anything about him. I also talked to a son of my grandfather’s younger sister. He did not know much about his uncle either. However, he did know that his uncle’s son (my mother’s cousin) lived in a town about a mile and a half from where my grandfather lived.
About seven years ago my parents went to the local funeral home to preplan their funerals. The funeral home happened to be in the same town where my mother’s cousin lived. When my mother told the funeral director her maiden name, he asked if she was related to the man who was her cousin, and she curtly replied. "NO!" I asked her, “What do you mean NO? He is your cousin.” She said nothing and just stared directly at me and said nothing. I thought I would hear about it later, but she never said another word.
Part of me wanted to contact this cousin, but I was not sure if he would react like my mother. It was obvious that her father’s hard feelings were passed on to my mother. I had already talked to one of my mother’s cousins on her mother’s side of the family about my grandmother’s family. His reaction had been, “What do you want to know about them for? They're dead.” His wife did give me some information, but she did not know much. Because of his reaction, I hesitated to contact the cousin on my grandfather’s side of the family.
In April, the cousin’s wife died, and shortly after that I was talking to a couple of friends about my mother’s reaction at the funeral home. One of them asked if I had contacted him. That prompted me to finally write to her cousin. I did want to wait a little while after his wife died before making contact; so, I sent my letter in the middle of July. Two days later I came home to a message on my answering machine from the cousin. He did not know much about why his father and my grandfather did not speak, but he did say his father could be a very stubborn person, something that runs in the family. My grandfather could be the same way.
I had a trip planned to New Jersey the first week of August and made arrangements to meet my mother’s cousin. We spent about five and an a half hours together, sharing stories about both our families. The stories were filled with serendipity. My parents met roller-skating, and so did the cousin and his wife. His daughter works at the grocery store where one of my sisters shops. There were a number of other coincidences.
He sent my e-mail address to one of his nephews who has researched the family for twenty years. I learned that this nephew had contacted my grandfather before he died, but my grandfather did not want discuss anything about the family. He had information that I did not have, and I had information that he did not have. As a result of our mutual interest in our family history -- and our willingness to bury this ancient hatchet -- we will be sharing a lot of notes, records, pictures, and other information.
I hope that if you have a similar situation in your family, you will be inspired to contact the family members. The worst thing they can say is that they do not want to discuss the family. On the other hand, you may have new family members in your life and learn more information about your family.