Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Part 8: Mistakes Revealed

The stone marking the grave of Mary Ann's mother, Jane Ruse Hill in St. Ive, Cornwall
Entry 8: Mistakes Revealed

In those days of baby steps, I brashly wrote a family history, detailing the life of Mary Ann and her mother Jane Ruse Hill.  Details gleaned from census returns, such as Mary Ann’s days as a seamstress and her ability to read and write were included in what I now view as merely a factual list of her accomplishments.  As I named her children, I was still confused as to what had happened to Mary Jane and Mary Ann. They were listed along with son, James, on the faded family paper. Like the two Cornish-born daughters, James never appeared on a U.S. census but all three had been etched into my mind thanks to the Simons' ancestor who wrote the family names and connections on that lined paper so long ago.
Giving what I believed to be the finished product of Mary Ann’s life story to the Simons’ relatives, I sat back, wondering where to turn my attention. As I was in Marquette, my curiosity got the better of me, and I once again made my way into the marble-lined hallways of the Courthouse, made famous by the book and subsequent movie, “Anatomy of a Murder.” Here, the musty smell and intricate woodwork conjure up the spirit of the past. The leather-bound record books, with names that seemed drawn rather than written, create a longing for the era when folks had time for these niceties of life. I was not just in search of Mary Ann but was branching out to the Sundberg side of the family. Rather than asking for specific information, I paid the nominal fee to examine the index myself. As I paged through the 1930s, deaths of Mary Ann’s children appeared. I decided to take a detour from the Sundbergs and asked for the records of the Simons' brothers.
And, I audibly groaned. It was a groan so loud that the clerk asked me if I was okay. With each hand pound to my head, I chastised myself for the rookie mistake of failing to look at sibling information. Yes, I had studied Harriett’s death certificate and noted the blank section next to her mother’s maiden name, but here were the others, the sons, whose certificates bore the name, Mary Ann Hill. Had I just looked at the siblings, the seemingly long road to her maiden name would have been shortened. It was a mistake that had cost me time and money, but it was a lesson that was now drilled into me and perhaps because of it, I had felt Mary Ann more fully than any other ancestor.
The second hard lesson came a few days later when Colleen called, thanking me for Mary Ann’s story. She hesitated, but finally admitted she had asked the living members of the Simons’ family and no one had heard of James. “But he was on the family paper!” I thought. Confused, I was anxious to return home and recheck my records.

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