Monday, April 2, 2012

Part 5: Seeing Mary Ann

The Mining Journal 1900 Obituary of Mary Ann Simons

Entry 5: Seeing Mary Ann

My search was at a standstill. Mary Ann was that inevitable brick wall faced by so many. But I was wearing blinders. These needed to be shed before I could break through what I thought to be a solid obstacle.
The treasured family paper gave me Mary Ann’s birthdate but without a maiden name, I could not locate her parents and thus garner more names for my tree collection. I became obsessed with finding this name. Either her death certificate or even the death certificate of my great great grandmother, Harriett should contain this precious information.  Asking my mother was of little use as she had never asked these kinds of questions or remembered hearing what I considered to be essential family data. So, I sought these certificates. Alas, Harriett’s death certificate showed that the informant did not remember her mother’s maiden name. To make matters worse, there was no certificate for Mary Ann in the Marquette County Courthouse. I turned to another source and emailed a clerk in Orange County, Vermont who located Harriett’s marriage license. The morning it arrived in my inbox, tears came to my eyes as under mother’s name, only the words, Mary Ann, were listed. Certain that there had been an error by the person looking for Mary Ann’s death certificate at the Marquette County Courthouse, I asked my niece to go back, but like me, she discovered no certificate existed.
In subsequent visits to Marquette, I took to sitting in the darkened microfiche room at the Peter White Public Library. Here I mined through the local paper, pausing to see on the screen the reality of Mary Ann’s world. I halted the machine’s reels to look at advertisements of the day. False teeth for the exorbitant price of $20 and two pounds of hamburger meat for 25 cents made me smile. I laughed out loud at the articles announcing a person had traveled to Ishpeming from Negaunee, the mileage a pittance by today’s standards.
When I found Mary Ann’s short obituary, scraps of information began to take shape for me and paint a richer portrait of Mary Ann than her name, birth, marriage, and death dates ever could. I learned she had been confined to her bed since May with breast cancer. While I did not pay attention to the children’s names mentioned in the paragraph, I was beginning to consider Mary Ann’s canvas, the era in which she walked and talked, her possible friendships, family relationships, and daily routine. The obituary said she was “highly respected by all.” What had she done to receive that accolade? The few sentences began to stir my sense of wonder. I had never heard of the church where her funeral would be held. I had always thought this was a Methodist family. What was the People’s Church? She had been “ailing” for two years. Who had helped her? How did she manage?  
The connections started to come into focus as I wondered about the moment that census taker came to her door in June of 1900. Did he come to her bedside? Did she struggle to the door? Could Harriett’s presence as a caretaker for the day explain why her name was first written on the form and then crossed out? I was moving toward a full portrait of Mary Ann Simons. These are the steps I may not have taken had her maiden name readily appeared for me.

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