Not long ago, I received an e-mail from my cousin who lives in Arlington, Massachusetts letting me know that Uncle Willard’s house in Lexington is for sale, “Uncle Willard” being our great-great uncle. Seeing the listing gave me the strangest feeling, as if someone were walking across my grave even though I never knew Uncle Willard. He died before I was born.
Uncle Willard’s House as Intended
Merry Christmas from Uncle Willard
Back in the 1980s, when it came time to clear out my mother’s childhood home at 27 Edgewood Road in Lexington, Massachusetts, I learned that the house had been designed by well-known local architect Willard Brown, my grandfather’s uncle. (A little about Uncle Willard in my next post.)
Even more surprising, the house I’d known throughout my childhood was not in fact as Uncle Willard had designed it. An entire section had been an addition put on by my grandfather when the older generation began dying off with no place for their household effects to go.
My Aunt Margie was dismissive of her father’s need to hold onto other people’s stuff as pack-ratting, but I’m not so sure. When I was helping my mother downsize for the second time recently, I found myself taking home household effects I had no room for because it felt as if my childhood were being dismantled, and I just couldn’t bear it.
The other odd thing about that addition at 27 Edgewood Road was that neither my brother nor I had stepped foot inside it until well after both of our grandparents were dead. I don’t recall either of us ever questioning why it was off-limits.
27 Edgewood Road Before the Older Generations Started Dying Off
27 Edgewood Road After the Older Generations Started Dying Off
27 Edgewood Road Under Construction
27 Edgewood Road No Longer in the Family
My view of genealogy has always been that it’s pretty much an exercise in reading “The Begats.” Excruciatingly boring. As the names go on and on and on, who CARES who begat whom?
Family Tree Maker© to the Rescue–Or Not
In the 1990s, when having a computer was still a novelty for me, I tried my hand at building my family tree with Family Tree Maker©, but somewhere around the fourth generation back, there would start to be too many people hanging from too many branches, and the whole tree would just topple over. I finally gave up.
So Why Now?
So why start a family history blog now? I would have to say guilt, mostly. My mother recently moved into assisted living, and I became the keeper of The Family Archives–the families in question being the Browns of Lexington, Massachusetts and the Moores of Economy, Nova Scotia. (The Gustins and the Gauffreaus will enter the story by a different route.)
When I think of how this stuff came to be in my possession, it all seems so sad. The surviving remnants of people’s lives shoved into cardboard boxes after my grandfather died and carted to my aunt’s attic, to reemerge some thirty years later when she died, stored by two cousins for a time, hauled over to my mother’s so she could write her family history, and finally landing with me.
As a fiction writer, I am much more interested in family history–the narratives, the images, the lived and felt lives–than I am in the Brown and Moore versions of The Begats. My hope is that taking the time to get to know my family’s genealogy will lead me to who these people were and why they still matter.