Sunday, April 10, 2011

There’s gold at the end of the nursing home rainbow!

These are my mother's cousins: Ted, Mary Ellen, Vonnie and Oren.  When I found Mary at  an assisted living facility, it was like finding a pot of gold at the end of the family history rainbow! Unfortunately, Vonnie died in June of 2010 and Oren died in March of 2011, making Ted's and Mary's memories even more valuable.

The first rule of family history research is: “Talk to living family members.” Many of us break that rule, thinking it’s easier to look for information on the Internet. But there’s absolutely nothing quite like a living relative, full of stories.

We’ve been seeking details on the death of Roy Aller, my mother’s cousin. Roy was born in 1909 in Teton Valley, Idaho, and died at the age of 26. Family lore said he was working in construction or logging and was killed when a kerosene stove exploded. There’s a death date—February 10, 1936—but no source for it, and no place of death.

A second cousin, Ted Furniss, who was six when Roy died, suggested some cemeteries where Roy might be buried. We both assumed Roy died in Idaho, Wyoming or Oregon, and were searching Internet sites for more information.  

You know what they say about assuming—boy, were we wrong!

Recently Oren, Ted’s brother, died, but my husband and I didn’t attend his funeral in Driggs because we’d planned to visit our son’s family in Portland. 

While there, we learned we were only 15 minutes away from the rest home where Mary, Oren’s sister and Roy’s cousin, lives.

It would’ve been easy not to go—I can find more excuses to avoid the front door of a nursing home than a kid assigned to do dishes.  I didn’t really know Mary, and I was worried she might have memory issues and not have the faintest idea who I was. However, I love family reunions. And a great one took place in Mary’s nursing home room.

At age 87, Mary was delighted to see us. Her health and memory are good, despite having had three strokes. She said I look like my mother. I thought she looked like George and Sadie, her parents.

She was about 12 when Roy died, and she said it happened in Alaska. She said he lived with another worker and was trying to start a fire in a stove to cook their dinner. Mary couldn’t remember what kind of work he was doing, but shortly before his death, he had sent his mother, Aunt Jane, a small barrel of cured salmon.  Maybe we can add “fishing industry” to the list of possible jobs that took Roy to the camp where he died.

Mary had felt badly about missing Oren’s funeral and we enjoyed talking about that wonderful man, who rode horses into his 80’s and attributed his good health to “an apple a day”—for breakfast.

For me, the best part was that Mary remembered my grandfather, her uncle.  He died in 1939, before my parents were married, and I never knew him.  She said he had nephritis and sat on the porch in the sun during his last years.  “I was about 15, and I’d sit by him on the step and tell him my troubles—he had a good listening ear,” she said.

Mary, thanks for the memories—of things that can’t be found on the Internet.

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