On July 7, 2016

Looking Back; Way back to the 1800s


Recently I looked back way beyond the days of my own yesteryear. A coffee meeting with two cousins took me back to the late1800s. One cousin, Betty, lives in Rutland so I see her often. I barely remembered my other cousin, Kathie, as I had not seen her since I was about 10 years old . . . 60 years ago!

Kathie contacted me because she and her husband had been researching the Whalen side of our family and a genealogy chart had been prepared. She had found quite a few pictures among her late mother’s things. There was a photo album with a date of 1895. Other pictures were from the early 1900s. There were no names on most of them. Kathie was hoping that Betty and I would recognize some of the people from photos our parents might have shown us. I didn’t know anyone but Betty was a little more helpful by identifying her grandmother in some of the photos. Obviously, we were looking back way beyond our family knowledge!

The genealogy chart that Kathie’s husband had prepared had a wealth of information about the Whalen family. Although I have never tried to trace my family from any of the online sites I always had good intentions of doing it some day. My father had told me there were fourteen children and he was the youngest. I knew my paternal grandfather came from Rathgormic County in Ireland and my grandmother was born in Manchester, England.

My biggest surprise was counting the children on the genealogy chart and finding fifteen instead of fourteen. Two deceased children were listed as “Infant Whalen” and had birth dates but no names. Perhaps my father thought there was only one sibling who died at birth. His mother passed away when he was two.

As I perused the chart I quickly realized how little I knew about the generation before me. I could remember meeting three members of this gigantic family and I had heard a little something about a couple more but that is a small percentage of such a large family. Perhaps the best excuse for my ignorance is the fact that I was born when my father was 50 years old. All my first cousins, except one, are deceased. Anyone close to my age is a second cousin.

The ability to learn firsthand about my father’s family ended with his death when I was only twenty. Like most young people, I had little interest in family history at that age.

Around 1980 I sent a chart to my uncle in Minnesota and asked him to fill in the names of his siblings and any birth and death dates that he knew. He was able to provide me with only eight names and a couple of dates. I didn’t know if his lack of facts was related to the way life was in that era or if it could be attributed to the fact that he was almost 90 when I asked.

A good example of Whalen family members not maintaining connections with one another was exhibited by my Uncle John. He had moved from Brandon to California when he was old enough to be on his own. According to the genealogy chart, he died in 1944–the year I was born. When I was around 10 years old an envelope with his belongings arrived at our house. It must have taken that long to trace John’s next of kin. Unfortunately, that envelope had nothing of value. There were two watches that didn’t work and some other small items. Guess he had not found any gold in “them thar hills of California!

There was one sibling of my father’s who had an active role in my life. His sister, Nora Preseau, lived in Rutland. We used to visit her just about every weekend. Back “in the day” people actually went to visit family and friends on a Sunday. Aunt Nora always told the greatest stories. She had a wonderful sense of humor and I cherish the fact that I have memories of my visits to her home.

For an only child, like I am, being part of a family of fifteen seems quite amazing. There must have always been someone to play with and someone to watch out for the younger children.

Looking at the piece of paper that contained the genealogy of my family makes all of them seem more real. If you have not asked your family members for information on your ancestors, now is the time to do it.

You will get to know something personal about your predecessors who, for the most part to me, are simply names on a computer printout.

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