09 January 2017

Rediscovering Grandmother

I have been doing online genealogy off and on for the past 18 years.  I started in 1999, when the online genealogy community was just starting out.  Now hundreds, thousands, millions of documents are at the fingertips of people willing to hunt them down with nothing more than an internet connection and something to type on.

Every few years I go over my own ancestors.... I clean up citations, I  re-examine the information i may have had lying around for years, discovering old letters that I cast away intending to read from forgotten relatives and stories that didn't have merit when I started coming to light in a new day and age as being based in fact due to one new piece of information or another.

As I do this renewal of interest into my ancestors' lives, I come across new information that has been posted to the wonderful wide expanse that has become the information highway.

One such piece of new information was my maternal grandmother's high school yearbook from her senior year at North Wales high School in North Wales, Pennsylvania.

My grandmother, Jean C. Cox
I will start off by saying this, I have never been close to my mother's mother.  While my cousins called her Nana, I stuck to the more formal "Grandmother" because she was virtually a stranger to me.  Part of it was due to family dysfunctions and history better left for a family therapist to untangle, but as a result, I always have felt an aloofness when it came to learning about her, as if she was too complex to discover.

She died right before I graduated high school in 1999, and I have no vivid memories of her, as we had only visited her a few times when I was very young.  Mom always called her family for Christmas, and I would say a few words, but she was never as  fond in my memories as my dad's mom, my Gram.

I had some stories, as my mother, my aunts and my mom's cousins all willingly have shared stories, but I didn't hold them close.  I dutifully wrote them down and struck them from memory, focusing more on my more lovable Grandpop, her husband.
My mothers parents - circa 1944 or early 1945.  

So when I stumbled upon her high school yearbook, it was like opening the door in the tree and tumbling into a veritable Wonderland of sorts.
Grandmother's senior year photo, from the 1941 North Wales High School Yearbook

It was through the yearbook that I re-discovered my grandmother's love for singing, as she sang a solo in the senior play and was a member of the Glee Club.  She had aspirations of being a vocalist, according to her write-up in the book, and no one seemed too surprised by that.

Grandmother with her glee club.  
In sharing my finds with my mother over the telephone, I read to her aloud from the yearbook.  She stopped me mid-sentence to remind me of a story I had written down so long ago and forgotten about, a story that was a mere sentence in my file on my grandmother.
 "As a young woman, she entertained troops as a singer with a band, lying about her age (saying she was 21 when in fact she was 18) in order to sing." 

I have so many questions about her life now.  I wonder what it was like for her as a young woman to tour with a band.... to throw off convention and lie about her age to do what she loved.  I wonder what made her give it up.  Was it marriage and the more conventional days as a housewife and mother in the post-WWII era?  Did she miss singing?
late 1955 or early 1956 - with my mom and Uncle Ernie

I will never know the answers to some of these questions, as she has been long gone - it was her death that sparked my interest in this trek into family history, and for that I will be forever grateful.  Perhaps one day I will find answers, and photos to go along with them, but for now, I live with the guess, with the surmised thoughts of "what ifs" and "what nows".... and I will continue to trek to rediscover not only my grandmother, but all of my ancestors.

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