First, my apologies for the earworm. But it’s applicable!
One of the most fascinating pieces of our ancestors’ lives is their migration patterns; not just on the whole but individual families as well. We seek to know where our ancestors started from (birth) and where they ended up (death). But it’s also important to look at what they do with themselves in between. WHY did they move? WHEN did they move? WHERE did they move to? WHO else was a factor in the move – did they travel in family groups, did they move to get married, to get out of a marriage, to go were the work was? Did they just have a wandering spirit, or did they never go more than five miles from home their whole lives?
In my case, my family unit moved a LOT because my Dad was in the US Air Force. We didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter; home was where the Air Force said it was. Our last reassignment, we all lobbied for a base in Southern California, to be near my Dad’s family. We got the post and so there we were, plunked down in a place most of us had never heard of, but close enough to my Dad’s family that we could drive there and back in a day and have a nice long visit in the middle.
Now let’s fast forward about…. 25 years. I’m working on my family tree, still in the same town my Dad retired in, trying to figure out when and where my Grandmothers’ paternal Great-Grandparents, Cornelius Holland and Bridget Scanlan were married. To this end, I decide to learn as much about their children as possible – so I start calling Catholic Churches for baptismal records. I start pulling together censuses and death records for all of them. And in that process realized that one of the daughters, my 2nd Great-Grand Aunt Dora, kind of fell off the family tree at some point. We have her in census records up until 1910, and then nothing. My only hint is she might be buried in San Bernardino, CA. Unsuccessfully trying a couple big-name grave websites, I turned to the California Death Index. Lo and behold, a possible match for my Dora Holland – assuming of course she never married. But alas, the death took place in the wrong county, San Diego County. These are not neighbors (in case you’re not familiar with the area). I argued with myself. It’s close, but is it a close enough match to spend the money? Finally I gave in, filled out the form and handed over my debit card. I came away with GOLD. Not only was it MY Dora Holland, but she’d lived in San Diego for over 20 years before she died! About 90 minutes away from me. Holy Mackerel, I just filled in a huge gap!
Moving again in time to about a month ago. I was tinkering about with my Maternal Grandfather’s natal family and realized that I didn’t have a death record for one of his sisters, Theresia, who had supposedly died in California. She wasn’t turning up on the Death Index. At least, she wasn’t until I changed her last name to the name of the man we *thought* she had married. BINGO. I dutifully went to the County Clerk and handed over my debit card again. I walked away with all kinds of new information, including the name of cemetery she was buried at. I stopped by on my way home and said hello. Theresia’s death record indicated that she too had lived in California about 20 years before she died. She lived in or near the city of Orange all that time – about an hours’ drive from me if there’s no traffic.
Two days ago I was printing off some records I copied from my Grandmothers’ collection of genealogy things. I was at the end of the project, nearly 2800 pages in all, and the whole time had only barely looked at what I had. I pulled a stack of pages of the printer and something caught my eye. The word “Riverside.” I read a little closer. I had in my hands a letter written to my Grandma’s Mother and from her sister. The sister references their shared brother, Robert, and what he is up to. He’s in Riverside, managing a US Army Laundry. I double checked the date; January 1944. After pulling my jaw off the floor, my brain started whirring. Could he in fact be connected with the base my father had been stationed at? I texted my Aunt, who is a genealogy nut like myself. And her reply (in a nutshell) was “California is huge! How fascinating that you all ended up, relatively, in the same area!” I’ll be doing some research to learn more about my Great-Grand Uncle’s time in Riverside during WWII.
So back to the small world concept here. I have found members of three of four of my maternal Great-Grandparents’ families living in my area. Not just my state, but my area – within 90 minutes of me. None of them knew each other. By the time my Grandparents were married, one of the three was deceased, one had been established here for almost decade and one had moved away again. This wasn’t planned. This wasn’t expected. This is one of those wild and crazy coincidences that doesn’t feel like a simple coincidence. Dora and Theresia kind of fell off the family tree; we didn’t know much about their later lives or their deaths. We knew more about Robert, but I don’t think we knew about this piece of his life. A WWI Veteran, too old to serve in WWII, here he was working to support Army trainees. Did I land in this area to make sure their stories could be told? I don’t know. But I’m here, so I’m going to tell their stories.