By Janet Brigham
On my father's side of the family, several aunts invariably made sure that we children got Christmas and birthday presents. Two of these aunts -- Joyce and Ruth -- were married to two of my father's brothers. They wrote friendly letters, keeping us updated and trying steadily to heal a longstanding rift between their husbands and my father. Neither aunt had children of their own, so they spoiled us.
Both of them died within the last few decades, along with their husbands. I hadn't spent much time with either aunt, but their existence was a constant in my young life. I always knew that I had aunts who seemed to relished sending us trinkets, goodies, and cheerful notes. I still have the congratulatory notes they sent my parents when I was born.
So imagine my horror when I was looking through my genealogy database and found that I had never recorded more about either aunt than their given names. No surnames. No birthdates, no parents, no birthplaces, no notations of their education or religion. What's worse, when Aunt Ruth died a decade ago, she left her small estate to her husband's son from a previous marriage, and her handful of nieces. She gave the executor our names. He found us all and dispersed her gifts.
Aunt Ruth had remembered me as she approached her death, but I had never done more than cash the check. I knew considerably more about immigrant ancestors from the 1600s than about these women who enriched my childhood.
We decided to rectify this oversight. After seven hours of brute-force searching last weekend, however, we had learned little. Our relatives have no information at hand. None of our accessible newspaper archive services listed their obituaries. The next step was to call specific newspaper libraries and ask for copies of the obituaries (not free, but cheaper than driving to Texas or Washington). We'll soon know if this has worked. Then we will take what I expect will be bare-bones obituaries and begin to reconstruct their lives.
It's the least we can do.