Saturday, May 17, 2014

Check that tunnel vision - looking beyond what is right in front of you

This is, I think, good advice in general, in life, and also in genealogy, whether it's looking to the side - siblings, cousins - to try to work our way backward, or whether it's switching from an ancestor we've been scrutinizing unsuccessfully to another person or branch, or just thinking outside the box when it comes to what records or resources we use.

But I have a very specific reason for talking about this today.

This morning was my grandmother's funeral. If you read my blog, you know that my 99 year old grandmother, my genealogy inspiration, died May 15. Born in Brooklyn, we returned her there today to be buried with my grandfather, both her parents, Timothy Cronin and Ellen Casey Cronin, her grandmother, Nora Donahue Cronin, and three aunts and uncles who never married - Denis Cronin, Daniel Cronin, and Mary Cronin.

Just as a side note, I love cemeteries. Morbid? Maybe. But I feel very peaceful and at home whenever I go to one, even when I'm not there to visit anyone specific, but moreso when I am. I love seeing names on headstones that I've researched so well that I feel like I actually know them, so today it was nice to "visit" my great-grandparents, my great great grandmother, and some of my great great aunts and uncles.

Anyway, back to the whole reason for this post. My grandmother's family plot is in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. In the course of my research, I've tried to visit all my family plots that I know of, and more than once if I am able, so I'd been to the plot in Holy Cross before. After the graveside ceremony, my family hung around for awhile, and somebody happened to walk behind the headstone and say, "Hey, there's another Cronin buried here. Maybe they're related!" So of course I was intrigued, and yes, right behind the big family headstone is a smaller plot with a smaller headstone, and while everybody was sitting there going, "I wonder if they're related. Could they be related?," I was sitting there thinking, "Oh, hi Aunt Julia, hi Aunt Kate." I never even knew that headstone was there but I knew the names immediately. I finally got to "meet" Julia Cronin, a fourth unmarried sibling of my great-grandfather Timothy Cronin's - I had seen her death notice in an old newspaper but never knew where she was buried. And she was in the same plot as her sister Katherine, or Kate I guess, Flannery, who died fairly young, somewhere in her 30s or 40s, as well as Kate's two children, who died heartbreakingly young - John, at less than a year old, and Julia, as a young teenager. Considering how sad the circumstances were of us being there, it was a fairly exciting discovery for me, and I wonder how much my grandmother had to do with nudging us toward that headstone.

Which brings me to the point of this post - don't be so focused and wrapped up in the one person or family you're researching or looking for; step back and look around. Specific to cemetery research, if you're visiting one grave, take a look at the surrounding ones - family was often buried near family, and even if the names are different, they still might be related. But in general, just step back and look around - you never know what you might find.

Thanks, Grandma. I'm looking forward to your genealogy help from the other side.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Passing of my grandmother, my genealogy inspiration

This morning my 99 year old grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Cronin Raynor, passed away in her sleep.

At the ripe old age of 99, you don't exactly mourn the passing of a loved one - Grandma lived a long and happy life, filled with love and surrounded by family, and that's all any of us can really hope for in this life. Of course, living almost a century comes with some heartache as well - she lived to see most of her friends and family go before her. She outlived her husband, my grandfather, Clifford Monroe Raynor, by almost 23 years, and she had to live through the death of her youngest daughter, my mother, Margaret, almost 14 years ago, so I know she was ready whenever her time came. But she also lived to see her grandchildren grow up, get jobs, marry, have children of their own. I am forever grateful that she was well enough to attend my baby shower last year, where she gave me one of my favorite gifts, ever - an afghan, hand made by her mother. And one of the best days was when I got to introduce my daughter, her first great-granddaughter, to her last summer, and I loved watching them laugh and play together every time we went to visit. I am sorry my daughter won't remember her great-grandmother, but I am so happy that I have pictures of them together and that I can tell her, "You always made Great-Grandma smile, and boy, did she love you!"

My grandmother was our original family genealogist. She is the reason I became interested in genealogy. She is the one who got our tree started, who handed me the information and tools I needed to continue on my own. She is the one who got me hooked, who introduced me to what has become one of my life's passions. She is the one who told me stories about her childhood and about her parents and grandparents and my grandfather and his parents. She is the one who asked how my research was going and who I could talk to about some of the exciting discoveries I made. I am heartbroken that she is gone and forever grateful that she gave me the gift of genealogy.

My grandmother was a devout Catholic. I don't know what I believe about the afterlife, but whatever it is, I hope my grandfather and my mother were there to greet her on the other side, and that all our ancestors - those she and I knew about and those I have yet to discover but who are hopefully introducing themselves to her even now as I type -  welcomed her with smiling faces and open arms.

Grandma, I am so thankful for all the years I got to spend with you. I will always continue working on our family tree, to pass down to my grandchildren like you passed it down to me - I will miss you always, till we meet again.

Great-Grandma and Elena meeting for the first time, summer 2013.

Baby me and my grandmther, 1979.