Saturday, August 3, 2013

Christian Applegate and Family Folklore on WDYTYA

I am impressed. Once again we have basic, do-able genealogy.This new series of WDYTYA continues to be refreshing; not to say that there was anything wrong with the former episodes on NBC. Those first seasons probably made more sense to intermediate and advanced genealogists. However, I doubt that they scared off any beginning family researchers who truly wanted to find their roots.

This episode exposed a part of family research  that is seldom dealt with. Family Folklore. Rumors. Gossip. Whatever you want to call it! It was very obvious during the first few minutes of Christina Applegate's journey into the past that there was a family rumor that would contain some truth.  Most family folklore does and that is why you should never ignore those things that you overheard your aunts whispering about in the kitchen while they were doing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner.

Family research is like the waves you see on the water when you throw a pebble into a lake. It has circles that spread out with each piece of information that you find. You start with yourself in the middle and as you expand your knowledge of your family that circle grows and grows like waves on the water. But sometimes that circle breaks and that is when you hit what we like to call a "brick wall". And more likely than not, that is where you will find the clues buried in the family folklore.

The clue to Christina Applegate's brick wall was the casual remark made at breakfast when her father overheard his grandmother say that his mother, Lavina, "was found outside a bar beaten to death". 

Let's look at the facts. 

Christina's father, Bob, knew he was raised by his paternal grandmother because his mother couldn't take care of him. Bob knew his mother died at an early age. He really didn't remember that much about his mother, even though she had custody of him. It seems as if most of his childhood memories centered around being raised by his paternal grandmother.

Census records and newspaper articles indicate that Lavina's family was very well off before the Great Depression. However, when we look at the 1940 census we find that the family had no income. The Depression was much more than just the stock market crash of 1929. It affected lives for many many years to come. (This is a good example of why a basic knowledge of history is important in genealogical research.)

Lavina's marriage and subsequent divorce produced many court records with accusations of abuse and adultery. Surprisingly Lavina gained custody of her son, Bob. However, as we eventually learn, Lavina was unable to take care of her son, so it appears that Lavina's mother could have been the person who actually took care of Bob. And when she died, since Lavina was still unable to take care of her son, Bob went to live with his paternal grandmother who it seems did not have a very good opinion of Lavina.
  Thus the statement -- "She was found outside a bar beaten to death."

It seems to me that for some reason Bob might have morphed both grandmothers into the same person. There was no explanation for why Bob thought of his "grandmothers" as only one person.

When we look at the death certificate and we see the actual cause of death, it is easy to see why the Bob's grandmother made that statement. She formed an opinion. We all do that. Maybe she didn't know the circumstances surrounding her former daughter-in-law's death and just formed her own version of the story. Or she might have said "She was probably found outside a bar. . . . ." and Bob simply forgot that one word that would make a difference in the tone of the statement. We don't know.

However, we can now see the hidden meaning behind the family folklore. A lifestyle destroyed by the terrible effects of the Great Depression. A marriage that came apart because of abuse, adultery, and alcohol. Unfortunately, not an uncommon story. 

This episode was an extremely good example of why it is so important to pay attention to that family folklore. Those snippy little remarks that people make. They are the keys that unlock the closets where all those skeletons are hiding. At least that is the way it is in my family. 

Thank goodness my aunts were experts when it came to those "snippy little remarks"!!

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