I’ve taken an interest this year in learning my family history. Somehow, something recently switched in my head–from the terms “family history” and “genealogy” being code for “I’m about to have a really really boring lesson that does nothing but give me a guilt trip” to . . . oh, my family’s history. Not just obscure names and dates and places, but people who share my blood. People that were babies and then children and then adults who lived, moved, worked, fell in love, liked books, hated broccoli, went to school, were parents to babies who would someday have babies who would someday have babies who would be my parents. Right? And that is interesting. We mormons, who do family history work because we believe we have an important responsibility to perform religious ordinances for our ancestors, sometimes tend to turn the whole thing into a big project that sounds awfully boring. Or maybe that was just for the first 23 years of my life and now I kind of get it a little bit more.
Anyway, in the spirit of learning actual stories in my family’s history, I had my grandpa tell me this story that he’s told me before, but this time I took notes and am committing it to paper (or screen, whatever). I’m sharing it here because 1) I think it’s a really awesome story 2) I want my siblings and maybe my cousins to read it–I have no idea if all of them know this story or not, but they should, and 3) maybe it will inspire some of you to start learning about your family’s history in hopes of learning cool stories like this.
*disclaimer* it’s pretty patchy, put together from my notes, so forgive the jumpy format and me skipping decades and such.
My grandmother was born in Canada in 1932 to her parents Elmer and Claire (she went by her middle name Vilate–pronounced Vil-A). Elmer and Vilate already had two children–a boy Reed and a girl Rhean. Vilate had not been well while pregnant and Dorothy (my grandmother) was a sickly child. Vilate died within 3 weeks of giving birth to her. This was during the Great Depression and the father, Elmer, was a cowboy and worked on Macintyre Ranch. He was busy and had a lot of responsibilities on the ranch and two other children and he decided that he couldn’t care for the newborn baby.
So, the baby was sent to live with Elmer’s brother Jim and his wife Joyce who said they’d take care of the baby as one of their own. They had kids of their own, also a boy and a girl (Vonna and Evans.) So Dorothy lived with and was raised by her aunt and uncle, believing them to be her mom and dad. Whether it was decided and deliberate or just happened that way, she was never told the truth of the situation.
At some point, Elmer took his two kids and moved to Price, Utah, leaving Dorothy behind in Canada. Occasionally, he would come to visit her and she describes remembering a good looking man with very black hair coming to visit Jim, but she had no idea who he was–could have been anybody. Jim and Elmer would go into a room in the home and she would notice when he came out that Elmer had been crying.
What she didn’t know was that Jim was begging Elmer to let them adopt his girl Dorothy and make her place in their family legal and official, but Elmer consistently refused. During one visit, Jim was particularly pushy about it and Elmer told him this story: “One night, Valet came to me in a dream and said ‘where’s Dorothy Anne?’ and I told her, ‘I don’t know, I’ve given her away. I’ve given her away.'”
The dream haunted him and he couldn’t bring himself to let them adopt his child.
At some point, Elmer marries again– the sister of his late wife Vilate. Her name was Eva. They lived in Oakland, CA.
When Dorothy was 10 years old, she was with her aunt Lisadore (Vilate and Eva’s sister) and there was a photograph of Vilate sitting on the piano. Dorothy asked, “who is that?” and Lisadore, who was, (as my grandpa says) “sore as a boil” that the whole thing had been kept secret from Dorothy, told her: “That, young lady, is your mother. Your real mother.”
Dorothy is shocked. And for whatever reason, she decided to go and live with Elmer (her real dad), Eva (her aunt turned stepmother), and her 2 siblings Reed and Rhean in California. My grandpa says Eva resented this feisty 10 yr old with a mind of her own who was very different from the other two children. They never got along, but Dorothy wanted to be there with her dad and brother and sister.
Eva died in the 1970’s and then Elmer married Lisadore (the 3rd of the Brown sister trio)(!!) when he was in his late 70’s.
They lived in California and eventually moved back to Canada which is where he died.
But not the end, right? Because family history just keeps going and that’s what makes it so interesting. That 10 year old girl turned into the woman I knew as an older woman, living in Provo in a beautiful house up on the mountain who loved the mountains and loved to ski, ran marathons, had pug dogs, strong political opinions and a very full house on Thanksgiving days. A woman who kept her kitchen very clean, read tons of books and sometimes brought me home cool jewelry from faraway foreign countries.
One interesting note my Grandpa said was that their family doctor (a good family friend) was always trying to refer Dorothy to a therapist/psychiatrist, because, he would say, “anybody with your background has got to be all messed up psychologically.” And she always said she was just fine. And she was.