Anyone who has spent years researching their family history will tell you to be prepared for hidden surprises. The lives of our ancestors were just as complicated back then as our lives are today. I think most of us tend to forget they were living breathing people until we start uncovering their lives through the paper trail they left behind. Even after 20 years of research, uncovering my family’s secrets, I must admit that one of my ancestors left me speechless and feeling a little lost last night.
My 2nd great grandmother Alice McCurdy had been a bit of a mystery to me for many years. I knew she existed, she appeared on my great grandfather’s death certificate and I was able to find a marriage certificate for her and my 2nd great grandfather, Melville Williams. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that some new documents emerged, which helped fill in some missing pieces to her story.
About a week ago I had stumbled upon her death certificate online. I felt like I had hit the jackpot with that discovery since she had been a difficult one to track. From the death certificate I learned she was only 34 when she passed away… the same age I am now. To make matters worse, she left behind a husband and three young children, one of which was my great grandfather Robert Henry Williams.
I had figured she had died young over the years since she didn’t appear in the 1900 census living with her husband, children and parents, Henry Martin McCrudy and Frances Abby Hinds. Given the situation, I figured her parents must have moved in to help Melville with the children. It wasn’t until I got this missing puzzle piece (Alice’s death record) that I was able to learn she died of “Phthisis”, commonly known as Tuberculosis or “consumption”.
As most of us know today tuberculosis was a horrible infectious disease. Many people died from it since it was easily spread by air through the coughs and sneezes of an affected person. Tuberculosis victims would end up weak and gaunt, coughing up blood while suffering from night sweats and extreme weight loss. In many cases, those who were kind enough to care for infected victims ended up coming down with the disease themselves. This was the case for my great grandfather, Percy Leslie’s 16-year-old sister who came down with it after caring for an elderly neighbor who suffered from it.
Learning that this was how my 2nd great grandmother died, I felt horrible. What a terrible thing for the family to witness and for Alice, what a horrible end. At the same time, I felt so fortunate that the disease did not spread to the rest of the family. Had it spread, I would not be here today. Learning her cause of death also made me think back on the many TB hospitals I have visited over the years and the awful stories that came out of them. Did Alice end up in one of these hospitals? That is now on my list of things to research next.
Just as I was finally getting over this new bit of news surrounding Alice’s death, researching her father Henry Martin McCurdy let me in on another family secret.
A few weeks ago I decided to go back through my family tree as an attempt to fill in missing information and just to clean it up. I began writing outlines for each family member, double checking all the details and making more of a story out of the information I had gathered. After finishing up on Alice, I moved on to her father last night. Going through Henry’s information I saw that he married Frances Abby Hinds on January 6, 1864 in Boston, Massachusetts. Skipping ahead to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census I found Henry (age 31) and Frances (age 30) living in Pittston, Maine. Recording all the information I could gather on Henry, I then moved on to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census where I noticed… something just doesn’t add up.
In the 1880 census my 2nd great grandmother Alice makes her first appearance, however I realized that it said she was 13 years old. “Well, this can’t be right…” I thought. If she was 13 in the 1880 census, she should have appeared in the 1870 census with her parents. Knowing that an age being off on a census isn’t that uncommon, I figured I would take a closer look… and there it was…
Alice was adopted. Just like that, in a matter of seconds everything I thought I knew about my McCurdy branch was wrong. Two little letters left me with a million questions and a sick feeling in my stomach.
Who is Alice? Where did she come from and who were her birth parents? Why did they give her up? The only time I have dealt with adoption in my family the child was adopted by another family member… could this be the case with Alice? Then at least part of the tree I had for her would still be correct. However this all made me wonder, how many ancestors do we have hiding in our trees that were adopted and we have no idea? Entire sections of our tree would be wrong when it comes to tracing bloodlines. If it weren’t for me deciding to clean up my tree and this one document pointing out the adoption, I would have never known.
While I am now left feeling blindsided and facing a new roadblock with Alice, I can’t help but also feel very appreciative towards Henry Martin McCrudy and Francis Abby Hinds. They not only took in my second great grandmother, they took in her children after she passed away. As I said, the 1900 census showed Henry and Frances living in the house of Alice’s husband but the 1910 census showed the kids still living with Frances (who was then widowed) with their father no where to be found.
Last night I learned that it doesn’t matter how long you have been into genealogy or how much you think you know about your family, there is always room to be surprised.
Have you dealt with adoption in your family tree? Any advice on breaking through the dead end? Are you currently battling that road block? Keep an eye out for updates on Alice’s story as I attempt to find the names of Alice’s birth parents.