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Gathering family history – sometimes you need to ask questions more than once

When I first started out as a new genealogist, I gathered what I could from Mom – mostly births, marriages, deaths, and some random stories. Here’s what I learned on my first trip to the family well of knowledge and what I learned later about my father’s side of the family.

Legend has it that my grandmother Gladys was an uncaring mother. She parked my father’s baby carriage outside bars and would go in for a drink. She and my grandfather were divorced and she became a single mother. Suddenly single and having to work, Gladys put my father in a private boarding school and went to work at a newspaper in New York (I am unable to find her during her years in New York). When my father became ill and the school couldn’t find his mother’s contact information, they called his paternal grandmother. She went to the boarding school and picked him up and brought him to her own home.

What I learned later is that sometimes there is more to family legend than the little we know on the face of things. Reality may have not been quite so grim…

Having seen and read enough fictional dramas that have fed my imagination, I wondered if perhaps he was separated from his mother by a resentful grandmother, who may have refused to allow Gladys to see him. Who knows what the truth really is? Only the dead know.

When I talked with my mother again, I told her that I couldn’t find any information about Gladys Bowman or her parents, other than their names. That is when the well opened and I was treated to a number of interesting stories that have created a picture for me of what life was like for the Bowman family. I didn’t know to ask, the revelations came as a reaction to my lack of ability to find information.

My mother said that Gladys as a very beautiful woman, but a heavy drinker. She and her ex-husband Ray were “drinking buddies” and went out together all the time even after their divorce and that they were actually each other’s best friend. I found that thought comforting to hear.

I also heard a fun story about Gladys’ father, Martin Bowman – he ran an illegal gambling operation from home and, as Mom says, “the police were always at the house running raids on the illegal gambling hall that he managed to run in his house.” Clearly, Martin was a more colorful character than I ever imagined. Before I found out about the gambling he ran, all I had was a name and few dates for Martin Bowman and his wife Bridget Kerrigan.

I learned a powerful lesson. As a genealogist, trips to the well need to continue and occur over and over to get to the root of all the fascinating stories that surround my family tree. I don’t want to just know dates, I want to know them.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in interviewing family

 

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Finding Uncle Leo

In my family tree search it has been very hard to find any information on the Bowman side of the family tree (alternately spelled a million different ways: Bowman, Bowerman, Bauman, Boweman, Bowman, etc.). My great Uncle Leo has been especially problematic. I see him on census records as a child, then he disappears in adulthood until his Social Security Death Index listing. Then Mom told me something I never knew that provided the key to help me find Uncle Leo’s whereabouts.

Uncle Leo Bowman fought in World War I. When he returned home after the war he had a condition that was called “shell shock” – now we refer to it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Back in the 30’s and 40’s they didn’t have treatments, or even the understanding, to deal with people who suffered the way Uncle Leo did. One particularly sad memory that Mom passed on was that every time there was a loud noise Uncle Leo would take off and run to hide in the woods. How terribly sad. All of this finally helped me to locate Uncle Leo – he appeared on the 1930 census of a VA home in Massachusetts. If this is him, he probably spent the remainder of his life institutionalized there.

I still need to prove it all through further documentation, but I think I may have one mystery solved … now if I could just find my grandmother (also a Bowman), I would solve one of the biggest mysteries of all.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Census

 

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