On Retirement: Daughter's hobby offers a glimpse of the past


It was merely an email, but I could almost feel our daughter’s excitement.

With both her son and daughter in college, and still feeling the empty nest ache, she turned back to researching family history.

She had discovered the newspaper report of her paternal grandparents’ marriage in the home of the bride’s parents in Leominster, Massachusetts. It was a typical write-up of the era. Headlined simply, “Bartlett-Walker,” it informed readers that the bride wore a gown of orchid taffeta with a corsage of orchid sweet peas, while her bridesmaid — her brother’s wife — was in green with yellow rosebuds. There were roses, carnations and laurel decorating the home. There was no reference to “honeymoon” but simply a report that they left on a four-day trip through New Hampshire.

Our daughter sent both that article and another of an earlier marriage, that of my grandparents, her great-grandparents.

They, too, wed at the home of the bride’s parents. It was in Paulding County in northwestern Ohio, about 70 miles south of the Butler, Michigan, farm where they later moved and my mother and her three siblings were raised.

While the newspaper print is very small, the descriptions are more extravagant, even the headline. “Bates-Houston: Two Prominent Young Join the Wedding Throng,” it declared.

I wonder what kind of “throng” of marriages there was in November 1902.

The “very pretty wedding” began at 5 p.m. when “Squire Stunum pronounced the solemn words that made Jas. I Bates and Miss Enid Bates man and wife.” My grandfather, according to the report was son of “one of the prosperous farmers” residing in the township. His mother is not mentioned.

After the ceremony the family and “a few invited guests partook of an elegant wedding repast.”

The newlyweds were to “go into housekeeping on a farm recently purchased by the groom.”

I recall hearing as a child that Grandmother apparently was considered to have “made a good catch.”

Among his accomplishments, we were told, he played the violin, often for community dances.

His seven grandchildren never heard him play; nor did we see him walk. As we grew up, Grandpa lived in his wheelchair and was a rather critical, hard-to-please man. Our grandmother had assumed much of the farm operations until they sold it in the early 1940s. Their two sons and two daughters worked as well, but Grandma insisted the girls would never learn, and therefore, never milk the cows.

Exactly what her reason was, I don’t recall being told.

As long as I can remember, Grandma assisted my grandfather, lifting him in and out of his wheelchair for daily routines, until his death in at 1963 at 83. It must have been a difficult transition from her expectations as a young bride.

Discovering the cause of his ill health prompted a phone call from our daughter. “Did you know your grandfather Bates had rheumatoid arthritis?” she asked. “Maybe it is hereditary.”

Yes, to both. It has occurred to me that as aspirin was the only relief for him, the pain likely accounts for his grumpiness. There is now a range of medications to relieve symptoms.

Our daughter’s research started more than 20 years ago, when she created the loose-leaf notebook of family histories as Christmas gifts for each of us. Over the years we have added pages as she found new information

The most striking of these latest discoveries was less positive or enlightening. It is a death certificate, apparently unearthed by my cousin’s son, a resident of Northern Michigan. Quite honestly, I don’t know if we ever met him in person, but we know him from his Facebook posts. Like our daughter, he has been researching family histories.

The February 1934 death certificate, that of my great-grandfather, lists a cause of death that likely was downplayed and possibly considered shameful.

A widower, he died at 81 in southern Michigan’s Butler County as a result of “Lysol poisoning taken with suicidal intent.”

Sadly, we don’t know what prompted his decision. Loneliness? Illness? Feelings of uselessness?

If it was ever discussed in the family, I do not recall it or was too young.

Nor would we have learned and shared this information among relatives in at least three states, but for the curiosity, and internet know-how of his descendants.

Contact writer Evadna Bartlett at evadnab07@gmail.com

Funerals for Monday, February 17, 2020

Batten, Richard - 2 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Cook, Dorothy - 1 p.m., Blue Ridge Memorial Gardens, Beckley.

Dickenson, Cosette - 11 a.m., Redeemer Lutheran Church, Charleston.

Hamilton, Stephanie - 7 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

McComas Jr., Oscar - 1 p.m., Lewis Memorial Baptist Church.

Mullenax, Claude - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Triolo, Angela - 11 a.m., St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Logan.

Van Camp Sr., Danny - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Wilson, William - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay.

Withers, Rosa - 1 p.m., Wilcoxen Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Yoak, Norma - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Grantsville.