Saturday, March 20, 2010

Do You Grieve?

Are there other family historians out there who are like me? Are there any of you who grieve when you learn of the means of death or the age at death of some of your ancestors?

When I learned that my great-uncle Jacob Meinzen died as the result of a 100-foot fall while working, I burst into tears. Right there in the microfilm room at the historical society. He died nearly 100 years ago. When I learned that his brother, Walter, died in the same factory when a piece of equipment broke and flew into his head at high speed and killed him, I once again burst into tears. He was killed more than 100 years ago. And when I learned that my great-great-grandfather killed himself, also more than 100 years ago, once again I cried. When I learned of all of these, I felt like I'd been socked in the chest, the wind knocked out of me. And I grieved - for lives cut short, for family left behind without husbands and fathers, for all the pain they felt.

Because of my response to the deaths of some of my ancestors, it surprised me, while watching Lisa Kudrow on "Who Do You Think You Are?" last night, that her response seemed so mild when she learned the means of death of her ancestors.

And so I'm wondering.... Do you grieve when you learn about the death - too young, or too violent - of an ancestor?

Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Messier.


  1. I don't think I grieve. Some stories are much sadder than others but for me they are history and I guess that puts them in a different category, emotionally. I do have stronger reactions to some of the things I find in the letters, maybe because they are fist hand accounts?

  2. I suspect Lisa's real tears were shed earlier. In my case, I do grieve. I grieved when I realized that my great-great uncle Preston Moore probably died, very sick and cold in the dead of winter and far from his family, who did not know of his fate. I also grieved when I read of the many tragedies in the family of my distant cousin Alice Floyd Ezell Bibb: four of her five children died young and she and her husband died of influenza on the same day, among numerous tragedies to strike this family.

  3. I think it's easy to get involved with your ancestors as you learn about them. After you've spent some time getting to know them, one day they go and die on ya, and it's almost as if you've spent something like a lifetime with them, so you can't help but feel the loss. I'm reminded of a summer I spent reading the old newspapers for my great-grandparents' town. My reading covered a timespan of about 30 years at the start of the 1900s, and I got to know not only my kin but everyone else in town too, and I always felt sad when someone died!

  4. I thought that she did grieve- I watched online so perhaps I saw more that was on TV but she definitely did have to walk away a time or two and she shed tears. Myself, I cried for her family as I have cried for mine.

  5. Thanks for your comments, ladies.

    It's interesting how we feel like we "know" our ancestors as we search for them and learn more about them.

    I hope my comment about Lisa Kudrow's response wasn't taken negatively - it wasn't intended that way. It was just an observation/opinion. I think filming and editing a program like WDYTYA? would be hard. The viewer expects to see honest and spontaneous emotion -- and if I were the one being filmed, I think I might not want my first, honest, spontaneous response shared with the rest of the world. Grieving is generally a private affair. For me, learning the result of her gggrandmother's fate was like the sock in the chest I feel when I learn a horrible fate of one of my ancestors.

    Thanks again to all of you for sharing.

  6. I understand what you're saying. While I would not call my own reactions "grief", I do feel strongly about certain events in the lives of my ancestors - especially those that died too young. Oddly enough, I also have a suicide and a death from a fall among my ancestors' deaths! We feel their pain as a way of knowing who they were...or trying to know. One thing I do that may seem odd to others is that I pray for my ancestors!

  7. Nancy - YES! I do grieve. Even when I'm working on genealogies that aren't mine, but for friends or in-laws, I still grieve because I've adopted all these people - I know all these facts about them and feel like I know them in some ways. So yes, I completely understand what you are talking about! One situation that always gets me is when I come across a family where all the children have died young. It always breaks my heart a little!

  8. Donna - I don't know if I've prayed for any of my ancestors or not.... Surprising that you have a suicide and death from a fall among your ancestors, too.

    Leah, I agree. The children - and their mothers, too! It's so sad.

    Thank you both for visiting and commenting.

  9. I've never cried but I find myself feeling VERY sad at some of the events of my ancestors lives and deaths. Sometimes I just have to take some time away from genealogy research.

  10. I grieve in some cases, its the war deaths that usually get me for some reason. I also think I tend to grieve more when I know what the person looked like. I remember reading about a distant cousin who was killed in WWII and feeling sad but I wouldn't call it grief. Then later on I found a picture of him and that was the trigger. I just started sobbing right then and there and I think it was because the picture of him made it all very real, he wasn't just a name on a piece of paper for me anymore.

  11. Harriet, Yes! And because death records are such a helpful part of our gen. research, it's hard to get away from the deaths except by taking a break.

    Leah, I haven't had any deaths from war, at least not yet. I agree that finding a photograph of an ancestor who died a horrible or early death makes the individual oh-so-more real.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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