And climb the stairs to the beach...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Long Lost Cousins

The other day a large box was delivered to my front door.

It wasn't a surprise, really, as I had been told to expect a package. However, I was not sure what would be in it.

I should back up a little bit. As most of you know, I am a little bit obsessed with genealogy research. I can spend hours upon hours hunting for the tiniest bit of information on an ancestor of mine, or anybody else's, if they ask me to look for someone. Of course, it's all the sweeter when I am hunting down something from my own tree. I wrote a blog for a couple of years called The Hunt for Henrietta. It was named for my great great grandmother Henrietta Davis Hall. It is still there on line if you'd like to take a look sometime by clicking on the link over to the left side of this blog. Henrietta actually had a good following for a couple of years and other genealogists and interested people would read it regularly. Often I would get comments and responses from readers that were always welcome and sometimes helpful in furthering my own research.

One Henrietta post I did was based on an old newspaper clipping I researched about a woman whose husband deserted her back in 1901. Researching that post actually resulted in my contacting another member . I told her about the story I was doing on the woman in the story. After she read my post, she left a comment with information about her relative, the husband, and where he wound up, solving a mystery from 110 years before. It was great fun!

Headlines from 1901:
Jennie Lind Lewis, Deserted by Her Husband Dr. Evans, in DakotaWell Known in Spindle City
 (Just click HERE and another window will open up where you can read that story.)

But I digress...One of the great pleasures of doing genealogy research online is that you get to make connections to cousins and other relations you never knew you had. I have "met" many cousins online that way and a few in person. In 2012, I received a phone call from someone who had been Googling her family's names and happened upon one of these Henrietta stories about the Willett family, my paternal grandmother's line. When she found it, the post was probably a year or more old. The thing about the Internet, good or bad, is that once it appears there, it's there forever! This woman somehow tracked me down by contacting my ex-husband, who contacted my son who gave me her phone number. As it turns out this woman, whose name is Pat, is the granddaughter of my grandmother's sister. In other words, she is my second cousin and we share great grandparents.

When Pat and I talked on the phone that summer morning, we shared memories of our grandmothers. I had never met her grandmother, Josephine (Dodie) but my grandmother talked about Dodie all her life. She missed her terribly. She was her older sister who passed away before I had the chance to meet her. Dodie was one of 8 children born and raised in New York City by George and Josephine (Patton) Willett. Seven of these Willett children reached adulthood and I had the privilege to know four of them. They were four of the most fascinating women I have ever met with a love for each other and their family history, who grew up in New York City at an amazing time. But that's a whole other post.

Standing From left to right: Neely, Dodie (Pat's grandma) Millie, Jessie (My Gram) Honey, Lottie. Seated: Bill and wife Mary  

One of the most serendipitous things about Pat connecting with me, is that she solved a mystery about one of my earliest memories. I was about 4 years old from what I can determine and I remember a visit at my grandmother's home from my grandmother's out of town relatives. There was among others, a friendly and smiling man, his daughter in a wheel chair whose name was Judy and a woman named Kitty who wore an angora sweater and knelt down to talk to me. She had the most interesting name from a 4 year old's perspective. As I described the visit and the memories I had from that day, Pat exclaimed that she had been there too! The man was her father, the little girl in a wheelchair was her sister and Kitty was one of our aunts. I have wondered all my life about what became of those people and exactly who they were.

Gram and me a year or so before I met Pat at this same house.
Another story she shared with me was that she remembered sitting with my grandmother at a wedding about 45 years ago. It was the wedding of another of my second cousins, Karen, also Pat's cousin, whom I had  met via and with whom I had lunch one day in Chattanooga in 2011.

As it turned out, Pat had been very close to Aunt Mary who was the wife of my grandmother's brother Bill, the youngest of the family. He lived with his mother until she passed away in 1957, when he finally was able to marry his beloved Mary. That's another story!  Pat was given several things by Mary after Bill died. Among these items were some hand embroidered dish towels that belonged to our great grandmother, Josephine, Grandma Jo. She also has a portrait of Great grandfather George. She shared these photos with me.
Grandma Jo's dishtowels lovingly displayed in Pat's home.

A portrait of Great grandfather George Willett, NYCPD

A photo of our great grandfather in uniform

But in this big box, that Pat had sent to me, buried under piles of styrofoam peanuts, she had carefully placed a vase once owned by Grandma Jo. It was totally unexpected. When she told me a package was coming, I expected a few family photos maybe, but not something like this.

In her lovely note to me Pat wrote: "The vase was Grandma Jo's (the flowers are from me). I think she would be honored for you to have it in your possession. You have done so much to research our (and all the Willett clan's) roots and I can only imagine how happy all of them would be with what you have accomplished. The vase itself is not valuable, but still it was hers, so enjoy it! I thought it only right that you have something tangible from our history. Sent with love and gratitude. Pat"

I will cherish this vase. It is amazing to me that she has kept it so long and is willing to part with it. There is no identifying maker's mark on it. But it is hand blown, and old and I think it's beautiful. It may only be 60 years old, or it might be 100 years old or much more. But it doesn't matter to me. It's so exciting to see something that was hers, let alone have it in my home.

My long lost cousin Pat and her family 

Pat lives in Long Island, not far from where our third great grandfather, Ebenezer Willett, was born in 1798. I can't wait to go visit her next summer when we head north. Maybe I can poke around in the records in that area and see if I can break through that brick wall and find out who Ebenezer's parents were. Pat's promised to dig up some old photos, too.  But, most importantly I want to see Pat again. After all, it's been about 58 years, from what I can figure out. It's about time we saw each other again, don't you think?

Have a great day everyone!

To read about some of the other relatives and contacts I've made doing my research just click
HERE. It will bring you to another Henrietta post where I wrote about some of the other folks I have met along the genealogy trail.

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