Friday, December 01, 2017
Visiting My Roots
The death of my parents this year has triggered in me a desire to explore and connect with family history.
My mother's side of the family is a great mystery. A death at a young age, fights over farms, a suicide and feuding left my mother distancing herself from her family. I have very little connection on that side.
My father's side of the family is clearer. My paternal grandfather had six brothers and a three sisters. The Godfrey family line has been traced back to England and Ireland - in the mid 1800's one of my great-great-great grandfathers was married twice, both times to Mayflower descendants (he had money and good taste.) My paternal grandmother was born in Hammersmith - London. Her mother was born in Swansea on the south coast of Wales. My Great-Grandmother Mary Wood, lived with my grandparents on the farm for about a decade when I was growing up. She died the year I finished high school. It was raining like crazy the day of her funeral, the cemetery didn't allow the family to go into the cemetery for graveside services - the services were in a chapel on the grounds. I moved away from Michigan shortly after that and never went back.
On my most recent trip I made a pilgrimage trip to Roselawn cemetery in Detroit, Woodward Avenue at 12 mile road, to visit my great-grandmother's grave. It was full circle, closure. She was an important part of my childhood, I learned a great about life listening to her tell tales of growing up, emigrating, raising a family, and surviving two World Wars. Growing up I thought she was born in London, long after she was gone I found that she was born in Wales. Visiting the cemetery I found that my great grandfather died the year after I was born. Looking through Dad's slides there is a picture of a baby on his knee - I now know that baby was me. He was a tunnel builder, he started out on the London Tube system, and came to the US on the eve of World War I. They moved every few years, as the tunnel projects finished and another one started. His specialty was working in soft soils, digging under rivers and lakes. He built water intake tunnels in Chicago and Detroit that are still in use. I wish I had heard his stories first hand, rather than handed down as family legend, but looking at it, he live to 79, for a many who worked in compressed air most of his career, 79 is not a bad life expectancy.
I have tried several times to find where my father's paternal grandparents were buried. I knew it was someplace in the Detroit area (my father was not one to visit cemeteries.) Sorting through one of the boxes from my parents home office, I found a funeral card from my great grandmother's funeral (the year after I was born) and found that she is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Detroit. I will make another pilgrimage trip. I suspect that a couple of my great-uncles are in the same cemetery.
Have you gone in search of dead relatives?