I knew that my great-great-grandfather Patrick Doyle died in Tipton, Iowa, in 1873. But without going there, I was unable to locate a burial record until a tew years ago. On a Family History Library microfilm reel, I found a 1920s Daughters of the American Revolution record of the tombstone inscriptions in St. Mary’s Cemetery. Next to my great-great-grandfather’s record, a note read, “Patrick Doyle is buried in driveway west of lot one.” So if you visit there, please drive slowly!
Just as hereditary illnesses are passed down through generations, so are stories of the old-fashioned treatments that accompanied them. My great-aunt spoke fondly of her grandfather Jeremiah Perrin even though he died 20 years before she was born. One story impressed her so much that she never tired of telling it, especially to her great-niece and-nephews, who enjoyed hearing the grisly tale.
My aunt’s father’s side of the family suffered from diabetes, and the disease cost several unfortunate relatives their limbs or eyesight. Jeremiah was among them. In the 1870s, by the time he’d reached his 30s, his foot had to be amputated. The doctor went to his home to perform the procedure, and the foot was buried in the backyard. No one gave it much thought except the person who felt its absence. A week later, Grandpa Jeremiah was still complaining of pain in his toes, a phenomenon known today as “phantom limb.” He asked his family to dig up the foot and straighten the toes so he could be at peace. Their reluctance to do so only made him more insistent.
As the days went by and Grandpa Jeremiah’s agitation grew, his wife and children finally agreed, expecting little in return for their own pains. But when they exhumed the foot, they were surprised to find the toes were indeed doubled up as Jeremiah had claimed. Taking care to straighten the toes, they buried the foot a second time and were rewarded with comfortable silence. Grandpa Jeremiah never again complained of foot pain.
Karen Frisch, Lincoln, RI
In 1975, I wrote many letters requesting information on my ancestors and their descendants. I sent one of those to my mother’s second cousin, who lived in California. I never heard from her, but a couple of years later, I received a letter from the local sheriff’s department saying that my cousin had recently died. The writer could find no close relatives to take her belongings, so he asked if I would accept them.
In another week or so, I received my “inheritance,” which amounted to a photograph album, some unopened Christmas cards, old family photos and two letters from the late 1800s. I was happy that these treasures hadn’t been discarded, but sad that they weren’t in the hands of a family member who really might like to have them.
I put the box of treasures away, still wondering how to contact their rightful owner there was no Internet to lend me a hand, Soon, we moved to the country, and I stored the box in our attic. Twenty-five years passed.
Last spring, I was rearranging my corner of the attic and came upon my inheritance. This time, I made an inventory of the items, then went to the computer. I opened the Ancestry.com message board and typed Ernest Poston, the father of the California cousin who had died. And there, right in front of me, was a request from someone looking for pictures of exactly the people on my inventory! After a number of e-mails back and forth, I decided this person a California resident and my mother’s third cousin was exactly the one who should have the inheritance. So these family pictures went full-circle, from one city in California to another, by way of 25 years in a western New York attic.
June 2004 Family Tree Magazine