In 1968, one of my dad’s cousins decided to climb the family tree, so to speak. She embarked on a genealogical expedition with an explorer’s zeal, requesting information from each family member. My mom dutifully recorded what she knew, with blue ball-point pen in her perfect Palmer script. She consulted with Dad on every point of fact, and his brother and sisters also submitted what they knew.
A few decades later, when my husband and I decided to investigate our respective family histories, I contacted that now-elderly cousin to see if she’d ever completed her proposed work. To my disappointment, a failing memory caused her to deny any knowledge of the project.
Undeterred, I began sorting through memorial cards, birthday lists and certificates I’d kept following Mom’s death. The next step was a research request to the regional archives in Trebon, Czech Republic, which required my grandparents’ marriage date to complete. I remembered finding among Mom’s keepsakes an elaborate document, brittle with age, that was undoubtedly the marriage certificate I needed. Unfortunately, we had determined to safeguard it so carefully that it now refused to be found.
I searched every drawer, cabinet, box and binder—even ransacked the hope chest and safe-deposit box. Nothing. My husband suggested I try the family Bible. Dubious yet desperate, I opened its red cardboard storage box and flipped the book’s pages. Still nothing. Exasperated, I lifted the Bible from the box. Underneath lay two folded pieces of graying paper. Expecting further disappointment, I snapped open the top sheet.
“Thanks, Mom,” I whispered, gasping in recognition. There, in blue ball-point in Mom’s perfect Palmer script, was a duplicate of the family facts she’d compiled 30 years ago, put aside for us to find. And there at the bottom was the elusive date of my grandparents’ wedding: 1893. The other paper revealed a more extraordinary surprise—a family tree documenting in Czech the names and dates of my great-grandfather and his descendants.
It seems our industrious cousin, unknown to me, had requested those Trebon records decades ago, and my mom had the foresight to safeguard them. All I had to do was open the box.
Sometimes you don’t find what you’re looking for—you find something better instead: You find what was looking for you.
Patricia Jane Hassler
La Grange, Ill.
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