Honoring the Mothers in our Family Trees

Anna's daughter Katherine, my great-great grandmother 

Anna's daughter Katherine, my great-great grandmother 

If you spend much time reading mommy blogs, hanging out with moms, or you’re a mom yourself, you quickly learn just how easily moms can grow weary. And as women have over time increasingly been able to express themselves publicly, this is becoming more and more evident. But if you look into history, you may think that the moms in our family tree were more “put together” than today’s moms are – than we are. I look at the biographies of some of my grandmothers in old county history books, and their selfless works and skills in mothering and caregiving are highly praised. In our mothers’ obituaries, their strength is praised, and sometimes they even mention out that these women suffered, but silently, and this silence is revered. One of these women stands out to me: my great-great-great grandmother, Anna Walsh Garrity.

Anna 

I had a hard time tracking down Anna, and she still remains somewhat of a mystery to me. But I’ll never forget when I found her obituary, and what it said about her. Here is one line: "Despite her many trials and sorrows, she bravely cared for her little brood until the last. It has been said by loving friends, in eulogizing Mrs. Garrity, that no woman ever lived that was more void of faults, and that no woman ever bore her burden more resignedly than she.”

At first I stood in awe of her. But as I’ve done more research on Anna and pieced together her story, I started to feel a great sympathy for her. Anna was only about forty-five years old when she died. She had eight children at the time, and had been widowed for ten years. In the last census that was taken before she died, I found out she was a “laundress”, a particularly grueling job, especially when she was caring for so many children on her own. Her obituary also says she died from Bright’s disease, which she contracted while visiting her oldest daughter, who was married and living in Indianapolis. (Anna lived in Connersville, Indiana, an Irishwoman who had immigrated from England when she was just a young girl.) But when Indiana released its death records in 2016, I went straight for Anna’s so I could continue to add to the story of this mystery woman.

The main cause of death listed on Anna’s death certificate was exhaustion. Exhaustion. Oh, Anna, I thought. Maybe Anna never told her loving friends who said she bore her burden so resignedly, but she was exhausted. Maybe Anna never let on to her children just how exhausted she was. Maybe she couldn't. I knew Anna’s granddaughter well, and surprisingly, she knew nothing about her. She didn’t even know her name. Anna’s story of exhaustion never made it to her descendants. That is, until I took notice of her situation by piecing together bits of her story from records, and realized just how telling her cause of death was. Anna was a woman of hard work, dedication, commitment, but she was exhausted, and sadly, it cost her everything.

Share their Stories

When we look into the lives of our mothers in our family tree, I hope we see people and not just records. I hope we read in between the lines. I hope we realize they had a living, breathing story with hopes, dreams, and feelings. I hope we realize we come from the same stock as them. I hope that we learn lessons from them. I hope we can have sympathy for them, and understanding, that their stories inform ours. I hope we then tell the stories of our ancestors so we can begin to understand how similar people have always been. And I hope that when we’re exhausted, we realize we don’t have to do it alone. That we reach out and connect with others. That’s something I’ve learned from my ancestor Anna. Anna may have truly cared for her little brood until the last, but I wish she had lived longer. I wish she had lived long enough to be a grandmother, to see her little brood grow up. I wish she had been able to live her life and share her story herself. But since she couldn’t, her family historian descendant is going to honor her memory and share it for her. I hope you do the same for your ancestors. Their lives live on in us. Their lives live on in our children.