Friday, July 13, 2007

A Little Observation

T.K. at Before My Time wrote a summary of her week of organizing in her post "A Sorted Past, Week 1: A Commencement Program." Clever word play, there, T.K.! She asked if any of us who have joined her in her organizing challenge of "Tidy Your Documents Month" had rediscovered anything while sorting.

I did. Before I share my (re) discovery, an aside: I actually have not gotten very far in my organization. This has been a very chaotic week, punctuated by a bored son getting into mischief; a seemingly-endless drive to and from Driver's Ed, driving instruction, and driving practice with my daughter (yes, those are permanent scream marks etched into my face!...I don't recall yelling the word "brake!" so many times in my life!); intense heat into the 100s, and--Tuesday--a migraine (brought on, no doubt, by stress). It's amazing that I can think, much less analyze or organize. Real life genealogy...studying family history, despite the family!

But this I did notice: the time frame from when my paternal grandmother's parents were divorced until she started Kindergarten--a year early--in the community of her foster (later her adoptive) parents was only nine months. Backing up, my paternal grandmother and her brother were taken by their father from their rural home in the Flint area, across the state of Michigan and left in Blodgett Home in Grand Rapids. On 7 January 1928, my great-grandfather, Howard Merkel York, had been court ordered to pay their mother, Mary Jane Barber, $5 a week per child until each arrived at the age of 16. It's my understanding that when he dropped them off at the Home, he stated their mother was not fit to raise them. He refused to tell her where they were. They were fostered out to two families in the small Western Michigan community of Coopersville. Grandma--Jane (later renamed Jeanne) was 3; her brother Harry (later renamed James--or Jimmy) was 2. Grandma knew he was her brother; Jimmy Erwin did not know she was his sister--until she told him, at school one day. He went home and told his adoptive parents that Jeanne Holst kept telling him he was her brother. And that's how he found out he was adopted.

Anyway, somehow I had it in my head that Grandma had been at the Home for quite a long time (maybe a year) before the Holsts became her foster parents. I did recall my dad saying that the Holsts lived next door to the elementary school, and my grandmother would attend Kindergarten before she was actually old enough. They couldn't keep her out of the school building (she's known for her stubbornness!), so they just decided to enroll her.

My grandmother and one of my aunts put together a box of papers and things that mostly had belonged to my late grandfather about a year ago. Included in this box were all of Grandma's report cards, from Kindergarten (both years) through 10th grade (she later got her high school diploma in 1988). This week I put the report cards in order and placed them in acid-free archival sleeves, ready for scanning at the next Scanfest. I also began a Timeline for her, and that's when I noticed it. Her first marks for her first Kindergarten year (Fall 1928 - Spring 1929) started in the second 6-week session of the first semester. Figuring the school year started in late August or early September, and looking at the number of days she had attended that session (28 out of approximately 30), I figured she had started school in early-to-mid October 1928. Her 4th birthday would have fallen during that period. So first of all, I got confirmation of oral history that she had attended Kindergarten early; and secondly, I got evidence that she was living in the Holst home only nine months after her parents divorced.

Looking further into it: I can't imagine anyone traveling across Michigan in the winter months on the roads of the late 1920s with two small children. My guess is that Howard, their father, didn't actually remove them from their mother's care and place them in Blodgett Home until the Spring of 1928, at the earliest, say April or May (the roads would likely be still snowy and/or muddy in March). If the Holsts starting caring for my grandmother in September, that means Grandma was in the Home no longer than five months...which is much less than I had estimated before, but I'm sure seemed like an eternity for a scared little 3 1/2-year-old girl. I'm not sure when the Erwins started fostering Jim, but the oral history I recall says he was fostered out first. I know that must have been traumatic for both of them, to be separated like that...especially my grandmother, who apparently was old enough to remember bits and pieces of it all later.

I'm not sure I'll ever have the whole story. Grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several months ago, and it's apparent that she's had it for at least a year. She was never one to want to discuss her background, anyway. What I know has mainly come second-hand through my dad and aunts, and later--after I had found them--the long lost cousins on her biological mother's side. I'm also not sure if Blodgett Home's records are available to the public. I will have to do some hunting in that area.

It's just interesting putting all the bits and pieces into some semblance of order. You never know what you're going to discover.

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