The Washerwoman’s Genes

May 22, 2006

Genealogical Risk Factor

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 11:57 am

Referred to as “the twins,” my father’s siblings have been obscure. Deceased in infancy or young childhood, they never appeared on a census. Trying variants of our last name, I did discover one: a son, named after my grandfather. His last name in the online index was a predictable mutation, one M swapped for an N, another dropped entirely. When I saw the listing, I just knew he was mine, and when the paperwork arrived, bingo. My grandparents, names spelled correctly, were right there on the certificate. Now that I know the date of their birth in 1917, I can calculate from any death listing whether the person is possibly the second twin.

This child Anne I had noticed several times. Her last name seemed implausible, a one-syllable oddity, a probable transcription blooper. Her age (one) seemed correct: the twin would have been about twenty months at her death, but parts of years are not tracked. I wrote the check, requested the certificate by number, and waited.

The shame of it is: now I have in my files the paperwork for a dead baby born to the McMies.

It’s not my first miss. I also have a death certificate for a Q lady who looked likely to be the wife of James, Josephine’s brother. But the certificate showed Q was her married name, and she was not a native New Yorker but a Scandinavian immigrant.

When I got the piece of paper, I wanted to kick myself. Of course, James’ wife Elsie would have his last name. (Now I realize they both probably died upstate: their last known residence was Esopus, despite their living their whole adult lives in Brooklyn.)

That was regrettable, a waste of money. But it didn’t cause the cringe I experienced on opening the unknown baby Anne’s certificate.

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