My father passed away in 2008. I think Dad enjoyed my exploration into family history. I’m pretty sure he thought it was a little weird, but I think he enjoyed it, nonetheless. And I know that my discovery in 2006, of events which occurred in 1900 and 1901, finally helped him to understand the reasons his grandmother’s behavior shocked him so in 1929.
After my uncle Charlie graduated from eighth grade, his parents, Charlie and Agnes, took the train across the country from Tiburon, California to Webster, New York to bring their son to meet his grandfather, another Charles Kircher. They left their oldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Mary, to take care of her younger siblings remaining at home – Bertha, Barbara, Kathryn, Tom, (my dad), and John. Agnes’ parents lived just down the road, and would be there to help out if needed.
One day, Mary said to her charges, “Don’t pick any blackberries. I’ll need them to make a circus cake.” Kathryn and Tom went into the yard and Tom immediately popped a blackberry in his mouth. Nine-year-old tattle-tale Kathryn said, “I’m gonna te-ell,” stuck her tongue out, and ran into the house. Fearing the wrath of his sister, Tom’s immediate reaction was to hide, somewhere, anywhere, and stay there until the storm blew over. The basement looked like a good place.
With Kathryn’s news, Mary looked for Tom but couldn’t find him. She searched high and low, but no Tom. Hours passed, and eventually she had to fess up to Grandma that she’s lost one of her charges and enlist her aid. The Kircher home was a block from the edge of San Francisco Bay, and I imagine that when Grandma Bradley called out for her grandson, the foremost thought in her mind was of her niece Agnes Jane, drowned in the waters of Tiburon nearly thirty years earlier, and of the way that loss destroyed the life of her sister-in-law, Sarah. How would her daughter handle the guilt of having left her children while she went away on a pleasure trip? What regrets would haunt her granddaughter who let her little brother drown in those very same waters? These fears must have colored her voice as she call into the basement, “Tom, Tom, are you there? Come out.”
But seven-year-old Tom didn’t come out. Not the next time she came to the door. And not the next. Eventually, Charlie Orbell, the boarder on his way to his room in the Kircher basement, saw Tom hiding behind a pile of scrap wood and said, “You better get upstairs. They’re looking for you.” Finally, Tom showed his face. I’m sure Grandma Bradley hugged the breath out of him when he appeared at last. Dad recalled that for weeks after, whenever she saw him, she’d shake her finger and admonish, “I’m gonna get you. I’m gonna get you. Not because you hid, but because you didn’t come out when I called.”
When Dad was seven years old, he’d never heard of his great-aunt, Sarah, nor his mother’s wee cousin, Agnes Jane. He had no notion why his simple act of hiding could scare his grandmother so. But in 2006, when I shared the stories of the little child drowned in the lagoon and her mother’s tragic death a year later, Dad finally understood why his Grandma Bradley threatened to “get” him.
And as Judy G. Russell told those of us lucky enough to hear her at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, our charge is to tell the stories of those youngest ones who didn’t survive. In telling their stories we help others make sense of their history.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.