Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 7 The Other Side)

A temperate day in October, sun shining, slight breeze. The daughters of Edwin A. Coyle and Eva Adele Coley, meet for the first time at the grave side of Napoleon Bonaparte Caraccioli, their great-grandfather. No television cameras hover over them, but through the lens of the eye it is no different than the shows that record a first meeting. “I used to pass by here all the time,” Edwin's daughter, Deborah says, amazed that she had been unaware of her great-grandfather’s grave location. “I grew up just down the road.” Gentle embraces followed by pictures taken around Napoleon's grave after the two cousins quickly and subtly examine eyes, nose, and other facial features for evidence of family genetics. It is not about good looks as much as…do you have the same high forehead as I do? Or how about the one ear that has a thin rim on the outer ear…the one that matches the ear shown in the photo of our great-great-grandfather Cipriano from Corsica. Do you have that too? A few stories of comparison are exchanged and then off to lunch at Mulberry Street Restaurant. “This used to be an Italian restaurant,” Deb says as we enter. Ironically, she frequented the very restaurant (still Italian) that I randomly chose to reserve for our mini family reunion. Deb pulls out a photo album that is bulging with photos from yesteryear.

As we pore over the pages we are joined by John and Sue. John is the genealogy partner mentioned in earlier blogs. Sue, another cousin and an accomplished writer and author, was found through LegacyRoots.com. She has become the head writer for the historical fiction novel based on our ancestor Captain Cipriano Caraccioli, a French Patriot and Corsican Privateer who sailed to New York City after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Everyone present is related through Cipriano’s son Napoleon Bonaparte Caraccioli. John and Sue have the same great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Gilman, Napoleon's first wife. My mother Joan, Deb, and I are connected through Napoleon’s second wife, Myra Marshall. Although this is the first time we have met, our interaction is similar to friends who gather together for their weekly or monthly lunch. It is what we desire family to be like. Inquiries, stories, laughter…comfortable...warm.

And so, after all the introductions and picture sharing we come to the question that has brought us together on this day, what really happened to Edwin B. Caraccioli, Lulu Gonder and their son? What version of the story had Deb been told? And so the story is told…

Edwin A. Coley had been born prematurely. To add to the distress of the day, he was sickly as well, though it is not known what his specific illness was. Lulu's sister, Eva, took the motherless infant into her heart and her home. What was going through Eva’s mind as she spent long days and nights, walking the floor with little Edwin, nursing him back to health while grieving the loss of her sister? Exhaustion. Anguish. Confusion? Her sister had just died and in her arms, not her own child…the child she had longed for, but an infant boy she never expected to receive this way.  She prayed that he would make it through his illness. Did she try with every fiber of her being to refrain from getting too attached? She had just lost her sister. Was there any reason not to believe she might lose Edwin A. as well?

Edwin A.’s father, lost in grief for his young wife, must have welcomed Eva’s care for his son.  He was indebted to her. But to what extent? Did he feel that he couldn’t handle an infant on his own? Was his son better off where there was the stability of two parents? Was it too painful to see his son while lamenting the loss of his beloved wife? It was difficult enough to find answers that made sense of the unanswerable questions surrounding death. Now Edwin B. was faced with questions about his son's life he may not have been capable of answering. 

Eva’s husband, James Coyle, was being transferred to South Carolina. What were they to do? No matter how much she had wanted a son, Edwin A. was not their own. But he had become part of their family; how could they leave him behind? Her heart ached to keep Edwin A. and after she overcame the initial shock of knowing they would have to leave their home and family behind, realized there was only one solution. Edwin A. had to go with them. But would his father relinquish him into their care so far away from home, his sister, his family? Did James intimidate Edwin B. into releasing his son? Were there arguments, fights, cutting words? Or was the discussion of Edwin A.’s future logical, peaceful, though heart wrenching? No doubt the Coyles felt better qualified to care for him and, without a doubt, could give him the intact family unit he needed. His father was most likely still suffering his loss, trying to carry on with work and dealing with his four-year-old daughter, Adele. Perhaps little Edwin was used to being with the Coyles and they all agreed that it would be confusing and damaging to place him in an environment where he would never see the family that he had come to understand as his own.

Edwin A. Coley/Coyle (right) with friends
South Carolina c. 1921
Discussions of whatever kind, whether hostile or peaceful, concluded with Eva and James begging little Edwin’s father to allow them to care for him as their own. Regardless of the whys and wherefores, a lot of heart wrenching anguish went along with the request and the final conclusion. There are no stories to tell how long Edwin B. debated with himself about this or who influenced his decision, but once he released his son, Eva and James fell to the floor and cried with thankfulness. Did Edwin B. feel it was for the best? Did he fight long and hard about his son becoming a part of the Coyle family, moving down to South Carolina, and being brought up by Eva and James? Possibly, but the decision was made. By January 1920, four year old Edwin was living with the Coyle family on Cypress Street in Charleston, South Carolina listed as Edwin Coyle in the census. In 1930 at age fourteen he is still listed as the “son” of Eva and James Coyle.  Did he ever see his dad? Not likely. A new woman had entered his father’s life. It is unclear if she was in favor of keeping little Edwin or not, but not long after the Coyles departed she gave birth to their daughter, Claudia. And so began a new family for both Edwin B., in Bayonne, and his son, Edwin A. in South Carolina

Eva (Gonder) Coyle
with Edwin A. Coley/Coyle
Though his father would not allow the Coyles to adopt his son, in 1937, less than six months after turning 21 years old, Edwin A. Coley officially changed his name to Coyle. As we recount the story it really isn’t much of a surprise. His mother died the day after his birth and his father had not been in his life since he was a toddler. The Coyles were the only family he ever knew, he loved them and was grateful for all they had done for him. Oddly enough Edwin A. Coyle returned to New Jersey the same year his father moved with most of the Marshall branch of the Caracciolis down to Florida in 1950. How ironic is life?

And so we pick up where sorrow began and lives separated. Nearly a hundred years after her father’s birth and Lulu’s death, Deborah Coyle Weigel and her husband, Steve, join distant cousins in a small Italian restaurant near where she was born on an October day. We plan to keep in touch via email, Facebook, texting and phone. These are avenues that were not available a hundred years ago. We finish lunch and each of us goes our separate ways. Life is busy and there is not even enough time to visit the place that became the final resting spot of Lulu Coley. But there is no doubt that it will be a trip this family will take together on another day.

{Pictures and details of Lulu, Edwin, and their children can be viewed by following links from Lulu’s genealogical profile at: www.legacyroots.com/GONDER/lulu.html }

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 6 - The Pain of Losing Love)

With most of the pieces in place I feel myself being pulled into the lives of my ancestors on that first day of January in 1916. Spirited back nearly a hundred years into the past, the weather is icy cold. A blanket of snow lies on the ground. An epidemic of the grippe and pneumonia fill nearby hospitals to capacity. While The New York Times heralds record breaking crowds in Times Square with celebrants having paraded up and down Broadway to bring in the New Year, hundreds of poor children receiving gifts, pastors praying that the war would end by the close of the year, Lulu Caraccioli lies in her bed at 383 Avenue E in Bayonne, New Jersey sick with the grippe and waiting to give birth. Her family hovers nervously, concerned that she has little strength to bring this child into the world and survive. No doubt her sister, Eva, whom Lulu’s first child was named after, is present to assist. Was this second child to be a son…a son to carry on Edwin’s name and legacy? A daughter, a son, a beautiful wife whom he loved to share all of life with…what more could he ask for? But as he looks upon Lulu’s pale face, drained from the hours of coughing, the reality of that storybook life comes into question.

Little Edwin A. Coley enters the world on New Year’s Day, but Lulu only knows her son for a few hours…or is it only a few moments? Exhausted from incessant coughing, her last breath is acknowledged and confirmed by her doctor as “acute cardiac dilatation following grippe” before noon the following morning. He scrawls the words almost without having to look.  One could only imagine that this wasn’t the first grippe death he has witnessed recently. With Edwin by her side, Lulu struggles to breathe as her throat constricts and chokes out the ability to take another, fulfilling the definition of the sickness noted on her certificate. The story passed down was that she died of pneumonia, but at this moment, deciphering pneumonia or influenza doesn’t matter, Lulu is gone…her exhausted body finally at rest.

I hold a gold locket in my hand that has been given me nearly a century later. On the back the ornately engraved initials of Lulu and Edwin speak of love. Was she wearing this when she died? Most likely a gift from Edwin, I have not seen a photo of her without it hanging on a delicate chain for all to see.  I clutch it as my mind returns to Avenue E. Not far from Lulu’s peaceful body, only hours old and tucked in his bassinette, Edwin A. lies sleeping…or crying for the mother no longer able to  bring him comfort. An eerie stillness hangs in the air amidst the perfume of birth and the stench of death. In an instant a husband, turned widower, sits exhausted from hours and hours of worry, now distraught and in shock. Was it then that the past raced through his mind? Was it then that he recollected hundreds of happy moments that could no longer be considered endless? Was it then that he felt dreadfully alone? I recalled my mother describing the tears that welled up in his eyes fifty years after Lulu’s death. No doubt on that day…and days following, he drained every tear from his eyes; the anguish squeezing his body until he doubled over in pain, his heaving chest giving way to a hollow silence.     

There is something the loss of love does to a person…a breaking of the spirit…that transforms the sufferer to a level of quasi-existence. It is an impassioned ache that only exists because of the intensity of the love once in its place. The world takes on a different hue and life appears empty and pointless…at least for a time. When does one recover?...never, really. Life goes on, the memory fades a bit, but there is no replacement. To whatever extent healing can take place, the putting away of reminders that well up pain are tucked away. Was that how Edwin felt when he decided to release his newborn son into another’s hands? There is no way to know. Edwin A. disappeared from the lives of his father and sister, that chapter closed like a secured vault…the pain locked away.

Over ninety years pass. I search for my great-uncle, via internet and letter writing, to no avail. Whatever happened to the small infant that was passed into the hands of another family? More years pass. Then one day I receive an email. It is from Debbie Coyle. She has found me through my website, LegacyRoots.com. She is the daughter of Edwin A. I am shocked, amazed, thrilled. We exchange  photos and brief snippets of stories. We talk on the phone. It is amazing to hear the voice of a cousin long lost. Where does she live? Is her father still alive? Does she have brothers and sisters? What does she know about her father’s upbringing? Does she know why he was kept a secret? Did she know about her Aunt Adele? The questions are legion, but many will be answered soon. This Friday, October 8th, several cousins from South Carolina, New York and New Jersey will congregate at the gravesite of a mutual ancestor, Napoleon Bonaparte Caraccioli. Ninety plus years of disconnect from a single moment in time of love, loss and pain…reunited nearly a century later. (To be continued…)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 5 - What's in a Name?)

I sat back in my chair wondering what my next step should be. Where does one go with a myriad of names and dates after a breakthrough? John had moved on to continue his personal search for his branch of the family and especially for our elusive first Caraccioli immigrant. He had gotten me started with the best possible find that would open many doors to further research. Finding Lulu’s death certificate would show me the location of her final resting place and finding her birth certificate would bring her life-cycle to completion.

Her marriage certificate confirmed her maiden name as Gonder, and her married name Caraccioli. If my next search was for her death certificate her surname might be Caraccioli…or it would it be Coley?  This is where I sigh because the infraction of name switching is prolific in my branch of the family. At a certain period of time in history several family members flipped back and forth between Caraccioli to Coley and back again. There is no question that Caraccioli is somewhat complicated to pronounce and spell if you are not familiar with its Italian origin. As many Americans are apt to do, people often fumbled over it and had such difficulty spelling it to the point where some family members shortened it to Coley. Frankly I think that it destroys the beauty of the name and dishonors the legacy. On an Italian website I found that the Caraccioli name is rare and is derived from Caracciolo which is a name that is widespread throughout the south of Italy. It also noted that it is carried by leading prelates, nobles and princes especially noted in Avellino, Naples and Calabria. Coley on the other hand is of English origin and is from the Old English ‘dark’ or ‘black’ derivative of ‘coal.’ Why would anyone wish to change from Caraccioli to Coley? I’m sure it was without much thought, and as I began to search for Lulu’s death certificate I had to consider that it was possible that she didn’t die with the name Caraccioli as she had been married.
I recalled my mother telling me that she died on New Year’s Eve and knowing that stories passed down are subject to the age old game of Telephone, I knew it was best to look in a range surrounding her recollected day of Lulu’s death. Back and forth through various dates I finally came upon her death certificate, but it was not New Year’s Eve, it was January 2, 1916. This was far from the presumed 1914 at 25 years old as the year of her death.  Initially the year seemed to be irrelevant. I was looking for drama in the search for mystery surrounding a true love relationship. Dying on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day would have been romantically dramatic, but  January 2nd? Not so much. So the day of her death did not appear at first glance to be part of this mystery. Despite my dashed fantasy, this now gave me a range of dates to search out my grandmother’s brother, Edwin A. Coyle. My grandmother had been born on March 11, 1911 and Lulu died on January 2, 1916 giving us a small window between 1912 and 1915 to find Edwin A. I discounted searching the 1916 birth reel since the chance that he was born the day of or the day before Lulu’s death was miniscule. It was near closing time at the archives and the pressure was on. I quickly grabbed the reels of film and raced through them. Nothing after nothing appeared. I was careful to check for both Coley and Caraccioli…and even misspellings of Caraccioli. Nothing. Had I missed it in my haste? I was ready to review them again…or perhaps consider that his birth was never recorded. This would have made sense since there was this odd secrecy about it all. I was feeling defeated, but decided to check the last dates possible, the first and second of January 1916.

How long does it take to check two dates in 1916 for a birth? Not long and the find was bittersweet. Starring at me was a name change pasted over an original birth certificate. It brought some clarity to the fact that Edwin A. Coyle had been born Edwin Coley, but there was very little information. Birth name, new name, date of birth, date of name change, town and state of birth, so my obvious questions were…who were the parents? What time was he born? Who were the witnesses? Was he born at home or in a hospital? With the little information that was listed I tried to weave the story together. Edwin A. had been born under the surname Coley and at the age of 21 changed it to Coyle presumably the name of the family that had raised him, whoever they were. Like a train that had slowly picked up speed my mind began to put together the information on the documents calculating people, places, dates, and various possible stories. And then just as quickly as I had begun to steam along, I stopped dead in my tracks; Edwin A. had been born the day before Lulu’s death. This is when the details began to bring light to the painful history of love and loss. (To be continued…)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 4)

Lulu’s world would finally take shape, form and color. At this point the only tangible evidence I had were two pictures; one, a portrait of Lulu and the other, a photo John had given me. It was taken at North Boden Beach, according to the words scrawled on the photo’s border. A rowboat prop, Mayflower, set the scene for the portrait. Lulu, dressed in a cutwork lace adorned high-collared dress with a heart-shaped pendant, was seated opposite Edwin; two of his sisters crowded behind. A friend, Fred, stood tall as the ship’s captain. As I looked at the pictures, I tried to quiet my fear that Lulu might prove to be just as elusive in documentation as she was in life.
Enter the world of aged (and some young) men and women, eyes glued to the screens before them, pushing buttons or hand-winding microfilm in search of a single frame in a sea of thousands. Genealogists remain seated for hours, almost motionless as if they are preserved corpses. Add to the scene, in my amused mind, cobwebs spreading from the microfilm machines and attaching themselves to the viewer. Occasional chatter breaks the silence. It is a welcomed reminder that we have not entered a morgue.

John and I go to work looking for our clues. Total silence…racing, racing through documents inscribed with scribbled, oft times illegible, names and dates. There is always enough comprehensible information on the record that either confirms or rejects the validity of a family connection. The silence goes on so long I feel I need to say something, but small talk was never my gift, and I don’t dare break our concentration for fear that we might miss something. And then the moment arrives. I see John sit back in his chair. From the corner of my eye, I notice that he is studying the document before him. He announces that he may have found something, and then more emphatically, that he “did” find something. I lean toward the screen just enough to make out the bride’s name, Lulu Gonder. Above her name is listed Edward Caraccoli. There is no mistaking it; despite the misspelling of Caraccioli, this is Lulu’s marriage certificate. The door cracks open. She is 22 years old; her wedding date, 11 March 1911; her birth year, though not listed, is either 1888 or 1889 based on her age. If she had died at 25 years old, as my mother had recalled, her death would have been only 3 years after her marriage. My grandmother, Adele, was born almost exactly one year after the marriage. This meant that her brother, Edwin, had to have been born between 1913 and 1914 as long as he was the younger of the two. Marrying at 22 years of age is not unusual, nor is the idea of having a child a year after. So where was the mystery that permeated this story? I refused to believe that the only reason there was so much intrigue was from her early death. The answer was in the discovery of the next two documents… (To be continued…)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 3)

I held the V-mail in my hands noticing the sender's name, Edwin A. Coyle. As my eyes dropped to the closing, the words stared back at me "With Love, Your brother.” I had never heard any one mention that my grandmother had a brother. My mother’s nonchalant response to my inquiry surprised me. She knew that her mother had a brother; she had seen him sporadically…or maybe only once or twice…she had just forgotten about him. Forgotten about him? I wondered if there had been some incident where he had fallen out of favor with the family. Questions loomed in my head…was he older than Adele? Was he younger? Why was his surname different than my grandmother’s? Was he a half-brother? Was he still living? What was the key to unlocking my Mom’s memory about him? I wanted to know more, but I, also, wanted to stay on the trail of finding Lulu. One mystery at a time; his story would surface soon enough.

I returned to Lulu and asked my mother if she remembered anything more about her. She thought a moment and then asked, “Do you remember the time Grandpa came for a visit?” In my mind’s eye, I recalled a tall, imposing, white-haired man. He was standing by the kitchen door having just arrived from Florida for a short visit. He sported a short sleeved white cotton dress-shirt tucked into a pair of belted khaki-colored dress pants. That was the only time I recalled seeing him, but he was commanding enough to make an impression. My mother continued, “I called you ‘Lulu’ (which is my nickname) and with tears in his eyes and some urgency in his voice said, ‘What did you call her?!’” My mother remembered the pain in his voice as he explained that ‘Lulu’ was his nickname for his first wife. As I thought about his visit, I realized I must have been about 11 years old and that Grandpa's first wife had been dead for nearly 50 years. His love and sorrow had transcended decades. His loss had been great; his love the stuff stories are made of.

My desire to discover Lulu grew more intense. I felt a greater connection to my great-grandmother through the commonality of our shared nicknames. Feeling that I now had enough information, I made a plan to visit the archives in Trenton, New Jersey to dig up some documents. My trek there was made with my genealogy cohort and third cousin, John Caraccioli. He was on a quest of his own, but was just as interested in helping me uncover Lulu’s story as I was. His discovery would open the door to the entire story. (To be continued…)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery (Part 2)

L ulu cried out for recognition every time I glanced at her. Her constant stare urged me to discover what was at the core of the mystery of her purposeful anonymity. She had been silenced through years of other people’s pain. I wanted to bring her to life, let her speak, and then lay her to rest…in peace. When was she born? Did she really die of pneumonia?…was that all there was to it? Why so young? What was her story? My questions to my mother were met with the same repetitive, “I don’t remember." There seemed to be something more…something darker…something hidden. A sadness surrounding her death continued to loom through the years.

In desperation, I drew anecdotal information out of the depths of Mom’s memory; I grabbed her hand and walked her down memory-lane. She gladly spoke of her childhood; the places she went, the people she knew; her grandfather Edwin, “Grandpa,” and his second wife, May, who conveniently stepped into Lulu’s place hard by her death; how she used to help clean their house after school. Her mother, Adele, had been Grandpa’s only child and my mother his favorite grandchild. Then, one day, she mentioned Grandma Gonder. Who was this? She recalled how her mom occasionally took her there to visit. Could this could be Lulu’s mother? Suddenly the woman who only had a nickname was close to having a last name.

Mom disappeared to find a picture of Grandma Gonder; when she returned she was carrying two items. The first was a photo of a pleasant looking woman dressed in an embroidered black coat and embellished hat, Grandma Gonder. The picture did not give me any further clues, but it was heartwarming to know that this was Lulu’s mother; it breathed a bit of life into her story. As I looked into the eyes of the woman who smiled back at me I could see Lulu. Perhaps Lulu would have looked like her if only she had lived longer; I sighed. As I was pondering the “if onlys,” my mother handed me the other item she had discovered. Just as one clue leads us to another, Mom’s search for the picture led her to find a document as she was rummaging through the box of old photos. It was a V-mail from WWII written to her mother, Adele. It said nothing of Lulu or Grandma Gonder. The details of the letter did not appear helpful for the search of Lulu's story…that was until I looked at the closing. The person who signed and how he closed was perplexing. Though it was not evident at the moment, the author of the V-mail would elucidate a large part of the mystery. (To be continued…)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Losing Love...Creating Mystery

One day I happened to notice a copy of a wax-like photograph on a table in my mom and dad’s house of a beautiful young woman with a Gibson Girl style hairdo seated on a chair. There was something very intriquing about her and I inquired as to who she was. My mother explained that she was her real grandmother known only as "Lulu," while her step-grandmother was the only one that she had known growing up. Further inquiry brought very little satisfaction since my mother seemed to relate that she didn’t even know the woman’s last name. The extent of her knowledge beyond her given name was that she died of pneumonia while she was very young and it was a painful memory for her grandfather who apparently loved her very much. As I stared at the beautiful face that seemed to stare back at me I felt the need to discover who she was and where she was now resting. She deserved to be known. What I didn’t know was that there were more secrets to be uncovered other than just this woman’s identity. To be continued....