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…)