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…)

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