Monday, May 8, 2017
I'm a local historian, and every day I check Ebay for new listings of Rochester, NY. I look for postcards which make the late 19th or early 20th century in Rochester come alive, and documents which might tell me something I didn’t know about my relatives, the Dossenbachs.
I do this every morning, much like my parents used to read the newspaper every morning. I suppose this is the way I get my news, but my news is often 100 years old.
This morning, I saw postcards of the Genesee River Brewer’s Dock in 1908, the Hotel Eggleston on Main and Stone Sts in 1916, Edgerton Park in the 1920s, and then this one — Dr. Lee’s Hospital at Lake and Jones Avenues, a sprawling Victorian building which is, unfortunately, no longer there:
As always, I checked the back of the postcard for a postmark, and read this sad writing from Nina in Lima, NY, to her cousin, Mrs. Alice Shaw, in Mansfield, PA.
“Mama is in this hospital recovering from an operation which was performed Saturday. She has a cancer, yes, tumor, just below the abdomen on the liver. It was thought best not to remove it. We may not have mama with us long but hope she can come home in three or four weeks. She is getting along nicely, and is very brave.”
Reading this, I am stopped in my tracks. I feel Nina’s sorrow. I wonder about Mama — how long did she live?
Well, I’m alive in the year 2017, and during the course of my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the growth of this thing called the Internet, offering the opportunity to know things — almost anything. And I love it. I wonder for a bit — should I divert my attention from my Dossenbachs and find out more about Nina and Mama? Is it even possible?
Over to Ancestry where I look up cousin Alice Shaw in 1909 in Mansfield. Of course, there are many Alice Shaw’s. Eliminate those whose birth dates are incompatible, then click on a possible source, discover her maiden name and then her parents’ names, and then her parents’ siblings. One of these siblings, Alice’s aunts and uncles, is Nina’s mother or father.
And here’s how one learns a little bit about life in the mid-1800s. Alice’s mother’s oldest brother, Wilford, died in 1861, at age 22, of “army fever,” and then the next oldest brother, Charles, died in 1864, at age 13, of tuberculosis.
Those who were alive in the mid-1800s knew much about death.
And then I see her, Alice’s mother’s sister, Rocelia Aurilla Dailey, born in 1853 and died in 1910 in Lima, NY. And Rocelia has a daughter named Nina. That’s her. That’s Mama. And here she is:
Daughter Nina was born in 1885, so she was only 25 years old when mama died. Mama was 57. This is Rose’s home, the Mudge home, near Mansfield, PA.
Rose and her husband, Clint, first lived in Pennsylvania, where they had three children. The 1900 federal census tells us that Clint was a clergyman, but in censuses before and after, Clint is a farmer. By 1900, they are living in Lima, NY, where Rose passed away in 1910, but at some point after she died, Clint returned to Pennsylvania, where he lived a long life, passing away in 1942 at the age of 91.
Rose and Clint’s daughter, Nina — our postcard writer, who knew in 1909, when she was 24 years old, that her mama wouldn’t be around very long — also lived a long life, passing away in 1993 at the age of 108! Nina appears not to have had children, but married twice, first to an Englishman, named Raymond Dinan, no apparent record what happened to him, and then to Floyd Sills, who died in 1960. Nina outlived all of them — her mother, father, two husbands, and two brothers.
Here is Nina at age 106. She was blind at this time, but played the piano every day and recited a poem that she had learned at 12 years old.
Why do we care about people we never knew, people who we are not related to? Why do they matter?
Well, because they wrote words, and those words lasted over time, and came to us.
They were here once, on this very earth, where we are today as we read this brief history of their lives. Their voices resounded; their tears fell; their lives came and went. As will mine. And yours. And much that we know will also pass.
The things we leave behind will tell our stories. And perhaps someone will think about us someday.