This is my great-grandma. I’m not quite sure what her name is, but I’m going to find out.
Maria inspired me to learn more about my matrilineal line after her post about Sister Hinckley, but I knew this would be difficult. My maternal grandmother, Grandma Nora, died recently, and she lost her mother when she was young (around 13). Grandma Nora never told us stories about her mother—didn’t mention her name.
So, I look in various places. I find “Lula Clair” in a genealogy book. I’ve heard her called, “Clara.” I’ve heard her called, “Claire.” I’ve seen, “Clara Lulu” elsewhere. I like to call her, “Clara.” After seeing her picture for the first time this weekend, I think she looks like a Clara.
Several months ago, I got an invitation to her family reunion, and I decided to go because I’m dying to make that matrilineal tree. I was surprised to find out that Clara was from a prominent Eastern Arizona family. I’m just as much an H as I am a P or a Clyde, and yet, that name, that family, was quickly lost in my matrilineal line.
I was excited for the reunion. I was going to find out about Clara. I was going to reclaim my matrilineal line.
But, instead, this week, I find myself mourning for a woman I never met and may never know much about. The stories I’ve gathered bring no peace. They upset me all the more because this is a woman who lived a hard life. How did so much of her get lost so quickly?
Clara’s parents died in a car crash, hit by a train on their way back from a genealogy meeting in 1922. She was one of the younger of their 13 children. She was probably raised by an older sibling. We’re not sure.
What we do know happens soon after her parents’ death, when she marries a man that the family didn’t approve of.
Growing up, I didn’t hear much about Clara, but I heard stories growing up about her husband. He was a miner, a trucker, frequently unemployed. They moved around those mining towns in Eastern Arizona a lot.
He was also a drinker and a womanizer. He abused his kids. He hit Clara.
My sister said Grandma Nora told her about the time when Clara loaded up her 4 kids in the car to have a picnic (Clara didn’t know how to drive). Clara left while they were having the picnic and went to the police station, where she asked the police chief if he could ask her husband to stop beating her. Grandma Nora remembers her trying to shield her children from what was going on.
Clara later died of breast cancer at home while her three older children were at school and her husband was at work. But, her toddler was home, and the neighbors later found the little girl crying on her dead mother’s chest. (Sometimes, I take comfort that this daughter died 2 years later of typhoid.)
Grandma Nora suffered after her mother died; she lived with her father for a time. He continued to be abusive. He “took up” with quite a few women. She ran away at 15, and thankfully, some of these relatives at the reunion took her in, helped her. But, I think those hard early years effected her ability to live a happy life.
Grandma Nora was plagued with depression. Money was always tight. Her marriage ended in divorce. Her children and grandchildren found it hard to connect with her.
Are you still reading? Is this post enough of a downer yet?
Because I think there is hope here…I look at these womens’ lives from my cushy upper-middle class one.
And, this is where I think about feminism and their history.
Some people hate feminism. They think feminists are discontent, looking to stir up trouble. We hate men. Apparently, we hate Sarah Palin.
How often do we (feminists and non-feminsits) forget the ground-breaking ways feminism has worked to make women’s lives better?
Feminism has made it possible for women to have equal access to education in the United States. It has raised awareness of domestic violence. It has afforded women greater access to healthcare.
What would Clara’s life have looked like if she had been born fifty years later?
Would she have left her husband?
Would she have gotten treatment for her cancer?
Yet, she has all but been forgotten.
And, I am reminded that well-behaved women seldom make history. Clara and Grandma Nora were well-behaved women, who worked hard and raised their families in the Church. I think they tried to make the best of what they had.
How much easier and better is my life because of the sacrifices the women in my family made?
How much easier and better is my life because of feminism?
At the family reunion, everyone had stories to tell of their ancestor, one of the 13 kids. They set up tables for each child filled with photos and artifacts.
Clara’s table was empty. My mom and I were her only descendants at the reunion. We felt bad that we hadn’t tried harder to find something, but we also knew that there probably wasn’t much (Grandma Nora and her brother burned down the house making candy a few years before Clara died—they lost everything in that fire).
I felt bad. My husband said, “Emily, she knows that you’re here, and that’s all that matters.” I suppose one of the best ways I can make sure she’s still remembered is to be a witness of her life. So, I write this post as a witness to Clara’s life and as a tribute to the other women in history we have forgotten.
Who are the strong women in your family? How do you find them?