“All inferences from experience suppose … that the future will resemble the past” – David Hume, 1777
Restated by Charles Lyell, 1830s – “The present is the key to the past”
The past has always held a fascination for me; sometimes it seems more real than the present, and certainly more so than the future. I love to imagine conversations I could have, if I met people from different time periods, or characters from favorite novels.
As a child, I liked to tie my desk chair to the foot of my canopy bed, and drape the top with blankets, making my own wagon. I’d pile my dolls and stuffed animals on the bed, and pick up the reins and tell my chair, giddy-up. We were traveling on the Oregon Trail.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, today the past is ever-present. I have enjoyed watching genealogy shows, such that I started to make my own inquiries, trying to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of our family tree.
A few stolen hours here and there, and a few snippets of scanned newspaper articles, and old documents, some nearly illegible, and their stories have come to life for me.
Come, children, quickly. We must away to the fort. Indians are attacking homesteads along the river. We’ll be safe there. Bundle up, it is cold. Hurry, pack what you can carry.
The night came dark and swift. We trudged through the fading January light, hoping to make the fort by nightfall. Once there, we settled in for a long, cold night, huddling close to the fire for warmth. The attack came in the early dawn light.
Surprised how easily I was able to take certain branches of my family back in time, I stumbled across four male ancestors, curiously with the same death date. After some quick searching, I discovered my ancestors had been victims of an Indian attack in Ohio in 1791, known as Big Bottom Massacre. Luckily, most of the women and children were spared, including my five times great grandmother, Mary Hahn. She would go on to give birth to my four times great grandmother, also Mary Hahn, who later married, and gave birth to 11 children. The youngest, wed my three times great grandfather, Matthew Perry Bateman, who was a sawmill proprietor in Wisconsin, and fought in the Civil War.
Today, I rode to the land office in Eau Claire, and took quill to paper, signing my name with a flourish, my heart pounding the whole while, near fit to bursting with excitement and pride. I am a landowner! Mary and I will now settle on our farm. I think with satisfaction and eagerness of the improvements I will make to our land, planting, and harvesting of timber. I will build us a fine home, to be ready before the arrival of the baby.
My three times great grandfather, purchased his first parcel of land in 1848, at the age of 30, after being in the US just a short time. By the provision of 1820 Land Act, several others would follow, three in total, each signed by a different US President. The Land Act required payment in full, but lowered the cost per acre, and the minimum parcel volume, so would-be settlers could access land in the western wilderness of what is today, the mid-west and plains states. A few months after the purchase, my two-times great grandfather, and my maternal grandfather’s namesake, Allison Perry Bateman, was born. My family in Wisconsin went on to a number of adventures, including the Gold Rush of 1950, owning and operating a sawmill, and involvement in bringing the railroad to the area.
I have loved my journey to uncover my family’s past. I am amazed at my ancestors’ fortitude and bravery, and their stories have stayed with me. But, none more so than Violetta’s.
It was dark and dank. The ship tossed, like a toy boat upon the waves. The ocean held us captive, and sometimes it seemed as if we were moving back instead of forwards. But our new lives awaited us. I thought of my beloved, and wondered what this strange place would be like, Michigan. His brother and wife had settled there for years, and their letters told of a good life. Violetta kept in good spirits, although she was ill.
On fair days on the ship’s deck she smiled and pointed at the gulls that followed the boat, excited to see other life. We all were, save the endless blue in all directions. Finally, one morning, there was shouting on the deck. We came up to see. Everyone was leaning over the rails, pointing. The harbor glistened off in the distance, the rising sun at our backs. New York!
I was ecstatic to find my great grandmother, Louisa’s, sail record from Europe to the US. It was so amazing to open this old, scanned document. I excitedly scanned the rows, and there she was, Buscarini, Louisa, age 20. But, no mention of my great grandfather Mario. She was just a girl really, to make sure a journey.
I always imagined my great grandparents sailing together from France or Italy. He was Italian, she French, from a town near the border. They met at a dance in Italy. But, I knew it was not uncommon for couples to separate, the husband going ahead to make a start and sending for family when money allowed. Based on the dates, it seemed their separation was relatively short, just a year.
But, Violetta surprised and confused me. I squinted at the record, and there below Louisa’s name on the ship’s roster, was Violetta Buscarini, age 1 year and 2 months. I had so many questions. I thought Ozzie was their eldest child, and now a girl, born in 1913. My great Aunt Violet was not born years later, until the 20’s. Why nearly the same name?
Some more digging revealed what I feared: a death certificate from 1920. Violetta died at age 6 and 10 mo of a complication from a serious infection. I can imagine Louisa’s sorrow, the crushing grief, losing a child, but needing to go on for her other three children. The dates reveal my great grandmother became pregnant with my grandfather shortly after. I wonder what the early days of my grandfather’s infancy were like, so soon after Violetta’s death. The next year after my grandfather, Alfred’s birth, in 1922, my great grandmother gave birth to another daughter, Violet, my fabulous great aunt. At 93, she is energetic, sharp-witted, certain, and loving.
I wonder at my great grandparents’ decision to use the same name; I know it was a common practice for the times. Did it ease their grief? What was this time like for them? I thought about my own pregnancy with Michael, so soon after a miscarriage, and how his early days were somewhat shadowed by my grief. He burst through my hurt, guilt, and confusion like a shooting star.
I’m not sure my grandfather knew of this sister who died before his birth; she was never mentioned. Why was she buried in a different cemetery, all but forgotten? I had to find her, to know her.
Some calls and an unplanned visit, and there she was, Violet Buscarine, 1913-1920, Cathedral Cemetery, lot 24, subsection E. Violets for our Violetta. It felt like coming home.