It began in Boise when we were visiting my 79-year-old mom over Thanksgiving. She started pulling out important papers she wanted me to know about. In particular, she wanted to show me that she had prepaid for her funeral arrangements, i.e. her cremation. My mother doesn’t want a funeral. It’s a tradition she started with my father’s mother. The H****’s don’t have funerals because my mom doesn’t believe in death. She is a Christian Scientist, but that is another story.
In the process of pulling out papers mom pulled out copies of her birth certificate and my father’s birth certificate. That led to a conversation about my father finding out he was adopted when his mother died in 1974. My father was 59 at the time. He learned about being adopted from some distant relatives who wrote him and said something like, “and by the way, did you know you were adopted.” And though my father wrote to the courts in Portland, Oregon, where he was born, they only confirmed that he was adopted and that there was no record of his natural parents.
At the time, I was 16 and the news hit me hard. I had grown up being proud to be a H**** and Irish. I was born the day after St. Patrick’s Day, but always celebrated my birthday on the 17th. In one fell swoop, my heritage was ripped away from me. To my chagrin, all I had left was my mom’s side of the family—the Clark’s. No offense to all of the Clark’s out there, but no one wants to be one of a million Clark’s. And no offense to my mom’s family, but my maternal grandfather seem to have one particular skill and that was fathering children. My mother had 12 brothers and sisters. And my grandfather died relatively young at 47 leaving, I imagine, my grandmother very relieved and very tired.
But the discussion about my father’s parentage did trigger something in me. I didn’t really know anything about my roots. I copied the birth certificates mom had and a couple of other bits of information that would help me and determined to begin researching my family once I got home.
Ok, I have new found respect for Alex Hailey for tracing his roots back to Kunta Kintay without the Internet. It must have been a major bummer. Because once you start digging for relatives, you discover there is one hell of a lot of data out there. Fortunately, the Internet now offers a relatively easy way to access work that other people have already done organizing it. I started, of course, with Google and searched for “free family tree searches.” That turned up quite a few sites that promised free searches before they tried to sell you the free information. Much of it was indeed available elsewhere for free.
But weeding out the many pay sites (all of whom seem to have some kind of connection to Ancestors.com) I finally found a couple of places where I could type in some basic information and begin my search. I’m especially grateful for the Mormon Church and its unexplained desire to keep track of everyone’s families. I may not agree with their religion, but they have a particularly good database online that contains tons of information.
I decided to start with my father’s adopted parents and in particularly his adopted father—Eugene Chester H****. Born in Iowa in 1871 or 1872, he eventually made his way to Portland, married my adopted grandmother, Walburga L*****, in 1908 and then adopted my father – Eugene Arthur H**** at age four in 1919. My first discovery was that Eugene Chester had stopped in Kansas City along the way and married Mary Etta Davis in 1892. They fathered one son, Chester F. who died in 1920.
So, I started tracing Eugene Chester’s roots further. His father was Chester H****. He was born in Quebec. The name Chester seems to be an unfortunate legacy on that side of the family. Chester’s father Justin moved to Quebec from Vermont. He was the one who took the family to Iowa. Justin’s father was John H****. He was born in Rehoboth, Bristol Co., MA in 1760. John’s father was Ithamer H**** (I can see why Chester was the preferred name to pass along). He was also born in Rehoboth, Mass in 1727. His father was Henry H****, also of Rehoboth, Mass. He was born in 1695.
Henry’s father Paul H***e* (note the dreaded extra “e” in the surname) was born in in Cambridge, Mass in 1664. His father was William H***e*. William was the immigrant of the family. Ok, I finally found when the H****’s had left the old Sod of Ireland and came to this country. Except much to my dismay, William didn’t come from Ireland. He was born in Cornwood, Devonshire, England in 1612 or 1613. This couldn’t be true…H**** is an Irish name, right? But William’s father, also a William, held the missing piece to the puzzle. His name wasn’t H****, it was Hele, an old English name dating back to Norman times. He was also born in Cornwood, Devonshire, England around 1587. Apparently William Hele’s son, William decided to modernize his last name when he sailed to the New Country.
That was it. Any trace of Irish heritage was now truly dashed. The plus side is that my father being adopted didn’t wipe out my green, shamrock roots. They never were there to begin with.
I’m now left with my mom’s side of the family. And I’m hoping for something better than the name of Clark to restore my now shattered lineage.
But that’s another blog or blogs.