Friday, 10 September 2010

The right and wrong of family stories

I have learned a valuable lesson this week; that family stories may be right and wrong at the same time, but, that invariably they have substance.
One of the first stories my aunt, Jessie Sands told me, was that her grandfather Charlie Ross had died of gangrene poisoning.
'The smell in the house was horrendous,' she had been told.
It seemed such a definite story with enough 'particulars' to ensure its truth and yet when I saw a copy of Charlie's death certificate it said he had died of 'heart problems associated with asthma over two years.'
That, I thought, was the end of the story. It seemed odd that such a graphic story could be so wrong and as I now know, the story was 'right' but told about the wrong person.
This week I received a copy of Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins death certificate and all became clear; she died of 'gangrene poisoning in the lower extremities.' The certificate stated that no definite time-frame had been given but one presumes that the process was not fast.
The wrong bit of a right story is easy to understand given that Charlie Ross died in 1907 and Elizabeth died barely six months later in 1908 ....more than a decade before Jessie Ross Sands was born. I must admit I had been curious reading Mary Ross's death notice for her mother and the reference to 'after much suffering,' and here the reason for what must have been terrible suffering is shown clearly.
Gangrene poisoning, where parts of the body die and rot,  is a slow and ghastly way to die and she must have been in agony. Hardly over the grief of burying a husband and father, Mary and her children had to tend to the awful and no doubt constant, suffering of a mother and grandmother and live in a small house consumed by the smell of rotting flesh. It was nearly winter when Elizabeth Mashford died and one can only presume that no matter how cold it may have been, that doors and windows would have been permanently open in the vain hope of releasing some of the nauseating odours.
I was also curious about the request for New Zealand papers as well as the English ones to 'carry' the notice but now that we know Jane Mashford had moved to New Zealand with her husband George O'Brien and their chidren in the 1860's, this also makes sense. Both Jane and George were dead by 1908 but there must have been contact with their children and the Mashfords in Australia.
So, as the pieces fall into place, it is also an indication that the story of illegitimacy is 'right' but perhaps the person is 'wrong.' I believe it would have to be a close family member and if it is not great-great-grandmother Elizabeth then it must be her mother or her grandmother. That mother could be Mary Cann or it could be Elizabeth Mashford.... or it could be someone else again.
For the moment I am getting some research done in Devon which may throw some more light on this particular story. Apparently parish records frequently indicated illegitimacy, even when the mother and father later married.

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