My uncle on my father’s side of the family died in Cape Girardeau on April 3, 1936. He was 15 years old. The death certificate says that he died of pneumococcal meningitis. Almost 84 years later, this disease is still a very serious disease that can cause death, even with treatment.
Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the meninges. The meninges are the membranes that cover your spinal cord and your brain. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of the population may carry the bacteria that causes this hideous disease. However, it’s dormant in most cases; few develop the disease. Even with speedy diagnosis and treatment, one in five people who develop this condition will die, according to the Meningitis Foundation of America. In addition, 25 to 50 percent of those who contract the disease will have long-term health issues.
I was named after my uncle and my grandfather, both named Charles. Charles is my first name, but I have been known by middle name all my life, although my sister affectionately calls me Chuck. I feel cheated not knowing my grandparents on my dad’s side of the family. I have been on a genealogy kick lately and have discovered many things about my family that I never knew.
I wrote my last column about my great grandfather who was a lawyer in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I had always heard that my grandmother’s father was also an attorney and I was able to find his death certificate last week on Ancestry.com. I learned that he died in 1940. He and my great-grandmother were divorced, and he died in Mineral Wells, Texas, an hour west of Fort Worth, of a blood clot. The death certificate says he was an attorney for an oil company.
My grandmother and father never talked about her father and so I knew very little about him. The only story I ever heard about my grandmother’s younger years was when she was attending Stephens College in Columbia. Apparently, she was struggling for some reason and the president of the college took her out riding horses. I never discussed her father with her or my father. Divorce was not common in the early days of the 20th century and so the divorce of my great grandparents may have been somewhat scandalous and very painful. They were both from the area around Louisiana, Missouri and so the reasons may have been buried in a court file. Those who would know are now gone. We are now left to the wide reaches of the internet to find out what we can about previous generations.
What I do know is that my grandmother, who we called “Muz,” had a lot of tragedy in her life. Her son died in 1936, her father in 1940 and her husband in 1945. My grandfather’s death certificate says that he died of “coronary thrombosis” due to “arterial hypotension.” He was 47. The death certificate said that he had hypertension for 10 years. Hypertension is now a treatable disease and if blood pressure medications had been available in the years after World War II, I may have been able sit on Grandpa’s lap and hear stories about his days at Mizzou and as a captain in World War I.
My grandmother had strong faith. She had read her Bible cover to cover so many times the edges were frayed. As I learn more about her it has become apparent that her faith was forged by the tragedies in her life. Divorce of her parents when such a thing was not done, her father moving to another state and essentially abandoning his family, her son dying when he was 15 and her husband dying of a treatable disease when he was 47 years old.
I became a lawyer in May 1980, and she passed away in October 1982. The last couple of years of her life were not full of joy as she suffered significant dementia and died in a nursing home in Liberty the same night my sister was married. I am not sure my grandmother ever knew that I had become a lawyer. If she did know, she never told me, although she must have known that I was in law school prior to that. She never discussed her father, the lawyer, with me. I suspect it was because she did not have much of a relationship with him and had no stories to tell.
My father never talked about his maternal grandfather either. I can only speculate that he did not really know him either. Although my father was very proud that I had become a lawyer, and I was not the first attorney in the family, I never knew much about my ancestors who were attorneys. I have learned in my genealogy searches that there is some sadness that comes with the digging. I love stories as stories are what makes our memories so precious. If your parents, grandparents and great grandparents are still alive, ask them to tell you the stories. I wish I had and now wish I could.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at email@example.com.