Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Search through Family History Can Be Unsettling

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Search through Family History Can Be Unsettling

Article excerpt

The small, nondescript tombstone sat unobtrusively in Chartiers Cemetery. "Robert 1928-1929" was all it said.

Who is that? And why no loving words, or at least a last name, for that tiny child? And how could I not have noticed it previously?

My husband and I had trekked to my dad's family plot to verify some dates from my grandparents' and great-grandparents' graves. Also, I'd hoped to sort out some unsettling genealogical information that I had uncovered on the Internet.

I hadn't been to that cemetery since my parents' deaths many years earlier, but I had been there yearly as a child with my dad to decorate the graves for Memorial Day. I remember being a curious child; surely I would have asked about that little tombstone sitting in the shadow of my ancestors' burial grounds. But apparently not.

As the only child of older parents. I thought I had heard their "back stories" and had no reason to doubt the veracity. Dad was 50 when I was born and was one of those people who wore his strict Christian faith proudly. He had been the church organist at West End Methodist Episcopal Church in his younger days. His sister married a Methodist minister and together they were missionaries in India.

Mom, on the other hand, had a Jewish background, which she chose to conceal from our neighbors. It was, after all, a time of certain prejudices. She faithfully attended church with us. I was quite close to her despite our 42-year age difference, and she often shared stories of her youth and of her eloping to Greensburg with my dad nine years before I was born.

Several years ago, I was browsing the Internet looking at old census records. Curious, I Googled the 1920 census to see my family history. Nothing strange there - Dad was living at his family home in the West End with his parents and grandmother; Mom lived with her parents and siblings in Squirrel Hill.

But when I checked out 1930, my personal worldview changed in an instant. There was my dad in his family home on Lovelace Street living with his wife, Pearl Johnson Allen; my mother's name, however, was Rebecca Jean.

Completely shaken, I shared this with my husband, who shrugged and said, "That's just what some census taker penciled in. …

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