Monday, January 05, 2015

Hunting Down My Ancestry: A Look Back at Poverty

My great grandfather died at the age of fifty-three from a condition called pellegra, which is apparently a lack of niacin in the system. It happened four years into the Depression and they lived in a somewhat isolated town in the SE mountains of Ky. According to the 1930 census, all he could find was odd jobs, so malnutrition is likely to blame.

I never stopped to think how his death and absence affected my great grandmother. The only information passed down about her was that she was mean. Knowing that side of the family, I wasn't surprised, but I just found her on the 1940 census and learned she had become a cook and was renting her home. The country was still deeply entrenched in the Depression, and she still had five children at home to care for.

The census included her address, so I went to Google maps to see a street view. The house is gone, replaced by a park, but the surrounding houses are far from grand. I can only guess the type of poverty the family endured and the struggle to stay alive. Perhaps that explains the meanness my aunts observed in her during their visits, and the bitterness her son, my grandfather, carried with him despite getting a good-paying job with the railroad.

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