We solemnly and sincerely promise to make our mutual love the one sacred aim of our life to cherish, to keep in all places, at all times, in all ways, our love for each other, pure, spotless in thought, deed or act, letting nothing whatever that can be helped stop or in any manner come between us, our love or our happiness, to make an ideal home for our enjoyment of this pure love, that shall be free from discord and strife.
—Cassius Harriott Darling, Vows written for Mary Jane Gertrude Kelly.
What to do when you discover a beloved relative that everyone looks up to has a skeleton or two in the closet? Great-grandmother Ethel had a child out of wedlock? Uncle Fred incarcerated for moonshine? Let’s talk about this.
We knew Great-grandfather Darling was a distinguished medical doctor in Worcester, Massachusetts. Cassius Darling had studied under his older brother, Asahel Darling, and attended medical school in New York.
When we began to research Cassius Darling’s life, however, we discovered amazing things:
- Dr. Darling was a musician. He composed the First World War patriotic anthem, “America’s Call to Glory,” which resides in the Smithsonian Archive.
- Dr. Darling was an inventor, and held a patent for an automatic drilling jig and whipped together an impromptu incubator for a premature baby. (They had not been introduced in the U.S. at that time.)
- Dr. Darling was a romantic and composed beautiful love vows for him and his sweetheart.
We also discovered some unpleasant surprises. Dr. Darling was arrested three or four times and spent a year in jail. He suffered an extreme bout of rheumatism that had him bedbound for months. And he was unfaithful to his first wife. (Love vows were written for second wife. While he was still married to the first. Before he went to jail for it.)
People are complicated, and history is full of terrible times people had to figure out how to live with. Difficult topics are often hushed up, lied about, and many times forgotten because nobody wants to remember them or talk about them.
If you do much research into your family, you WILL find unpleasant surprises. How do you deal with that?
Here are some Pro Tips:
- Gather family information and stories, but take it all with a grain of salt. Maybe you’re not descended from Indians. Maybe you’re really Irish not Scottish.
- Be prepared to learn things, wonderful things, terrible things about your family that you never had supposed. Maybe Great-grandma made up a husband and she wasn’t a widow; maybe Grandpa was born outside of marriage.
- Don’t judge people of the past: you aren’t of their time, you don’t know their circumstances, and they would probably be shocked at some of the things people do today as a matter of course. Just love and appreciate the fact that they survived and without them there wouldn’t be you.
- Don’t be afraid you dig in and learn everything there is to know; be willing to share the tricky parts, but don’t feel everything has to be revealed. Be charitable!