“Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them.”
— Mitch Albom, For One More Day
On a number of occasions in the past I have read about how a person dies three times. Sometimes there may be only two deaths and be variously identified as an old Spanish saying, a tradition in Mexico, a proverb, a legend, or simply “it is said.” This is my interpretation of the message expressed.
The first death is the time when our breath ceases and our heart stops, never to beat again.
The second death occurs when our body is laid to the eternal rest of a grave, never to be seen again.
The third death, sometime in the future, is when our name is said the last time, never to be spoken again.
When the last person who remembers us dies, it is then that we are finally gone.
The more I become involved with genealogy and family history, I begin to realize that those who preserve the memories of their families and ancestors may be preventing a third death for them. Our loved ones live on as long as someone remembers them.
My own search for family began over twenty years ago with a niece’s high school class project when I realized I was well into my 40s and knew little more about my family than the names of my mostly Floyd County, Kentucky relatives. I probably knew that much only because I had lived for several years in the Floyd County community known as Rock Fork and attended nearby Garrett Elementary School.
Papaw Fair Baldridge died when I was six years old and my memories of him are vague and very few. I can recall going to visit Papaw and Mamaw Baldridge at their home in Dayton, Ohio.
I knew two of Papaw’s brothers, probably because they lived nearby in Floyd County when I was growing up there as a child. I visited Uncle Dave Baldridge and Aunt Sadie at their home behind the store they ran in Hueysville. I remember Uncle Edgille Baldridge and his family in Hueysville, but not as much about them.
Mamaw Rebecca would speak of Aunt Hattie and Aunt Mint, but I was unaware that other Baldridge brothers and sisters even existed. I didn’t know John Wes Baldridge was Papaw’s father until much later.
My family tree’s Baldridge branch was quite short.
I was far more familiar with my Mamaw Rebecca’s Reed family. I knew five of her seven brothers and sisters and thought of them as my aunts and uncles.
I was aware that her parents Teck and Lizzie Reed were buried on a hillside in Lackey, Kentucky. But until my niece’s family tree project, I had never heard Teck’s full name: Callihill Texas Reed.
Even though I knew more about them, that was where the Reed branch ended for me.
Mom’s father, my Grandpa Henry Workman and his family lived in nearby Pike County. I spent time with them as a child, but his parents were unknown to me.
Mom’s father and her mother Ollie Combs were separated when she was a child. Grandma Ollie remarried and I went with Mom to visit her family in Ohio. But later I didn’t remember her married name and only that her second husband’s name was Buck.
She was originally from Perry County, Kentucky where Combs is a very common name. Consequently, I lost track of her for many years and would never see her again.
Mom once told me that her grandfather, Ollie’s father, was Sam Combs, known as Long Sam, but I have yet to learn very much about the Combs family in Perry County.
Thus ended the Workman and Combs branches.
It was through my niece Patti’s research that I discovered an interest in learning more about my family and its origins. But during the early days of the Internet finding family information meant digging through old records in libraries or courthouses and that required time I didn’t have. It was mostly a struggle for several years and my family research eventually went on the back burner.
Then one day I discovered a forgotten book gathering dust on a bookshelf in my basement. It was a 600+ page volume by Clarence E. Shepard entitled A Small Twig from the Baldridge Tree. Dad had given it to me several years earlier, but at the time, I just wasn’t ready for it. It was fun at first to see a family genealogy with our names listed among all those Baldridges, but the book’s organization was confusing. Besides, a lot of the names included in the book were not Baldridge and I didn’t know who most of them were.
My research on Ancestry.com and various other Internet sources, along with the Baldridge genealogy book, had given me more information about my family and our ancestors than I ever thought possible. But I also knew that I had only scratched the surface; that I would never really be finished. But even if I could somehow find every ancestor and record all of the details from their lives, there had to be more. Now what?
Dad’s Baldridge book with over 600 pages of family names, birth and death dates, marriages, and children was a beginning, but all of those facts could only hint at the lives of the people represented. For example, Shepard revealed that my Papaw Fair Baldridge was “married second” to my grandmother Rebecca Reed.
What? No way! A first marriage? With who? Silence.
Evidently, he didn’t know that. Then a couple of sentences later, Shepard casually tossed out, almost in passing, “one son was born to Fair Baldridge and his first wife” followed, incredibly, by his actual name: Fair Baldridge.
So this means Dad had a half-brother that I never knew about? How can that be? Did Dad know? And what about Mamaw Rebecca?
This may well be why the Baldridge book was in many ways so unsatisfying, if not downright frustrating, for me. Very little was ever revealed about people beyond the bare facts of their existence. Apparently, if available evidence didn’t support further elaboration, Shepard didn’t. He included a wonderful collection of family photos in the book, but even those left me wanting more.
Use of an asterisk by an author usually indicates that more information is available elsewhere. An asterisk after the name of Fair’s first son (as well as many other names in the book) here simply indicated that nothing more was known about the person. Again, not to be critical of Shepard’s book because it did exactly what he set out to do, and did that extremely well, but there is so much more to be told.
As Albom suggested, my hope is to share their stories here as a way to keep from really losing them.
And, perhaps, it just might help to prevent their third death as well.
Because the three deaths material used above has been published many times with and without attribution, it’s difficult to source. But the first time I came across it was on Ancestry’s RootsWeb here:
“The Even Lighter Side of Genealogy” at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~autwgw/agsprose.htm