It is the anniversary of my mother’s death and I thought it would be a good time to share a particular family story she told me, because it is one that has been passed on by word of mouth through three mothers – my mother, her mother, and now me. It is a story which had remained untold since her own mother died and which would not have come to light if the memory had not been prompted by my research into our family history.
I unearthed many tragic stories while doing the research, things my mother would never have known about her ancestors, otherwise. But this particular story would have disappeared with my mother if she had not told it to me. My mother was told it by her mother, my granny Annie, and my mother was eighty-five years old before she related it to me. How many such family stories are lost for the want of someone who wants to know, or for the want of telling?
I’d been recording my granny’s sisters and brothers on the family history chart and was asking my mother if she remembered any of these aunts and uncles of hers. Well, she had something to tell about each of them but I shan’t go into those stories now. What she did say, in her lilting Welsh accent, and which made my ears prick up was ‘But wait a minute, there was another one, you know’.
‘Was there?’ I was incredulous.
‘Yes! A baby! She was named Medi!’
I had no knowledge of this child, at all.
‘Well, now, you listen, and I shall tell you what my mother told me’, my mother said…
‘The baby was poorly. From the start, you see, there was something wrong with her. And her father, Huw – he was a lay preacher, you know – he was very worried because it didn’t look like the baby would survive and she hadn’t been baptised, you see. And so Huw decided they must go to the chapel and get her baptised. And off they went. But it was a terrible day, pouring down rain, and they all got drenched before they even got to the chapel. They only had the pony and cart, you see. Well, the upshot of it was the baby died, anyway, but that wasn’t the last of it. Medi’s mother, my grandmother, caught pneumonia that day and never recovered. Six months later, she was gone, too. My mother, Annie, was just six years old when her mother died, you know.’
It was my daughter who realised the significance of Medi’s name. Medi is Welsh for September, which turned out to be the month of her birth. After my mother told me this story, I searched the BMD index for a Medi, and there she was; her death recorded in the last quarter of 1896.
Now, every September, I remember Medi and her mother, and poor Huw who must have suffered greatly for the decision he made on that fateful, wet day and through which he lost so much. Huw had already lost one wife to childbirth. He never married again after he lost the second one. And I am haunted by the fact that I have failed, still, to find their graves. Another September is come and gone. This time, this year, I will find them, I tell myself with every September that goes by. Perhaps I will, this year.
My mother, had she been born to a different life, would have loved to write stories, I think, for she certainly loved to tell them and told them well. She was very proud of me having written two novels (she did not live to see the third). She read the first two and greatly enjoyed them, then lent them to all her neighbours and friends, saying ‘my daughter, Jenny, wrote these, you know. She’s an author!’
The moral of this story is; if you have elderly relatives, be sure to ask them questions while they are still here, and pass the stories on to your own children. My mother was the last one of her brothers and sisters to die, and one thing I’ve often regretted is that her siblings had died before I began researching our family history. There was so much they died not knowing and so much more they may have contributed.
Imagine if my mother had died without telling this family story. Little Medi and her short and tragic life would never have been recorded as it deserved to be. Ask the questions and pass on your family stories!