Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wait... I have an extra Aunt?

As the Wishkah Flows
by Bethany Maines

I don’t have that many shows that rate the “I have to be home to watch” treatment (aside from Castle), but I have to admit that one of the shows that I will make time for is the show about famous people researching their family tree – “Who Do You Think You Are?” I know that the stars researching their genealogy are spoon fed the information and I know that the show is pretty much just one extended commercial for, but I don’t care! It suckers me in every time! The stirring saga of generations, combined with the detective work makes for storylines I love. (Yeah, I’ve watched Thorn Birds, why?)

My mother’s mother does genealogy with even more fervor than she does crosswords; she’s got us tracked back to England where some ancestor we’re connected to some how signed the Magna Carte, thus setting a precedent for Democracy and striking a blow for freedom (you know, if you were rich). So up until last weekend I thought that a TV style reveal of a deep family secret was not to be because Grandma has got all our details pretty well sorted out. But I should have remembered… that’s for her side of the family; on my Dad’s side the details are a bit fuzzy.

Dad’s mother hated her hometown of Wishkah, WA and was notoriously evasive about her past, up to not “remembering” how many brothers and sisters she had. (How do you not remember that?) Dad had poked around, but he was never able to get very far. Then last week a friend pointed me to the Washington State Digital Archives. Between the archives,, and I managed to cobble together my Dad’s family tree and uncover a few family secrets!

The biggest secret began to take shape after a week of pulling at threads, and hunting down birth dates and maiden certificates. Between the records and a few hints from other family trees on I began to suspect that Grandma’s mother, Daisy, had been the victim of a serious crime. When Daisy was 12 or 13 (about 1898) she was kidnapped by her 53 year old uncle and they lived on the run from posses in the wilderness near Aberdeen for nine months before he was captured. By the 1900 census Daisy was 14 and back living with her parents and her baby, Ivy, and the uncle was living in the Walla Walla State Pen. By 15, she was married to a man named Walter (my grandmother’s father) and settling down to hopefully live happily ever after, but little Ivy is nowhere to be found.

If I wrote such things in a book, my editor would tell me to tone down the melodrama and try for a little more realism! No wonder my Grandma was slightly evasive about the number of her siblings; it’s possible Daisy never even told Grandma about Ivy or her origins.

I will continue to track down my mysterious Great Aunt Ivy – I can only hope this is one mystery that won’t be lost in time.


  1. I haven't watched the show, but your story is fascinating and should be on it! My grandmother had some fuzzy memories, too, and melodrama to spare. Like you, when I retell, people look at me like I'm crazy. Thanks for sharing this, Bethany. Maggie

  2. Wow, what a story. I wonder what happened to little Ivy (no death certificate to be found??). Thanks for sharing.


  3. Bethany, that's so cool! The things you learn when you snoop! I would love to dig into my family genealogy someday. The most scintillating tidbit I learned from my grandparents was about a 19th century relative hung as a horse thief. Like Marian, I wonder what happened to Ivy, too! You think anyone knows?

  4. P.S. Er, I don't mean it's cool that Daisy was kidnapped by her uncle! Just that it's a story worthy of a novel!

    1. Lol! I knew what you meant! It's just kind of crazy that I have an "evil uncle" melodrama in my own family tree. So far I haven't been able to find a death certificate for Ivy, but I won't give up hope. Somebody knows something, and I will hunt them down!

  5. Wow. That's kind of cool. Good luck finding her and keep us posted!!!!

  6. Genealogy is the most fun when you find things none of the older members of your family wanted to talk about. Who wants just ordinary people in their past history? Let's here it for pirates and vagabonds and thieves. My sis did our genealogy and learned that a 16 year old twin girl had disappeared in the early 1800s. I used that genealogy in a book once and solved the mystery--fiction, of course. Hope you find Ivy.