The great Dr Seuss book: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” comes to mind when I think about my journey in tracing my ancestors. The stories that I have found have been fascinating glimpses into the past, like looking through a kaleidoscope of shapes that you cannot quite make out. For years, I had wondered about relatives on my Grandmother’s side who made up the Madden clan. And when we finally found a clue, it was exciting to know there were actually people attached to the names. But there is no doubt that the best part of discovering relatives long lost has been finding Tess. The advent of Cousin Tess into our lives has been the most rewarding part of the journey. She is in equal parts both sweet, funny, wise and strong and comes with fascinating stories of her own to tell….
My Grandmother’s Back Story
The journey in discovering more about my own Grandmother began with the parts we did know. We knew that Grandmother Johnson had been a nurse in World War I, where she met my Grandfather. Thomas was a soldier who had been recovering from the Spanish Flu in a New York hospital when he met my grandmother Mae Madden. She had graduated recently from a prestigious Chicago nursing school, one of the first classes to graduate nurses to serve in the war. The school was notable as one of the doctors on staff was the father of Ernest Hemingway. And Mae did get to meet a young Ernest, who she said later was ‘spoiled.’
The (Delightful) Skeleton in the Closet
We had searched for our Madden ancestors. But it was only after the DNA tests came back that we found a clue that none of us had guessed. There was not only a skeleton in the closet, but the skeleton had a baby attached! The baby had been born in New York City in 1911. He was George Madden, the father of Cousin Tess.
George Madden, born and raised in an orphanage, went on to serve with distinction in World War II, as did my own father and uncle. After the war, George married and raised three children. He was known to be a good family man and an avid reader. He passed away in the late sixties, and never knew anything about his mother other than the fact that she lived in New York and her last name was Madden. We have all come to the conclusion that the mother of George was in fact, my Grandmother Johnson.
I had written of my Grandmother years ago, as a short essay in a book I published called “My Grandmother’s Shakespeare.” I wrote about the fact that I never really knew her, other than through some short hand-written notes she scribbled on the margins of her old Shakespeare books. She had been an expert parliamentarian and knew the Robert’s Rules of Order through and through. She was in the Shakespeare Club here in Tampa for many years. So I knew she loved classics and learning and books. We shared that in common. And in the end, I just speculated that she may have wanted to live through a love of the arts, through Shakespeare and poetry and opera, to escape to a world where she could reach a higher level. She was my muse and inspired me, and for me, that had been her gift to me. And now, the heroine’s journey was complete as I delved deeper and found there was more she could give.
She also sent us Tess. And the journey we took, my cousins and I, in finding Tess, and finding more about my own ancestry, was a journey worth taking.