My Grandmother told us a family story of her older sister she never knew. It was a story that you could not forget. It left burn mark in the fabric of our DNA. Her older sister’s name was Gertrude, and she died before my Grandma’s birth from burns caused by an accidental oil lamp fire in their home at a very young age. The family could not find any written record of Gertrude, until now. The digitization of birth records was key to the discovery of a child born in Youngstown, Ohio to my Great Grandparents George and Fanny Mills. ”Georgeana Go… Mills” was the transcript from the Christening/Birth record. The middle name left incomplete for reason unknown, possibly a damaged page. She was born on 3 June 1889, that part was clear, and something to go on. We knew that her family moved to Pittsburgh, PA where George worked as a blacksmith on the Pennsylvania Rail Road, so that is where the search started.
I called the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh after finding they held the archive of death registrations. For a small fee they would search that archive for our “Georgeana Go… Mills” who may have died near the end of the 19th century. A week later, I opened the mailbox to find a large brown envelope I had been waiting for. The return address had the Carnegie Library Logo and opening that envelop revealed what we were looking for: “Georgeana Gertrude Mills”, yes, the middle name was Gertrude, I continued to read the page. She died on 20 Jan 1889 and her death was caused by “burns from an oil lamp explosion” that occurred “18 hours prior.” It also indicated where Gertrude was buried: Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA, and that would be my next telephone call. Homewood indicted that her grave was Sec. 3, Div 1, Row 9, Sp. 5 but they were not sure if she had a marker. Brother Greg, was often working nearby in the Lawrenceville area of Pittsburgh and he was just as interested, so when I gave him the news, he visited the cemetery and reported back. After obtaining Cemetery map, he found her unmarked grave in the area of the cemetery reserved for accident victims, and hers was three spaces down from another seven year old with marked grave, Louis Martin. He later reported heartfelt stories of wild violets trying to bloom on her grave. Family members were appreciative and eager to share in the cost of a modest stone marker as a tribute. I requested more information from the University of Pittsburgh Archive service; they held the coroner reports. Another envelope was received in the mail; in it was a detailed report of the horrific accident. A sworn statement by her father, George Mills indicated he was sitting at the dinner table with four children when the bracket lamp spontaneously exploded. Without any reason, the bottom of the glass oil reservoir fell out, spewing flames all over the table, and children. He quickly put out the flaming oil, and the flames on his oldest son, George who was burned, but the little girl, (Gertrude) got the worst of it he says, and she dies 18 hours later in the local Children’s Aid Hospital.
I researched the general history this type of accident further and sadly, oil lamp explosions were not uncommon. This information does nothing to help with the thought of Gertrude’s suffering.
"No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once
attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
May the family offering of rose petals and love be our tribute.
In my sixtieth year I can do much more by fine tuning myself than by wondering how the universe became fine tuned so that I can exist. I am retired from working as a Marine Engineer, but preventive maintenance remains a theme. Health and fitness are rewarding goals, so I embrace the process of oxidation.
My pride resides mostly in life after death (No, not in any metaphysical sense). I visit my three adult sons and three grandchildren that carry an evolved part of myself. They are all free thinkers. I admire them, and I cherish the little credit I deserve for who they are.
I have a new hobby: ancestor discovery. I pay homage to the fathers, and pause with extra respect at the graves of the mothers. The family stories uncovered are made from a fascinating fabric. The fabric is woven with family DNA strands, and the quilt made from it is both stunning and warm.