Are There Only Bad Memories?

cemetery chicago czech genealogy family patterns genealogy infant death mental health pregnancy writing prompts Aug 16, 2021

As I sit here quietly this morning sipping coffee, feeling exhausted after a very rough night, my great grandparents, Joseph & Bessie (nee Zajicek) Kokoska came to my mind. In the photo above, Bessie is standing behind everyone with a scowl on her face. That energy and scowl illustrate the memories and stories I have heard about her.

The questions this morning are, Who was she really? What happened to her? What influenced her behavior and the memories shared with me by her granddaughters?

Exploring Family Behaviors & Patterns

Many things may have influenced who Bessie was and became over the course of her life. This is a short list of things I am considering as I look at the genealogy information I have on her and the family. I invite you to make a list of things that may have affected your ancestors.

  • Birth order. Bessie was the first of eight children, born 1883, of which five survived. Three of her younger siblings died before she was 16 years old.
  • Loss of siblings. While pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and infant/child deaths were common in the 1800s and early 1900s, losing a sibling may have been difficult. In a family that may not have spoken about the loss, a child may not have learned how to cope and may have shut down.
  • World War I. Bessie lost her brother in-law Michael during World War I and her own brother John was a career military man.
  • The Great Depression. This event affected every family in America in numerous ways.
  • Her own children. Bessie gave birth to six children, four of which survived. Two were lost. One within a few months and the other in less than two years.
  • Loss of grandchildren. Bessie's daughter Jenny gave birth to five children and lost three as infants. Jenny lost her son Frank during World War II. The remaining survivor was Blanche. I wonder what she carried in her life as a result of all this death.
  • World War II. Bessie lost her grandson Frank while he fought in France. World War II also brought other issues into family's lives - rationing, doing without, increased stress waiting for news, etc.

I have another photo of my Great Grandma Bessie at the wedding of her granddaughter Bea. In this she is smiling and looks so similar to her daughter Rose, who was my grandma. Yet the stories I've heard about Bessie are almost all negative. I am asking family again if they had any good memories of her.

When we explore our family histories and look at the behaviors and patterns that were passed down to us, it is important to take an honest look at who people were. Not just accept the stories, positive or negative, or both, that we heard. Not just accept the highest historical context and assume the war and loss of a grandchild made her angry. We need to start digging deeper.


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