Let me introduce you to my great-great grandmother Libby.
Her parents, John and Sarah, were immigrants from England.
I found newspaper articles in which Libby is named as the mother of a child by one Hollis Lyman who was charged with ‘bastardy’.
There is no statement about whether or not she was impregnated by Mr Lyman through choice.
She had the baby.
The baby was my great grandmother Elsie, who was a complete - I mean utter and total - mystery in our family until a few years ago because she gave up most of her own children for adoption.
One of them was my grandmother.
In the side margin of Elsie’s birth record, right next to the entry listing Libby as the mother and Hollis Lyman as the father of the new baby, it is written in parenthesis: (she says).
When Elsie was born, Libby had to leave her in the care of John and Sarah and go work in town as a servant to support her child.
Hollis Lyman had abandoned them.
When Elsie was approximately 1.5 years old Libby drowned herself, according to family history.
Libby was 20 years old.
The death record says she died of ‘fever’. Oral tradition in the family says that was a cover - a person couldn’t be buried in a churchyard if they took their own life.
Elsie would be raised by John and Sarah.
The rest of Elsie’s story is a dramatic one. I’ll save it for another day.
Today, I think about Libby.
Through my grandmother alone, the fourth of five known children of Elsie, Libby has 22 descendants (if I did correct calculations) and there are at least twice that many more through Elsie’s other children.
All of her offspring, on some level, carry the memory of Libby and Elsie’s traumatic separation.
I'll share more of this story in my workshop.
Pieces of their story have unconsciously trickled down through her various descendants ... I know this through meticulous research and watchful eyes born to witness the whizbang of the genetic patterns that speckle my lineage.
And we will never know the full story of the conception, and the elusive Mr Lyman whose truths we also carry.
I made this piece of art in reverence for Libby's short life.
There exists a strong streak of artistic eccentrics running through this branch of the tree ...
Was Libby one of us? Did she draw? Sew? Paint?
What pieces of me did I receive from her?
How can I serve her memory best?
How can I make her proud?
What can I do, be, and experience - in honor of her memory - that she didn’t get to do, be, or experience?
What was her favorite color? Did she like apple pie?
What was her pregnancy like? Full of hope? Full of fear?
What was her hope for her young baby?
If she took her own life ... why?
That matters not, I guess.
Because while she was living, Libby was a young woman with a heart beating and a womb preparing for all of her descendants ... through her one baby girl, Elsie.
For too few days she graced the lazy lanes in a small town Michigan.
Her heart and womb were forever changed by whatever Hollis Lyman did or did not do.
My heart and womb carry pieces of her, in reverence for all she did and did not do.
Thank you Libby. For my life. 🙏
Join my online mixed media workshop YOUR ANCESTORS. www.erinfaithallen.com/yourancestors