This summer has provided me with a mix of genealogical highs and lows. I’ve made enormous strides in some very important ways, starting with my trip out east for my grad school graduation. After parading around Cambridge in my black robe and crimson hood, I headed up to New York for Ayanna’s Jack & Jill’s graduation. In addition to the usual family fun, I also got to spend some time with my mother’s first cousin, Ann Marie, who has done a lot of family history research over the years. It was great to connect with another family member who was as obsessed with learning about our family’s roots as I am. Though my trip to New York was short, it became even more fruitful when Ann Marie took me to meet Tia Dilca, a cute old lady who had been good friends with Hilarion’s sisters. It was thrilling to talk with someone who knew my grandfather and his siblings and I absolutely loved getting to hear her speak a few words in patois. I left New York with the intention to really get to work on this family history research I always promised myself I’d undertake “someday.” (While I have done that, I still haven’t gotten around to transcribing the interview with Tia Dilca. Doh!)
Later in June the random Google search that led me to connect with other Cadignans finally made the impossible seem possible. Soon I started up a family tree website, created this blog, and found census records for my paternal grandfather’s family. I shared my findings with my family, who were supportive and seemed geniunely interested – especially when I mentioned taking a trip to Martinique next year. I had finally gone from thinking and talking about genealogical research to actually doing it. These were all definitely the highs.
The lows apparently came in threes, which is what they say about these sorts of things. First, in July, Tio Alfonso passed away. When my mom told me the news I literally felt nauseous. In addition to the usual feelings of sadness upon hearing of the death of a family member, I experienced that sense of regret I had already suspected was in store for me. You see, for about the past year interviewing Tio Alfonso had been on my “to do” list but I kept putting it off for two reasons. First, I much prefer doing interviews in person (I feel you get the best and most information that way). Second, I just wasn’t sure if he’d want to be bothered to talk to some random great-neice who calls him up out of the blue. As I type these words, I realize how incredibly silly that sounds. In retrospect I realize he probably would have been happy to hear from one of the grandchildren of his brother who never lived to see his children become teenagers, let alone parents. Second, as they say, what’s the worse that could have happened? He could’ve asked me to call another time or declined outright. What is done is done, of course, so I try not to dwell on that regret, but learn from it. Anyhow, they do say the Lord works in mysterious ways. Although I never met him (as far as I can remember), I feel that he did find a way to speak to me in an important and special way. Tio Alfonso’s passing brought about an important discovery, revealing that Simon’s and Josephine’s real names were (probably) Francois and Adele. This sort of information may likely save me time and frustration once I start to search for records of my Martinican great-grands. Thank you, Tio Alfonso.
Sadly, another death on the maternal side of my family followed at the end of August. Fide, my maternal grandmother’s sister, died just a few months before her 99th birthday. Given that I never lived near my Nana Tere and she had slipped into the shadows of Alzheimers while I was in high school, I did not have the chance to ask her about her life and her parents by the time I had developed the interest. However, her big sis did reside in southern California for several months out of each year. During my college years I seized opportunities to work on research projects focusing on Afro-Latin American history and identity, and on more than one occasion peppered Fide with many questions about Black Panamanians in general and our family in particular. Unfortunately, by the time I had taken up the task of family history research she was back living in Panama full-time and senility had finally started to set in. And then, a little over a week ago, she went Home. While we can not complain about her good fortune to live for almost a full century, it is very bittersweet because I had truly believed we would all get to enjoy time with her at least once more this coming December when we are to gather for her granddaughter Kathy’s wedding in Panama. I also carry with me the personal regret of not following through with my intentions to visit her on my last two trips to Panama. While it may not have been possible to get any new information from her in her last few years, I just wanted to give her another kiss on the cheek and giggle at her fussing at whatever she decided to fuss about that moment. Given that I had more contact with her than any other member of her cohort, to me Fide symbolized that generation that connects (North) American me to a complicated African-Caribbean-Panamanian past. Thank you, Fide.
Just a couple of days after learning of Fide’s passing I received a brief e-mail from Jean-Pierre (JP) stating that he had heard an older member of the Cadignan clan in Martinique had died. He was not quite sure, but believed it was a woman named Paulette and that she would’ve been Josephine’s cousin. We will have to wait to hear from Christian to get confirmation about the person that passed away, but given what Christian had written me previously about her, it seems to fit. He said that she and her sister were the oldest living Cadignans he knew of, and that Paulette was very sick and had recently been hospitalized. Christian had even said he would try to talk to her at some point, so I imagine he may be feeling the same sort of regret I felt over Tio Alfonso. I’m saddened to know this is one less person I’ll get to meet whenever I do make it to Martinique, but like Fide and Alfonso, am glad she apparently lived a long and blessed life and is now resting in peace. Perhaps they’ll get together with Tere, Hilarion, and Daisy and send me some more clues. In fact, I’m counting on it. So in advance, thank you, Tante Paulette.