I had a reminder this week about just how ephemeral most people's lives can be. We're born, we live, we die, and we don't leave much evidence we ever existed behind.
One of the services our county historical society provides is assistance in genealogical research. We received a request earlier this spring for help in locating and photographing grave markers, marriage certificates, and anything that might be left of the built environment in the area where a specific family lived. To say that results were slim is putting it mildly. The descendants of a fellow who lived in Baraga 100 years ago are putting together a family history. If its main focus was going to be the Baraga County connection, it's going to be a very thin book.
The man was not born in Baraga County, he didn't marry his first wife here, and he died elsewhere so the only legal record was the marriage certificate from when he married again after being widowed. They had hoped to include photographs of the house where their great grandfather lived. The site is now a vacant lot. How about the public school their grandfather attended? Long gone. In fact, even the school that replaced that school is gone -- the current Baraga High School is the third one on the site. Where did he work? The sawmill is gone; the site adjacent to US-41 is now vacant lot and marina. What about the cemetery? Well, there is a grave marker, a simple pillow stone, for the great grandfather, but several other family graves are unmarked.
The man's great grandson stopped by the museum the other day. He was hoping we might have some historical photos on file that included either views of the buildings related to his great grandfather's life or group photos of some sort that included the man. I was able to provide some turn of the century street scenes and a nice view of the Thomas Nester sawmill, but there were no group photos or portraits that were labeled with the person's name. There was one group photo of sawmill employees in which only about half the men were identified; the great grandson said that one of the unnamed men strongly resembled the descriptions of his great grandfather so he asked for a copy of it. Is it a match? Who knows -- his great grandfather was a physically small man with a large mustache; the fellow in the photo was a physically small man with an impressive mustache. But so were three of the other guys in the picture.
The whole experience left me feeling rather melancholy.