Genealogists sometimes come across cousins they didn’t know they had. The person maybe helpful and friendly or maybe they won’t. In my case, by finding my cousin, Rita Hoadley, I hit the cousin jackpot. She had photographs, stories, and even knew some of the family secrets. And to top it off, she was a delightful person, beloved by her entire family. Here’s the story of how we met and what she meant to me.
One of the first things that a beginning genealogist is told to do, is to talk to their living relatives and ask them what they know. Particular attention should be given to the oldest relatives. Mom was cut off from most of her relatives for reasons that I detailed in an earlier post.
I made it my mission to locate, if possible, living relatives from Grandma Beatrice’s family. Among her first cousins, there was only one whose death I could not confirm. Her mother, Graziella, had a sister Corinne who was 15 years younger than her. Corinne had a daughter named Rita who was born in 1926, the year after Mom was born. At the time, my mother was still alive, so I thought, why not Rita? However, the genealogical trail went cold after the 1940 census, when Rita was 13 years old. It was likely that she’d married, but I didn’t know her married name.
In February 2013, I was in Stonington doing family research. I stopped by the cemetery where Corinne and her husband were buried. I found their gravestones in a row of four. After taking photographs of their two stones, I became curious about the other two in the row. To the far left was a stone for Matthew Hoadley, who died in 1999. But between his stone and the ones for Corinne and her husband, there was one for Rita Hoadley. Not only did it show the same birth year as Corinne’s daughter, but there was no death year at all. I called directory assistance, and soon I was at the home of my first cousin twice removed.
Rita was 86 years old, sharp as a tack, and had many photos and stories to tell. She was Grandma’s first cousin and my mother’s childhood playmate. She knew of many the people whose names had only been entries in my database up to that point. She even knew about the relationship between Grandma and Uncle Napoleon.
If I hadn’t met Rita, I might never have known what my great-great-grandmother Azilda looked like, or my great aunts and uncle, or seen photos of Mom and Rita together. I might never have known what Uncle Napoleon (my biological grandfather) looked like.
Even after my research was done, I would visit Rita a couple of times a year, because she was such a joy to be around. She passed away in January 2020 at the age of 93. I had seven lovely years in which to get to know her and her family.
May all you genealogists out there be so lucky!