Researching family history, for me, is more than drawing connecting lines on a family tree. I always want to know more about my ancestor’s stories, how they lived their lives, what their thoughts were. Often this information can be gleaned from the letters they wrote or the memories they jotted down. Letters, especially personal ones which the author never meant for anyone else to read, can be the best way to uncover emotions and stories.
This is very true when it comes to the story of my mother’s birth. I have written about my mother a few times, even quoting a part of the letter I mention later. But I feel as if there is more to discover about my mother’s birth.
I know my grandparents were living on a vineyard, which my grandfather managed, in the south of France, inland from the Côte d’Azur. My mother mentions it being close to their previous employment in Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer and in the vicinity of Semaphore. They lived in an old house on the property, some 15 kilometres from the nearest village. One of the issues I face in trying to retrace their steps, is attempting to find the vineyard.
At this time, my grandmother became pregnant. My mother wrote that during her pregnancy, my grandfather found a baby rabbit in the fields and brought it home with him. My grandmother, apparently needing rest, would take it to bed with her, where it would sleep snuggled under her chin. Eventually, when it grew older, it disappeared back into the fields.
When it became time for my grandmother to give birth, my grandfather took her to Nice. This is where my research into the vineyard falters. I cannot find an area with vineyards, which matches the descriptions I have, and is also close enough to Nice to be taking a pregnant woman to hospital there. The only explanation I have found as to why they went to Nice was that there was a charity hospital there and I know money would have been a concern.
My grandmother had a difficult birth. According to my mother, this was the result of a weakness in her back. My grandmother must have been afraid that she would not survive the birth as she wrote to my grandfather two days before my mother was born. In part she writes:
My precious love and happiness, my Pavlik, if, God forbid, I were to die now, I want to tell you once more that you are everything to me, that I have loved only you, and have lived only for you and by you.
You gave me such a serene and boundless happiness that filled my soul like a bright light. Each moment of my life with you was one continuous holiday and happiness, for which I cannot express with words how thankful I am to you.
The letter ends with the words, Love our baby. The emotion in this letter and the unspoken story it tells is why I love old letters.