Is Every Halloween a Family Search for Life and Death?

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Carolyn Berga was born New Year’s Day, 1917. Mildred told me this over the phone a few days ago at work. Carolyn died just a few years later from burns and injuries she sustained after she wandered to close to the fireplace and her dress caught fire in the family farmhouse in the Belforest community. Carolyn is buried in the Belforest Catholic Cemetery.

Mildred was chasing the toddler’s date of death, which she had learned was between November, 1919 and January 1920. I offered to go through back issues of the Fairhope Courier, which we have on CD.

I did not find any mention of this family tragedy in the Courier. I was stumped! So I recruited my coworker and resident genealogy expert Pam McRae to help in my search. She went to several different websites, only to be snakebit on any death date at Family Search, Ancestry, and Find a Grave. Pam praised Mildred’s research, harkening back to her teaching days and said, “she’s really done her homework.”

When I spoke to Mildred last night, I told her we were not able to find a date of death for young Carolyn. Undaunted by the bad news, Mildred vowed to continue the search and said she would contact the Baldwin Times newspaper. If Mildred was related to Carolyn in some way she never mentioned it. Before hanging up, she said the cemetery committee wanted to, “add the dates to Carolyn’s headstone.”

Losing a family member on a holiday or your birthday is tempered by reflection. Yet we are bound together by time shared and distanced only by dates on a perpetual calendar. As the collector of the record, this blog is not about cataloging legs this time. It’s an attempt to connect two families through one holiday; Halloween.

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Frank Joseph Samry was born on September 30th, the year of the Great Mississippi River Flood, 1927. Pam’s father Gerald Martin was born the same year on May 12, which is my father-in-law John Cherkofsky’s birthday (1939). (Pam and I hope to attend the free outdoor screening of The Great Flood at the downtown branch of Regions bank in Fairhope on Nov. 7, at 6 PM. Live music by Modern Eldorados will accompany the film)

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My dad, the one whistling with one hand on the wheel, was in the Navy during WWII. Pam’s Dad Gerald also served in the Navy during WWII and the Korean War. The man in the photograph with my dad is “Rebel.” With a name like that, I’m hoping he was from the south.

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Wedding Day. August 30, 1953. Joseph Samry, Mary (Walouke) Samry, Frank J. Samry, Joan (Hannan) Samry, Lillian (Tuell) Hannan, Walter Hannan. Can’t wait to see my mom this Thanksgiving. She’s coming to visit us again.

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Pam McRae’s daughter Megan with her fiance James. Megan’s celebrating a birthday today. They are getting married in July in Baldwin County. Happy Birthday Megan!

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My father (Notice the name difference?) died on Halloween 20 years ago today. Pam’s father died June 1, 2007.

How do we commemorate a holiday, celebrate a birthday, and mourn a death all on the same day? By sharing words, moments, pictures, and documents with family and friends we are asking others to contemplate those being honored. If we are fortunate, we have committed moments to our minds, people to our hearts, and conveyed the value of life’s memories. If we are successful, the next generation will continue to cherish, collect, and preserve their family histories.

Happy Halloween.

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