My great aunt Clara was my maternal grandmother’s younger sister. She was born on December 1, 1894 in Cleveland, Ohio to my great grandparents, Prince Albert and Jennie Hood Weaver. Aunt Clara and Grandmother had a brother and sadly, 3 other sisters who didn’t survive childhood.
Aunt Clara was a “pistol” – outspoken and her own person in a time when women were struggling to even have the right to vote. Depending on who is telling the story, she was married 5 times although by the time I came along, I don’t remember any of the husbands being in the picture.
I would see Aunt Clara every summer through my childhood when we took our annual trip to visit my mother’s family in Cleveland. Every day, Aunt Clara would drive over in her big black car even though she was in her seventies by then. We kids would peek through the curtains as she marched very purposefully up the front walk to hold court with her grand nieces and nephews – always with her pearls on. It was a command performance that none of us dared miss.
As I reflect back on this time, I realize I missed a lot of opportunity to ask Aunt Clara about our history. But as fate would have it, I got the chance to make up for lost time some years later when I made New Year’s resolution in 1976 to start tracing my roots.
Aunt Clara was then the oldest member of my family so I reached out to her first. She was thrilled beyond belief! Even though she didn’t actually say this, I got the distinct impression Aunt Clara was thinking:
It’s about damn time!!
Over the next 8 months, we had the most amazing time together – phone calls and letters where Aunt Clara taught me as diligently as any of the college professors I ever had. And I was like a sponge. I soaked up all the facts and family stories about our mixed race family and used it to do further genealogy research.
But in September of that year, things turned upside down. Aunt Clara had a fall. I’m not sure how it happened but I got the call that she was in the hospital with a broken hip, but doing OK. Apparently she was even flirting with the ER doctor, something that made me giggle because it was so “classic” Aunt Clara. A few days later, though, she took a turn for the worst and passed away on September 19, 1976. I was devastated.
A few months after Aunt Clara died, I made the connection to our ancestor William Hood, a patriot in the Revolutionary War. She would have be thrilled beyond belief with this discovery. Through the 35+ years since then, the original research Aunt Clara started me on in Pennsylvania has branched out into Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Maine and “across the pond” to Germany, England and Scotland. Although I can’t share my discoveries with her, I always have the feeling Aunt Clara’s looking over my shoulder – smiling in approval.