I recently read an IDPF for a soldier named Albert H. Goodrich, Battery A 33rd Field Artillery 1st Infantry Division. His file is 165 pages long and contains a lot of letters from his wife Ruth. The two met while Albert must have been training in Georgia prior to shipping overseas with the 1st Division. Ruth lived in or near Atlanta during the early part of the war.
Sometimes service members show up in my reality and stick around a while. Albert has been one of those souls. There is something about his story that pierces my heart and makes me a little sad and confused. I’ve searched for a photo of him but so far have come up with nothing. Every family dealt with their grief differently and there is no right or wrong in how grief is processed. It just is. However, in some ways I feel like a part of his life, which is significant for most people, has been overlooked. On purpose or not? That I do not know.
I wanted to learn more about Albert so I started digging into newspapers and Ancestry databases. What I discovered was on the Ancestry trees made publicly available, his marriage to Ruth is not mentioned. Could this be because whoever put those trees together didn’t know of that marriage because it didn’t happen in Vermont, where one would expect to find a marriage record?
Her marriage to his brother, of course, is listed. I will not pretend to know how the family felt about a 22 year old marrying a 17/18 year old during war time in a state far away from where he grew up. I will also not pretend to know how she and his brother decided to later marry. A marriage is normally a significant event in someone’s life, perhaps even more so for someone who is fighting a war and may not return.
Researching newspapers, 1st Division Archives, and reading his IDPF, I learned several things. You can read Albert’s IDPF here.
- The two married in or near Atlanta in late spring/early summer 1942 from what I can gather. (I have not been able to locate a marriage certificate yet). If this marriage was never spoken about, family doing genealogical research may not have known to search for Albert’s marriage certificate outside of Vermont.
- They visited Vermont where Albert lived after marriage and attended a wedding.
- Ruth worked for the Army Emergency Relief Office in Atlanta.
- Once Albert was declared dead, Ruth moved to Vermont to live with (presumably), his family in the hope that he would return. Her letters give me a sense that she loved him.
- Albert was a Cook and died a tragic death during the invasion of Sicily.
- He was buried in Sicily and Ruth fought for the right to have his remains returned to the U.S. for burial even though she had technically lost them due to the marriage to Albert’s younger brother. Legal next of kin reverted to the oldest brother since both parents were deceased. According to one newspaper article I found, she was given his flag at the burial in Vermont.
One thing I have seen repeatedly in military death files is the grief, disbelief, denial, and anger over a loved one’s death. Each file, each family, processed their grief in different ways. Some families chose to tuck away the service member and their memory, to never speak of them again. Others chose to remember in their own way. Some got angry and took it out on the military and government through letters I’ve read in these files. Even in talking with military research clients, those who lost someone tell a variety of stories that mirror what we find in the IDPF family letters.
Regardless of how a family processed their grief, if it was not processed and the family did not heal, that energy was passed down through the generations and through the family. That is one reason this family history and military work is so important. When we are willing to investigate the life of an ancestor or someone who crosses our path, they are remembered. The lessons they may have still had to teach are given to us and it is our job to share that with others.
In doing this work, even on a complete stranger, we heal parts of ourselves. Researching Albert brought up a lot of different emotions within me and many questions. The more I looked at Albert’s life through the lens of his military service, the more I looked at my own life choices, my military ancestors and their experiences, and pieces of my heart and soul healed. It’s difficult to explain how this works – it’s kind of like magic. It just happens.
When we heal pieces of ourselves and remember those who have gone before, ancestors in both families heal energetically. That healing then ripples out to affect all of humanity.
The next time you wonder if this “hobby” or “project” you have to investigate your family history actually makes any difference….trust me it does. When one heals, we all heal.
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