Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - Getting to Know My Grandmother

Sina Bellinger Kelly, age 17
I was quite moved and motivated by Lisa Alzo's presentation on "Finding Your Female Ancestors" at the Midwest Family History Expo in Kansas City this weekend. One of her comments really resonated with me:
"Give voice to the stories of the silent women from our past."
Last Sunday, my fellow blogger Barbara Poole posted a photograph of herself with her grandmother, sharing an everyday moment sitting at the kitchen table. It's a touching photograph and as I studied it, I realized that I don't have any photographs of myself with my Grandmother Sina Bellinger Kelly.

That really shouldn't be too surprising because I don't have a lot of photographs of Grandma Kelly anyway. She didn't like having her photo taken and was always taking scissors to her image and cutting herself out of photographs. To this day, I have a family photo with a big circle cut out of it.

Lisa's journey about researching and writing Three Slovak Women got me thinking about how little I really do know about Grandma Kelly. I was only five years old when she died, but I've always had good memories of my time with her. I know that she used to babysit me when my folks went out for the evening. I remember making her play "Jingles" to my "Wild Bill Hickok" (an old TV show you folks under 50 probably never heard of). My parents have told me that Grandma Kelly and I used to listen to baseball games on the radio together. I have no recollection of that, but it would be no surprise if we did. Her brother and Grandpa Kelly were both baseball players for the Greenwood, Nebraska team.

About the only other thing I know about Grandma Kelly is that she had a tendency to fall down, clearly a trait I've picked up from both sides of the family! I've heard the stories of how she'd be walking down the street and say, "Wait a minute! I'm going to fall down."

Another story was about a mean old rooster. I remember him well. I used to keep a yardstick handy so I could shoo him away when I went from our house to Grandma's house across the road. Apparently, one day she'd had enough of this old rooster, picked up a charcoal briquette and tossed it at him. Grandma Kelly could not have hit the broad side of a barn, as the story goes, but she hit the rooster right in the head and killed him outright. Chicken was on the menu that night.

Grandma Kelly always kept cookies in a bottom drawer of a cabinet in her kitchen. I always knew there would be something good waiting in that drawer for me.

I know that Grandma Kelly played piano by ear. Mom told how she and her friends would sing a popular song from the 1940s to Grandma and Grandma could sit down at the piano and play it immediately. I wish I would have inherited her musical ability!

I haven't even verified the location of her birth yet. Some sources say she was born in Greenwood, but her funeral card states she was born in Fremont, Nebraska. I know when she and Grandpa Kelly were married. I know she had five children, the first of whom died as an infant and before the surviving four were born. I know where she's buried.

These little vignettes are all I know about Grandma Kelly. I want to fill in the gaps. I want to learn more about her, about the kind of life she led. I want to pull together the pieces of her story.

The first step in the process will be a visit to the Nebraska State Historical Society's microfilm collection to begin perusing the old issues of the Greenwood Gazette. Surely, that small hometown paper will help me bring Sina's story to life.

Thank you for the inspiration, Lisa.


  1. What a great post. I'm attending the Salt Lake City Family History Expo on the 27th of this month and had seen Lisa's class "Finding your Female Ancetors" on the list,after reading your post I will be sitting in on her presentation.
    Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Thanks Susan for the mention. You sure have been a busy bee with all your writing! Take a rest, you deserve it.

  3. Susan,

    I am so pleased that my class motivated you to learn more about your grandmother. It keeps me inspired to keep doing what I do. Writing down your memories and what else you know about her is a great start! Good luck and do update us about your journey and discoveries! Thank you for attending my session at the Expo. I so enjoyed getting to know you and hope to see you at another conference!

  4. It is so important to know the stories of the women in your family. Must have been a really good session!