I got mail today.
And it wasn't a window envelope.
I'm sure it was in the back of my mind, as are many things in my quest to discover who my people are - whose genes had anything to do with the making of me.
But I had almost forgotten that several weeks ago, I mailed a form and a $15 check to the Mississippi State Department of Health for an uncertified copy of a death certificate for my great-great grandmother, Mary Emily Conner.
I took off work earlier this afternoon, did a couple of errands and came home, looking forward to throwing open the windows of the cottage on this wonderfully cool and breezy day of the autumn equinox.
When I checked the mail, I saw the envelope's return address.
I think others of you reading this will identify with my next move.
I reached in the mailbox and laid my hand on the envelope to feel its thickness.
It wasn't one of those flat, skinny envelopes. I could tell by touch there was more than one sheet of paper - that standardized form letter - announcing, We're sorry but we were unable to locate the record you requested.
And then, they keep your $15 for looking...
Some of you may identify with my next move...
Since I was where my neighbors could see me, and wearing a skirt, I did a restrained happy dance, and came in the house and laid the envelope down on grandma's table.
I decided to savor the opening and discoveries of that envelope.
So I ditched my bra and shoes, quickly did a few chores, got a cup of coffee and kicked back on the couch.
And opened the envelope.
When I sent off for this record, I had hope for the answers to a number of questions about Mary Emily Conner.
Did I have her date and location of death correct? Where was she buried? How had she died? Who provided the information for her death certificate, and what relationship did that person have to her?
Did she die alone?
Most of my direct ancestors have a portrait in my mind's eye.
For Mary Emily Conner, that portrait includes a real visual image. I am lucky to have at least one known photo of her, and I wouldn't be surprised if she is not in some of the unlabeled photos in the Williams family album, although at an older age than the 1873 photo.
I am also fortunate that she was a notable character in a written Meek family history - even though she was an in-law, and then, a divorced in-law at that.
From that written history, I learned that Mary was an educated woman. She was fluent in French.
She was a business woman, and was able to support her family with her millinery business while her first husband, James Alexander Meek, was fighting a lost cause in the Civil War, getting wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, and being held prisoner for nearly two years at Pea Patch Island.
Although I don't know the back-story, the timing of her divorce and re-marriage may also say something about a woman who was able to leave the past behind and move on...she and James Meek were divorced on 10 Oct 1871, and she was married to Samuel Webb (a successful confectioner) on 26 Oct 1871.
And wouldn't I love to have that back-story? Uh huh.
Date and location of death? Check. 27 Apr 1913, in Sardis, Panola Co., MS
Where is she buried? Union Church Cemetery, in Sardis, Panola Co., MS
Cause of death? Diseases arising from old age.
Not attended by a doctor, she died at home. The informant, and physician who signed her death certificate, was William J Hays, her nephew. He was the son of Mary's younger sister, Elizabeth Conner Hays.
He gave his address as Sardis, MS. I know his mother, Elizabeth Conner Hays, died in Sardis.
So although my great-great grandmother may have died at home alone (although the death certificate only says she died at home), another question was answered...
I always wondered when Mary decided to move back to Panola Co., MS after the death of her husband, Samuel Webb in 1882 in Russellville, was she near family?
I think she was...and so the portrait gains another layer, moving into filling out some of the gaps in that third dimension. In my mind's eye, I can see her, sitting and visiting for a spell, with her sister - talking and maybe having some refreshment, as Southern ladies once did. Perhaps Mary's nephew, the doctor, stopped by every once in while to check on his elderly aunt. I can picture her being proud of him...
So cool when it's not a window envelope...