Family Tragedies – a genealogical post

For a long time now, I’ve been delving into my past. Seeking out an aboriginal ancestor of mine (of which I was sure there was one) has been trickier than I thought; it seems my family didn’t like to mix with the natives in Essex County (or so I’ve found so far).

The journey to not finding an aboriginal ancestor in my tree, however, has been illuminating even still, and, for the most part, heart-breaking.

Speaking with my Dad the other day, I asked him if he remembered his maternal grandparents. He reminded me that they had both died before my grandmother was out of her teens. Until now, I’d focused on my father’s paternal lineage, but for my next day trip into my past, I planned to take a close look at my father’s mother’s mom and dad. What I found can definitely be considered a family tragedy.

Pillon TB deaths

My family tree, showing my father’s maternal lineage, the Pillons. The red X’s are those that didn’t live past childhood. The pink X’s made it into adulthood, but still died a premature death.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw how many of my grandma’s aunts and uncles had passed away so early on in life. Her own father only lived to be 45 years old. What could possibly have happened? I especially noted the deaths of Norman and Forest (less than a year and less than five years old respectively), only three days apart. It had to be disease.

Sure enough, when I looked into each of their death certificates, the case of death was some variation of tuberculosis, croup or diphtheria. In a small log house with so many children, I’m not surprised that infection persisted, but this seemed a bit excessive.

Pillon children's gravestone

Gravestone marking the premature deaths of the Pillon children, in St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Amherstburg.

I noticed on one death certificate that under the section “treatment”, there was a line written, “attended by faith healer”, which makes this whole situation even more tragic. Bernadette, who lived to be 24 years old, suffered from tuberculosis her entire life. My great grandfather, Maurice, finally succumbed to the disease in 1928.

What did I learn from this particular sojourn into my family’s past? Ironically, Windsor was the location of one of the first of Canada’s many sanitoriums, which are regarded as the front runners to modern, clean health facilities we see today. Too bad the Pillons placed their faith in God above their trust in their fellow man’s successes in sanitary health care.

Also, I feel damn lucky to be here.

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