Because my mother died at such a young age, myself being only 2 1/2 months old at the time, I did not grow up knowing much about her, or her family for that matter. It was easier for my dad to move on without the reminders, I guess. But when I was 18 and pregnant with my first child, I finally had the need to know.
My search began at the cemetery. I found her grave by the pond in a section of the cemetery called the "Freedom Lawn" in La Vista Memorial Park, National City, California. A couple of years later I called and spoke with a couple siblings of hers. I then drove to San Diego and met my mother's father, her aunt, and a bunch of cousins and other people I still don't know to this day. And eventually I wanted to know more about her death.
It was a warm summer night in July. My father had turned 22 that Friday and my parents got together with some friends for the weekend. My dad had been working on someone's motorcycle when they decided to take it for a test run. The bunch hopped on their motorcycles to take a spin. They were in Chula Vista, California, so they chose to drive by the lake. It was just past midnight, technically a Sunday now. They rounded a corner where the road ended at a T intersection at Wueste Rd and Otay Lakes Rd. Apparently my father didn't know there was a STOP sign, so my parents flew through the intersection, crossed the road and went down the embankment on the opposite side. My mother wasn't wearing a helmet (this was the 70s after all) so she sustained a fracture to the right side of her skull, as well as a broken right arm. My father shattered his right arm and broke his femur. Because his injuries were less life threatening, he was hauled away to the naval hospital (he was serving in the Navy at the time), but my mom was taken to some community hospital in Chula Vista.
My mother's injury to her skull caused major swelling in her brain. The community hospital made the decision to have her transferred to the naval hospital where they hoped she could receive better care. My mom lived for 4 days after the accident. She died on the afternoon of July 24, 1975 and was buried on July 29.
My point in telling this sad tale is that when I decided I wanted to know I contacted the sheriff's office and the California Highway Patrol in an effort to get a police report. I was told they destroy their records after so many years. I was eventually directed to the county coroner's office, so I got to order my first genealogical records: an autopsy report and the coroner's report.
Because of the accident, there was eventually a lawsuit against the county for lack of a stop sign warning. My father won the suit and I got some money in a trust fund. It wasn't enough to replace my mother's lost life, but it was a good amount, and more importantly, there is now proper signage warning everyone of the upcoming stop ahead.
Because I knew there was a lawsuit, I one day made my way to the county court and sat for an hour at the microfilm reader scanning the pages of the case. I didn't really learn anything because I was fairly rushed and had no time to absorb the contents of the film, not to mention I was a little numb at the time. But I made it to the court and know where to get the documents when I am finally ready to shell out the cash for them.
I pursued more information and eventually really got into genealogy. I have learned that my father's side of the family are all fairly new to this country (only going as far back as the mid 1800s in Vermont), while my mother's side has deep roots, including a line from the Mayflower.
Genealogy has been a great adventure, but at times I am saddened that it took my mother's death to get me into it. But that is usually how it's started, right? Someone is dead and we want to know more about them.
Happy birthday, Mom! And happy tree climbing, everyone else!