An Emotional Moment In Genealogy

Not all moments in genealogy can be described as great, as in momentous. Many, however, are memorable. And for various reasons. This is one I would describe as memorable in an emotional sense, not only for myself, but for many others involved in the story. It also illustrates how history can occasionally intrude, often uninvited, into our everyday lives.

As I have said in my unpublished Genealogical Guide To The Titus Family in North America, the written word can be a powerful and lasting force, whereas gravestones tend to be transitory, and surrender to the elements, and to the ravages of time, only slightly more slowly than the bones that lie beneath them. Thus, once the living memory fades and passes on, so do the names, deeds and accomplishments of all those wonderful people. That is, unless someone takes the trouble to research, coordinate and record their stories.

The Tituses, generally speaking, were not particularly widely known outside the relatively narrow range of their contemporary societies and environments. In other words, they were not the headline-makers of their day, not generally to be found on the society pages or on the police blotters of their neighbourhoods. Now, one of those families in my Genealogical Guide, previously unknown to me except for its vital statistics, has reappeared into my life.

On December 27th 2007 I received an e-mail from a Bill Titus of Rushsylvania, Ohio, a small town with a population of 610 at last count, well off the beaten track in Logan County, in central Ohio. The e-mail read, in part:

“Dear cousin Bill. My name is James William Titus, (called Bill also) and I believe we are related through your Titus ancestry. I am the oldest son of Glenno Titus of Rushsylvania, Ohio and have recently, at the age of 60, become interested, fascinated and some in my family say, obsessed with the ancestral line of Titus that we descend from.

I am e-mailing you for two reasons. One is to thank you for the heartfelt condolences about my beloved niece, Alicia Nicole Titus from one of the hundreds of web postings that I went through looking for clues to the genealogy of our family. My next younger brother John and his wife Beverly and my family raised our children very closely together and I personally felt the loss as deeply as one of my own children. In fact, because my brother was still going to university, Alicia came home from the hospital and they lived with me for a short time and we bonded very closely. She was a wonderful girl and got in a lot of life in her 28 years. I thank you for the sentiments that you expressed then and even though it has been years, the expression of grief touched me very deeply. I told my brother and his wife of your posting and they also wanted to thank you for your thoughts.

The second reason is genealogical. I wonder if you might be so kind as to send me the information that you have about our lineage. I came to this later in life and though I have always been interested in our ancestry, I plan to pass the information on to all my cousins and of course my siblings. I and my family would be so grateful to you for doing this and even if you aren’t able to, I still thank you for all your hard work and research that you have done.”

As it turns out, Bill and I are tenth cousins, once removed. The John and Beverly Titus that Bill mentioned in his e-mail are Alicia’s parents. Bill and John are descended from Content Titus, born March 28, 1643, the third son of Robert Titus, the sire of the English Titus line in North America, who arrived at Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1635 with his wife Hannah and two sons aboard the ship Hopewell. I am descended from Robert’s second son, Edmond who was born in 1630 in England.

Now, let’s get back to the first reason for Bill’s e-mail, my involvment in Alicia Titus’s sad story. On September 14th, 2001 a posting by a Dan Titus appeared online in the Titus Family Genealogy Forum. I’m sure that September 11th, 2001 is familiar to all of you. The posting went as follows:

“CNN is reporting that one of the flight attendants who died when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the WTC south tower was an Alicia N. Titus. I haven’t found her on any Titus genealogy web sites and was wondering if anyone knows her or anything about her.”

This, of course, referred to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade centre and the Pentagon three days before.

I really had no direct contact with Alicia’s family, but I immediately knew who she was. I had checked my master index as soon as I heard that a flight attendant named Titus had been killed during the 9/11 attacks and found the vital statistics and descendancy of her family, details that I had recorded from my research years before. Alicia was my tenth cousin. I was, however, very nervous about the possibility that an internet conversation could ensue that would embarrass her family, especially during the early days following those terrible events. In compiling my Titus genealogy I have been careful not to post to the internet any information on living people, although I will share my files with those whom I am satisfied are actual cousins. In this case I thought that I should acknowledge that I recognized her name, extend my sympathy to her family and friends, and hope to pre-empt an internet discussion in the time of her family’s greatest grief. I therefore replied to the posting:

“Hello, Dan. As a Canadian it grieves me very much to hear of so many of my American cousins in distress. Indeed, after this terrible experience, you have become much closer than my distant cousins. You have become my brothers and sisters.

I have an Alicia N. Titus on my list. She was born Jun. 11, 1973 and descends from Content Titus, son of Robert, the immigrant. I will not give further data because obviously her parents are still living, and there remains the chance that the victim is not the person in my database. Nevertheless, I hope that her family and friends will accept my sincere condolences and sympathy.

Be assured that all Canadians are with you to share your grief. I share in the statement by our Prime Minister that we will do all in our power to help your government bring these international criminals to justice.”

The years have passed, and now over six years later Bill had started his Titus research and has come across my internet posting. Now I have this touching e-mail from him, providing me with one of those emotional moments in genealogy that makes research a rewarding undertaking. I’m fairly sure that before her death Alicia had no consuming interest in genealogy. However, I’m equally sure that her passing must have been one of the main factors that has propelled Bill into his determination to research his family history. So, althrough we cannot undo a terrible loss, in a sense, and in a small way, we all have gained.

Of course, I forwarded him all of my data on Content Titus and his descendants, all 565 pages of it. It was entirely coincidence that this happened during the Christmas gift giving season. On December 29th, after sending him my files, I had a reply from Bill in which he said the following: “I don’t know how to thank you for this wonderful gift that you have given to my family and me. The information that you sent to me is perfect and fits my early research for the lineage from Robert to my great-great-great-grandfather John. This has become a passion and a blessing for me, as well as a very humbling experience. When I am reading of our ancestors and the fabric of their lives and times, I am in awe and seem to be transported by my imagination back into the time frame that they lived in and they come alive for me. I hope to pass on my interest and findings to future generations of Titus descendants and from the heart, I thank you for being a huge part of that.”

One of the motivations for genealogical research is the discovering of pieces of the family record and fitting them into the larger picture. Another is the satisfaction of finding out now and then that one’s work is appreciated. I can now rest assured that the Titus family history, at least in Ohio, is in good hands. I would also like to think that somehow Alicia also had a part in it.


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