My paternal great-grandmother, my father's father's mother, did not have an easy life, and this might have contributed to her coldness and rigidity. Born in 1888, her childhood included abuse and her father serving time in prison for sexually abusing one of Great-Grandma's sisters. Upon his release, he returned to his family at some point. This info was given to me second hand, so I can't guarantee its accuracy. But nothing happens in a vacuum, every story has to start somewhere.
Child abuse is an ugly stain that can be found on every branch of a family tree; the roots burying stillbirths, miscarriages, absentee fathers, and young mothers dying in childbirth. My great-grandfather's first wife died while giving birth, as did my other paternal great-grandmother, giving birth to my grandmother. Grandma and her two siblings were scattered; her brother, already a teenager, ran away to Oregon to find his father, Grandma's sister was placed in foster care, and Grandma also grew up in the foster system, most likely abused and treated more like an indentured servant than a child. She must have been very lonely until she was reunited with her brother and sister. She was around twenty years old at this time, already a mother. She would drink, the alcoholism taking her life at fifty-two years old. She also was not an easy person; her temper and moods erratic as she aged. She had felt disliked by her in-laws, my tough great-grandmother couldn't stand her, considering Grandma trash because she already had a child before she met my grandfather. People were not so tolerant then, and my great-grandparents were Victorian. My great-grandpa was known to be a nice guy, more generous, but his wife also disliked her other son's wife, who had children from a previous marriage. As the mother of twelve, who had raised a step-son of her own, she had a serious problem with her daughters-in-law. She could make my grandma cry, not to mention my aunt, who had a different father. When they would visit, Dad and my uncle would get candy, but not my aunt, because she wasn't 'really' a grandchild. I didn't know it was such a big deal, my dad always treated my aunt like a beloved sister, as did my uncle. Grandpa treated her as a daughter, she always called him Dad. I always thought that Grandpa had more of a fondness for kids that were not his own; he had a tendency to spend more time with my aunt and his stepchildren from his second marriage as he grew older. He didn't seem to have much use for my brothers and me. He would make chauvinistic remarks about my weight, but I'd ignore him. I resemble my dad and my grandma. When Grandpa had to look at my face and body as a young adult, he may have been reminded of the overweight, self-destructive, alcoholic first wife he divorced but ended up nursing towards the end of her life. When he died, Grandma was not even mentioned at the memorial service; the focus more on his relationship with his second wife and her children.
My mom was also a step-daughter, her father was not a part of her life, and she never forgave him, although she seems quite proud of her Irish ancestry, forcing me to the internet ancestry databases to find out more. She was horrified(I'm serious) to find out that her mother's mother's people were not Irish, but Germans from Switzerland. Now, she can only claim the Irish on her father's side, from County Cork.
Why was the ancestor search important? Because the appearance of family is sometimes better than dealing with the reality. I became the curator of family lore following my search ten years ago for my tough great-grandmother's Native American roots. Contrary to the painful memories of her now-elderly surviving children, including my grandfather, my great-aunt, Grandpa's younger sister, told me what she could abo. That's when I learned about my great-great-grandfather's prison sentence. My great-aunt, who was always fond of my father, tried to warn me then, telling me that I might not like what I found. Only now do I understand what she meant. I never found Great-Grandma's Native heritage, but I learned some things about her as a person, some good, some bad. My aunt said she was cold and ruthless, no outsiders warmly accepted. But she loved her husband very much and took care of all of her twelve children. She was brave in her own way, because she didn't always care what other people thought of her. If she was alive, I don't know if I'd like her, but I would have to respect her. However, as I get older, I can imagine giving her a hug. She might not like it, but I don't care, she's still family. :)