Mystery for a baby boomer looking at her roots

We are the roots generation. We grew up with the book and the TV series, which inspired many of us baby boomers to try to figure out our past. Doreen Frick of Ord, Nebraska, has some help: old photos of her grandparents. But for her, there is still some mystery because she still asks, Which One?

Believe it or not, I’m still trying to figure out from the old photograph which one of the six sons who came over to America in 1905 is my grandfather. And my almost-grandfather. I’m sure my mother could pick her dad out, but the picture surfaced after we buried her. The reason there’s a doubt about which of the two young carpenters could have been my grandfather is because my grandmother was engaged to one, but married another.


Doreen's grandmother, Mary Jane, with her husband, George, and Doreen's mother Mary in 1943.

Doreen’s grandmother, Mary Jane, with her husband, George, and Doreen’s mother Mary in 1943.

Oh, the luck of the Irish. Or maybe more like, the un-luck. Typhoid, we know, claimed my grandmother’s first fiancé in 1907. I’m not sure if my grandmother would have imagined herself married to his brother, but five years later, that’s exactly what happened.

I look at the old photo and try to pick out the one who didn’t make it. And I think I can. But I try to picture the interim between losing an almost-mate, and making the decision to marry his brother, and it’s harder.

Doreen Frick

Doreen Frick

Not that that was unusual; my other grandmother did almost the same thing. She lost her husband to an untimely death, and married his nephew.

Trying to keep everybody figured out in the old picture is a labor of love, and a way to bless my past. The wonderful thing about old pictures is, you can see so much if you look really hard. Like the 1943 picture of my grandmother, my grandfather George, and my mother Mary. It’s clear that my grandfather is happy that he was the one chosen thirty-one years earlier to start this new generation of Irish-Americans.

Just look at him smile!


  1. I have a similar problem. I think that the gentleman in a photograph was my great grandfather but no one thought to put the name on the back and he died when my mother and uncles were too young to remember what he looked like.

  2. I enjoyed your article. My wife and I, plus plus our two 20+ year old daughters, just submitted our DNA samples to and we are anxiously waiting for the results. We call ourselves 11th generation Dutch since the founder of our family arrived in “Manhattan” on February 12, 1659. But that Dutch component? It has been split 10 times over the past 300+ years. I may be no more Dutch than the stranger passing me on the street. But it is exciting to explore. Good luck with your own search!

  3. Very cool story about the conundrum of haphazard record-keeping. It’s funny that only recently did I really start digging around the family tree. Guess age heightens the curiosity.

  4. Similarly, my grandfather dated my great aunt before he married her sister, my grandmother.

    They had six children and were married for 50 years. My great aunt was married to the Chicago Daily News for 50 years!

  5. Great article, that is a hard one to figure out. I spent time asking my grandparents questions about their past but now most of them are gone and I have other questions. I am glad I took the time I did to listen but seems like there is never enough time. That makes those times i had more valuable than gold.

  6. Once again you have inspired me to get with my 80+ year young aunt and acquire some precious morsels of history because you always think you have all the time in the world..thank you Doreen!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *