Jean's Perspective: The Way She Remembered It

I was looking through my genealogy notes and came across a tidbit I needed to followup on. The note simply said, “Grandma had a sister that died young from a fire caused by the candles from the Christmas tree.”  Grandma would be my husband’s paternal grandmother, Jean Tutela. Her parents were Joseph Generoso Tutela and Anna Minotti. They had four children, but I only had 3 in the family tree so off to the archives I went.

Clues at the Archives

I found her death certificate. Her name was Helen (or she was at least called Helen).

Her cause of death: burns of body, accident, clothes caught fire from stove. This sounds like the correct cause, but what about the part about the Christmas tree?

I also looked up her birth certificate. This listed the matching birth date as the death certificate, but listed her name as Elena Tutela. She was child 3 of 3 at the time of her birth. Makes sense, Uncle Arthur was the youngest being born in 1918. Her birth certificate indicates that she was born in 1916. Her death certificate is incorrect, she was 3 years old not 2.

Newspapers Reported the Story!

Then it was off to the state library to see if there was ever anything in the newspaper about this child and sure enough there was an article about the accident in the paper. The accident happened on Friday, January 2, 1920. This article was published in the Newark Evening News on Saturday, January 3, 1920.

Jean was bout seven years old when this happened. From what I was told, she was at her aunt’s home when the accident happened. I can only imagine her as a 7 year old hearing bits and pieces. Her oral history from this event makes perfect sense. No one talked to children about hard topics things back then. Kids heard whatever they heard when the grown ups spoke and made their own sense out of adult conversations. Her oral history was based on her 7 year old self interpreting what happened to her sister.

The Newark Evening News Monday, January 5, 1920 reported Helen had passed on January 4th.

I can only imagine the impact it had on the family. Just looking through a few days of one newspaper, there were way too many children that passed from accidents like this. Gave me a new appreciation for the generations that have come before us and the times they lived in. It also gives me a greater appreciation for the picture of grandma’s parents, Joseph and Anna.