Sisters of fortune, sisters of misfortune

Oh, that wonderful, childish excitement that we all get when we know we are onto something big! I mean of course that funny feeling we all know and love, when out of the blue we stumble across new pieces of evidence to add to the family tree. Seeing as the pieces match and go together in perfect harmony is a sensation probably only equal to what archaeologists feel when digging up bits of a really old Phoenician vase. But I digress…

Today, during a brief pause at work, I decided to venture into the newspaper archives of Galiciana, the self-styled “Library of Galicia”, a huge repository of old Galician newspapers, which I briefly mentioned in my last post.

While searching for some distant relative or other, I came across a name which for some reason made something click at the back of my mind. I quickly looked up the biography of my very distant great uncle (actually my 5x great-grandfather’s youngest brother), Román Martínez Montaos, which some kind soul decided to research and publish online some time ago.

A Victorian post-mortem portrait. Source: here.

A Victorian post-mortem portrait. Source: here.

The biography, which is fairly thorough (although it misses a very important fact, which I already knew about, which is that uncle Román married his own niece), includes an extract of his will, written jointly with his wife before her early death from tuberculosis. Among other relatives whom I have successfully been able to pin-point on the family tree, Román leaves some of his worldly possessions to his niece Luisa Martínez Escalada, and instructs her that she shall take care of her sister Olegaria, whom it is implied in a chronic invalid.

Now, as I don’t know how these two nieces come into my family tree, their connection has always been a mystery. There is a possibility that they were actually Roman’s wife’s nieces, but as he and his wife were closely related, I can safely assume the two heiresses are, with all certainty, my kinswomen too.

As the surname Escalada is fairly unusual in Galicia, I decide to read any mention of a “Martínez Escalada” I find, starting with the first result I cam across accidentally earlier today. This woman, Gumersinda, seems to have died in February 1903, and all details point to the fact that she was already an elderly lady by the time she passed away. So far, everything seems normal, until we check the obituary column.

The newspaper “Gaceta de Galicia”, which I assume has long since ceased to exist, reports that the editor had withheld the information of the lady’s unusual death. On 13 February Gumersinda died of bronchitis, and her motionless body was taken to the city of Pontevedra’s local cemetery. However, despite the obvious fact that Gumersinda was dead, a fact which had been certified by several doctors, her face had somehow kept its “good colour” and there was no indication that the corpse had started to decompose, a fact which led many of her relatives to believe she could well still be alive, and suffering from an attack of catalepsy. For days Gumersinda’s optimistic relatives kept guard over her lifeless body in the chapel of Saint Mauro, while onlookers and friends prayer for her soul. Five days later, her family relented, and Gumersinda’s body was finally buried.

An artist's depiction of a Catalepsy victim.

An artist’s depiction of a Catalepsy victim.

A further search on Galiciana enabled me to further learn more about Gumersinda’s relatives. She was, indeed, the sister of Luisa Martínez Escalada, mentioned in Román’s last will and testament. Sadly, no newspaper record of the other sister, the incapacitated Olegaria, remains, a fact which leads me to believe that she probably died young. However, I was in for a bonus when I found that there were other sisters of whom I had no previous knowledge. In all, there were six sisters. Olegaria probably died first, as she is not mentioned in any of her sister’s obituaries; then there was Juliana, who died a spinster in the Galician capital, Santiago, where I think the sisters came from. After her our main character, Gumersinda, passed away, followed in 1910 by Carlota. Three years elapsed before Luisa, the one I already knew of, died (she was a widow and, as far as I can make out, she had three children – more to add to the family tree!). By 1918 there was just one sister left, Cecilia, who remained unmarried until she died.

How all these sisters and their interesting end fits in my family tree is, for now, a mystery. I have already ordered Gumersinda and Luisa’s respective death certificates. Those documents will hopefully tell me more about their place of origin, their age (or, dare one hope, exact birthdate) and, perhaps more importantly, their parents’ names. A visit to the church archives at some later date will probably come in handy, but that’s another story…

This entry was posted in Death, Galicia, Genealogy, Illness, Marriage, Money, Property, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Women. Bookmark the permalink.

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