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The plight of the youngest

This photo, the one below, breaks my heart.

The people depicted are so very dear to me. From left to right, they are my Aunt Marianne, my Aunt Trisha, my grandmother Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, my Aunt Carol, my mother Hazel (called “Totsy”), and my Aunt Cladyne.

The Girls, they were called, always with the capital “G.”

My grandparents had six boys and six girls. They lost their firstborn baby girl, my Aunt Ruth, when she was only a few months old.1 They lost their seventh child and fourth son, my Uncle Donald, called Dooter, when he was only two.2

But they raised five boys and five girls to adulthood. And here you see the five girls and their mother.

It’s hard to look at that photo today. Yesterday, you see, was the 14th anniversary of the day we laid my mother to rest in the cemetery at Byrd Methodist Memorial Chapel in Kents Store, Virginia, in a grave next to her parents. And even all these years later the anniversaries are hard.

But what makes it all the harder is the knowledge that, of all of those beautiful women in that photo, only one is alive today.

     • We lost my grandmother in March of 1995; she was almost 97 years old, and didn’t make it quite long enough for there to be five living generations.3

     • My mother was the next loss, in April 1999. She was 73 years old, her life cut short by a lifetime of smoking.4

     • The next one we lost was Aunt Marianne, in September 2007. She too was a casualty to a lifetime of smoking; she was only 71 when she died.5

     • The oldest daughter, my Aunt Cladyne, was 88 when we lost her in November of 2009.6

     • And then last October we lost my Aunt Carol. She was two months short of her 81st birthday.7

And that… that left my Aunt Trisha. Of all those girls, she is now by herself. Standing alone.

And that just breaks my heart.

Trisha is the youngest of all my grandparents’ children. She never knew the two oldest siblings who died — both were gone before she was born — but in her lifetime she has lost both her parents, two of her brothers and all four of her sisters. And, as the youngest, it may yet be her lot to lose them all.

And I find that unimaginable.

I’m third of my father’s eight children, second of the seven born to my mother. My baby brother teases me whenever I give him grief on one of his birthdays by saying he’ll always be younger than I am. And I’m so glad that’s true.

As one of the older ones, I expect to be taking my revenge on my younger siblings by making them the executors of my estate. I’m supposed to go before the younger ones. I can’t even contemplate losing the two who are older. They are, all of them, part of my heart. Part of my soul.

Which is why that photo just breaks my heart. I have sisters, one older and one younger. Trisha today has no sisters left. I have all five of my brothers. Trisha is down to three.

I am one of the older ones. And I hope never to find myself looking at a photo like this one… and find myself standing alone.


  1. Dutton Funeral Home (Iowa Park, Texas), Record of Funeral, Baby Cottrell, 22 February 1918; digital copy privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  2. Texas Department of Health, death certificate no. 35631, Donald Harris Cottrell (1930); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin
  3. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell (1995); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “Remembering Totsy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 26 Apr 2013).
  5. See ibid., “Marianne,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Apr 2012.
  6. “Cladyne Cottrell Barrett,” obituary, Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress, 13 November 2009.
  7. See Judy G. Russell, “The pain of another goodbye,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 Oct 2012 ( : accessed 26 Apr 2013).
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