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Our July babies

You know you’re getting older when…

… the birthdays on the calendar represent more of the kin you’ve lost than the kin still living.

Now, for The Legal Genealogist, of course, that’s not all that unusual… we genealogists do tend to be far more fixated on deaths in, say, the 18th century than those more recent.

Except that it’s not so much fun when it’s those in the 21st century.

Sometimes looking at the birthdays on the calendar makes our hearts hurt.

There are three early July birthdays from my mother’s family that appear on the family calendar my cousin creates so beautifully each Christmas and that hangs now on my wall.

July 6. Marianne Cottrell.

July 10. Jerry LaStone Cottrell.

July 13. Susan Hodges.

The first and the last are mother and daughter. Marianne, my mother’s younger sister. Susan, Marianne’s older child, my first cousin.


And both gone, leaving holes in our hearts.

Marianne appears in the Texas birth index as Marianne Cottrell, daughter of Clay R. and Opal Cottrell, born 6 July 1936 in Wichita County, Texas.1 The index doesn’t indicate if that was an original birth record or a delayed birth certificate. I’d put my money on a delayed certificate, since I think her birth name was Mary Ann, the way it appears on the 1940 census, a census entry for which her mother was the informant.2

It doesn’t matter, really: by the time she was 14, everyone, including her mother, was spelling it Maryanne,3 and by the time she was grown it was always the more elegant Marianne.

And elegant she was — when she wasn’t being impish or sassy or brash or impish and sassy and brash.

She lit up a room just by walking in the door — and you knew she was coming your way because you could hear her laugh from a mile away. She’s the one who was once asked by the child of one of my young cousins, “Are you my Great Aunt?” and who answered, with absolute truth, “No, darlin’, I’m your GREATEST Aunt.”

Gone now. Her laughter silenced by cancer when she was just 71 years old.

Her daughter Susan was born 13 July 1954 in Louisa, Virginia, the county seat nearest to my grandparents’ farm that had what passed for a hospital back then.4

A cousin close enough in age to be a playmate, a co-conspirator in trouble, a friend — and a foe. One I laughed with, and cried with, and fought with, and played with. One who cared for me at times when I needed it, one I cared for at times when she did. One whose love of life and family and home seemed endless.

Until suddenly she was gone too. Her laughter silenced by cancer when she was just 60 years old.

And Jerry?

Laughing, singing, guitar-playing Jerry?

The Jerry who once rescued a kitten from my way-too-intense four-year-old attentions by swapping it out for “a fresh one”?

The Jerry who, when asked for stories of time he and Marianne got in trouble to share at her funeral, responded gleefully, “Honey, we were always in trouble”?

My memory shows me Jerry as a dark-haired straight-backed young man.

The calendar tells me he turned 81 yesterday.

You know you’re getting older when…


  1. “Texas, Birth Index, 1903-1997,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 July 2012), Marianne Cottrell, 1936.
  2. 1940 U.S. census, Midland County, Texas, Midland City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 165-3A, page (illegible)(B) (stamped), sheet 7(B), household 161, Bobbette Staples; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 4105.
  3. Handwritten note by Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, 21 March 1951; digital copy in possession of Judy G. Russell.
  4. Entry for Susan Gayle Payne, 13 July 1954, Louisa, Virginia; database and index, “Virginia, Birth Records, 1864-2014,” Ancestry ( : accessed 10 July 2015). Her name at birth was Susan Gayle Hodges; it was later legally changed to Payne.
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