By Bill Miller

46_Family Roots

The Miller Family, WWII, 1944

Not all ancestors are ancient, and genealogy does not start with the ancient ones. In fact, the genealogical journey always begins with your own parents. That is where I started long ago and I was amazed at what I found. I thought I knew them very well, but when I started to dig up their roots I got to appreciate them in a new way. For example, I never knew that my mother had been a revolutionary!

I do know that she always said that she was born “exactly 50 years, 9 months and 5 days after Lincoln was assassinated” to Carl and Geraldine Northrup in North Adams, MA. (1916). I also knew that she grew up with two sisters and three brothers because I grew up around those aunts and uncles. I knew that her mother died young and that Mom, the eldest child, helped to raise her siblings and that they had a hard life. I just never knew how hard it was.

On March 11, 1933 Marian Northrup was a happy seventeen year old, a very good artist and dreaming of a career in fashion design after graduation. Her father was a self-taught engineer. Her mother was 35, beautiful, a devout Baptist and the heart of the family. Several days earlier her mother became very ill. A visit from the doctor had fatal consequences and later that week, on March 11, her youngest brother’s second birthday, her mother died. Mom never got to go back to school. Her job was to help raise her siblings.

That same day, March 11, was also the infamous day when all the banks were closed by President Roosevelt and the Great Depression began – and her father’s job ended! The newly widowed Carl had no wife, no support and no job. It was the worst of times. I have heard her stories of what the family endured but I can hardly imagine it. Many decades later she still remembered, “We had the saddest house in the world!”

Three years later, Mom married my father, George, and together they started a little trucking company. They gave it their all, but it all went up in flames and they went down into bankruptcy. As they were struggling to recover Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the USA was in World War II. Dad joined the Army, which left Mom with $27 per month to raise three children and a mother-in-law. So, when Dad went to war Mom joined a revolution!


“We Can Do It!” by J. Howard Miller was made as an inspirational image to boost worker morale. Norman Rockwell’s cover for Saturday Evening Post

When Dad went off to war, along with Mom’s three brothers, a brother-in-law and most of America’s able-bodied men, she felt called to help with the domestic war effort. She joined the army of 20 million women who took over the jobs and did the work traditionally done by the men at war. Eventually this all women army was collectively known as Rosie the Riveter. She went to work for General Electric and became Rosie the Inspector. As a high school dropout, she started as an inspector of gas masks and ended up building the precision instruments that worked the guns on warships.

Following the war, when many women returned to home and kitchen, Marian was hired into an engineer/manager position for a new chemical manufacturing company. In doing so she helped create a revolutionary change in the American work force. She became a pioneer for the professionally employed women of the future. Some of the women in your family may have been involved in that revolution. Women were now permanently a part of the national work force, no longer limited to the tasks of “housewife/homemaker” or “single teacher.” This was a giant step in the liberation of American women. Mom never finished her high school education, but she always considered herself a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. In later years she became a self-trained real estate tycoon and had a very successful career in commercial real estate. “Rosie the Realtor” was a member of “the greatest generation” and a sister of those who shared in this American revolution.

All genealogy starts with our own parents and goes backward in time. If you are making that journey or would like to, you are invited to join the Lake Lure Genealogy Club meeting every second Tuesday of the month at 3:00 in Mountains Branch Library.