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Tuedays Tip - Pulling the Story Together

Tuedays Tip - Pulling the Story Together

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How to craft an ancestor's story using just a few images; meet John Cosgrove, "Uncle John'
How to craft an ancestor's story using just a few images; meet John Cosgrove, "Uncle John'

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana on Apr 16, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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There‟s something wonderful and yet sad in finding pictures of ancestors. For me it‟s thrilling to see their young faces even when I know their lives were difficult at best. I get sad when they‟re Aunts and Uncles who I
know will disappear from our cultural history because they had no heirs to carry on their stories. Because many of them did purposeful and wonderful things while they were living.
My latest „find‟
comes in the form of pictures of my Grand Uncle, John Cosgrove. John was the younger brotherof my grandfather, James Cosgrove. They were born in Burnley, Lancashire, England; John, in 1891. They werea large family: sturdy, everyday people living the soot-covered lives of a coal miner and his cotton weaver wife.There were nine children in all; the oldest born in 1886 with the youngest following 15 years later in 1901. Thefamily had their share of tragedy having lost a daughter, Mary Ann, in 1906 to what must have been a long andpainful
disease “sarcoma of femur (right) secondary deposits
of spinal col: paraplegia of lower limbs & bladder” with “J. Cosgrove father present at death.” She was only 17; James was 19 and John about 15. How harsh a way 
to stumble toward adulthood, by mourning the loss of a beloved sister?
 You‟d think that a li
fe lived under those conditions would harden a person. But not a Cosgrove. Nope, no way.It would appear that instead of wearing that life like a mantel and shuffling along under the weight of it, they laughed in the face of adversity and grabbed every moment of light-heartedness they could find.
This photo of John (on the right) with his sister Agnes and youngest brother Vincent belies that „devil may care‟
sentiment; it was taken around 1960, sent to our family here from their home in Verdun, Montreal, Quebec,Canada:
I must say, I know for certain where my Dad got that impish grin he has…it definitely runs in the family.
Andthe way John
‟s standing? Up until I found the few photos of 
as a young man, I‟d
seen him pose for apicture without s
tanding like that, with his hands clasped together in front of him, like he‟s standing „at ease.‟
 The incredible part is that John joined the British Army at the start of the First World War and ended uptraveling the world, fighting in some of the harshest of places. This picture of him as a 24 year old recruit in
Burnley, Lancashire, England was taken “about April 1915”:
 What a dashing figure he cuts, no? I can‟t look at this photo with
out mentioning the famous (or infamous)Cosgrove hair: thick, dark, colicky hair that would turn white but stay full. And stature? He seems ten feet tall
and yet the reality is that he was 5‟4”
and weighed about 150 pounds. Compact. Sturdy. Tough. Strong.
 While I‟d heard the stories of “Uncle John” and his war escapades, the key detail that‟d been left out was that
he was originally part of the British Cavalry. My uncle, Daniel Barnes Cosgrove, Sr., told me that he had hadmany conversations with Uncle John about his military career (Daniel is a veteran). Daniel was the one whotold me recently I should be on the lookout for a photograph of John astride his prized horse among my Aunt
Marilou‟s things (she‟s now permanently in nursing care)
. I was elated when I found this photo inscribed
Taken at Grantham Lincolnshire E
ngland about June 1915”
: When I first saw this picture, my 
thought was, „wow…that horse is built just like John!Heh.
I suspect in
another time and place, and about 40 pounds lighter, John most likely would‟ve made a great jockey. Instead,
he and his horse (I wish I knew its name) went off on the Egyptian Exploratory Expedition. At some point between June 1915 and April 1918, John left the Cavalry. But not by choice. My uncle Danrelated this story to me this weekend: Daniel was getting ready to head off to Fort Benning, Georgia to begin hisspecialized military training and Uncle John and Aunt Agnes had come down to Chicago for a visit. He and
John were sitting and discussing John‟s military career when Dan asked him, „Uncle John, did you ever cry?‟
 Daniel says that John seemed to think for a moment, looked down and then back up at him. As he wiped a tearfrom the corner of his eye
(Daniel noting he‟d never seen him cry before that, nor after) John
said, „Yes. When Ihad to shoot my horse.‟Daniel didn‟t pursue the
any further, being surprised by John‟s unusual display of emotion. So,unfortunately, I don‟t know exactly what happened or when, but based on his military career and the units he
 was with we can infer that it was most likely during or after one of the battles
they‟d been in.
 As Daniel said to
me, it‟s hard to imagine a more difficult task than euthanizing the creature that had kept you alive through so
much danger. What I
know is that John was listed in a supplement of the London Gazette in April, 1918 as a Driver for theRoyal Field Artillery, and th
at he‟d tol
d Daniel
that he was a „driver‟ during „
the war
s‟. He‟d also said he‟d been

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