Monday, October 19, 2020

Matrilineal Monday: A Grandmother's Story Through Time

 


I think it started with the clock. Maybe she was trying to connect to me sooner, but until I began a cleaning ritual the other day with the coming of the cooler fall weather, I wasn't listening. Likely it's a ritual she herself participated in back in the day when she was more than spirit and had a body concerned with earthly things.

My cleaning ritual actually started with another seasonal ritual I have developed over the years that keeps me connected to my ancestors. I enjoy changing out seasonal things in my home. Some main items that I change include salt and pepper shaker sets from my collection once a part of my grandmother's collection. Many of them have seasonal themes. But it is actually my great-grandmother who seems to be reaching out to me right now.

I have an old cabinet that holds my sets. At one time I counted over seventy of them, but I have more now since I've continued to collect over the years. The old cabinet actually belonged to my friend's grandmother which connects me to the history of the area where I live also. On top of the cabinet sits an old clock.

I've had the clock for probably fifteen years at least. My father passed it to me probably the first or second year he came to visit after I moved into this house twenty years ago this December. That along with some other furniture that he had from his father's house. There was a chifferobe and dresser that was part of the bedroom furniture that was in my grandfather's bedroom. Before he died, my grandfather told me the bedroom set was a wedding gift to his parents when they were married in 1885. My father also brought up a rocking chair from my grandfather's house. The chair may have also been in his bedroom though I can't be sure. I don't recall the chair from all the times I visited my grandfather's house growing up. Maybe the clock was also in my grandfather's room but I also don't remember it. My father had someone take a look at the clock once for more information. It was manufactured by the New Haven clock company and popular in the 1880s-1890s.

I have moved the clock around to a few places in my house but mainly it's been on top of one piece of furniture or another and not often thought of. I took pictures a few years ago to go with a family story I wrote on this blog but that's about all. My dad told me the clock had been rescued from a fire; the photos I took shows the evidence of that.

This year in my cleaning mode, I took the old clock down from the cabinet and began cleaning it in earnest. I used spray furniture polish both inside and out. I never noticed that the winding key was still inside. I did note the mark on the glass where my father had taped it shut in transit as the latch is no longer working or missing. I cleaned the glass face a little also which has a floral pattern along the bottom edges painted on the inside. I discovered the clock face has a patented date of February 1879.

I believe the clock also may have been a piece originally owned by my grandfather's parents. Perhaps it was a wedding gift as well. They were married on a Wednesday just after the new year, January 7th to be exact. She was eighteen; he was twenty-five. They were married by a justice of the peace at a neighbor's house, Mrs. Mary Duiguid's, in the small town of Sinking Fork, Kentucky. I think they began housekeeping immediately. Their firstborn son came along eleven months later on December 1st and as is typical of time and place, she gave birth roughly every two years for the next twenty. Her last child, also a son, arrived in January of 1905, when she was 38. In total she delivered nine healthy children who all survived to adulthood; four sons and five daughters. My grandfather was her seventh child, born the day after her 33rd birthday.

She was an orphan according to my grandfather and raised by the Davenport family. I learned a little more about her in later research. Her mother died before she was five. Her father died just days after she turned nine. She had a stepmother and two half-siblings who were just two and one years old when their father died.

My grandfather had this to say about her: “My mother had black hair when she was younger. Her father may have been part Indian. She was a kind woman who never let her kids talk bad about anyone. She would stay up for us kids all the time. She'd be up reading. She read everything she could get her hands on. Fannie Thompson, my aunt, died of measles. Her baby girl had it, too and died. My momma took the baby for a while but she died. She took care of sick people. I guess that's how she got sick and died.” He did not tell me what his father was like. The only known photo of his father was taken when he was older and for some reason, he insisted on a scowl for the photographer.

My grandfather would have been about ten years old when his mother took part in the big baptizing in August of 1910 at the Sinking Fork Christian Church. She was 43 at the time. A couple of her daughters also joined the church then.

She watched all of her children grow and most of them married. She even had the chance to see four grandchildren born, although two died in early infancy. In October of 1925, shortly before her 59th birthday, her husband died. He had pneumonia and asthma. My grandfather described the circumstances of his father's death but did not talk about his mother's death. “I believe Doc Baker killed my daddy, gave him quinine,” he said. “I was living in Churchill at the time and came by to see him. The doctor was just leaving and I asked him how he was doing and he said, 'fine.' My sister Zeffie fed him his dinner and he was dead by 8 o'clock that night.” The next month, the family lost their mother who died of pulmonary tuberculosis. She was born not far from where she died, about a year after the civil war ended. Her maternal grandmother was still living at least until she was about 15. She may even have been named for that grandmother's father, Oliver Bryant McCraw. She used Oliver's middle name for my grandfather's middle name as well.

My grandfather said he bought his daddy's property, 163 acres, from the other siblings and later his Uncle George deeded him his property “even though I didn't want it.” He described his parents' house as a two-story log house with a big room downstairs (my notes give a dimension of 18 feet square) and then the kitchen/dining room. There was a closet door to a winding stairway for access to the two rooms upstairs. He said the kitchen was built away from the house originally. There was a fireplace upstairs but they never built a fire up there; his father was afraid of fire. “I built me a house and tore it down,” my grandfather explained. It would have been this house where the furniture and clock came from.

Since then I have thought constantly about her and what her life must have been like. I combed through and gathered what photographic evidence I have which is not a whole lot. When I shared them with a friend recently, he kindly colorized them. The first one startled me as the coloring made the picture come to life. Looking into her eyes, she became more real. Her eyes are kind indeed and remind me of my grandfather's eyes.   

 



With my great grandfather's scowl in the only photograph I have of him, I wondered what kind of man he might have been. At the same time, I recalled the story my grandfather told of how his father bought him a used fiddle for $10 when he was about fifteen which he played nearly all his life. When he finally passed it to his son, he said it felt like parting with a member of his own family. Despite any of my great-grandfather's potential shortcomings, with these reminders, I felt my great-grandmother was telling me that no matter what, all parents love their children and I will leave it at that.  

Stories like these are what helps connect generations and I leave this story here for others; publishing it ironically on her very birthday. What else, grandmother Ollie, do you want to tell us?

Tombstone of John W. and Ollie Watts, Riverside Cemetery, Hopkinsville, KY

 The inscription for Ollie reads: "She has gone to her home in heaven and all her afflictions are over"

 The rest of the colorized photographs with special thanks to Scott Janicki:








 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

FamilySearch.org Record Conundrum

computer screenshot taken with camera phone 4/4/2020 at 9:22am
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X2K4-34Z  


computer screenshot taken with camera phone 4/4/2020 at 9:37am
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X2K4-34Z  

Above are two computer screenshots taken with my camera phone on April 4. The first one was taken at 9:22am, the second was taken at 9:37am after conducting the search with that name again. According to the link in the search box at the top, they are both the same link, yet the information within that record is different. Subsequently, every time I bring up that link, whether by pasting that specific URL in the search box or when I do a search on the website for "Stanley Janicki" and get that record hit, the link only comes up the same as the second one. I am extremely puzzled by this.

To make matters more complicated, there is another entry from this same database that appears to be for the same man but with completely different information and a completely different record link altogether. (When you do a search, both entries will come up):

computer screenshot taken with camera phone 4/4/2020 at 9:36am
https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XGH7-VTR 


I have also posted this conundrum at Elizabeth Shown Mills' website, Evidence Explained for further discussion but was unable to upload the screenshots for viewing there.

If I had not taken a computer screenshot of the record initially, I would have never been able to show this. After compiling the information I had gathered in a word processing document, I at first thought I had conflated and confused other records I had found in trying to prove the identity of this man until I went back and looked at the screenshots.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Mystery Monday: Christmas Ghosts

An old Christmas card found tucked
in the photograph album of Ivy Watts Diuguid

I write this in that in-between time, after Christmas and before New Years. If there are any ghosts of Christmas past, they will come to me, having been a family historian for thirty years. And they do seem to come, as I sit here in the gloom of winter, eating bean and ham soup. The meal in and of itself brings to mind a memory: I am all of 9 or 10, maybe. We had recently moved from Key West where my father was stationed while still in the Navy, up to where my maternal grandparents had chosen to retire in a small community called Talisman Estates outside of Dade City just north of Lacoochee. (Our mailing address was Dade City though it was some distance away; I settled in the third grade at Lacoochee Elementary.) For reasons unknown to me then or now, my older half-brother on my father's side came to live with us just after my parents had purchased a lot near my grandfather's and bought a large double-wide mobile home for us to live in. My mother once remarked that we moved in on Valentine's Day which I calculate to have been the year 1977. I had picked out which room I wanted, but that did not materialize as I was displaced to the smaller of the two bedrooms so my two brothers could share the larger one. (These details really have little bearing on the story I'm trying to tell, but may be the only time they are recorded for posterity.) We had brought with us on the trip up from Key West our fishing boat and it was stored in the yard for the time being. My older brother and I were hanging out in the boat one afternoon when our father arrived from work and came out to tell us he had brought home some ham hocks. My brother was excited about that announcement so I got excited, too. Hammocks is what I thought he was referring to. In my head I was picturing us hanging out together in them on a lazy sunny day. Instead, I was introduced to bean and ham soup at dinnertime that evening. I cannot now recall the actual partaking of that meal, but I have loved bean and ham soup ever since. I think it had been a traditional meal for my brother and father who both grew up in western Kentucky and so they recreated it as a shared memory together. My brother is so much like my father that even his eating habits are similar. They are so much alike that my mother's brothers did a double-take at my father's funeral when they saw my brother walking up the aisle from the casket. They are so much alike that even I would think it was my father when I would see my brother out of the corner of my eye in the days immediately before and following the funeral when we gathered as a family on the porch talking and visiting after years and years of hardly seeing each other at all. My father's spirit was so close in those early days, it took me a while before I got used to the fact that he was no longer walking this earth.

And ever since his mother's passing in 1989 when I began researching the family history in earnest, I have been seemingly led along by ghosts and spirits at times as I bumble along in my quest to know the story of my ancestors. Just as I picked up the energy of my father and brother's enthusiasm for a shared recollection of a traditional family meal and incorporated it as my own, I am also extra sensitive to the spiritual energy that runs through the generations of my ancestors and others who have gone before.

Due to the wonders of technology, I reconnected with a male cousin of mine last January which I wrote about in this post here. In today's world, technological advances shorten any geographical distance in ways our ancestors could only dream. Among old family papers and photographs I have proof of the old ways of keeping connected through letters and postcards between family members flung across the U.S. from the east to the west. These I cherish as evidence that family ties matter both now and then. But this re-connection was a modern-day version that included the technological advancements of DNA testing, email and texting.

Through him and other DNA testing, we discovered the details of a secret that was never told. I am not sure if any of the players in this story knew all the details themselves. I have heard it said that the only one who knows for sure the father of their child is the mother, but DNA also has a way of spilling those secrets and sometimes it is just a matter of lining things up to tell the story.

My grandparents were married in Montgomery County, Tennessee in September of 1918. It was just across the state line from where they lived and apparently the “Gretna Green” of the area where people would go to elope at a place that made getting married easy. My grandmother was all of 16, my grandfather (called C.B. or Clip) 19. Before his death at age 96, I can remember him pulling out their original marriage certificate to show me. It was an important document and he always knew right where it was. I never got the details of exactly how they met, but a school photo from 1915 shows they both attended the same one-room schoolhouse that year. I think my grandmother Amy lived in a different neighborhood for most of her life, but in May of 1915, her grandmother died and things were a little topsy-turvy in her father's household (her mother died before she was even a year old). You can read more about Amy during that time here. That was probably the last year my grandfather attended school as most people in that time period only completed about an 8th grade education. Amy was the same age as Lizzie, Clip's younger sister, and is shown standing next to her in the photo. I have placed a faint X above my grandfather (he is in the top row towards the left) and also above my grandmother (she is almost right smack in the middle of this photo in the row below by my grandfather):

Pisgah School, 1915
Image courtesy of Betty Allen McCorkle
An earlier photo of the same one-room school dated 1908 does not have my grandmother in it, but does show my grandfather Clip (with his shirt half untucked) standing near his sister Lizzie (Lizzie is looking shy and being held still by Eva Ricketts). Also in this photo behind Clip you can just see his brother Pete (his full name was Willis Lindsey) and to Clip's left is (Laura) Annice Underwood whom Pete would later marry. To Pete's right (just behind Eva Ricketts) is a young girl named Fannie Woosley who was born the year before my grandfather Clip.


Pisgah School, Built Ca. 1908 - Picture Made in 1908... Last two names listed are "Annie Woosley, Kate Wright"
Image courtesy Betty Allen McCorkle
I remember hearing the name Woosley often; in my head I can still hear my grandfather pronouncing the name in his southern drawl. There were a couple of tombstones of the Woosley family just across the road from the house my father was born in and I knew from researching that the Woosley family also hailed from the same county in Virginia as our Watts family did. These Woosley neighbors also intermarried with our family: Lizzie married Charles Terry Woosley (some two months after my grandparents in the same Tennessee town) and an older Watts sister, Zeffie, married Burnis Woosley. Terry and Burnis were cousins. 

An RPPC (real photo post card) of
Lizzie Watts and Terry Woosley
A snapshot showing Zeffie Watts with her brother Clip
and sister-in-law Amy.

Though some eight years apart, I remember my grandfather saying he and Zeffie were somewhat close when they were growing up. Zeffie is a most unusual given name, whether male or female.
Spelled “Zephie” in her grandfather Watts' family bible, her middle name is given elsewhere as Wyatt. The speculation I come up with is that she was named for her grandmother's father, Joseph Wyatt Chaffin, with Zephie being used as a feminine version. Though rare (the social security administration in the U.S. has recorded it as a given name only 130 times between 1880 and 2017), it is not an unheard-of given name. According to names.org, she was one of six babies given that name in 1892. My grandfather's full name was Cephas Bryant which is believed to have been taken in part from a half-brother of his grandmother's, Josephus Chaffin. Perhaps the connection and ties between their names to their grandmother led to Clip and Zeffie's sibling bond.

But let's get back to the Woosleys. Or at least to when my grandfather was coming of age. Iva or Ivy, the third child and second daughter of the family, was the first to marry in 1912. She was courted by Frank Travis Diuguid as early as 1906 when he presented her with a photo album for Christmas (I wrote about that album here). Below are the second and first photos in the album showing Uncle Trav and Aunt Ivy. 


















Ora (the oldest daughter) and Kate were the next two to marry, both in 1914. Here's another photo from the album showing Kate with her husband Will Diuguid and their daughter Inez (born in 1915):



Ralph Douglas Watts, age 4 mos.
This only left Zeffie as a daughter of marriageable age in the intervening years. She and Burnis did not marry until after 1920 as evidenced by them both being single in their respective parents' households during the census for that year. Cephas was married by then of course but living with his wife in his father's household as well. It would have been late that year that Amy finally conceived. Cephas and Amy's first son, Ralph Douglas, was born on June 24, 1921. 
Clip, Amy & Ralph Douglas Watts, ca. 1922.
Photograph taken at Sadler homestead.

A day after that, Fannie Woosley and a young Jessie Blaine Bush traveled down to Montgomery County, Tennessee themselves and were quickly married. Within six months, Fannie gave birth to a son who was named James Ralph Bush on Christmas Eve.

Did Fannie know that the father of her firstborn son was really my grandfather? Was Jessie aware that Fannie was pregnant when they married? Did my grandfather ever wonder about the timing between his apparent dalliance with Fannie and James' birth? Did James look like a Watts?

I wonder if Fannie had been an early grade-school sweetheart of my grandfather's before my grandmother came along? Were there double-dates with the two of them and Zeffie and Burnis in the early days? I may never know the answer to any of these questions, but it feels like a ghost story that wants to be told.



Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sentimental Sunday: Priceless Lovelace Photos

Ruby and Amy Hardy
daughters of William L. and Alice S. (Lovelace) Hardy
Elsewhere I have chronicled the story of how I started my lifelong journey into researching family history after the death of my grandmother Amy in 1989. At the funeral, I watched my great-aunt Ruby weep for her sister and realized that she and my grandmother were both once little girls. Ruby (born in 1898) and Amy (born in 1902) were daughters of William Lewis Hardy and his wife Alice Samantha Lovelace. Alice died in 1903 just before Amy's first birthday. I have written a little about this branch of the family (see this post here for further information about Amy) but realize I do not have much documented here on this blog. With some time on my hands during this holiday season, I write this post as an attempt to remedy that and help ensure that some of the visual memories I have of these ancestors are not lost. I love that this medium is a great vehicle for doing so.

The above photograph of Ruby and Amy was taken sometime in the early 1900s and is one of the most darling photos. If there was anything that would spark a young girl's imagination about the past, this is it, like my very own Little House on the Prairie connection. I imagine that Amy's calico dress might have been red like the one I wore in the fourth grade:
My fourth grade class photo. I am the second person from the
left seated in the second row from the bottom wearing my red calico dress.
This is the only photograph I have of me wearing this dress. I begged my other grandmother to make it for me (along with a bonnet) as I was madly in love with the Little House on the Prairie book series and wanted a dress just like the one Laura Ingalls would have worn. How I wish I still had that dress!

I digress too easily; let me get back to old photographs. Alice Samantha Lovelace, my great-grandmother, was the daughter of Isaac Newton Lovelace and his wife Martha "Matt" Rebecca Stiller. Below is a copy of a photograph showing Isaac and Matt in their older years. A xerox copy of this photograph was sent to me by a distant cousin, Betty Krist, a granddaughter of J.W. Stiller, Matt Stiller Lovelace's brother. Betty had pursued genealogy for years when I made contact with her via U.S. mail in the early 1990s. She had submitted an entry on her Lovelace - Stiller family to The Heritage of Iredell County (North Carolina) book published in 1980. I have recently unearthed this photo from my old Lovelace binder and scanned it to ensure I now have a digital copy. (I have since determined that Betty Krist passed away about two years ago.)

Isaac Newton Lovelace and Martha "Matt" Rebecca Stiller (older couple seated in darker clothing)
and family members (including Matt's brother J.W. Stiller, man standing with beard)

You can imagine my joy in receiving a copy of this photo showing these direct ancestors of mine. We do not always have the privilege of being able to see what our ancestors looked like. It turns out, though, that I likely had already in my possession an earlier photograph of this couple, I just did not know it as it was never identified. The two photographs below were among the old photographs my grandfather had, but they were so old that even he could not identify them.
Probably Isaac N. Lovelace
& wife Martha R. Stiller
Probably Ellen and Elvira Lovelace,
sisters of Isaac N. Lovelace

This is what I know about these photographs: Both are paper cdv photographs and their style and thickness date them to between 1861-1868. The back of the first photograph is blank but the second photograph is stamped "“E.L. Foulks photographer, Main St, Hopkinsville, KY.” Notes from Christian Co, Ky USGenweb on area photographers indicate that Foulks was in business from about 1858 to before 1880 as he pursued other ventures.
 

Isaac and Matt were married in July of 1867 so the first one could have been a wedding photograph. If you study this one and the couple shown in the photograph above who are positively identified as Isaac and Matt, you can see that it is entirely probable.

Betty writes in her entry on the Lovelace - Stiller family that Ellen and Elvira, unmarried sisters of Isaac and Lewis Lovelace, moved from Iredell County, North Carolina and joined the brothers in Christian County, Kentucky. Both Ellen (the older of the two) and Elvira were seamstresses and living in between the households of Isaac Lovelace and his son Dewitt Lovelace in the Bainbridge District of Christian County, Kentucky during the 1900 U.S. census.

One other photograph that I will include here could likely also be identified as someone in the Lovelace family but without further evidence, I cannot say for sure. As you can see, it does bear a resemblance to a known photograph of Isaac's nephew, William B. Lovelace, as shown in another identified xerox copy of a photograph sent to me by Betty Krist as well. William was a son of Lewis Randolph Lovelace, whose daughter Rachel married J.W. Stiller and became Betty's grandparents.


The photograph on the left is a paper cdv with a style and thickness that dates it to 1871-1874. There are no identifying marks on the back. The photograph on the right is a xerox copy of a photograph identified by Betty Krist as William B. Lovelace (1854-1939), son of Lewis Randolph Lovelace.









And to end this post, I include the original scanned copy of the xeroxed photo that Betty Krist sent me that shows the identification of everyone by her. Most of the children are Isaac and Matt's grandchildren through their son Dewitt. Dewitt is not shown, but his wife Dora is standing to the left of J.W. Stiller. Rachel Lovelace Stiller, Isaac's niece and wife of J.W. Stiller, is seated next to Isaac on the left.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sentimental Sunday: Telling Stories

When we tell the story of the ancestors who have gone before, the details we start with are often only traces left behind from the past. It is best to compile evidence from several different sources in order to see the story from a broader perspective and create the clearest picture possible. With the layers of time, sometimes it is hard to decipher and describe the most accurate of tales. Learning the how, when, why and by whom for each record or piece of evidence is also helpful. Without that knowledge, it can be hard to uncover the actual truth. The past is indeed a different country. We are just describing it from our perspective at this point in time, based on what we know or have gathered.

Take the story of little Amasa, for instance:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/60766750/amasa-h_-williams

A modern-day photograph of his tombstone (above) found on the Find-A-Grave website under the Jefferson Street Cemetery in Ellicottville, New York provides us with the barest of details and is hardly legible anymore. The entry lists his name as “Amasa H. Williams” and provides his birth date as 2 August 1871 as well as his death date of 8 February 1872 with the words “aged 6 months” in parathenses. In the photograph, you can just about see the detail of his death and the words “6 months” on the stone. Certainly the name “Amasa” is written clear, the middle initial maybe not so much. A detail from another source notes that his complete age of 6 months and 6 days is actually listed on the stone (see here) which points to why it's best to not rely on just one source for data.

There is more information from the stone to be gleaned. It also states he was the son of A. & J. Williams. Although these details are only slightly legible in this particular photo, the accuracy of it is not disputed because of other known details about little Amasa and his family. Let's look at another source, ironically another stone in another cemetery:

The Sunset Hill Cemetery was established a little later than Jefferson Street Cemetery. Eventually Jefferson Street Cemetery was considered the old cemetery and the townspeople stopped burying folks there, especially as it was getting full. In terms of years, the stone shown in this next photograph is closer to our time than the first one. We can tell by appearance without knowing the complete story of how, when, why and by whom it was erected, that this stone is more modern. We can at least say with some certainty that it was erected after 1913, the latest date listed on it. 


https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/28122790/amasa-h-williams

Here we have to interpret this is a memorial stone and not necessarily an actual gravestone unless the physical remains were re-interred. Both young Amasa and Cynthia Williams were originally buried in the old Jefferson Street Cemetery as can be seen from the stones left there. The Find-A-Grave entry for Cynthia adds an “i” which is the traditional spelling of the name. Besides the death date, it does not list the rest of the details shown on the stone which include that she was the daughter of A. & J. Williams and she was aged 9 years.



We can be assured that the parents of both children, A. & J. Williams, are more completely identified as Amasa and Joan (or Joanna) from several sources. For one, the memorial stone lists two individuals of the same initials with birth years that would make them the right age to be parents of these two children. Two, we find a 1855 state census entry in the nearby town of Great Valley for the household of Amasa and Joanna (although to add another layer of confusion, her name was indexed as “Loanna”). The ages listed for this Amasa, Joanna and “Cytha” match very closely within a year of what we have from these stones. If Cyntha/Cynthia was 9 at the time of her death, her birth year would have been 1852 and then she very well was 3 years old at the time of the 1855 census. We have no window of time in regards to records to place young Amasa in the household of his parents for he was born and died between any time such record would have been made. Of course, there is much more to the story of this family than I will detail here. Details matter but they can also cloud the point trying to be made. 

I write this post to point out that the process of coming to conclusions on what happened in the past requires looking at all the evidence available from many aspects (records, observations) in order to come to the clearest perspective possible on what really happened. In most of what family historians are describing, we weren't there to be an eyewitness so we can only use what knowledge we are able to find in order to construct the story as accurately as can be ascertained.

Little Amasa's middle initial is the detail that caught my eye in the first place which led me to make this broader point about research and telling stories about the past. If we stopped with the Find-A-Grave entry, we might conclude this child's actual name was Amasa H. Williams. We might also have concluded that the Amasa N. Williams listed on the other stone was a completely different person. Gathering all the data and attempting to resolve the discrepancies, including looking at the photograph and not just relying on the transcription of what it says (another layer in time) leads me to conclude this interpretation of the story is more than likely incorrect. I am satisfied in listing the infant son of Amasa and Joanna Williams as Amasa N. Williams in summarizing this family's story. Minor detail or not, little Amasa N. Williams deserves to be portrayed in the most accurate light possible as I am sure his life had a profound impact on those who knew him, however short-lived it was.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Wisteria




Thirty years ago this year, I began pursuing what has developed into a lifelong passion for family history. My paternal grandmother passed away that January. At the funeral, someone pulled out an old family bible and someone else shared old letters that included additional family information. From that point on, I was hooked! Over the years, I have learned many valuable lessons about myself as well as my roots. Family history for me has been almost a spiritual calling.

In September of 2011, I started this family history blog to share what I have gathered and learned on a wider scale. I named it “Wisteria” for the feeling the word evokes in me in terms of wistful longing. I also explained in an early blog post that shortly after launching the blog, I ran across some early writing of mine done in 1995. In that writing, I recounted a dream I had in which I found a book that held the answers to all my genealogy problems (a wish any genealogist can relate to). The book was called Wisteria. So from a dream or certainly a place beyond any power of my own, the name came.

This blog has been a means of further contact with kin distant both in terms of relation and place. In one instance, a cousin residing in the Netherlands found my blog after I wrote about initial contact I had early on with his father. This cousin was able to answer further questions I had about the family since I had been unable to make contact with his father again (who had passed away in the intervening years).

All their lives, my children have had to deal with a mother who has what may be seen as a morbid fascination for dead relatives and dusty old records. They have constantly heard the stories I've discovered and have been dragged to many a cemetery over the years. Fortunate or not, none of them have inherited whatever it is that has caused me to succumb to such behavior. Knowing something of her maternal ancestral roots in the Netherlands, though, played at least a small part in my youngest daughter Leah's choice in attending a semester abroad in Amsterdam at the beginning of this year.

I saw her time over there as an opportunity to travel there myself and just returned last week from my trip. During the planning stages, Leah hopefully asked if I might be able to find living relatives there? I told her about making contact with one living cousin over there a few years ago. I resolved to see if I could reach out to him again. Time flies when you're having fun (and when you are older). It turned out it had been seven years since our last correspondence, but luckily we re-established a connection. He was willing to meet us when I explained via email how much I was looking forward to touching the dirt from which my forefathers had come. His response to what I self-consciously joked as being awfully sentimental made me understand both how well this cousin has a command of the English language and how similar he felt in terms of our ancestors.

My time there (I eventually extended it from one week to two) was magical. It was the most meaningful and relaxing vacation I have ever been on. I was indeed able to touch the dirt where my forefathers lived and visited many of the small villages where they came from. I stood at some of their graves and thanked the one who, over one hundred years ago, urged his children to emigrate to America for a better opportunity in life. If not for that selfless act (I don't believe he ever saw those children again), I would not be here. Not surprisingly many of the photos I took while there were of cemeteries and churches, but as I explained in a Facebook post, “History is the reason I am here.” 

There is a deeper truth to that statement. It is that deeper truth that makes this obsession of mine something of a spiritual quest. Indeed, the connection I made with my cousin and his partner was on a deeper level than I could have imagined as well. Be it having the same voices in our blood or something else, I have never "clicked" with anyone in such a short time in my life. They have both quickly become very dear to me, an unexpected blessing and bonus of my trip.

Things happened to me there that I cannot even explain, including seeing wisteria blooming every day in all the different places I went. Just before I left, never having done so before, I decided to look up the spiritual meaning of wisteria. The meaning is significant on many levels and confirms that, for reasons I may never fully understand, this trip was divinely guided.

Wisteria (information taken from several websites including whatsyoursign.com and sunsigns.org): It's long life bestows the symbolic meaning of immortality and longevity. European families mark the ages of generations passing with the growth of this vine. Love, grace, bliss, honor, memory, patience, endurance, longevity, exploration, creative expansion, releasing burdens, the duality of love, victory over hardship. The blossoms eloquently falling in tapered clusters are considered a visual indication of bowing or kneeling down in honor and respect and as a symbol of prayer or thoughtful reverence. These vine gestures naturally bring to mind our need for peace, quiet and time to honor the divine essences of our own understanding. It's growth patterns run in a spiral motion, also a symbol of wisdom. It expands to take on new wisdom and experience. The long vines are forever extending to seek new knowledge. Perfect symbol of patience, longevity, endurance. It can teach us to make gentle but determined pursuits. Many things take time and are worth the effort. Hard times must be endured in order to reach the beautiful ones. The plant never stops growing and never settles. It encourages us to practice love through generosity and selflessness and knows true beauty takes time. Slow down and take in your surroundings. Strive to be connected to the world around you. Through this practice we can attain a higher sense of inner peace and a better understanding of our higher purpose. A final lesson is one of nostalgia and memory. It is witness to several generations and absorbs lessons from every time period. The plant knows that valuable lessons are hidden away in our past. We can learn from previous mistakes and those of others who came before.