Tag Archives: family history

Chasing Rabbit Trails

I checked my email before tackling revisions of my mystery novel in progress. I received a request from a genealogy group to be a speaker about identifying family photos from the mid-to-late 1800s. Before I chose an optional date, I checked to see if my PowerPoint file survived the transfer to my new computer last fall. I watched the full presentation. All there, but the majority of the photos were from a later period. Mysterious Mary, a name I had dubbed Mary Dragoo years before when I learned that she was buried in Alamo Cemetery, would be a perfect example of a working woman in the Antebellum and Victorian time periods.  I scrolled through my family photos. “No results” proved to be a minor sidetrack—the first rabbit trail of the day.

I left my computer long enough to review my handwritten notes from my visit to find her unmarked gravesite in Alamo Cemetery. Gone missing. Mysterious Mary continues to be elusive. Back at my computer, I looked for the article I wrote when I first discovered that she lived in Contra Costa County in the nineteenth century. No file. Sidetrack #2.

I emailed my twin, our family history researcher, about the missing photo.  I added more information. Sidetrack #3.

She sent me the picture jpg and my original Word article from 2007. I read it to refresh my memories of my original search for Mysterious Mary and her family. I stopped at the paragraph where I mentioned that Mary’s grandson and his spouse are buried in Roselawn Cemetery a couple of miles from me. I hadn’t visited either cemetery recently. Back online for a Find A Grave search. The Roselawn posting mentioned that the memorial manager, a direct descendant, has no information on the man’s wife. An easy challenge for me from memories of visiting her gravesite. I clicked the link to share that information with the manager. Sidetrack #4.

I received an error code. The memorial manager can’t be reached. I contacted Find A Grave with the details and requested webmaster intervention. Sidetrack #5.

Next step: Update my speaker bio to include previous presentations on U.S. Civil War and Victorian period costumes. My empty stomach growls—a signal for a timeout for lunch. Sidetrack #6.

From the table into the open living room, Green yarn of a hat I’m knitting beckons me to my easy chair for a break from research. Sidetrack #7.

Ah, seven, often referred to as the perfect number. The stately oak trees from my framed print of Oak Alley Plantation, first named Bon Séjour (pleasant sojourn), remind me that no journey is wasted. I hurry back to my computer to accept the invitation from the genealogy group. This time, I’ll stay away from rabbit trails.

 

 

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Debunking Family Tales

My twin and I have spent our lifetimes researching our family ancestry. We began in our grammar school days asking why we didn’t have grandparents like our friends. “They died,” my father said. When we wanted to know more about them, his answer was “Let sleeping dogs lie.” That ended the conversation.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

We pummeled Mother with questions. She believed she was French and Native American. She told me stories about her grandfather who was a medicine man. “He could make a sound like someone knocking on the door, but when I went to see, there was no one there,” my mother said. Then she talked about his magical powers. “He made a table walk. I saw it when I was a little girl.” I wasn’t surprised. Levitation seemed normal to me because I had recurring dreams where I rose and floated in the air twenty years before Sally Field and the Flying Nun TV series.

“When the gov’ment,” Mama’s tone emphasized the mispronunciation like a forbidden word, “wanted the Indians to sign the roll, my father wouldn’t sign up.” No matter how often she told this story, a sad look clouded her face. “He said they would move us far away like they did the others. That’s how them Indians from someplace else ended up on the reservation next to us.”

My favorite of Mama’s stories of how she was afraid when the Native Americans came to buy tobacco from her father. It must have been because he camouflaged his roots with his French surname. She could have done the same. Instead, she acknowledged her mixed blood in her teen years when she married an Englishman.

My twin and I traveled thousands of miles in our search to document our ancestry. We thumbed through books in public libraries and family history centers in a dozen states. We dug through courthouse records. We shivered in cemeteries—some shrouded in fog and others drenched in rain. We donned wide-brimmed hats and carried water bottles through burial grounds on blistering summer days. In 1990 we visited the headquarters of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma—the tribe our mother believed to be her heritage.  Disappointment overrode the anticipation as I read the pages of the Dawes Rolls. None of my direct ancestors had enrolled.

Back to the stories of my great-grandfather’s magical powers. Perhaps she said my grandfather—not hers— because her grandfathers died before her birth. And the reservation next door to my grandfather? History seems to establish those parcels as tribal lands long before. But these family stories continued to trickle down through the generations.

And then came DNA testing.

My twin and I submitted our test kits in late 2017. The results proved the majority of my heritage to be French and English as I anticipated. I stared at the minor percentages.

No Native American ancestry.

All my 22 chromosomes matched my twin’s results. But I knew that. Family stories said my mother had no prenatal care with any of her pregnancies that spanned 25 years. When her last delivery became complicated, one of my brothers went into town in search of a doctor. Meanwhile, my father’s sister, a midwife, assisted in the delivery of identical twins. When the physician arrived, his main chore was paperwork for two birth certificates. The women who witnessed the at-home delivery of mono-mono twins are dead, the stories buried with them. But FTDNA will retain the records of our exact chromosome match for 25 years.

Now that’s family history.

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