Sunday, April 24, 2011

Genealogy Memories

Write it down, keep track of it are reminding words that accompany genealogical research. I wish I had written down all of my genealogy experiences and not just all of the information gleaned from my research. Perhaps I can retrace my steps and share two experiences with my readers.

I can still remember crying. I was about ten years old and had just received a school assignment to produce a paper showing my family history. Walking home the seven blocks from school, I began to have fears and the tears began to flow. In between sobs and wiping my eyes, I told my mother about the assignment. I had the weekend to prepare and produce something probably for the ridicule of the teacher and entire class. Her words were, "Don't worry." Such motherly advice! After I had settled my emotions, she took me to a chest of drawers where she pulled out some yellowed pieces of paper. They were from the Lewis Family Reunion in Ashe Co., North Carolina. The beginning words were "Some time about the beginning of the eighteenth century a Lewis man came across the Blue Ridge Mountains ..."

My tears turned to smiles and enthusiasm. This is not exactly the document that genealogists today care to build their entire "assignment" on, but at age ten it was worth a million dollars to me. I didn't even know the name Lewis, let alone that I had an ancestor who had gone over the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had grown up in isolation from family. All of my relatives, including my maternal grandparents, lived in northeastern Tennessee and I lived in South Dakota. Unlike my school pals, I had grown to age ten without knowing my relatives.

The assignment was completed with the help of the folks involved in the Lewis Family Reunion. I received a good grade and praises from the classmates. And I was hooked. There had to be more besides those papers. In a short period of time my parents took me to northeast Tennessee for that long awaited visit. I met my grandparents and a host of other relatives, some in North Carolina. Fortunately my Granny was a story teller, usually following them up with documents and photographs. Grandpa Steve was quiet, but occasionally I could get him to talk, particularly about his father who had served in the Confederate Army. History was coming alive compliments of my ancestors.

For me genealogical research began the moment I looked at those Lewis Family Reunion papers. In some respects it also ended there. Many years later I still cannot find good proof as to the parents of the man who came across the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are theories and ideas, some far fetched and some a possibility. I haven't stopped looking and searching, but have also moved on to researching thousands of other ancestors. My research experiences have taken me north, south, east and west. Each is diverse and provides a world of knowledge, not only of ancestors, but geography, history and culture. They are all part of my inheritance.

Many times I have experienced genealogy close to home and once in my backyard. In December of 1998 my husband and I moved from northwest Iowa to a community near Des Moines. As we prepared for the move, I began looking at my genealogy files to see if perhaps there were relatives, living or dead, in that area of Iowa. I made a list that I wanted to eventually investigate. One person leaped out on that list. She was my husband's third great aunt, Cynthia Gettis Hopson Brown. I knew very little about her other than she died 11 March 1921 in Van Meter, Dallas Co., Iowa, not far from our new home.

Once unpacked and through Christmas, I couldn't wait to investigate the records in Dallas County where she died. The courthouse in Adel proved to be a gold mine for the genealogist. I pulled a huge death record book for 1921 off the shelf, hoping to find her name in it. There she was .... Cynthia Brown, followed across two pages with vital information. The place of burial was Stuart, Iowa, my new home town. I rushed to my car and tried not to get a speeding ticket on the way back to Stuart. Screeching into a parking place in front of City Hall, I ran inside, out of breath and said "cemetery records." The clerk smiled and pulled a book off the shelf. She told me how to locate Aunt Cynthia's grave. She is buried beside her second husband and two children by her first husband.

Spring arrived and we had settled into the condo we had purchased. When we purchased the condo we were told we were also half owners of the empty lot beside it. The neighbors who lived on the other side were also half owners. They were more than willing to let us clean up the overgrown lot since it was beside our condo.

We discovered there had been a house on the lot. After removing brambles and liter that had blown in, we could see a decaying foundation. There appeared to be a stone path from the foundation out to the street. Closer to the street was an odd shaped, old pump. As the weather warmed and Iowa humidity set in, we were entertained by a show of flowers on the lot ... tulips, roses, lilies, phlox. A little stream of water flowed along the lot line, producing green hues of water cress and creeping vines. At night from our deck we watched the fire flies among the bushes and trees on "our lot."

Eventually I learned that Aunt Cynthia's husband, James Brown, had owned numerous parcels of land in Stuart. He was a contractor and carpenter, building houses, speculating and selling them. Their son owned a house down the street from our condo. It was a little cottage, now run down, abandoned and boarded over.

We were no more settled into our condo, enjoying life in central Iowa, when we decided to move back to Nebraska. Just before our move, I wrote to one of Aunt Cynthia's granddaughters who lived east of Des Moines. She mailed me a large envelope of clippings photographs and old letters. In the stack of photographs was one of Uncle James and Aunt Cynthia taken late in life. They were standing beside an odd looking pump. The background matched what I was seeing from my deck.

Life and research had gone full circle. We owned their property. Aunt Cynthia had probably planted those flowers. Had she also watched fireflies at night and admired the little stream flowing beside her house?

We moved back to Nebraska. There are many times I dream about that adjoining lot ... the flowers, the old pump, the decaying foundation, the rock path, the little stream and the fire flies. I think of Aunt Cynthia and Uncle James. I would give anything for one more evening in Iowa to watch the setting sun bounce rays off the old pump and envision her picking flowers. This is genealogy as fine as it gets!

I love those genealogy memories.

Ruby .... You Go Genealogy Girl #1


  1. This is a great story! In my case, when I was a young girl, my grandparents and great-grandparents used to tell me family stories, but I never paid attention - I could KICK myself now!!

  2. Wonderful memories! Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. I loved all your stories. And it's so neat to think of your life criscrossing with Aunt Cynthia's!

  4. I love to hear stories about how folks became first interested in genealogy. It's nice to know how other people started so young! Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Thanks for posting these memories. This is one of my favorite subjects, and I think you were lucky to catch the bug early.

  6. Great post, Ruby. Family history is full of strange coincidences :-) Jo



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