Week 20: May 17, 2014
How many times have you thought about writing those elusive ancestors a letter, just letting them know exactly how much trouble they’ve caused you in their constant move from county to county, never leaving a clear paper trail, no headstone with names and dates, often only a field stone, and no photo albums. Really!
What would they think of us – are they watching us bang our heads as we research their lives? I don’t believe they thought of the dead as we do – it was enough for them to just concentrate on making a living.
My research has left a paper chaos in my home, boxes of paperwork, volumes of books, more photo albums for ancestors than living, and countless unfinished projects. But I still feel the need to keep pursuing them, although not at the same speed I once did.
Every year my vacation took me to the University of Georgia Library where I spent a day perusing the aisles, thumbing through books and leaving with piles of copies; hoping that somewhere in all those papers I would discover a new clue. I could have been happy there for a week, never coming up for air – but it wasn’t making my mama happy!
Searching for family history is a strange, but rewarding addiction. Instead of vacationing at Disney, you’ll find yourself schlepping through cemeteries, dragging your kids behind you – telling them they need to know about their ancestors.
I dragged my children through every cemetery in Greene Co., Georgia to visit you; they probably thought that was how you visited relatives on vacation, but they didn’t really complain – too much! They laugh about it now, telling their friends how their my mom dragged them through cemeteries to visit dead relatives. Cemeteries can actually be quite an interesting history lesson; you learn about life from those gravestones – how those who lived through times of war were not fortunate to have a long life, and how many of their children died way too young through diseases that are prevented today through inoculations. So they were learning history lessons on their vacation!
My first cemetery visit in Lumpkin Co., Ga. was to Cane Creek Church Cemetery where my Civil War great-great-great grandfather Berrian Clark Bryan (1823-1923) was buried. My cousin, who had already scouted out the cemeteries, took me yearly when I came to Georgia. I looked forward to spending the day with him, hearing tales and very appreciative of that day he took to spend with me. It was always fun going with him and hearing family stories on the way. At that time, I had no clue how to get there, much less find all the cemeteries, but after a few years I did learn and began driving myself there.
Cane Creek Church Cemetery was located a few miles outside of Dahlonega in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. I’ll never forget the first day we turned on the red dirt-clay road that led to the cemetery, I thought for sure we were going to end up in the ditch, or worse – never to be seen again. The road was very narrow, deep ditches on both sides and very muddy. But we made it down to the church, which sat at the end of this dead-end area – the cemetery was behind the church and all encircled by tall pines. A very spooky setting at the end of a very dead-end road – and my first thoughts were “if I don’t return home, no one will ever find me here!”
Spending vacation time searching for dead ancestors – you must be shaking
your heads, wondering how the world has changed!
I never left Dahlonega without a new book, newspapers, or photos waiting inside my camera – and always library copies. I felt like I couldn’t get enough information and history on the area. I often wondered, “what do you think of me researching your life, searching out your burial place, tramping through the woods just to find the site where you first built your cabin.”
I’ve spent countless hours searching your records, long afternoons with tired eyes searching line by line on the fiche reader – and wanting to yell out-loud “I found you” when my eyes finally located your name. Everyone there was searching for the same thing – they would have understood! It’s hard to share your excitement of discovering a dead ancestor with just everyone. I’m sure my husband thought me crazy at times, but he’s tolerated my passion pretty well over the years, so well that he moved his clothes out of our closet to make room for my books and photos. I really need my own library!
My biggest regret to you all is that I didn’t have this passion as a young child. I spent countless hours with both grandparents, McKinley and Bryan, and I should have asked you those questions then – so I wouldn’t be wondering now. If I could just go back one day to spend with you and ask you about your life in growing up, it would be to my father. I would love to hear about his life as a young boy and the time he served in the Navy.
Besides searching my Southern ancestors, I’ve also reached across the ocean to Italy to search for my husbands family. It’s said I know more about his ancestors than the actual family does. And I do! I was fortunate to be able to talk to my father-in-law about his life in the Army-Air Corp during WWII; he enjoyed those long talks about his life with me as he told stories about being a mechanic on the B-25 bombers. How ironic – his son, my husband, was a mechanic and crew chief on the B-52 bombers.
So I say to you, my ancestors, if you are looking down upon me, please don’t think me crazy in trying to discover who you were, where you lived, and who all your children married. Smile – knowing that even though you’ve been dead for over a hundred years that someone is still thinking about you. I hope one day when someone discovers me, that they smile and are ecstatic in discovering all the research I have left them and not think me too crazy!
My job now is to teach my five granddaughters their family history and
hopefully teach them as cousins to preserve it. I will pass the torch to Ella, McKinley, Ana, Nina and Grace one day and they will have to continue the search!