Friday, May 29, 2009

Searching for My Grandparents

by Jean Henry Mead

My grandfather was a man of mystery who died when I was nine months old. He was mysterious because he told few people about his roots. My mother thought he had been born in Macon County, Georgia, but when my husband and I make the cross country trip, we found that the courthouse had succumbed to fire in 1922. So much for birth records. We even searched the cemetery one foggy morning in June, but there wasn't one headstone that contained the name of Henry.

I knew his date of birth, where he was buried, my grandmother’s name and the names of their children, but that’s all I knew when I began a genealogy search. I found a post card among my mother’s possesssions when she died. A friend had written while visiting Virginia, saying how proud my mother must be to have descended from Patrick Henry.

That’s strange, I thought. Why hadn't Mom ever mentioned that Patrick Henry was an ancestor? I paid for membership in Genealogy.com and tried reading online copies of old census reports. After scrolling through hundreds of pages of nearly illegal records, I found my grandfather and his young family listed, but in the origin’s box he was a native of the USA. And no state was listed in subsequent census records.

Why would Grandad not list his birth state? My mother said that he was estranged from his family and also wondered why. He refused to talk about it, she said. That spurred me on to learn about his family and the rest of my ancestors. After months of leaving messages on genealogy websites, I was still in the proverbial dark. Then, one day I happened upon a census report with his middle name changed, but my grandmother’s name was correct as well as those of their children. Was he running from the law or just didn’t want to be found?

I must have been searching for five years when I came across a family in Ebert, Georgia, that seemed to solve the mystery. My grandfather was listed as the seventh child of a country doctor with six older sisters. Some of the sister’s names were the same as his own daughters. Because Grandad was the youngest, was he spoiled by all those sisters? And did he have a falling out with his father because he didn’t want to repeat his medical career?

Thanks a lot, Grandad, I thought, as I dug still deeper into additional old records. I was finally able to trace back several generations to the mid-1700s but there was no Patrick Henry listed in our family tree. Born in 1736, Patrick, who had 16 or 17 children, only had grandchildren by six of them, so that narrowed down the search considerably.

Disappointed, I decided to search for my mysterious paternal grandmother, who died at the age of 40 before I was born. A cousin on the East Coast sent me a photograph of my grandmother and I seemed to have been cloned. She had passed on her height to me as well as her appearance, so if you believe in reincarnation, it does make one wonder.

I’m still searching Grandmother Daisy's background, but haven’t yet located my great-grandparents. I'll keep trying so that I can pass the information on to my children and grandchildren along with copies of any old photos I've inherited. I think it's important to look to the future but it's also satisfying to know from where you've come.

8 comments:

Mark W. Danielson said...

It's interesting that the older we get, the more interested we become in our roots. At the same time, those who we have the most interest in (such as our relatives) seem the most reluctant to document their personal history before they pass on. Perhaps we should all take the initiative and conduct taped interviews so we'll have a clue. Good luck with your search, Jean.

Chester Campbell said...

Wow, you've really done some digging, Jean. My mother had a sister who was a history teacher and provided a family tree going back to the 1700s, but I know almost nothing about my dad's family. I've always wanted to look up my Campbell roots but never took the time to do it.

Gerrie Ferris said...

I enjoyed this and learned something.

Ben Small said...

I'll say you did some digging. I've got a three volume set of my father's family, dating back to the Mayflower. It was updated before he died to include my sister and me.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Yes, a lot of work but well worth the time. You never know who you're going to find hanging from your family tree. Hopefully, not a horse thief. :)

And Gerrie, I'm glad you enjoyed the article and learned soemthing from it.

Helen Ginger said...

How interesting that you're doing this research into your ancestors. You're learning stuff even from your set-backs. Good luck, Jean.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Mark W. Danielson said...

I just saw an advertisement for ancestory.com, which makes it easier for people to trace their family members. Of course, no one keeps records like the Mormon Church, but their accessability is rather limited. What's interesting is there are enough people who are seeking their roots to warrant a commercial search engine.

Ann Parker said...

How interesting! It's amazing what's come to light for you and how you've persevered, despite deadends. I'm also doing some digging ... there's all these fascinating little "mysteries of the past." The great-grandparents living separately in neighboring towns: g-g-father says they're divorced. G-g-mother says they are married. Did she lie to the census taker because of the stigma of divorce? Was g-g-father ticked off at his spouse and just made something up? At this point, it's unknown. And my grandfather NEVER spoke of his father. So, more mysteries.