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.