ancestors

Midnight and Queenie – My Introduction to the Dark Side of Humanity

My writing exercise last week had us exploring our experience with loss and grief. For me, it all started with two pets. My first pet was a cat. She was mine. She was dark black and full of love. Her dark coat was the reason I named her Midnight. Queenie, on the other hand, was a family dog, a beagle.

Today I will write the first part – about Midnight.

I will warn you, this could be triggering for some people.


Part One, Midnight

I do not recall the circumstances surrounding how Midnight came into our family or why she was designated as my cat. I thought perhaps those details lived deep in the recesses of my mind, but if they do, they are not yet accessible to me.

Midnight lived with us at my grandmother’s house in the Valley. She was a sweet and lovable cat and I loved her. When my parents decided to move to a nearby town, Midnight stayed behind and continued to live with my grandparents rather than move to a more urban landscape. At my grandmother’s, she could remain an inside/outside cat free to safely roam within the confines of their yard. She never strayed away from home, always staying close to the house.

My grandparent’s house stood on a rise in the property with the yard sloping downward and leveling out. At the lowest level in the yard was a narrow stream which we referred to as a ditch because of the low water levels. There was a small footbridge to cross the ditch. There stood a grand plum tree and the walkway to our clothes line where my grandmother hung the laundry to dry and the pathway that led to the barn.

The property line was just beyond the plum tree. Next door was a similar house with another large lot and a barn, where my parents’ good friends lived. They had two sons, and a sweet Collie named Lassie. Their youngest son was the same age as my oldest sister, and their oldest son who was about 20 at the time.

One afternoon when I returned from school, my grandmother called. It was unusual for children to talk on the phone, but my grandmother had called to speak directly to me which was unusual.

Once on the phone, I heard my grandmother crying. She spoke slowly and told me she had to have Midnight ‘put to sleep’. I did not understand the phrase, but I slowly understood as she explained what happened.

Midnight had taken a stroll around the yard as was her normal routine. She loved to climb up the plum tree and observe her surroundings. On this particular day. Larry, the oldest son, had sicced Lassie on Midnight. This seemingly gentle dog, worked up into a fervor and taunted to attack my cat. My grandmother intervened to stop the attack, but it was too late. Midnight had been severely maimed beyond the ability to recover. My grandmother had her put to sleep.

I cried and she cried. She apologized to me and told me over and over and over how sorry she was. I knew she as was heartbroken as I was. I could not for the life of me understand how anyone could be so cruel. I was so angry and at an age when no child should feel those emotions.

Larry was always a little ‘off’.  We always thought there was something different about him, but no one ever imagined him capable of such a mean and cruel thing. From that moment on I despised him. Sadly, this would not be my last unpleasant interaction with him in my life, but that is a story for another day.

Unfortunately, this also colored my opinion of Collies. It was a breed I would always steer clear of and have slight distrust in. I know that might not be fair, but childhood trauma changes you.

I learned a lot about life that day. I learned humanity had an evil and cruel side. I learned animals could be killed by a doctor and that it could be a humane act. I learned about mistrust. And I learned about how sorrow can connect people in profound ways. I learned my ‘gut feeling’ about people was a valuable instinct I should not ignore. I learned a lot. Maybe too much for a little girl.

I was only seven years old.

ancestors, Blog, genealogy, Mountains, travel

Out and About in North Carolina

Day 201

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Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Saturday, hubby and I trekked up to Boone, NC, to the Daniel Boone Native Gardens. They were having a wildflower walk and native plant sale. We had to leave early because the event ended at noon. As we crossed over the mountains into Blowing Rock, the mountains were socked in by fog. It certainly would not be a day for enjoying the mountain vistas.

Unfortunately, the gardens were a bit disappointing as was the sale. It was rainy and cold which made for a muddy garden and nurseries anxious to shut down and go home. We bought two native azaleas and went on our way.

From there we decided to have lunch at The Dan’l Boone Inn, a restaurant serving family style meals since 1959. It is one of the oldest historic buildings in Boone and has served as a residence and doctor’s office, Boone’s first hospital, and a residence hall for students of Appalachian State Teachers College.

This restaurant serves country-style meals family style. It was always a favorite of my sisters’ but I had not eaten there in years. The food is typical country, heavy in fats and calories and not our normal fare. But you know the old saying, “When in Rome…” I thought a lot about my sisters and how much this place meant to them, especially when they could get their children together to tag along.

After lunch, we decided to drive into West Jefferson. I have been anxious to go there to do some genealogical research since one branch of my family started out in Ashe County. Unfortunately, the library was closed for Easter weekend, so we went to the local museum. I enjoyed the displays very much. Especially the information on the railroad. There was even information on the wall about how the railroad crew gave food and clothing to needy families along the railroad. One conductor started the tradition of passing out lollipops on Saturdays to the children along their route. I wrote an earlier post about how I was one of those children.

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Ashe County History Museum

img_9609Since it was a rainy and dreary day, we decided to go a little further north to the area where my ancestors once lived. It’s funny. You imagine you will drive into an area that remains untouched by the passing of time, but you quickly realize time marches forward everywhere. I did find the street signs marking the creeks where I know they lived. I will do more research and go back armed with better information the next time.

On our way back home we passed many of the tourist attractions of my childhood. Tweetsie Railroad, just outside of Boone, was always a big mountain attraction and the first theme park in North Carolina. It was billed as a Wild West themed park, although I would imagine some of the shows on the train may have changed from their politically incorrect ‘cowboy and Indian’ interactions. The park has a great history if you care to read more. It is still a very popular attraction.

We also passed Mystery Hill, another local attraction I remember as a kid. Mystery Hill is billed as a natural gravitational anomaly — more frequently referred to as a gravity hill. Of course, there is a scientific explanation, but why ruin the fun. It’s a place where water flows up and balls roll uphill instead of down.

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Lastly, we drove past The Blowing Rock, another location steeped in legend. The rock is a metamorphic rock known as a gneiss. The rocky walls of the gorge below form a flume and light objects that are thrown from the rock will be returned by the flume — thus the fodder for the legends. Fun to read about and beautiful to observe, just not on a cold, windy and foggy day.

All in all, it was a pretty good day roaming the hills of North Carolina.

ancestors, Blog, genealogy

Ridden Out of Town on a Rail

Day 140

The Search for my Great-Grandfather

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Photo by MagCindy (Me) @ Morguefile.com

Family stories can be unbelievable, but even in the hardest to fathom tales, there is generally an element of truth. Such was the case of my great-grandfather.

My grandmother never talked about him and honestly, I was too young at the time to care. We always knew his name, but the details were shady. As children, we overheard shushed stories about him being ridden out of town on a rail.

Now, if you do not know what that means, there are a few things to clarify. The earliest implications of this practice were tied to the horrible practice of being tarred and feathered which could be painful and disfiguring. This was never mentioned in the case of my great-grandfather.

In Colonial times, this practice was used to run someone out of town. This was generally the outcome of some sort of mob justice whereby the offender was placed on a narrow fence rail and paraded around to humiliate the person and eventually taken outside of town and threatened to never return. In some cases, the person was beaten, but again I never heard anything like that in reference to my great-grandfather.

In small country communities, this term was in use well into more current times as a description for sending an undesirable out of town with some threat of what might happen if they ever returned. This is most likely the scenario with my great-grandfather.

Getting to Know Family Through Research

My great-grandmother was apparently still married when she passed away although her husband had been gone for a number of years. With no one in the family talking about it, we must depend on research to try and determine what may have happened.

By looking through census records, I know my great-grandfather was married (and hopefully divorced) with children before he married my great-grandmother. My ancestors were all very religious. Marrying a man who had been married before was certainly frowned upon. I’m sure he was unwelcome from the start.

They were married in 1892, together in 1900 and he was gone by 1910. So, somewhere in that last ten-year span, he left. My great-grandmother died in 1913 and my great-grandfather died in 1918. There is no known death certificate for her, but on his death certificate, he is listed as married.

It is interesting to note that three of my great-uncles drank a good bit. My great-grandfather died of Bright’s disease (kidney disease) for which alcoholism could have been a contributing factor and could have contributed to the family displeasure with him.

The Search for Dead Relatives

Oh, I have written a lot about my genealogical search for my family. It is a passion I think I inherited from my sister who passed away in 2010. At the time of her death, no one had seen my great-grandfather’s death certificate.

The piece of information we had all been looking for was when he died and where he had been buried. Both were listed there. We were one step closer!

Of course, in 1918, people were buried in family plots on land that has changed hands many times. Many old cemeteries are overgrown and often landowners may not even be aware of their existence.

Unfortunately, such is the case for us. The name of the ‘graveyard’ has changed over the years as other family members were born and died. There are now a few cemeteries that could be the one referenced on his death certificate.

After much research, I have narrowed it down to one cemetery and have desperately been trying to find the exact location of the cemetery so I can go and pay my respects.

Searches Always Take a Turn

Unfortunately, the land has changed hands many times since 1918 and I believe it is now owned by the state of North Carolina. It is in the deep part of a heavily forested area and thus far I have only found one photograph of a headstone from that specific cemetery.

For over a year I have contacted every government office possible to get access to the property. After being passed through five different offices, I finally reached someone who is trying to help me. It has been so frustrating to feel so close and yet not be able to actually go there and hopefully find the lost piece of my family puzzle.

In the summer, the land was too green, too many trees — just overall too difficult to access. They would try in the fall after the leaves fell. Fast forward several months and North Carolina is hit by constant torrential rains which makes travel difficult. Then the holidays, then a death in our family and now January rolls around.

Exciting News

One day I received an email. The cemetery had been found. The email contained photos of every gravestone. My great-grandfather’s headstone was not there. I was deflated.

A nice thing about genealogists is that they are kind and helpful. I had been working with two gentlemen who had been working for years documenting cemeteries in North Carolina. I let them know about my disappointment.

The next morning, one of them emailed me back and said he felt strongly they had discovered one of the cemeteries, but not THE cemetery I had been looking for. Through some notes and the help of Google maps and GIS and GPS coordinates, we plotted where we thought the other cemetery might be.

Armed with maps and GPS locations, I returned the email thanking them profusely but telling them about my dilemma. They have agreed to try to find it again based on the new information.

Brick Walls

These stumbling blocks in genealogical research are known as brick walls. I have several in my family and many will never be broken through simply because the records never existed or were destroyed.

I will never know the true story behind my great-grandfather’s disappearance, but I am hoping someday I will at least know where he was laid to rest and let him know he was not forgotten. I will always wonder if he was missed or if they felt they were better off without him.

Those are the things I will never know. But I will not stop looking. With the help of a number of kind-hearted people, I might just find him.

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
Bansky

ancestors, Blog, genealogy, SoCS

Obituaries – The Modern Day Tombstone – SoCS

Day 114

Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) offered by Linda G. Hill. If you are interested, the rules and a link will be listed below the post.

The subject/prompt for today is: “ad/add/AD (Anno Domini).” Use one, use ’em all–bonus points if you fit them all into your post.

SoCS


In an earlier post, I mentioned I wanted to write my own obituary. As a family genealogist, I know how hard information can be to find on everyday people. Unless you are well known for some reason, there may not be much of a paper trail.

I found a copy of my mother’s obituary in an Ohio paper even though she passed away in Virginia. I am sure my Dad had it published there because we lived in Ohio for a number of years. Not all the information was correct. There were typos which may make future searchers go down the wrong path.

So, I have decided I want to write my obituary, ready to be published in the newspaper and correct for future generations. The time surrounding the death of a loved one is the most stressful time to remember names, places and correct details about someone’s life.

From the beginning of published news in this country, obituaries were published. More likely for prominent citizens. There may also be a death notice required by law as an estate goes through probate. Most modern-day obituaries are actually purchased as a classified ad which can be very expensive.

Dates and relationships on tombstones were a way of recording the pertinent aspects of one’s life. Even that can be incorrect and I know no matter how accurate I make my obituary, the newspaper can still get it wrong.

My husband’s paternal grandfather has been a mystery. We desperately try to find information about him, his birth, and his family, but we continue to come up blank. After much searching, we did find his obituary which listed a sister and names of the pallbearers but we still cannot find any connection to tie him to any of them. We are stuck at the proverbial brick wall that all genealogists dread. I hoped for a name that we could add to the family tree that was truly related in some way, but no luck.

I recently found an Irish website that has many gravestones documented and I am trying to find some proof of my ancestor who was born in 1765 A.D. If I could find a record of a tombstone, it might be helpful in learning more about who he was, who he married and of course when he died.

So, while some non-genealogical people scoff at this idea of writing one’s own obituary, I discovered that many genealogists have the same line of thinking. We are trying to leave a trail — an accurate trail — for future genealogists.

I’ll leave the epitaph up to my family.


Follow Linda G. Hill’s blog to write along every Saturday.

Here are the rules for SoCS:

1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing, (typos can be fixed) and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.

2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.

3. There will be a prompt every week. I will post the prompt here on my blog on Friday, along with a reminder for you to join in. The prompt will be one random thing, but it will not be a subject. For instance, I will not say “Write about dogs”; the prompt will be more like, “Make your first sentence a question,” “Begin with the word ‘The’,” or simply a single word to get your started.

4. Ping back! It’s important, so that I and other people can come and read your post! For example, in your post you can write “This post is part of SoCS:” and then copy and paste the URL found in your address bar at the top of this post into yours.  Your link will show up in my comments for everyone to see. The most recent pingbacks will be found at the top. NOTE: Pingbacks only work from WordPress sites. If you’re self-hosted or are participating from another host, such as Blogger, please leave a link to your post in the comments below.

5. Read at least one other person’s blog who has linked back their post. Even better, read everyone’s! If you’re the first person to link back, you can check back later, or go to the previous week, by following my category, “Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which you’ll find right below the “Like” button on my post.

6. Copy and paste the rules (if you’d like to) in your post. The more people who join in, the more new bloggers you’ll meet and the bigger your community will get!

7. As a suggestion, tag your post “SoCS” and/or “#SoCS” for more exposure and more views.

8. Have fun!

ancestors, Blog, childhood, Grandfather, memories

Remembering My Grandfathers

Day 105

I spend a lot of time on WordPress Reader perusing other blogs, looking for a sense of commonality with strangers, I suppose. It’s amazing what we all have in common if we let our guard down.

Today, I was inspired by Elizabeth Slaughter’s Blog: Saved By Words. Her entry today Jumping for Joy took me back to my childhood and the simple gifts my grandfathers gave me.

My Paternal Grandfather

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Grandpa sitting on the running board

I have written about Grandpa before in several blogs, but most recently I referred to him as my Gentle Giant. He was a very tall slender man, who had neatly combed white hair and a raucous laugh. With me and my siblings, he was always such a gentle man. There was no hint of the rough and tough scoundrel that worked for the railroad when he and my grandmother were first married.

I am not sure they were poor, but they definitely lived off of the land and managed by wit and determination. I remember my grandfather making me a TV set out of a huge cardboard box. (At least it seemed huge to my six-year-old little body.) He cut an opening and somehow attached knobs for ‘tuning’ the channels and for adjusting the volume. I, of course, was the star of whatever show happened to be playing in my head. Such a creative toy for a creative child.

We lived with my grandparents for a while and I remember quite well my grandfather crafting a pair of stilts for me out of rough-hewn 1×2’s. I weighed very little and was not very tall at the time, but man, oh, man, I felt huge up on those stilts. There was never a moment that I was afraid. Even with splinters piercing my skin, I was on top of the world.

My Maternal Grandfather

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Granny and Granddaddy 1916

Granddaddy worked in the Philippine Islands before and after he and my grandmother married. When I was born, they lived on their farm in Virginia.

Running the farm was hard work. There was always gardening to do, cows to milk and land to maintain. I loved him very much, but don’t remember him interacting on a little kid level much.

Later in life, however, when my daughter was born, he had time. I will never forget the time I brought her to see them. My Uncle bought her a walker, but she was such a little thing her feet would not touch the floor.

Following his stroke, Granddaddy used a walker to get around. I still have a vivid picture of him walking down to his shop (he was a great carpenter) with my daughter’s walker clasped between his hand and his walker. An hour or so passed and he came back up to the house from his shop and tossed my daughter’s new walker on the living room floor. “Try it now”, he said.

I put her in it, her feet touched the ground and off she went! She hasn’t stopped since. Baby walkers at the time had an X-shaped frame with springs at the junctions and wheels to allow children of different sizes to use them. He had taken the walker to his shop and hammered shims between the springs to loosen them. He was a man of few words but great love.

I was a fortunate little girl to have these two men for my grandfathers. They were such a big part of my life and the memories are so vivid as if it all happened yesterday.

Thank you, for the inspiration Elizabeth.