Blog, genealogy

Ridden Out of Town on a Rail

Day 140

The Search for my Great-Grandfather

Photo by MagCindy (Me) @

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.”

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.


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!

Blog, genealogy, Home

Letters From Home

Day 15

I love letters. I love the penmanship and I love reading them and hearing the words in the voice of the person that wrote them. The few letters I have from my mother are magical to me. I read them and hear the tenor and inflections of her voice. I sometimes think I have forgotten how she sounded, but reading her words opens a synapse in my brain that allows it to all come flooding back.

Old Letters Are The Best

letters2I recently came into some papers that belonged to my Aunt. I am not sure she ever threw anything away and while some could criticize her for that, I would never. Amongst these papers were notebooks of handwritten letters from my Grandmother to my Aunt.

My Grandmother was the family news conductor and her letters were always full of family news. She always filled you in on who got married, who was sick, what crops were planted and how many jars of jelly or green beans were ‘put away’.

In addition to letters from my Grandmother, were letters from my Uncles to their sister written during the war. I took the time to read the letters and decided they should go to my cousins so they could have a glimpse of their father’s life before they were born. I felt so good about mailing those letters and know how much they will mean to them.

I also cherish the penmanship and the flourish of words from a different time. As a child I was obsessed with the way a lower case ‘r’ was written — they looked much like an ‘n’. I loved it so much I started to use my newfound love of the letter ‘r’ in my school work much to my teacher’s chagrin.

Why Don’t We Write Letters?

I belong to a ‘snail mail’ group and have belonged to similar groups in the past. The current group started with a bang then drifted off to a small trickle of mail. This kind of mail is fun, but it is not like the old time letters from home.

Letters were once the only way to share news and updates with family and friends once people started drifting away from a central home place or when they went off to join the military. They waited weeks or months for news from loved ones when there was no other way to stay in touch.

Genealogical History

I was fortunate enough to get a copy of a letter from my 3X Great Grandmother. It was such a great slice of history from the time. To hear about the hardships they endured and the sadness and loneliness that set in when children started moving away from home was heart wrenching. It told the news of children born and children who had passed away. It is one of my greatest treasures.

I am contemplating scanning all the letters from my Grandmother to my Aunt and then donating the original letters to a historical museum. There is so much history there that generations to come would love to read about. But parting with them, well, that’s a hard decision.

Email Vs. Letters

There is something rather impersonal about an Email. There is no way to add enough underlines to the phrase ‘I love you’. You don’t see the words on the screen and recognize the font and know who it is from like you do handwriting.

A Lost Art

Maybe I’m just overly nostalgic, but I care about the loss of this art. It is sad to me that so many schools do not teach cursive any longer. It is becoming a lost art. I will never forget when I was teaching and wrote in cursive on the blackboard. I was shocked when my students could not read what I had written.

My Grandfather could not write anything but his name. I remember watching him practice writing his signature over and over on the backs of envelopes. When I started my genealogical research I found his ‘Old Man’s Draft Card’. My heart skipped a beat. There it was — my Grandfather’s well-practiced signature. I was overcome.

Those seven letters in that familiar script meant everything to me.

“The act of writing itself is like an act of love. There is contact. There is exchange too. We no longer know whether the words come out of the ink onto the page, or whether they emerge from the page itself where they were sleeping,
the ink merely giving them colour.”
Georges Rodenbach


Blog, genealogy

My Grandmother’s Birthday

Day 11

Today would have been my grandmother’s 120th birthday. I think of her often but today almost slipped by without me acknowledging her. I have written about my grandparents and my parents many times in my other blog A Life Worth Living, but I do not like it when I get so busy I let days slip by.

BerthaRosettaWhat a grand lady she was. Very religious, very conscious of what everyone thought and very fastidious. (You can read more about her in the blog Happy Birthday Mam-Maw which I wrote in 2010.) I think she would have been very distraught living in 2018. Life has changed dramatically since she was born in 1897, but even more so since she passed away in 1969.

One of the memories I have of her was when I was seven or eight. I spent endless hours going through her jewelry box or spending time looking at old photos. One day I found a photo of her and some of her friends smoking a cigarette. Of course, me being me, I asked her about it and laughed because I believed I had ‘caught’ her smoking. The mood became very serious very fast. She explained that she and her friends were ‘pretending’ to smoke in the picture. She was ashamed of it now, some 30-40 years later. She told me she wished she had destroyed the photo so no one would ever see it.

Generational Mores

So many people of that generation felt guilty about so much. It’s a shame really because young people should live a fun life. Whether she ever smoked or not, I didn’t care. I loved her just the same. As a matter of fact it made me more curious about her – she earned an air of mystique in my mind that day.

It reminds me of a great article I read in the Washington Post written by Christine Organ “Parents, Stop Micromanaging Kids’ Relationships with Grandparents“. It’s a great article about the relationship forged between grandparents and their grandchildren. If you are a grandparent – or a parent who now has their parents as grandparents to their children – I highly recommend the article.

My grandmother was not like the grandmother in the article, but I did like there was something about her I just didn’t know. Now that I am older and the pseudo-family genealogist, I am more interested in the small background stories of common every-day people than I am some glowing pedigree.

MamawI found an old black and white negative of my grandmother back when I was first interested in photography. I took it to the lab and printed it. As the image slowly appeared, I saw a woman I had never ever seen before. My grandmother – with her hair cascading around her shoulders and jeans rolled up sitting on a rock. My grandmother as a young woman.

It would be the first photo I would hand-color. I look at it now and see how much detail was lost in the negative. But that’s the photographer and artist in me. The little girl in me sees her grandmother as beautiful as can be without a care in the world. I love that woman as much or more as the woman who helped raise me.

So, Happy Birthday Mam-Maw. I have never forgotten you. I have so many vivid memories of our time together. This little girl still misses her grandmother.

“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grand-child’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.” 
Fredrik Backman





Blog, genealogy, Home

The Long and Winding Road

Day Three

I once read that our roots are firmly entwined in our DNA. The places where our ancestors settled, worked the ground and made a home is very much a part of who we are. Maybe this is why I feel so at home here in these mountains. It doesn’t matter  how stressed I am, once I see these mountains looming in the distance, I am able to release it and breathe again.

One of my favorite television shows is ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. I love watching these well-known people discover their ancestry. Some come from humble or dire circumstances and others from royalty. People in these shows often remark how much they were drawn to a place for years prior to knowing anything about their lineage.

phillipine funeral
My Grandparents Attending a Funeral in the Philippines

The search, for me, is cathartic. My sister, Rosie, tried to get me interested in her family research years ago and I just was not interested. I had struggles in my personal life at the time and learning about my ancestors was the furtherest thing from my mind. When she passed away years later, I was distraught because all her research was lost. My niece gave me access to her Ancestry account and there was nothing there. So, I started from scratch.

Questions Along the Way

My own family discoveries have been pretty remarkable. I now have a copy of a handwritten letter from my three times great-grandmother written in 1847. Her letters paint a remarkable picture of how difficult life was at that time. It has given me a greater appreciation about the struggles to make a path in preparation for my life, my home.

I have also taken a DNA test. I have discovered some unknown cousins and also discovered some misappropriated parentage somewhere in my Dad’s line. People I thought I was related to do not seem to be relatives at all. So, this mystery is yet to be unraveled.

As children, we always heard my paternal grandmother talk about her mother but rarely about her father. He disappeared – there were rumors he was ‘run out of town on a rail’. We might never know the back story, but what I have finally discovered is what I believe to be his final resting place. I have been working for a year to gain access to the site and I believe I will get there eventually. To ‘connect’ with some part of my great-grandfather holds great importance to me.

The Journey is Not Over

This long and winding road has definitely taken some twists and turns along the way. I know more about my family history than I ever thought I would. Some roads are dead ends – or brick walls as they are called in genealogy circles – and some go back as far as the 1100’s. I also know more about the tribulations of my ancestors and much more about the sorrows imposed by government institutions on the general population. I now commonly search ‘Bastardy Bonds’ when 10 years ago I did not even know those records existed.

This journey is not over – and will most likely not be over in my lifetime. I have managed to peak some interest in my children about their history, and I hope at some point they will take up where I left off.

For now, I am on solid ground. I know where I come from and how I got here. The people who came before me live on because I dug their history out of old crumbling pages in basements of libraries and court houses. My cousin shared a quote a few years ago and it has always resonated with me:

“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.”

I understand now more than ever why I feel so drawn to this place. It really is home.

img_2203“Over the course of the millennia, all these multitudes of ancestors, generation upon generation, have come down to this moment in time—to give birth to you. There has never been, nor will ever be, another like you. You have been given a tremendous responsibility. You carry the hopes and dreams of all those who have gone before. Hopes and dreams for a better world. What will you do with your time on this Earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?”
Laurence Overmire