Blog, genealogy

Is Everyone Curious About Their Roots?

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

I have done a lot of research on my ancestral roots as well as my husband’s. We both try to figure out where we come from. That is a common curiosity among Americans I think because we always come from somewhere.

Unless you are indigenous to this country, even if you were born here, your ancestors are not from here. I know one branch of my family comes from England. We have traced that branch back to the 1100’s. Other branches have brick walls and came to this country at a time when there was poor documentation especially for those traveling from Ireland. My husband has a German branch but again poor documentation has left us with gaping holes in the family tree.

I have taken DNA tests which link me to three known distant cousins in the UK and one in Greece. I also have one in Tokyo and 2 in Guam which could mean more likely Americans possibly in the military. It is fascinating nonetheless.

DNA findings unleash hidden stories that can sometimes be difficult to process. For example, I have no DNA match to my third cousin (there should be some at that close relationship) so there is must some misappropriated parentage somewhere. Not sure if it is my line or her line. Or in the case of my sister who gave up a child for adoption, he possibly was never told he was adopted. Many adoption records are sealed.

During the early years in the U.S. it was also not unusual for children to be given to friends or neighbors if parents died. These relationships are often not annotated on early census records. Then there is the case of women relatives whose surnames were lost over the years and of course many children born out of wedlock which was definitely frowned upon and often the true parentage hidden.

I finally found my grandfather on a census record when he traveled for work with the railroad. Many times first names were not used and surnames were spelled incorrectly. He was in a boarding house with many other workers.

It made me wonder if this is more of an American obsession or if everyone in the world has the same curiosity about their roots.

How about it? Do you know where you come from?

Blog, genealogy

Ancestral Trails

Day 334

You know those hotel points you accrue when you make room reservations? We had a bunch of them due to expire, so we decided to make a one night hotel reservation to save the points. But where to go for a quick one-night mini vacation?

We decided to go north to try again to find the burial place of my great-grandfather. We drove up to West Jefferson, NC and traveled a short distance on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is so beautiful anytime, but especially lovely when the clouds are low.

In West Jefferson and Sparta we spent some time digging through old records. Not much luck, unfortunately. I was able to confirm a few things and managed to fill in a couple of gaps. But such is genealogy. You must be in it for the long haul.

We plugged in the GPS coordinates for the place where I believe my ancestor is buried. We got within a mile. Then this:

Some notes we found later on indicated the cemetery is buried until heavily overgrown brush covered in poison ivy. The notes said you would need a machete to cut through the trees and brush. There was a list of all those interred and my great-grandfather’s name was not listed. That does not mean he is not there, but there is only one way to know for sure.

There is something about this area where my ancestors settled that grabs me and makes me feel at home. It is almost like it is an integral part of my DNA. We even joked about buying some property there.

Who knows. The next trip we may be more successful.


What a Beautiful Day

Day 63

This was absolutely a beautiful day. It was cool this morning — in the 30s — but it warmed up to 45 degrees F this afternoon and it is now dropping back into the 30s. These cool days are often so crisp and clear everything looks so pristine and beautiful.

My Ancestors

My ancestors all came from Ireland and England with a few scattered hither and yon. After arriving in the states on various ships they eventually settled in the Carolinas. I cannot imagine what life was like back then and how hard it must have been to decide where to go and where a living could be made.

IMG_7935On days like this, as I drive and see the mountains appear in the distance, I can only imagine what it was like to travel at the time of my ancestors. So many people traveled great distances by foot or by horseback. I can only imagine what it was like to see the Blue Ridge or Appalachian mountains rise in front of you as you approach on foot or on horseback. Wow.

I think about what this part of the country looked like before there were roads or power poles or cell towers or buildings. Just the mountains and the sky. It had to be the most stunning sight to see. My ancestors had to be more in touch with the land than we are because they had to choose good places to try to make a home and decide where they could actually survive.

Of course, the things that were done to the Native American population were horrible. That is the terrible part of our history and I cannot be enthusiastic about how strong and brave my ancestors were without acknowledging the horrible things that were done to the native peoples of this great land.

At One With the Land

Earlier today I was perusing some upcoming workshops that I might like to take. One class being offered at the North Carolina Arboretum really caught my interest: Light Pollution, Health, and the Environment. From the course description:

“Embrace the dark. For well over a century, the night sky has been lit with artificial lighting. Until recently, the dramatic impact of light pollution on wildlife, human health, and the environment has been largely underestimated and poorly understood. This class emphasizes the importance of nighttime darkness and the many ways that darkness is necessary for the natural world and our physical, mental and emotional health. We will explore ways to mitigate the effects of light pollution in our homes and local environments and discuss strategies for making homes more “dark friendly,” thereby improving health, saving money and benefitting the environment.”

One of the reasons I moved back here was to get away from the hustle bustle of the larger city life. Too many street lights, too much light pollution, and noise! When we went to Sedona a few years ago the stars were so vibrant in the sky — the way I remembered it as a child. Even though we live rather remotely, there is still a lot of light pollution.

Upcoming Weather

It is looking more and more like we will get some amount of snowfall this weekend. I’m not sure we will know just how much until late tomorrow or Saturday. Right now predictions are in the 8-13 inch range with possible ice before, during and after the snow. We will be tucking in and staying put until the storm passes. Maybe I’ll get those Christmas cards addressed after all!

“Mountains have long been a geography for pilgrimage, place where people have been humbled and strengthened, they are symbols of the sacred center. Many have traveled to them in order to find the concentrated energy of Earth and to realize the strength of unimpeded space. Viewing a mountain at a distance or walking around its body we can see its shape, know its profile, survey its surrounds. The closer you come to the mountain the more it disappears, the mountain begins to lose its shape as you near it, its body begins to spread out over the landscape losing itself to itself. On climbing the mountain the mountain continues to vanish. It vanishes in the detail of each step, its crown is buried in space, its body is buried in the breath. On reaching the mountain summit we can ask, “What has been attained?” – The top of the mountain? Big view? But the mountain has already disappeared. Going down the mountain we can ask, “What has been attained?” Going down the mountain the closer we are to the mountain the more the mountain disappears, the closer we are to the mountain the more the mountain is realized. Mountain’s realization comes through the details of the breath, mountain appears in each step. Mountain then lives inside our bones, inside our heart-drum. It stands like a huge mother in the atmosphere of our minds. Mountain draws ancestors together in the form of clouds. Heaven, Earth and human meet in the raining of the past. Heaven, Earth and human meet in the winds of the future. Mountain mother is a birth gate that joins the above and below, she is a prayer house, she is a mountain. Mountain is a mountain.”

Joan Halifax

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