Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Cherished Trip Anchored on Genealogy (Part 5)

When I left off last I was in a hotel in Frankfort, Kentucky with my Aunt Marilyn on day 7 of a 10-day trip through four states. Aunt Marilyn is 89 and wanting to make sure that some of the family history is passed on for future generations. I've been pegged as the mot interested in genealogy and so she wanted to share this information with me and take me on a trip to learn more.

We visited with five second and third cousins on the trip who I had never met and I had the opportunity to visit the farm where my grandfather was born and where generations before him farmed as far back as the 1830s.

It was quite an enlightening trip. In the hotel room that night, Aunt Marilyn pulled out a tattered and yellowed rolled paper. It turned out to be a hand-written family tree she had compiled that stretched back to the 1700s. We looked at it together and then Aunt Marilyn turned in for the evening. I was too excited to sleep. I dimmed the desk light and sat there examining every bit of that family tree. It dawned on me that in not one, but two of the three cemeteries we had been to, I was related in some way to every person buried there. I was figuring out all the connections - who married who and where different surnames came in. I was completely fascinated. I was just scratching the surface and didn’t know that the best part was yet to come. 

Also with Aunt Marilyn’s papers was a booklet printed in the 1950s that was a lengthy account of that branch of the family history. The author wrote an introduction stating that the purpose of the book was so that the family history was passed down to future generations and not forgotten. I found Martha Murphy (my great-great-grandmother whose grave I had seen at the small cemetery on the family farm) and traced back from there to learn that her grandfather had been born in Dublin, Ireland and came to the United States in the 1780s as a stowaway on a ship when he was a teenager, landing in Virginia. I felt like I’d struck gold. I’d always been told that we had Irish roots and finally I had it in ink in front of me. I traced my family back six generations and learned where this great, great, great, great grandfather of mine had come from. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning studying this family tree and imagining what it might have been like to leave your family and home behind as a teenager with no plan in store and no security of knowing where you’d go when you got there.

On our last couple days of the trip we made our way into Illinois to the central Illinois area where Marilyn and my dad grew up with their two siblings and parents. I met another of Marilyn’s cousins (this time on her maternal side) in Charleston, who was so spry and peppy at the age of 90 and lived directly across the street from Eastern Illinois University where my dad and his siblings attended first through twelfth grade at the lab school where student teachers were trained. My dad also went to college there, graduating in 1958 with a degree in accounting. In our conversations about the cost of college, he’s told me that he lived at home and avoided the room & board charge, but that tuition was only $105 a year and that included summer classes. Can you even imagine that cost? His total college education was about $420!!!!!!!

We stayed at a hotel in Arcola and visited one of the local Amish restaurants for a feast of fried chicken and all the trimmings. We also visited two local cemeteries where Marilyn’s parents and several other family members were buried.

Our final stop was to visit another of Marilyn’s maternal cousins in Zion, Illinois where we had lunch with her and her husband and learned about their family, including their son who was a state police officer killed in the line of duty.

We returned after 10 days and it was an experience I’m so glad that I had. It was hard leaving my husband and kids for that long. I’d never been away from them for that many days and it had really been well over a decade since I’d taken any trip that long. But, it was precious time with my aunt, who lives in Minnesota and who I rarely get to see. And it was an opportunity to learn so much about the past and about our family history. I’ve since done some research online to see what more I can learn. My handwritten family tree from my Aunt goes back as far as the mid-1700s, so beyond that nothing is certain but hints that have shown up online lead back to lords and ladies and countesses and knights and earls in Scotland and England and it's fun to see where our family line potentially goes back further.

I’ve also kept in touch with Grant, who has sent me more bits of info from other relatives in his area. One piece he sent me was a story of a great-great-great-great-grandfather who married a Native American named Moonglow. She had helped him escape from some of the American Indians who were planning to kill him. Every once in a while I get a message from him with a little more info he has gotten from another relative. It's fascinating to get bits of info of an entire branch of my family I never knew existed a year ago.

I’ve tried over the years to jot down stories I’ve heard from my parents and aunts, but will definitely make a better effort now to record those memories and keep them accessible. If I don’t record it and share it and pass it down, then this is where it stops.

A Cherished Trip Anchored on Genealogy (Part 4)

I left off in the last entry toward the end of a 10-day trip with my Aunt Marilyn Sanchez, my father’s older sister. With her I set off on a four-state trip last fall where she’d introduce me to five second and third cousins I’d never met and their families. It was a fascinating trip that I really enjoyed.

We’d been to Dayton, Ohio where I met my Marilyn’s first cousin, Carole, and her family. I met Karen in Ashland, Kentucky. Her dad and Marilyn’s dad (my grandfather) were cousins. Then it was on to Frenchburg, Kentucky to meet Grant, whose paternal grandmother was a cousin of my paternal grandfather. 

Grant also took us to three different cemeteries where family members were buried. Grant and Marilyn pointed out a few headstones and explained who they were. I saw a lot of the same names over and over. One was Oldfield. 

I knew that Grant’s grandmother was an Oldfield and I knew that somewhere on my grandfather’s side there were Oldfields. My grandfather was born and raised on the Oldfield farm in Maytown, Kentucky, just outside Frenchburg. We visited the farm and made out names of a couple headstones (Dennie Oldfield and Martha Oldfield) on a little cemetery high a on hill on the farm, which is still in Grant’s family.

After we’d left Frenchburg and were settled in at our hotel for the night in Frankfort, Kentucky, Aunt Marilyn opened a bag she had in her trunk of more old photos and papers. She pulled out one rolled up piece of paper and said “You may want to look at this.” I was stunned. It was a handwritten family tree going back six generations to the 1700s. 

I couldn’t believe the treasure I had in front of me. Answers to so many questions I had were scrawled out on this long piece of paper. Aunt Marilyn and her late husband, John Sanchez, were very interested in genealogy. They’d traced back very far into the family. They’d visited England and seen the village where her mother’s family originated from before immigrating to the United States. She’d been to cemeteries in Virginia where some of our family’s early immigrants settled. This was all information jotted down from her first-hand knowledge and from what she was told to her by her relatives who had been born in the 19th century. This was the real deal - not something that was located online that may or may not be accurate. I was in awe.

I examined the family tree carefully trying to follow the lines and decipher the cursive writing going in several different directions. She had done it so long ago that it seemed to drop off around the 1970s. My name wasn't even included on it.

There was one relative who had 18 children. As I read on, I found where the Oldfield name came in. Rittie Oldfield, who was one of twelve children married Charles William Clark, was my great-grandmother. They were the parents of my paternal grandfather. It was in going back to Rittie’s parents, though, that led to my most exciting discovery. Read the conclusion of my trip in my next post.

A Cherished Trip Anchored on Genealogy (Part 3)

I left off last time mentioning that I was visiting Frenchburg, Kentucky, near where my grandfather was born on a trip with my 89-year-old aunt through four states to meet five new relatives I never knew existed. I should insert that I never met my grandfather. He died in the mid-1960s of a heart attack. He was in his late 60s. I wasn’t born until 1972. So, beyond my father and his siblings, I didn’t have much of a connection to that side of the family or know much about them.

We were visiting a cousin named Grant. His paternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather were cousins. My grandfather was also born and raised on the Oldfield family farm just outside Frenchburg in a tiny community called Maytown that Grant’s family still owns. On day two of our visit, Grant took us to three cemeteries. One was a modern one with many current gravestones, including that of his father, who has just passed away three months earlier. Another cemetery was mid-sized and it looked like it had been decades since anyone was buried there. Grant pointed out some land in the distance and I think he said a relative resided near there took care of the grounds.

The third cemetery was utterly fascinating. It was on the Oldfield family farm. It sat high on a hill far from the house and barns. We couldn’t even make it up there in our car. We had to jump into Grant’s 4-wheel drive truck to get up there. No one was living on the farm at the time and the cemetery had gotten a bit overgrown with foilage. It was surrounded by barbed wire fencing. From the outside I could only make out the last name of Oldfield on two headstones. Grant squeezed through some fencing to take a photo, scraping up his leg in the process. The photo showed that one was Dennie Oldfield (1886-1915) and the other was Martha Oldfield (1830-1913).

While Grant’s family headed out to a football game for their son, Jaxson, Marilyn and I had lunch on our own at a cute spot called the Cornbread Cafe not far from there house where I had one of my favorite southern meals, country fried streak with gravy and mashed potatoes. And I couldn’t go to a place called Cornbread Cafe and not have some cornbread. Everything was delicious.

Later that day, Grant shared a little bit of his family history and pulled out some family photos that we watched while cuddled on the sofa with their dog, Duke. His wife, Ashley, prepared a nice meal of spaghetti and salad and sweet tea for us that evening. 

The next day before heading out of town we joined them for a service at the Means Miracle Church, where I also met a local World War II veteran. It had rained heavily overnight and many spots in the hilly area had flooded. The Cornbread Cafe where we’d eaten the day before was under water. In fact, we weren’t quite sure we’d be able to make it out of the valley and back to the interstate because a lot of roadways were washed over. But we did make it out of town that morning and it was on to the state capitol of Frankfort to spend a night there before the next leg of the trip.

The original plan was to drive straight from Frenchburg to Vincennes, Indiana. I suggested we break it up and spend a night in Frankfort and Aunt Marilyn was sweet and flexible. It cut that day’s driving down from 6 hours to 2. We stopped for some pictures at the Kentucky State Capitol and relaxed a bit before heading out the next day for Vincennes, Indiana. 

We weren’t meeting any relatives in Vincennes - none that were living anyway. I did, however, get to learn a lot about someone who I’ve been told is one of my ancestors, George Rogers Clark, at the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, which is part of the National Parks Service. My maiden name is Clark and I always loved hearing stories from my aunts and my dad about the family tie. Somewhere along the way I seem to remember hearing that we were 28th cousins to him, but I don’t even know how to go about tracking that to verify it. It was always a fun story to hear, though. The memorial is beautiful and we watched a short movie about Clark, an American Colonel during the Revolutionary War. His younger brother, William Clark, was half of the explorer duo of Lewis & Clark who set out on a two-year expedition west of the Mississippi River in 1804.

Prairie Guest House, Fishers Indiana

On a recent media trip in Indianapolis, I spent a little time in Hamilton County, staying at the Prairie Guest House Bed & Breakfast in ...