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 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.