Visiting the Past

As most of you know, Amsterdam isn’t the only journey I’ve been seeking recently. I have been working hard for the past few months on researching my family history. It’s become a borderline obsession, really. It only took one minor discovery on an 1880 census record (a woman whom I recently figured out wasn’t even my actual ancestor) to trigger hours and hours spent online, and more recently in the NY Public library to put together puzzle pieces of stories that go back almost 200 years.

The first couple of months felt easy. Everywhere I looked I found treasures of information. In combination with long phone calls, memories, and investigative skills of my mother, it seemed like we could go as far back as we cared to. Maiden names, siblings, parents, spouses (and surprise multiple spouses), birth dates, death dates, burial locations – so much information was there waiting for us. And then it was a matter of documenting addresses and understanding migration patterns on both my mother’s and father’s side, which strangely overlap in some cases. All more time consuming than challenging.

But after a few months of taking advantage of the low hanging fruit, it’s become time to start climbing the trees. I am still uncovering new information, just not as frequently. For instance, the woman I mentioned above from the 1880 census – I had been told my 2nd great grandmother on my father’s side was Anna. She was always Anna. So when I found her, along with a woman by my great grandmother’s name listed as her daughter, it was a no brainer. But last week, after further research, and finding the death certificates of two of her children (including my great grandmother, Mamie), I not only learned that her maiden name was Scott, but her first name was Emma. Emma Scott…not Anna. Along with that, I found her husband, a man whose identity has eluded me this entire time: John A. Perry. So my original sources have not been exhausted yet. But it’s about time for me to take the next step to uncover more details, more names, and hopefully more years.

The next step in this research project involves getting on a plane, meeting my mother in Atlanta, and essentially taking a trip back in time to learn more about our family. At the end of this month, we’ll rent a car and drive to two small cities in Georgia: Dawson and Albany. Much of my mother’s family originates there. In Dawson I’m hopeful that we may be able to break through the intimidating barrier to research known as slavery. If we can get our hands on some property records for the man we suspect enslaved my third and second great grandmothers, Julia and Lora, we may be able to find out where Julia came from and the names of her parents. Just the thought of that makes me anxious to get there.

Lora’s son, my great grandfather, George (after whom my late uncle was named) later moved to Albany with his siblings after his mother died. George is the one with the white father and somewhat curious family circumstances that I described in an earlier post. When he was about 18, he was living down the street from my great grandmother, Essie – she was about 13. We believe they met during this time, although they weren’t married for another 10 years or so (after he returned from WWI). In Albany we plan to go to their old addresses and imagine what it must have been like for them to live there in 1910. Based on the Google maps streetview, we have a pretty good chance of seeing the original houses. There are a number of other items to uncover in Albany. But I have a feeling 1910 might be the coolest year.

From Albany we’ll head down to Jacksonville, Florida, where there’s just tons of history, for both my mother and father. Here’s a good one: my grandfather (mom’s father) never talked much about his family. So much of what we’re learning about them is brand new information. His grandmother’s married name was Laura Brooks. Unfortunately we don’t know Laura’s parents, and haven’t known her maiden name. We only have her married to my 2nd great grandfather as an adult. The curious thing is the earliest I’ve been able to find her in the census, in 1880 when she’s married with kids, several of her children have different last names – Mitchell, not Brooks. They’re listed as “stepchildren” in relation to Laura’s husband. Did she just have a lot of children before she was married, and gave them her maiden name? These children were relatively old, indicating she had them when in her late teens. But then, five years later, she’s still living with my 2nd great grandfather and they have several children, including my grandfather’s mother. (It only gets more confusing. So if you’re lost, just skip to the next paragraph.) The older, half-siblings are no longer there. But they just might be adult neighbors living with their own families. Instead, there’s a whole new set of children with yet another last name – Kyler. These Kyler children are similar in age to the Brooks children. They’re listed as stepchildren to Laura’s husband, just like the Mitchells five years earlier. Who is the father of the Kyler children? And while we’re at it, who’s the father of the Mitchell children? And where were the Kyler children five years earlier when the youngest of them was born six years earlier. Were they living with their father? And how is Laura still functioning after having all of these children (we’re up to 12)? Well, long story less long, we discovered her in 1870, 5 years before she met my 2nd great grandfather. She’s living with the oldest set of kids, but they’re very young. There’s no husband/father. But her last name is Mitchell. She’s living with two single men – one has kids; the other is alone and named…Harrington Kyler. The oldest Kyler child was born 4 years later. Something fishy is going on there. And I’d like to get to the bottom of it. Hopefully we’ll get another clue while in Jacksonville.

And, with just as much importance, my mother grew up in Jacksonville. So while we’re there in the depths of history, I’m expecting we’ll also take this as an opportunity to remember the not so distant past, allowing her to revisit her childhood.  I’m looking forward to learning more about my ancestors on this trip.  I’m looking forward to learning more about my mother.  And I’m looking forward to learning more about myself.  All equally.

This might be a first: I’m more excited about this vacation than any other I have taken in the past.  And I’m not even leaving the country!

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