I’ve been struggling a bit with whether to continue this blog or not–I don’t want to get maudlin and repetitive with my family stories. In order to help generate topics, I’ve decided I’ll try participating in some of the questions and issues that other genealogical bloggers address.
My first effort in this vein is to write on the topic for this month’s Carnival of Genealogy–Here’s the explanation at the Creative Gene blog–”Living-relative connections made during your research processes and/or blog. Who found you or how did you find them? Were they helpful or did they send you on a wild goose chase for further information? How much and what kind of information did they share with you? What did you share with them? What kinds of contacts have you had… in person, via phone, online chat, email, snail mail, web casts?”
My husband’s father died when my husband was 18 months old. Both his sister and his brother are quite a bit older than him and established their own families early. Their mother never remarried but she and her young son moved from Texas, where all their family was, to Oklahoma where the oldest son was in college. It was the best thing for the boy who was to become my husband–he used to say he’d just be spitting tobacco and stirring up dust if he’d stayed in the little town where he was born. Here he could flourish in a larger church and school and begin what was to become a lifetime of schooling.
Anyway, after we had two sons of our own, we wanted to know more about his family. One of his aunts had done some research, but even as the novice I was then, I recognized that generations and people with the same names were mixed up. We knew his great-grandfather had come from Virginia to Texas just after the Civil War and that this great-grandfather had died in New Mexico–a “go west, young man” story if there ever was one. Somehow, we also knew that great-grandfather’s family had owned a place in Middlesex County,Virginia, named Corbin Hall.
I studied the map and decided to call Middlesex County to see what kind of records existed and if there was an historical or genealogical society that I could contact. Keep in mind that this was about 25 years ago, and while I usually took the safer and more thrifty step of writing a letter (with the always-recommended SASE), this time I decided to call. It looked like to me that the county seat was Urbanna and the best contact information I could find was for a town hall of some sort. I started explaining what I wanted to the woman who answered the phone, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when she told me not only was Corbin Hall still in existence, but that she’d grown up there. Her father had been the farm’s manager and now her brother lived there and served in that capacity.
She wasn’t a relative, but she offered to send me a photocopy of the area phone book with all the listings of my husband’s surname. It’s not a common one–Spindle–and I was shocked to see how many there were living in Essex and Caroline Counties, Viriginia.
My husband and I looked at that list for weeks. I guess I’d lost my nerve on cold calling, or else I was afraid I’d used up all my luck. One evening, it was time to put the boys to bed–a task usually performed by their dad. But this evening, I asked my husband if he would call someone from the list of names we’ d been sent. I told him I would put the boys to bed. We tried to choose from the list and finally, I just told him to pick a name and call. I went upstairs to wrestle the 2 and 5 year old into their beds.
My husband was still talking on the phone when I came back downstairs. Here’s how fortunate we were–he’d called the only Spindle family that had done any research or who really had any interest in their genealogy. Grace, the wife of the man who answered the phone, had traveled the counties and had done meticulous work–she was a retired English teacher. They were both in their late 70s and they still lived on land in a house that had been in the family since the 1700s, and it had a name–Bloomsbury. They were thrilled to hear from us.
I have a drawer full of letters that Grace wrote to me, sharing her research with us. She told me she was too old to learn the computer so those letters are written in her beautiful long-hand–page after page. She was methodical about answering my questions and she sent chart upon chart. My letters and charts went to her “hot” off my dot-matrix printer. She was a generous person and she took great pains to be sure that I got the “right” facts. There were generations of Johns and Mordecais and she helped me untangle them. She’d traced the land and she knew that one of the Johns had married a woman several years his senior, and she also knew the wife’s former husband’s name. She knew that neighbors married neighbors and that sometimes those neighbors were cousins. But she had them all straight and documented. Her research enabled some of us to enter the immigrant ancestor’s firstborn as a patriot in the Sons of the American Revolution.
A few years later, we traveled to Virginia to visit them in person–and we were fortunate enough to be able to return a few times more. My husband was overwhelmed when he set foot on that land–he didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction. We got to go down to Corbin Hall and visited with the family of the young woman from the town hall who helped us so much. We drove over to the Rappahannock River and looked at the place his family must have shipped their crops as well as received goods. William and Grace toured us through the country side introducing us to relatives and taking us to places my husband’s ancestors had owned. We visited Spindle Pond–owned by William’s twin brother, and looked at the mill wheel from the family’s mill.
When first William, and then Grace, died, we were very very sad and so grateful we’d found them. We felt fortunate indeed. Bloomsbury had to be sold out of the family, but what a treasure of memories remains. I don’t really expect to find other living relatives as dear as William and Grace were, and maybe part of what made that relationship so special was that it just seemed destined to be. Grace didn’t suffer fools gladly, but she took us in, shared her years of research, fed us the best blackberry cobbler I’ve ever eaten and let us prowl through her attic, both literally and figuratively. I’ll always be grateful–it’s a large part of the reason I’ve continued to look for family and their stories.
Now to find the pictures to include with this post.