Thursday, January 17, 2008

Family Archeology

My apologies faithful readers for the long dry spell. I’ve been buried in a project that had my room so full of memorabilia, photos and other family history that I could barely swing a cat in here. Finally last night I got it sorted and put into plastic bins and away in a fashion that I can come back to it when I’m ready, section by section for the next phase. What it was, were the last couple of boxes from my fathers’ house. When he died two years ago and we subsequently had to clear out the house to sell it, I was nominated “family historian” being the only one among us with any real interest in that sort of thing.

What that meant was home to my tiny house with about 20 boxes of letters, photos and other stuff from a life of 84 years. I made great progress in the winter of 2006-2007 on processing all these things and getting them organized in some way that made sense to me, this meant by family – mothers or fathers ancestors? By era, 1800’s, early 1900’s, or later. By place of residence, was this the Missouri period, Connecticut or North Carolina? And on, and on, and on it went. I got to a point where I just could not take another minute of it, I got things put away and my room back into some kind of decent order so I could think in here again and then there were just a couple of more boxes left….

Well those boxes sat in the corner and other things were added to the pile over the course of the year until I had another fairly large stack that needed to be dealt with. Thing was, when I opened the last box of pictures it was a really old box and there I found photos of my father as a boy wearing knickers, as a young man wearing a suit and tie, of his parents holding him as a baby, of his twin brothers as toddlers, kissing each other on the steps of the front porch of the house where they grew up, none of these had I ever seen before.

I dug deeper and found pictures of my great grandmother. Lula Tamplin, you may recall the story from the southern roots tour of the autograph books from my great grandmother circa 1886, this was her, all these beautiful pictures of her as a young woman I had never seen. In our family the history line tends to go back through the men on my grandmothers side, no info about her mother, no info about my fathers father, his family being from the wrong side of the tracks, we didn’t delve there.

Inquiring minds want to know, I want to know- who was my great grandmother- where did she come from, who was her family? And my paternal grandfather too- what about him?

Deeper still into an earlier generation, I find the letters written by my great-great grandfather to his wife before and during the civil war. They are hard to read, written with a quill pen and ink, fancy script, but I’m learning to decipher it, transcribing the letters into the computer, slowly but surely, the story is unfolding. This is fascinating and like reading a mystery novel, what will come next? From his obituary I know he was a captain in the confederate army, that he spent all 4 years in the war, 15 months in a prison camp, later became a merchant in Arkansas. I can’t wait to find out more. Here is a taste:

"My nature would have to undergo a change, both physical and mental or else I would not be satisfied in Heaven unless you were there, Dear Wife your temperament is not so orderly and impetuous as mine, and you cannot comprehend nor conceive whenever the fountains of your affection are stirred up of the devotion, love, and even idolatry with which I worship you, if husband ever doted on wife more than me, [he would] almost forget his creator in the worship of the creature, Wife you must and I know you will excuse this effusion, if for no other reason than that it is the first of the kind I ever wrote to you, if it was from the pen of an unmarried lover you might question and doubt the protestations, but coming from your husband, who has I trust, always manifested the truth of what is stated, it is different, for Mollie you know I commenced my courtship after our marriage and kept it up ever since, and expect to act out the true character of a lover till death separates us which God grant may not be till we are both prepared to be resurrected in Heaven”

This was written in 1859, 10 days before the birth of their third child, the first letter in the stack. Wow. Now maybe I can get back to some normal state of things with my room back in order. I’ve scanned and placed in protective archival sleeves all of the pictures that are 80 plus years old from my father’s side- I still need to do that for the box from my mothers side but they are waiting and can be more easily handled as they are already sorted. Then I plan to begin retouching and printing copies of the old pictures and putting them in albums that will tell the story of the families from as far back as I am able to go. Here is a favorite shot of everybody eating watermelon circa 1925.

That's my great grandfather on the far right and my grandfather in the middle of the windows and my papa sitting on the left side of the stairs.

1 comment:

A said...

GG, I have been enjoying your commentary from afar, and certainly was quite impressed this evening by your story of familial treasures. I might never be able to lay my head in that room again, as the wealth of your visible ancestral history is just beginning to breathe. My hope for you is to enjoy every moment of your exploration!