I’ve actually been doing a little soul-searching as to where to go with the blog and other endeavors that I am part of. I’ve been searching high and low for answers when it comes to what am I doing here to who am I, how did I get here and yes, where I am going from here?
Although I am torn at times about living in Appalachia from staying to leaving, to staying again; yes, it is a daily struggle. But one thing is certain and make no mistake, I still have great affection and love for where I come from.
I love the history, the folklore, mysteries, and myths that surround us here in these mountains. But sometimes you come across a mystery that you have to solve. Even if it means ruffling some feathers and upsetting some family along the way.
You want answers.
It was a time where as a kid, I was seeking answers to questions for a school project. It was a simple task. Draw out a family tree and discover where you came from. There’s the first roadblock on this journey pops up and at that time, I was forbidden to cross that line.
I was seeking information for a project on a relative that no one wanted to or was willing to share. It’s as though some people wanted to re-write history and pretend that certain events didn’t happen. That’s the way I see it now, but then it was a part of a project and also seeking information about where I come from.
Closed down. Shut down.
Yep, that trip down family history lane ended pretty quickly.
Now, fast forward to 2012 and September 26th. My birthday.
I share my birthday with three other people in my family. My uncle Ulis and my cousin Betty on my father’s side and my cousin, Shannon on my mother’s side.
About two months before uncle Ulis passed away, I came to visit him on our birthday. I always liked to call him on the phone and he would do the same for me, but this year was much different. He was experiencing his birthday this year without Hattie Mae, his wife with whom he had celebrated a milestone wedding anniversary in May and who passed away just a month earlier.
So instead of just making a phone call, I decided to visit him and just take in being with him for almost three hours. We talked so much, some of that being about my wife who was finishing up the college semester at the time, her health, my son, who was working and going to college and my dad.
Our conversation then turned to my interest in genealogy. I really didn’t think anything about it at the time as we shared stories of “Brandy Jack” and uncle Ulis’s growing up on Tempest’s Branch in Dickenson County, VA and how he grew up, his eventual going to war in Europe and talking a little about his time there and coming back home to eventually work for Clinchfield Coal Company.
He began his next part of the discussion by asking me how much I knew about the family and the family tree. I told him that I knew some of the lineages but there were some question marks. I didn’t specify where, but someway, somehow, he knew where I was going.
And then it happened.
Out of his mouth came the conversation that I tried to have with my parents earlier when I was in elementary school, about this “mystery relative” who would have been my great-grandfather by all accounts and standards.
All I ever knew of him was “Unknown”.
That’s as far as it ever went in many family circles. My great-grandmother had been dead since 1977 and I wasn’t about to ask her then who “Unknown” was and the who was the father to my grandmother, my father’s mom.
But here it is, September 26, 2012, and for the first time, my uncle reveals a name.
The question is, how did he know?
I still remember the last part of that conversation too. He told me, if you figure it out and can find the proof, you’ll solve a mystery.
At the end of the day, I had not only celebrated a birthday with my uncle with the best three hours of sit down time that money couldn’t buy but I had a name to go along with the solving a family mystery that had existed for over 100 years.
Two months later, I was sobbing and saying goodbye to my uncle at his graveside in Russell County, VA.
I hadn’t discovered any information leading up to his death but I vowed I would find out more and try to put the pieces together of this complex puzzle.
That trail would remain cold until 2016 when I found my first lead.
Here is where I will end part one of my entry. I will discuss more the search for information and a treasure find from the U.S. Census Report and another roadblock along the journey.
I hope you’ll join me for Tracing My Roots: Part Two here on Appalachian Chained.
Thanks for reading.