And now, part two of Tracing My Roots here on Appalachian Chained.
When I left you last on the blog, I was discussing my family history and the revelation by my late uncle who revealed to me a name in the search for my great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family. I mentioned that the trail after that revelation was a cold one until 2016 when I found my first lead.
In 2016, I came across a genealogy forum online and discovered the name my uncle had given me, as a part of a family group. I found a contact name who would have been a great-niece of the man that I was looking for.
Bingo. Progress made.
In my initial e-mail to the woman, I asked her if she was related to the man in question and she replied yes, asking me why I was concerned with it to which I replied back to her that it would take some explanation as to why the information had led me to this name, so I told the woman that I would write a detailed letter explaining the situation a little later.
For a short time, I subscribed to the website Ancestry.com and had access to their U.S. Census records. I used the 7-day trial as much as possible, finding leads and printing I had discovered as needed. Documentation, documentation, documentation. It felt like I was at my job again but seeking a different outcome. Before I wrote the woman with my detailed letter as to my “case” so to speak, I had to have my ducks lined up in a row and ready to quack when needed.
During my tedious and sometimes exhaustive search, I found the information that I needed. I found my Exhibit A to present in the first stage of my case to prove that this man was my great-grandfather. After searching through numerous pages of the 1900 U.S. Census in Pike County, KY, I uncovered information that showed my great-grandmother was working for a family as a servant to a middle-size to large size family. At the time of the 1900 U.S. Census that was conducted, my great-grandmother was about 14-15 years old at the time, having been born in 1885.
The find also solidified by beliefs about something that I had long been taught, by professors at Clinch Valley College and from discoveries of other family trees out there. I don’t want to go into it in great detail but let’s say that servanthood extended well after The Civil War and crossed the color barrier in different ways. Many cases never being recognized or admitted by today’s society. As I followed the breadcrumbs, the path started to become more visible. The pieces were finally falling into place.
In that family, there was a young boy around 15-16 years of age. Then it really added up. The big question was, did they really have a relationship and was it consensual or forced? Tough questions to answer from over a hundred and sixteen years ago. I had to go on guesswork that this young man, almost or at the age of 16 years old was the father of my grandmother and the very person that no one spoke of for years until my uncle did in 2012.
I had all the information lined up to present the findings to this relative, who by the way was the administrator of this genealogical forum/group. In my letter, I asked her to give me some information on this man and then, the delicate question; did he father any children that she knew of, other than his marriage and recorded around 1901. I went on to tell the woman e-mail that it was me and the remaining members of her family that were seeking answers and closure to a mystery that had hung over the family for a long, long time.
No ransom, no hidden skeletons, we were just seeking the answer to see if it was possible that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. If so, we’d take the next step in finding out officially there was a connection and go from there.
I hit “SEND” on the e-mail and prayed for an answer. An acknowledgment, something of some indication saying, yes or no.
Stone cold silence.
Even to this day, I haven’t heard a word from the woman about the e-mail I sent her. I asked myself and my wife if I had done the right thing. I mean the least she could have done was say, “No” and be done with it or the most she could do would be to send a reply full of curse words, calling me to question my own family ties or hunt me down and have me killed.
Yes, some people in Appalachia would go that far just to chop a “dangling unexplained limb” off the family tree and never say another word about it. You see, revelations can be damning things in the close-knit, church-going world of Appalachia. People don’t talk about children born out of wedlock from the past. They look down on it as a “disgrace”.
But today’s standards are different. It’s a fact of life. Things happen. Yes, by the Bible’s standards, it was wrong and still is. Back one hundred eighteen years ago, it was taboo. It was wrong and disgraceful but no one took the child’s issues into consideration. It didn’t ask to be born into this world. It was the result of timing.
So my attempt to solve the mystery had hit a major roadblock. I was frustrated and pained until September 2017, when an opportunity to present at an Appalachian historical/genealogy conference in my home county of Dickenson County and Breaks Interstate Park changed that roadblock into a new road sign of discovery.
It was the “Breaks”, I had been searching for.
Here is where I will end part two of my entry. In the subsequent entry, I’ll discuss my conversation with Appalachian writer and genealogist Oakley Dean Baldwin about what to do, where to go and that I had better be doing it now before it was too late. Then, a new lead and the e-mail confirmation in December that closed one chapter in my search, but opened a new one.
I hope you’ll join me for Tracing My Roots: Part Three here on Appalachian Chained soon. I promise to write the conclusion out rather quickly this time, that is, if life lets me.
Thanks for reading.