February 13, 2017

A (not so) Long Way Home

I just finished reading Saroo Brierley’s memoir “A Long Way Home” on which the Oscar® nominated film Lion is based. It is the story of a young boy from a small village in India who falls asleep on a train and wakes up hundreds of miles from home with no idea where he is or how to get back to his family. This boy is adopted by an Australian couple and raised in Tasmania. Years later, as an adult, he uses Google Earth to retrace is childhood trek to find his village and is reunited with his family.

This story touched me because I remember when Google Earth came out. The internet was still very slow compared to today’s high-speed broadband. And I was living in California, almost the other side of the country from where I grew up. Like most people, the first thing I did on Google Earth was search my childhood home. I did this along with my coworkers who were mostly from big cities like New York or Philadelphia. They were astonished to see the green Tennessee forests and fields I grew up around compared to the grids of streets and buildings they searched. Some thought I was raised a country bumpkin after seeing the birds-eye-view of my hometown.

I think what captures us about this is seeing our childhood homes like we’ve never seen it before – from above. Saroo Brierley comments on this in his book. It was a remarkable tool to help him piece together his origins from his fragmented memories. But the only way to be certain was to see it from the ground.

“A Long Way Home” also reminded me of a not-so-long journey I took about a year ago. I was in my hometown on a warm spring weekend with nothing planned for the day. I was talking with my mother about how she grew up on a plantation farming community. I asked her when she last visited her childhood home and she said she hadn’t been there since she left as a pre-teen. I was astonished! Since we had no plans and it was a beautiful day, we got in the car and hit the road.

The plantation was just a short 15-20 minute drive away. We drove past the main plantation house, now a museum, and many farms that were now operated by a state university. Finally we came to a field with what seemed like a short driveway.

“The house was back there.” My mother pointed.

“Well, can we go there?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t think anyone would mind.” I pushed “You know the people around here. They wouldn’t care if we just looked around.”

So we parked the car and began walking. My mother had been to the area many times over the years. But this was the first time she actually returned to the fields she walked as a little girl. We walked along a fence line until we came upon some woods. My mother looked around a little lost. I fearlessly trudged into the trees and soon found some foundation stones and some old rusting appliances. This was it! We had found it! Like archaeologists in a South American jungle, we were rediscovering the past! Little was left that looked like it did in my mom’s youth. But she could still point to landmarks and in the general direction where she would walk to catch the school bus or see friends.

Several hours later, we returned home and immediately pulled out the photo albums to pour over the few photos my mom had of her childhood home. We compared them to the memories of the area we had just explored. It astounded me that my mother had never returned here until now. It was so close! Perhaps she didn’t want to return. Perhaps she had painful memories there. Or perhaps she thought there was no worth in returning to the past.

I, however, gained a greater understanding of my mother’s journey - where and how she grew up. Like Saroo Brierley’s journey, I was glad I made the trip.

January 26, 2017

The Blog Awakens

Seven years later…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. But family history (as a hobby) can be like that. You set it down for a while. Then something comes along to awaken the desire inside you. Or someone else picks up where you left off. In this instance it is the former.

In the intermittent time a lot has happened in mine but mostly my wife’s family. This past year her uncle passed away. He was a busy guy, always tinkering with this, fixing that, or fiddling with something else. He had a vast collection of antiques and musical instruments. When the family gathered after a memorial service, his widow gave almost everything away to people in the family who she knew would cherish each item. I was given a banjo.

Now, I’m not a musician but I do have an appreciation for bluegrass music. This banjo is in pristine, almost new condition. When I got it home, I caringly went over it to clean off the dust. I tuned it as best I knew how and then I gave the strings an inaugural pluck. It sang out with a beautiful twang. It was a wonderful sound, probably the first notes it played in years. I gathered information on when and where the uncle originally got the banjo (a gift from his father) and will keep it in an envelope in the case along with a picture of him playing it.

I have a lot of learning to do on the banjo. I never even planned on learning the banjo. But I can’t sell or give this beautiful instrument away. It was given to me with the understanding that I would appreciate it and keep it in the family. And I’m not one to just let it sit in the corner gathering dust. There is a pull that draws me to it. I have to learn it. I must learn it. I’m never going to be the next Earl Scruggs or Steve Martin. But I have to try.


As I prepare to also take up this genealogical journey once again, I have to wipe away the dust and tune my strings again. Every time I think I’m out, it pulls me back in. I might be a little rusty, but it’ll come back to me. One day I might set it down for my last time. But, like my banjo, I’m sure someone will pick it up again.

December 15, 2010

“Who Do You Think You Are?” returns in 2011

In a previous post, I mentioned a genealogy themed TV show produced by Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame. If you caught it, you were treated to some interesting and often tear-jerking stories of celebrities discovering their family history. Matthew Broderick discovered his link to a Civil War hero similar to the one he portrayed in “Glory”. Meanwhile his wife Sarah Jessica Parker traced her lineage back to the Salem Witch Trials.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” will return January 21st, 2011 for another series of trips down genealogy lane. This season’s celebrity seekers includes Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Vanessa Williams, Lionel Richie, Ashley Judd, Steve Buscemi and Kim Cattrall. Look for it on NBC. Learn more here.

November 27, 2010

Major Minorities & Minor Majorities

A lot is made in our world about race relations. This has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years. We try so hard to make everything fair and everyone equal. But have you ever noticed that we aren’t so diligent with individuals? Most people make much ado about some minor part of their racial make-up.

“I’m one-sixteenth Native American.”

“I have a little Polynesian blood in me.”

“I’m descended from a Cherokee princess.”

When Halle Berry won an Academy Award for Best Actress, it was a big deal because she was the “first black woman to win the Best Actress Oscar®”. President Obama is our “first black President”. In both cases, they have one white parent and one black, yet the minority side of their race is what they (or the press, or we) identify them as.

Why is the minority in us given dominance? Is it because we like to cheer for the underdog? Are we looking for sympathy or special treatment? Or do we want to highlight the hardships some of our predecessors had to endure?

As far as I know, I am 100% white man. I’m not necessarily proud of that. That’s simply who I am. When thinking about my family history, what I am proud of is the minority of people who truly did something revolutionary: the ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, the ancestors who fought in the Civil War, the ancestors who left family and friends to pioneer the western frontier, the ancestor who had a town named after him. Out of the 5,000 or so people currently listed in my family tree, a very small number of them did something brave, extraordinary or just original. These are the people I try to identify with and hope to find similar qualities in myself.

November 11, 2010

Musings

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. And it’s been a while since I’ve touched any of my genealogy. And so goes this perpetual hobby…

But this brief intermission hasn’t been without noteworthy events. I learned, or rather was informed, that I am related to someone at my Nashville church. This came as a surprise to me since my family rarely seems to have ventured far from West Tennessee. This made attending the wedding of my newfound cousin that much more meaningful.

I’ve found it interesting that most female genealogists tend to focus on their maternal lines. Male genealogists, like me, are usually obsessed with the paternal line or following their last name – a practice that has left me wanting. Is this genealogical sexism or just an innate need to relate to our ancestors if only in a superficial way? A recent episode of “Nova” talked about the history of domesticated dogs and how scientists usually focus on mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed down through the maternal line) because it changes very little over time. Perhaps there’s greater value in following the maternal line.

May 20, 2010

Photoshop

This is a good example of what you can do with Photoshop...

Before <---------------------------------------------> After

...as well as a good example of the kinds of mistakes we made before Spellcheck.

April 2, 2010

Profile: Lewis E. Pierce

Born: December 25, 1844 South Carolina
Died: June 30, 1934, Bolivar, Tennessee
Relationship to me: 3rd Great-Grandfather

Lewis E. Pierce was born on Christmas day in 1844 to Joseph and Nancy Pierce of South Carolina. During the Civil War, Lewis fought in the Confederate army. According to family legend, Lewis served under Nathan Bedford Forrest for a time during which he found himself in Hardeman County, Tennessee. He was sent out to scout the area surrounding the camp and to seek food and supplies from nearby farm families when he met a farm girl named Rebecca Radford. The two fell in love. After the war, Lewis moved to Hardeman County and married Rebecca. They had nine children together.

On September 14th & 15th, 1900, a reunion was held in Hardeman County for veterans of the Confederate Army. Lewis was one of the over 3,000 people in attendance.
My 3x Great-Grandfather, Lewis E. Pierce in 1900 at the last Confederate Reunion in Hardeman County, TN.

Rebecca died in 1928. Lewis died six years later on her birthday.