October 18, 2018

My Mom's Story

When I started researching my family history, I had my eyes set on distant ancestors - those who came over on the Mayflower, or fought in the Civil War. I thought I knew everything there was to know about my recent and immediate family. But one day when casually talking with my mom, I learned there was more to her story than I thought.

A LOT more.

My mother was born on a plantation in West Tennessee. Yes, there were still plantations after the Civil War. Like many others, this one had a large home as the center piece. And it was run like a large business. The land was occupied by managers who oversaw every aspect of the livestock and crop production, and tenant farmers who leased the land from the plantation for a portion of their crop. My grandfather was one of the tenant farmers. He met and fell in love with my grandmother whose parents were a little higher up on the chain of command. And they didn’t think too much of my grandfather and his family. So they forced the couple apart. But not before my mother was conceived. She was born and raised by her father and his parents, just a mile or two away from her mother’s family. Every day she would ride the school bus past a house she knew contained a mother she believed didn’t love her and didn’t want her.

As time went on, she met my father, got married and had children (including me). Her father eventually remarried but was killed shortly after in a fire. It was about this time my mom was offered the opportunity to reconnect with her mother. Cousins and her half-siblings arranged a meeting where they hashed some things out. My mother finally learned the truth – that her mother DID love her and DID want her, but was prohibited from seeing her by her parents. Over time, all was forgiven and they grew closer and closer.

My grandmother was always around while I was growing up. She would spend Christmas with us, having long talks with my mother at the kitchen table. I thought nothing about it. I figured they were close like most mothers and daughters. While us kids were watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or playing outside, they just sat and talked for hours.

My grandmother passed away many years ago. But learning about her and my mother’s story rewrote my memories. They weren’t just talking at the kitchen table all those Christmases. They were catching up. They were making up for lost time. My mother also got to know and grew close to her half-siblings – a sister and brother. Raised like an only child, she often dreamed of having brothers or sisters to play with. When it was possible, my aunt and uncle took photos of them as babies/children at around the same year and had them photoshopped together – the childhood photo they always wanted.


I was recently reading the New Testament of my Bible which has a lot of adoption metaphors. (Romans 8:15, 23, Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 4:4-5) When I compared these to other scriptures that tell us we are sons and daughters of God (Genesis 1:27, Galatians 3:26, Galatians 4:7), I made a connection with my mother’s story.

My mother wasn’t adopted. She wasn’t a step-child. She wasn’t a foster child. She was a full-blooded daughter who’s relationship with her mother was broken…and then restored.

Isn’t that The Bible in a nutshell?

God conceived and created us. Then sin entered the picture and severed our relationship. But God continued to love and want us. And He pursued us until we were reunited with Him through Jesus Christ.

Two things I want you to take away from this:

  1. Don’t assume you know anyone’s full story. There’s probably more to it and them than you will ever know. I hope this leads you to treat everyone with grace and love.
  2. You are a child of God. You may feel separated from Him. But He is out there and He wants to know you.

January 15, 2018

The Luez

Genealogy is more than just people. It’s also the places in our family history.

I grew up in a small town that had a one-screen movie theater called the Luez. I have so many fond memories at this theater. This is where I saw E.T. phone home, Marty McFly go Back to the Future and The Goonies find One-Eyed-Willie’s treasure. I can still taste the Twix and smell the popcorn.
It was opened in the 1930’s by Louise Mask. When she built the current building in the 40’s a naming contest resulted in the shortened version of Ms. Mask’s name “LUEZ”. According to those who remember her, Miss Louise was a very conservative and stern woman. She would preview each movie before showing it to make sure it didn’t have any objectionable content. She never allowed food or drink inside the theater, insisting patrons enjoy their soda and popcorn in the lobby or outside. She was known to pace the isles to enforce this rule and to make sure couples were behaving decently.

Like many small town theaters, the Luez fell on hard times when multiplexes came along. It closed and reopened a few times over the years. But my town has been going through a revitalization, remodeling many of the main street buildings and holding outdoor music events and fundraisers. The Luez is one of those gems being preserved. When I heard about this I was so happy! Not only was the building going to be preserved and restored, but plans were made to make it into a multi-use movie/music venue!

I live 3 hours away, so I’m not able to attend and support these efforts as much as I’d like. But thanks to social media I can watch and support from afar. Just recently they restored the neon marquee.
When they printed t-shirts to raise money, my brother and sister-in-law got me one as a Christmas gift. And just this past Christmas, I got another token keepsake.

I had heard from a friend that they were finally replacing the seats in the theater. I made some calls and my family picked up a couple of the old seats that were just going to be thrown out. The cast-iron isle sides and armrests, as well as the cloth fold-down seats were a little dingy but have otherwise held up. My family picked up a couple that were in good shape.
Over the next few weeks, my other brother and sister-in-law cleaned them up and gave them a fresh coat of paint. Then they gave them to me at Christmas! It was my favorite gift this year!

Seeing the chairs and talking about the theater sparked my parents’ memories of the dates they had at the Luez. Maybe they sat in these very chairs!

We posted pictures of the refinished chairs on facebook and the comments flew! While everyone in town knew about the theater restoration, it never occurred to anyone else to pick up some of the old seats and restore them for themselves. The theater probably could have sold them to raise money toward the restoration. Many asked us if they had any more and how they could get their hands on them. We don’t know if there were any chairs left or if anyone got some. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some show up in antique shops or find good homes in other places in the area.

As for mine, they will be proudly displayed in my living room. I plan to add isle lights into the sides just as there were in the theater. And I look forward to sharing them with family and friends who visit my home for years to come.

October 30, 2017

Living Color

Have you come across those online articles or slide shows of historical black and white photos that have been colorized? They haven’t run them through some automated process but rather painstakingly researched and recreated the hues and patterns of the day and carefully applied them precisely to bring the old photos to life. What captures my imagination is the way this brings a new dimension to the photographs. It makes Abraham Lincoln seem less like a marble statue and more like a flesh and blood human being. It makes Mark Twain look like he could get up and start spinning a yarn. They look like photographs that could have been taken yesterday.

The Retronaut has released a book of colorized photos. I might pick one up for a Christmas gift. Maybe even one for my own coffee table.

If you will permit me to spin this into a metaphor, your family history could also benefit from colorization. What do I mean by this? I mean that it can be more than names, dates, birth certificates, death certificates and tombstones. It can be about personalities, stories, tales and legends. The farther back you go, the harder these might be to come by. This is why it’s important to talk to grandparents and even great-grandparents. Ask them what their parents and grandparents were like. Ask them about physical features (even if you have photographs) and memories of them. Record them on video or audio. This will not only revive the memories of those long gone, it will preserve aspects of your interview subject as well.

I’ve come across stories and details like this from other sources as well. Some of my Civil War ancestors recounted their experiences in local newspapers. Some of them even filled out questionnaires for historical preservation societies that included details about their family histories.

Try colorizing your family tree with the colors and flavors of human experience. A family history dipped in story makes a tasty treat for generations to come.

July 6, 2017

The Rub on Rubbings

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy is in the catacombs and finds the remains of a knight from the crusades? He takes out a large sheet of paper to complete a rubbing from a stone tablet that matches the knight’s shield. I’d heard of people doing the same thing with headstones. Like Indiana Jones, I thought this was more for informational purposes. But in researching how to properly do it, it seems lots of people ply this hobby for the artistry of the stone carvings as something interesting to hang on their wall

I say why can’t it be both?

During my recent trip along the National Road I found the need to do a rubbing in order to read a really old headstone. I purchased some packing paper that looked big enough and a small pack of crayons hoping these would do the trick. They didn’t. We were only able to read a few more words than before.

Weeks later I wanted to give it another shot. This time on a legible headstone from my family tree that was closer to home.  So I did a little more research. Most of my findings recommended things like interfacing paper, rubbing wax and other such tools that my local arts and crafts stores didn’t carry. I decided to make due with what I could find – the packing paper, crayons and maybe some charcoal sticks.

I chose my most recent genealogical person of interest, my 3x great grandfather Lewis Pearce. He’s buried in my hometown so I paid him a visit last time I was there. The paper was just big enough, almost as if it was made for this headstone. The charcoal produced a decent rubbing but it was very messy. I’d recommend rubber gloves if you use it. Or have access to a sink or at least bottles of water and a roll of paper towels.

I thought the end result was an interesting conversation piece. So I bought a frame and hung it on my wall.

My wife’s historical preservation training taught me to print a label for the back of the frame that might be handy if it ever changed hands or became illegible.

It’s not the most beautiful headstone, rubbing or wall art. But it’s personal, it has a great story and its about a real person. So, for my money, it works.

June 15, 2017

A Second Look

One of the great things about genealogy is that it isn’t always a solitary hobby. It enters you into a community of people doing the same work that sometimes intersects with yours. Since beginning my journey I have met many people (some relatives, some not) in chat rooms, through web sites or even in grave yards. But not everyone starts their journey at the same time. And not all journeys happen at the same pace. This is why it can be beneficial to periodically revisit web sites you’ve already searched. You never know what information or hidden gems could have been added since you were last there. Case in point…

A while back I highlighted my 3x great grandfather LewisPierce. He fought in the Civil War and is buried not far from where I grew up. I already had some great information on him including newspaper articles and a couple grainy photographs. So I thought this was all I was ever going to get. When I recently started using the FindAGrave smartphone app, I discovered someone had added to his listing and even included some great photographs!

I messaged the poster but haven’t heard back yet. Hopefully I will. And hopefully it will yield even more revelations.

But genealogist beware. More people posting things can also mean more misinformation. So I would advise you to discern you information. Get verification from at least one other official and objective source like a census record or death certificate.

June 7, 2017

What A Card!

Old timey photos have become popular fodder in the greeting card industry. Especially awkward family photos or stern-faced black & whites. But this article takes the cake for digging up the past while wishing someone a happy birthday!

May 29, 2017

Road Trip to the Past - Day 8: “The National Road” and “Returning to the Present”

Our final stop was The National Road and Zane Grey Museum in Zanesville, OH. This quaint little museum looks like it is housed in a former theater. But its impressive exhibits and very eager staff made it a worthwhile stop. It gave us great perspective on the history of The National Road and the role of its coach drivers (like Parris Eaches).

The staff even allowed my wife to peruse their collection of books and research materials where she found an entry about Parris!

Then, like birds in the fall, we started heading south again. Our time on the road was up. We had to head home and back to the present. We still didn’t touch our CDs, discussing our trip, highlights, what all we saw and found, and what we’d like to research in the future.

Parris was the character I was most interested in going into this trip. But I met a lot of other colorful characters along the way. And while census records and other publications disagree about the spelling of his name, we feel confident it was with 2 R’s. Maybe one day we’ll raise some money and put up a marker in South Side Cemetery for him and his family.

Now, weeks after returning home, my wife is still on fire for researching her family history. She is still deep in that rabbit hole. And I’ll admit I’ve started to wade back into mine. Maybe a trip to North Carolina is in our future. I wonder what distant Bakers lie waiting there to be rediscovered.