Sunday, November 2, 2008

A few thoughts on family history

What posseses someone to get head over heels researching their family history......for some I'm sure its to find someone worthy in order to join a prominent society..i.e. DAR, Society of Colonial Dames of the 17th Century, SAR or Huguenot Society and a long list of groups where you must prove your descent from someone relating to the criteria of that group. Those people tend to stop when they have that one person who meets the criteria needed. Then there are those like me...loves history and enjoys it more when I know an ancestor lived in that era or had something to do with a famous battle or event in history......and just loves to solve a mystery story you'd heard from someone in the family. That could be a mysterious death or a run away bride, perhaps a change of last name and curious stories told about it that just don't add up.

Then there are the surprises you find when you start digging......a relationship to a famous pioneer or a group you've heard of and wondered about.

Being a family historian is a game or puzzle.....and sometimes just a bit of stubborness is necessary to figure out what happened to someone who is there one year and gone the next. Its tying up loose ends for one family and giving them a history. Its also sharing with someone who perhaps was adopted and feels lost till he understands his place in the scheme of things.

My own quest started as a ten year old. We had read our Weekly Reader in fifth grade one day...all about the reasons people left Europe to come to America. I was familiar with my mothers family as I had been around them all my life at that point...heard them telling stories about this ancestor or that one, visited cemeteries on Decoration Day and Easter Sunday with my Grandpa Wright and spent time with various relatives of my mothers parents as I grew up.

My dad's family had always been something of a mystery as we didn't visit often, for one reason or another. He told me what he knew of his grandpas family on his dads side...his grandpa was James Perry Adams from South Carolina. James married Emily McClellan in Fl and came to KY when she was pregnant with my Grandpa, Ancil Adams. He was the first born in Kentucky. On his mothers family he said they were kin to President Zachary Taylor. Thats one story I've never been able to prove though I've had others in the family repeat the same story.

About his mother's family, he said he knew three things....they were French Huguenots, came to Kentucky very early and their last name was Montfort with both t's pronounced and the last syllable emphasized. Something about that word huguenot. I had always loved big words...pronouncing them, learning the meanings, spelling them.....and huguenot was perfect in my book. From that point I determined to learn to speak French, the language of my ancestors.

One day we went to my Grandma Adams show to celebrate her birthday...all her kids and grandkids were to be least the ones that lived closeby. I have a picture of my Grandma and me looking at a photo of my Grandpa Adams..the first time I had ever seen what he looked like. She later gave me a copy of the same photo to take home with me. We sat and talked about her family. I was thirteen or nearly so and started paying attention to the stories she told me that day.

Her father died when she was four and her mother died when she was ten...leaving her to live with this aunt or another, then finally keeping house for her older brothers till her marriage. I suppose the stories she knew came from her mothers sister, Jennie Montfort Satterwhite Jensen. She knew the names of her aunts and uncles on her mothers side but knew little of her dad's family....except someone in Missouri had passed away and the estate was looking for next of kin. Grandma had moved to Indiana at this point and in the early 1900's it wasn't as easy to locate as it is now. Not long ago and with some surprise I learned the story was true.

There are some things I've learned that did not come from Grandma....and boy what surprises they have been. The family connection to the Boone family, the Shaker religious society of Kentucky, the Traveling Church that migrated in 1780 from Virginia to Kentucky, the Low Dutch Colony in Kentucky in 1780, quite a long list of Rev War veterans including FOUR women, and descending from a family that were among the first group of settlers that came from Holland to what is now Nieuw Amsterdam in 1624.

I used to say my ancestors were mainly from England, Ireland and Scotland, but now have more from Holland and France than all the others combined. Oh and learning to speak French, the language of my ancestors????? After two years of struggling and the teacher rolling her eyes at my attempts to pronounce words.....I later learned they were more likely speaking a language known as Walloon...a mix of Dutch and French and even more likely spoke Dutch after their arrival in America.

All of this came from the three things my dad told me when I was ten.

Barbara Whiteside
November 1, 2008

No comments: