The Importance of Family Connections

It’s hard to believe I have gone this long without posting anything. The run up to half-term break has been busy and when I’ve not been busy with work, I have been distracted by other things.

The last few days I have been absorbed with genealogical stuff as I have been revamping my family history website, trying to account for all of the descendants of my paternal great-great-great-great-grandparents who are over 70 or dead. It is the standard practice on genealogical websites to keep anonymous anyone who is living and under 70.

The downside of all this work is my worry that I am the only one of my surname who really cares about these things, so no one my ever access the site. Just because I think it is important for people to know where they come from and to whom they are related doesn’t mean anyone else does. But the information will be out there for the taking. Perhaps somehow an unknown cousin will be trying to uncover the forgotten past that their parents didn’t care about and find what I’ve provided.

There was a time when more people cared about who they were and realised that they were not simply a single identity.

The same attitude is common in the Church today. Christians reading the New Testament often read the words of Jesus or St Paul when they use the word translated “you” and assume that it is in the second person singular. Sadly, this is often re-enforced by preaching. “Me & Jesus” Christianity is not biblical. St Paul tries to get this across in I Corinthians 12, but sadly most people so many people even read that just to find out what spiritual gift(s) they have.

Likewise in our natural family, we need to appreciate, learn from, and be a part of the extended group of people, both past and present, of which God has chosen to make us a part. We often have no problem realising that family is the foundational institution of society. It was created by God. In wedding ceremonies we usually hear the “leave and cleave” passage from Genesis 2:24 and think of the new nuclear family as its own little capsule of love. However, if we look at the examples of family in the Bible, we don’t see that.

In North America and in some of western Europe, we have lost the sense of extended family that is still evident in much of the world. Somehow we think this loss is progress, when in fact it is regress. Just as in many areas, we have left behind the wisdom of centuries.

One of the things that has interested me as I have been doing research over the last few days is how names are important and passed on. My grandfather, my uncle, and my brother all had the same uncommon middle name and I recently found out that it goes back at least four more generations. Even though I use a pseudonym for this blog, there are a lot of real Solomons. The matriarch of our surname is remember in succeeding generations of Sarahs. Generations were connected.

Prosperity and technology has brought mobility and families have geographically grown further and further apart. I am probably the most extreme example in my own family. Fortunately in these most recent days it has brought advances in communications so that the world can be a smaller place. It has also allowed access to data that would not be so easily shared.

In this regard, I hope I am expended efforts on things that will matter.

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Ancestral Lands

Since I have been visiting my parents, where much of my personal library is located, I have had a chance to read a book that I got many years ago when it was withdrawn from circulation by the Gonzales Public Library, an establishment that was a regular haunt of mine in my college days.

In what has been one of the more popular posts on this blog, I talked about my Uncle George Littlefield. The book I am reading is George Littlefield: Texan by J. Evetts Haley, published in 1943 by the University of Oklahoma Press. At the time I acquired it, I knew that I was related to Uncle George – and he was always referred to as Uncle George Littlefield by my mother’s family – but I hadn’t made the exact genealogical connection. I just knew that he had put my great-grandmother through college.

Since, as you might expect, the first chapter of the biography covers his family background, it has been very interesting to read about my great-great-great-grandparents (his parents) in a real book (not a self-published genealogy-driven tome) with real footnotes referencing a wide range of primary source materials. The book details both real and personal property they possessed, acquired and sold. Through my genealogical research, I knew where some of this land was.

The personal recollections of former slaves continues to confirm my understanding the positive relationship they shared with my family. Because that is relevant to the novel I am intending to write, this has been particularly helpful.

During the years I lived in Gonzales County, I had thought it would be a nice place to settle. River bottom being the most desirable and fertile real estate, I had always wanted to own the land at the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers. I figured if one river made for good land, two must be so much the better.

Having never read that book I bought from the Gonzales Public Library, I had no idea my great-great-great-grandmother thought the same and not only acquired that land, but also moved there from the original plantation where she had settled with my great-great-great-grandfather located about 15 miles up the Guadalupe.

Were I to someday win the lottery or perhaps become a wildly successful writer – though the lottery win is the more likely of the two – I might yet buy that land.

Getting Greater and Greater Forefathers and Foremothers

I’ve been gone all day today doing genealogical research in Devon. It was very fruitful.

I went to see what I could dig up about the only ancestors on my father’s side with whom I have made a connection from the US back to the UK. I still don’t know when my great-great-great-grandmother immigrated, but I know that she was born in 1807 in Arlington, Devon and died in 1874 in Owensburg, Indiana. I don’t even know when she got married, but she was having children in Ohio by 1831. I knew the name of her father and mother, and her paternal grandparents and great-grandparents and a few dates.

Thanks to some wonderfully indexed and transcribed parish registers, I was quickly able to dig down much further. I found one set of her great-great-great-great-grandparents. That’s my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents John and Agnes (in the baptismal record of their son, “Agnis” in the burial record) Moor. Don’t let the last name make you think they were Spanish Muslims. Spelling being rather non-standardised in the 17th century, they are buried as Moor but baptised their son as Moore. Likewise their grandaughter was baptised as Moore, but married as Moor (becoming a Taylor).

In terms of dates, the earliest I could reach was the baptism of their son, my great (x8) grandfather Francis in 1635. Most people who can get back much further than this have an ancestor with a long-established genealogy, usually a peer of the realm or some such.

People really like having famous ancestors. I remember when I broke the news to a recently met distant cousin that we were not descended in a particular line from the Earls of Northumberland (before that title was raise to a dukedom) – that the dates made it a chronological impossibility – and she was neither happy nor buying it.

The ancestors I found today seem to be rather common folk as far as I can tell. I couldn’t find any wills because the Luftwaffe took care of those in their very thorough bombing of Exeter. All the wills were keep in the ecclesiatical courts there at the time. My great-great-great-grandfather James Taylor was not a famous folk singer, but rather a shoemaker. Likewise his daughter is Elizabeth was not married eight times, but rather had eight children, the fifth of which was my great-great-grandmother Sarah Elizabeth McWhirter. She in turn had 13 children. I belief the ninth one was my great-grandmother, who died the year of my birth and whose voice I have recorded from 1948.

But back to my day. . . I drove out through the tiny winding country lanes of North Devon to the little church at Loxhore where the ancestors I found today were hatched, matched, and dispatched. The font cover in the church dates from the 16th century – very possibly the cover removed to baptise each of my ancestors. It is a very small church and the acoustics were fabulous. I know because I used the opportunity to sing the Trisagion Prayers before commending the souls of my long-departed ancestor to safe-keeping of the Heavenly Father. After all, they may have been dead for over 300 years, but once they enter eternity, there is no time. It is just as if it were yesterday. I kissed the font as I asked God to remember their baptisms.

I don’t know how long it has been since anyone has even thought of them – how long they have been lost to the passage of time. Probably many, many years. I have found them. Now may their memory be eternal.