By Nancy Calhoun
Books & More
Researchers visit the Genealogy and Local History Department at Muskogee Public Library seeking information on their families. They want the basics: the names, births, marriages, U.S. Census, and other facts with dates and places that fill in a family tree or pedigree chart.
But they also want the information that helps them “put the meat on the bones” or “flesh out” their genealogy, as they say. These are the family stories, the first person stories from various records, the history of their migration, how they lived, and where they lived.
One means to do this is to visit the actual location where their lives were lived.
Visiting the homes and farms where family members lived, battlefields, schools, towns, work sites can all help bring an appreciation of the lives and contributions of others.
My grandparents left the green mountains of southwest Virginia in 1909 with their newborn son to farm in western Oklahoma. Every time I drive through the Alfalfa area north of Carnegie I think of how my grandmother must have experienced geography shock during her first summer on the hot wind swept plains. They left behind and sold many of their possessions prior to boarding the train due to the high freight rate, taking only the necessities.
Family letters reveal how she wrote her brother Jim, already in Oklahoma, that she wanted him to find a dozen hens and a rooster for her. It also related that she had sold her piano because it was too expensive to move it. Since she died when I was two years old, I never knew she played until I read that letter. A common love of music helped bridge the gap between us.
I am often drawn to Shiloh Battlefield when traveling through Tennessee. My great grandmother remembered vividly how her mother hid her and her siblings under the bed while the battle raged for two days in the area of their home. A tour guide pointed out to me the approximate location of their probable log home and its proximity to one of the main roads through the area, a road used by hundreds of troops.
This summer I visited Stone River Battlefield where the Battle of Murfreesboro was fought, called the Battle of Stone River by the Union troops. My 17-year-old great-grandfather had enlisted only four months before, just in time to experience the horror of Perryville and then Murfreesboro where his extreme wounds ended his time in the military. Seeing the area where his unit was placed helped bring the action to life more than a map or book on the battle.
This same grandfather left his home in what is known as the “nursery capital” to settle in Ellis County, Texas, and then to homestead in Pottawatomie County, Indian Territory.
Having visited all three locations, I was amazed at how similar the farmland is in every location. Rich, fertile, river bottom land stretching out where one can imagine cotton once grew.
A cousin and I achieved a long-time wish this summer when we visited the King’s Mountain Battlefield in South Carolina.
Our ancestors were part of the back country militia who flocked to the area after a threat and insult by the tyrannical and egotistical Gen. Patrick Ferguson. The Over the Mountain Men of eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia did not take his words lightly. The American Revolution was not looking good for the colonists revolting against the English at that time. The tide was turned by these frontier militiamen who traveled by their own horses and on foot bearing their hunting rifles and clad in the homespun clothing made by their wives.
Ferguson thought his perch on the high incline with his British uniformed and armed troops was impossible to conquer. Within an hour, the battle were over, Ferguson, his female “servant,” and many of his troops were dead and, many say, the tide of the American Revolution had turned.
It was emotional to stand on King’s Mountain and visualize General Campbell and his troops fighting their way up the mountain, frontier style. Their work done, they returned to their homes and farms and every day lives as quickly as they had come.
Or those returned who could. My fifth great grandmother’s first husband, Andrew Edmondson, was killed there, as were three others in his family.
Just huffing and puffing around the concrete walkway was enough for me. I could not imagine marching from southwest Virginia through the mountains to just get there. It gave me a stronger appreciation for the sacrifices and strength of character my ancestors exhibited as they made the freedoms possible that we tend to take for granted today: religion, speech, press, etc.
I had the basic information for a marriage record for a couple in Washington County, Virginia: names, date, county, minister.
But it wasn’t until I read the wife’s 1812 Widow’s Pension application that it came to life for me. She gave the same information I had: date, minister, etc., but then she wrote, “We were married in the parlor of my father’s home.” Then I could picture the scene.
Pension applications, diaries, photographs, ship logs, books including county histories are all means one can use to add “flesh to the bones.” It can be the most enjoyable part of genealogy travels and one that can be shared with living relatives.
Nancy Calhoun works in the Genealogy and Local History Department at the Muskogee Public Library. Reach her at (918) 682-6657, Ext. 257.