The Last Year

I know it’s been almost a year since I have posted anything on my blog. I guess that’s not good. But it’s been difficult to even type the web address in my browser. I’ve been through the ringer this past year. I just couldn’t face any more family history, couldn’t face anything. I just didn’t have the heart for anything. I wanted to give up.

I had a couple of posts in the pipeline last April when I woke up on Sunday morning the 26th. I walked in the living room to find my mother had died in her sleep. I had just seen her sleeping peacefully the hour before. I was heartbroken. Our relationship had never been the best since I was a teenager, but in the last few months we had been able to put a lot of that behind us. I had done some work on her part of the tree, but I was one of the few among the family doing so and it was so hard to find any scrap of information. I’d often put it to the side to unconsciously think about how to deal with some of the problems that had cropped up. One of the posts in the pipeline when she died was about her maternal grandparents. I was finding my groove and hoping that would help me find her ancestors. I went on to publish that because I just didn’t want it sitting around until I could deal.

The next month was Memorial Day. I decided to honor her grandmother’s brother who had died at sea. Even grieving as I was, I couldn’t let Memorial Day pass me by. But I couldn’t face spending a lot of time at the computer writing. So I found a Facebook post I had done a couple of years before and simple cut and paste solved my problem. I went back to my grief.

I stayed there and didn’t give a damn about this blog.

Move forward to late August/early September. I find out my best friend was in the final stages of lung cancer. She passed away not long after. I had done work on her family tree and many of my posts here were about her family because I wanted to find a way to share everything I had at once.

So between her family and mine, I was too grieved to think about writing anything for this blog. Not only did I not write, I didn’t do research. Certainly, some things crossed my mind and I might do a random Google search or two, but nothing more complicated than that.

It wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that I even thought about returning to family history. I had grieved and cried until I didn’t think I had anything left inside. I visited both my mother’s and friend’s grave and had a long thinking spell. I came to the conclusion that they would want me to stop beating myself up grieving and would want me to continue researching if I so chose. But I felt they wanted it be my choice that had nothing to do with how I felt about them.

So I reluctantly agreed. It took me a few more days to pull up my blog’s dashboard to write this post. But I did and here I am.

Through the last months I’ve kept up with the stats through the WordPress app. People were still looking. I am grateful and that played a part in my return. People are looking for something here and I want to be able to give it to them if I can.

If you’ve had patience with me and this blog this far, I greatly appreciate it. Really, I do.

Give me a few days and maybe there will be something to pique your interest.


Mamaw and Papaw: Johnnie and Vola Null

I’ve written about many things on this blog, my family and others, but one part I’ve neglected has been my mother’s side of the family. I hope to remedy that today.

I’ve said before that I never knew any of my grandparents, but I did know one set of my great-grandparents on my mother’s side. We called them Mamaw and Papaw Null.

Their real names were Johnnie Null and Vola Earnest. When I knew them, they looked like this:

4fa28dd1-6f63-4005-8884-42d615b7b979-1My great-grandparents married young because as Mamaw put it, “I felt sorry for him.” Papaw’s parents had died when he was young and it was just him and his brother and sister. Mamaw came from a big, crazy family and I guess she thought everyone should have that. They went on to have seven children, six of whom lived to be adults.

Johnny Null family
The Johnnie Null family in the mid-1940s. From left to right: my grandmother Irene, Mamaw, Peggy, Papaw, Mary Lee. In front are Ruth and Johnnie Hugh.

The only one missing from this picture is my uncle Paul. He was the mid-life baby. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and Mamaw telling the story. It seemed by this point Mamaw and Papaw were in separate bedrooms. Mamaw said she got to missing Papaw and she went to see him one night (cue all the “ewwwws” from the kids). Nine months later…surprise! Uncle Paul was born.

Really. That’s about the way the story went. On the car ride home, I asked my mom where babies came from because Mamaw’s story just wasn’t doing it for me. I look back now and think that my mom probably wanted to kill her grandmother for telling that story.

Vola Earnest was an interesting woman to say the least. She struck me, even as a child, as a little cold. She loved me and I loved her, but cold is the only way I know how to describe her. Remember when I said she grew up in a crazy family? I meant it, but that’s a whole other blog post. Her father was married three or four times and there were a ton of kids. I don’t really know what it was like growing up for her but something intuitively feels off, if that makes sense. There was something I could feel even as a child.

I remember a time Mamaw was cooking Sunday dinner for all of us family and I was her special helper. I was maybe four. I helped her make biscuits (more like played in the flour). I did that a lot but what sets this Sunday apart was what Mamaw did next.

She wanted to make chicken so she went out in the back yard and got one. I was looking out the window at the time (bad, bad idea). Mamaw grabbed a chicken, one I had named Wilbur, and wrung its neck. I ran screaming through the house, calling Papaw and ended up in his lap. You know those outlines of a person in the wall that you see in cartoons? That was almost me. That’s how serious the situation was.

Well, it was to me. I told you she was interesting.

Mamaw died when I was six and Papaw when I was ten. I was grateful to have known them.


Follow Friday: My Favorite Blogs

If you must read another blog, other than mine. Then read the ones I read regularly. And if you have a recommendation, send it along. I’m always looking for interesting things to read.

No particular order:

  • Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Loretta Gillespie. This blog perfectly voices my frustration with Ancestry.
  • Hoosier Daddy? by Michael Lacopo. This blog has me hooked and helped me understand DNA. You feel with him all the way.
  • Tangled Roots and Trees by Schalene Jennings Dagutis. A new read. I’m envious of how far into the colonial period she seems to have gotten. Learning a lot and picking up a few tips. Also humorous. I love feeling along with a researcher.
  • Opening Doors in Brick Walls by Cathy Meder-Dempsey. Who knew Luxembourg could be so interesting? She makes it that way. My newest daily read (or until I get caught up).
  • Clue Wagon by Kerry Scott. Hilarious. Read it because she likes dead people just like we do.

The Future of Genealogy

Seems ambitiously titled, no?

This post came about on another sleepless night when I sat in bed pondering what I felt went wrong with my local historical society. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I know when something is wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me, the historical society has done some great things, two volumes of a county heritage among them. But lately, lately, it just seems like the society has gone down.

I want a historical and genealogical society to do two things for me: push me as a researcher and give me great historical background on the people I’m researching. I also want them heavily involved in preserving the local history. Our society has had maybe two genealogy workshops in the last decade and the monthly meetings have, for the most part, turned into “what life was like in the 30s” talks. That’s only interesting to a point.

But then it kills me when they complain about membership not growing. Well, they don’t do anything. They talk. They were doing a great thing restoring our original local jail and turning it into an archive for the rescued materials from our courthouse. And then for reasons I do not understand, they stopped being involved and wanted to create another building that housed society materials. It had something to do with the county development people wanting the archive to house only those rescued courthouse materials and not photographs and personal histories. Basically, someone got their feelings hurt.

We have a population of maybe 22,000 for the entire county. That’s really not a lot. We already have a genealogical room in our main library, the county courthouse, a museum, and now the archives. When people in town or even out of town come to do research, it is ridiculous to demand them to go to several different places all within a short distance of each other and all with differing opening days and times. It cuts the throat of the society and the local economy.

While I’m glad they rescued the older materials of the courthouse and created an archive (that’s only open two or three days a week, four hours a day), when the Mormons came to town to help microfilm records, those are the records they filmed. I can read those valuable materials seven days a week, twenty four hours a day in the comfort of my home, rain or shine.

That’s the future of genealogy: more and more documents online for anytime view. It’s the job of the societies and archives to have unique files if they desire foot traffic. If not, start scanning. You’ll be done in a few years.

But do something. Anything at all will do.

Why I Write the Way I Do

The more genealogy blogs I read, the more I feel that mine is unique. Not better, because it’s not, just unique.

I don’t think a single one of us got into genealogy because of names and dates. We got into genealogy because of the stories and the mysteries. But names and dates have become almost the genealogical standard.

We are so much more than that. I love history as much as the next person, maybe more. I can rattle names and dates off the top of my head like the complete nerd I am. But what intrigues me are the stories, the answer to the Whys and Hows, and not so much the short answer questions.

I abhor crafting sentences that start with “So and so was born on X date to Y parents.” My writing style has never been short, choppy sentences. I adore commas.

But most of it has to do with how I wish to be remembered. I don’t want to be known to my family as that boring, nerdy genealogist. I want to be the one known as the fun, engaging story teller.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like or desire facts. I do. I just try to turn those facts into an engaging story of what probably happened. The records leave me clues to extrapolate into a story.

It took me a long time to find my voice on this blog. I called it “Adventures of an Untameable Genealogist” for a reason. It’s just as much about me and my reactions as it is about the people I’m researching.

I’ve gotten an email or two about the way I describe ancestors dying. Needless to say, they weren’t happy. They think I’m morbid and have a preoccupation with death. I hate to tell you this, but anyone who does genealogy deals with 99% dead people. I just think we all have this idea of people dying a long time ago by just closing their eyes and souls peacefully leaving bodies.  Hate to tell you, but that’s not what happened.

Death is an important part of life and it’s my job to make that as real as I make their marriage or their day to day activities. Truth is, people suffered needlessly before modern medicine. That suffering influenced the survivors and, in children, how they turned out. Our ancestors saw things that changed them and the people they would eventually become.

There is a reason why we do the things we do and that is what I’m interested in. I want to know what motivated the soldier to enlist and go far from home. I want to know how someone died, not just when. I want to know why Tilby Smith had his wife murdered. I want to know what it was like to watch your mother give birth multiple times only to lose her life after one too many. I want to know what churches our ancestors prayed in when hope was almost gone. I just want to know.

I hope you do as well.