Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Are You Missing Out?

What would he be like?  Would he look like his pictures?  How comfortable would it be to visit with him?  Would we have anything to say after the initial polite introductions?  I had butterflies in my stomach and many questions running through my  mind as I drove down to the Family History Library recently to do research and meet a distant cousin.

Back in 2000, Claude and I began emailing while searching for more information about Martin Ayers. I had shared some information about Martin on  Rootsweb  and Claude saw the information and contacted me to see what the connection was. We then began the typical exchange of sharing information and working together to try and fill in the blanks on our family trees. As is so often the case, he had things I did not have and visa versa, so we were able to help each other.  We have continued to stay in touch for 13 years now.
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Claude and I with our spouses at
This is the Place Heritage Park

Martin Ayers was born in 1796 in Greenville, South Carolina and his wife, Sarah Simmons, was born 13 July 1800 in Greenville, South Carolina.  They married 31 August 1817 in Greenville, but eventually moved to Georgia, where they were living when they died.  They are both buried at the Bethlehem Baptist Church Cemetery in Haralson County, Georgia.  A picture of the cemetery and their headstone can be found here.

Claude was researching Martin and Sarah’s daughter, Mary Anne Ayers, who married William W. Johnson and I was interested in Martin Ayers for several reasons.  Martin and Sarah’s daughter Nancy E. Ayers was the first wife of James W. Ganus, who was brother to my 2nd great grandfather, John Monroe Ganus. In addition, Martin and Sarah’s son, Reuben Ayers,  married Frances L. Rainwater, who was sister to my 2nd great grandmother, Olivia Rainwater Ganus.  Claude generously shared pictures of descendants and pictures from his trip to Georgia and I shared information that I had been able to find at the Family History Library.

A few weeks ago Claude and his wife flew in with his local genealogy society for a week of research at the Family History Library and so, after all of these years, Claude and I were able to meet.  The initial nervousness left as soon as I met Claude and his wife.  Their kindness was immediately evident and their deep Texas drawl warmed this displaced southerner to her very core. 

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View of Antelope Island
From the marina at the Great Salt Lake

We spent time researching at the library together while sharing more information and enjoyed going to lunch and getting to know each other better.  In addition, my husband and I were able to spend some time showing Claude and his wife some of the local sites. I had a great time and was so grateful to finally meet this distant cousin and his wife.

From family reunions to research field trips, there are many opportunities to step outside of court houses and libraries into the present and make connections with cousins---opportunities that I don't want to miss.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Piecing Together Their Lives ---Part 3

It’s been eleven years since that first email that marked the beginning of  Karen's and my genealogical journey together.  Since that time, we have continued to share our research and so much more.  And while there still remains unanswered questions about Margaret, we have learned a lot about her and together we have pieced together the following story.

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Margaret Ganus Blackmon
(Only known photo) Contributed by Karen
as shared with her by Darlene Emmert
Margaret Ganus was born about 1832 and married James Blackmon on the 16 December 1857 in Fayette County, Georgia.  For some time, James and Margaret remained in Fayette County where Margaret had grown up and where her parents and several siblings continued to live. There, James farmed and Margaret undoubtedly was busy caring for their house and their children .  They had been married for about five years when the events leading to the Civil War began to unfold.  Loyal to the Confederacy, James joined countless others in enlisting to fight for the southern cause.
 
On a spring day in 1862,  Margaret watched as her husband, James  Blackmon, her brother David Ganus, and her brother- in- law, Burton W. Cook, all  boarded the train bound for Richmond, VA.  Alongside their neighbors and friends, the men had enlisted on  May 1, 1862 with the Fayette Planters, Company C, 53rd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry.   I can imagine the two sisters and their sister-in-law standing with their arms around each other and their children gathered close as the train carrying their husbands, fathers and brothers chugged out of the station.   I am sure that they felt some anxiety as they said their goodbyes, but many southern families believed that it would be a short battle and that soon their loved ones would return home and life would resume.

The Civil War deeply impacted Margaret’s family in many ways, as it did most families on both sides of the conflict.  Margaret had both brothers and brothers-in-law enlist.  Her brother David, never returned home, but died of pneumonia while at Camp Fredericksburg, a story I shared in an earlier post.  Her brother, William, had many health problems incident to the war and died at the age of 33, leaving behind a widow and four young children.  Her brother James, also developed health problems as a result of his service and suffered for the remainder of his life.  In addition, James Blackmon's brother, Edmond, suffered with bilious fever and other ailments during his service, and his brother-in-law, William Speight, died of disease at Knoxville, leaving behind a young wife who delivered their baby girl a month after his death.  According to James Blackmon’s pension application, he was wounded in the left arm and shoulder in 1862 at Spotsylvania, injuries which continued to plaque him until the end of his life. Additionally, his service records indicate that he was frequently ill while enlisted.  I can't imagine the grief and worry that Margaret felt each time she received word of a loved ones' death, injury or illness, while she herself continued alone to bear the heavy weight of feeding and caring for herself and their children.  

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James Blackmon was among those captured at “Gaines Farm,”  which was at the center of the battle of Gaines Mill, or First Battle of Cold Harbor.  He and brother-in-law, Burton Cook, were then taken as prisoners to Point Lookout, Maryland.  A month later Burton and James were transferred to Elmira, New York, which was nicknamed  “Helmira” by the prisoners, due to the deplorable conditions there.  As I shared in a previous post,  Elmira had the highest death rate per capita of northern prisons.  I know that mental attitude can make a difference for those that are imprisoned and forced to endure such horrible conditions and so I wonder whether Burton and James pulled together and helped each other to have the will and determination necessary to survive the months of deprivation.

At the same time, I wonder if  their wives, Mary and Margaret (who were sisters), were truly aware of the extent of their husbands suffering during their imprisonment.  I wonder if the sisters wept together, consoled each other, and prayed together for better days to come.  Did they help each other care for their children?  Did they work together to find ways to feed their families?   Both Margaret and Mary lived outside of Atlanta and undoubtedly endured a multitude of hardships in the years that followed.

James was released on 7 July, 1865, nearly a month after brother-in-law Burton Cook.  It was likely difficult for Margaret when Burton returned home to her sister, while her own husband remained at the prison camp.  Did Burton share what they had endured or did he spare Margaret of any additional worry?  When James Blackmon was finally released, he signed the required “Oath of Allegiance,” and thankfully from it we have an idea of what he looked like as his physical description indicates that he had a dark complexion, dark hair, grey eyes and was 5 feet 9 inches tall. 

While I know that life following the Civil War was never the same for the southern people, I am amazed at the resiliency these families showed as they picked up and moved on with life.  James and Margaret remained in Georgia for at least twenty more years, had  five known children and James somehow managed to provide for their family by farming, which was no small feat in post Civil War Georgia.

For some unknown reason, by 1888,  James and Margaret had moved to Blount County, Alabama.    They were living there on a 200 acre farm near “Joy” when James died 11 September 1903.  Karen shared his very short death notice that appeared in the September 17, 1903 edition of The Southern Democrat.  It simply stated “James Blackmon, 66, died last Friday, near Joy.” 

On 11 July 1905, Margaret’s Civil War Widow's Pension Application  indicated that she had absolutely nothing and had never remarried. Several of Margaret's children were living in the area and hopefully they were a source of help and support for her in the winding down scene of her life. While we are unsure of exactly when Margaret died, we believe that it was sometime after her filing in 1905 and before 1910. 

Margaret saw and endured a great deal of hardship during her lifetime.  She sent a husband to war, buried at least one child and managed to care for their other children while James was in a Civil War prison camp. Living in an area frequented by tornadoes and hail storms, she and James faced the elements, even though weather frequently threatened their farms, their homes and their very existence. While her life was full of many trials and hardships, I am sure that it included many joys as well.  James and Margaret remained by each other's side for 46 years and brought five children into the world.  They lived to see and enjoy grandchildren,  lived much of their life surrounded by extended family, and were able to somehow always provide for themselves.

Although families today don’t always remain in close proximity to each other as they did so many years ago, thanks to the internet the world has become a little smaller and we are able to feel a closeness to distant "kin" regardless of our distance.  Over the years, Karen and I have shared family history and so much more.  We have shared good times and hard times, prayed, laughed and cried together.  We've emailed, Facebooked, texted and talked on the phone.  Despite the odds and the distance, we found each other and have become an important part of each other's lives.

Karen wrote in a recent email:
I think Margaret, my ancestor, and her brother John, your ancestor, would be very pleased to see that their "children" love each other so much and have found each other across the years and miles. So many times since then, you and I, and our families, have leaned on each other through heartbreak and celebrated our joys together.
She went on to say:
Thank you, Michelle, for "keeping it real" for me--- because that is what genealogy is all about-- understanding that our ancestors were more than just dates on a census record, but real people who held on to each other for support and invested their hearts in each other--- just as I have with you.
I could not have said it better. Genealogy connects us to our dead whom we never knew and in the process, it can connect us to the living as well. It helps to provide us with a sense of belonging and family in a world that is increasingly disjointed. As we piece together dates and places, I know that we also piece together lives of both the living and the dead.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

PHOTO:  Wikipedia Commons.  Gaines Mill by John L. Parker, 1887

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Piecing Together Their Lives part 2

 
imageReceiving an email from Karen, indicating that we had a connection, was a great start to my day!  It reminded me of the childhood game “Old Maid” —I  was holding a hand full of ancestor cards and finally someone had given me a match!

Of course I immediately responded to Karen and that began an exchange that would not only lead me to learn about Margaret, but also about her descendants.

Karen shared her remarkable story.  She  had been researching her paternal great grandmother,  Margaret Blackmon.  One day as she searched through indexed marriage records, she came across a record for a Margaret Sams that had married James Blackmon.  Of course having a Margaret married to a James Blackmon peaked her interest and so she then researched the Sams family of the Fayette County area.  However,  try as she might, Karen could not find a Margaret Sams in any of the families . After a great deal of effort and frustration, she turned to forums in hopes of finding someone else with information about Margaret Sams, but did not have any luck. She did, however, find find me searching for a Margaret, but I was searching for a Margaret Ganus, not Sams.
Karen then shared with me:
Something just wouldn't leave me alone about it as I went to bed one night. Then, I woke up in the wee hours (as I often did when an epiphany would hit me in my sleep that I could not see during the daylight hours), and I realized that I needed to see the actual marriage record to compare the last names.
She also told me that the thought that came to her with great force in the middle of the night was that Margaret was a Ganus, not a Sams.  Genealogy is full of such stories----some call it serendipity and some call it inspiration.  They seem to come most often when we least expect it and when we begin to feel we are at the end of our rope.  When Karen got up the next morning, she returned to the forums, found my email address and shot me an email.

Knowing where I live, Karen asked that I look up the marriage record for Margaret “Sams” at the Family History Library and so I drove down to the library and pulled the film. Yep---there was no doubt in my mind, looking at the actual marriage record I could see that the record was for James Blackmon and Margaret Ganus, not Margaret Sams, but I sent a copy to Karen who also examined it and confirmed that she too believed Margaret was definitely a Ganus. The G had been incorrectly transcribed as an S and the way the n and u ran together it apparently had been read as the single letter “m”.   This experience is another testament to the fact that as wonderful as indexes can be, it is important to go to the original source and view it ourselves.

Once we knew that “our” Margaret married a Blackmon, we were able to see that she was listed RIGHT NEXT  to her parents on the1860 census. The census enumerator had used initials rather than first names, which made it difficult to make that connection without knowing Margaret’s married name, but armed with that information, it was easy to see.

Karen had been working for some time with her cousin, Leelan Blackmon.  He had been researching the family for years and had a wealth of information about the Blackmon family and had graciously shared what he knew.  Piece by piece, with each of us adding what we had, we were beginning to uncover Margaret’s life.  I will share her story in the coming post.   

Continue onto Piecing Together Their Lives, Part 3 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013


Photo from Wikipedia Commons and in Public Domain