all in the family

Some of you asked about the family project that was driving me to distraction in November and  December, and I kind of dropped the ball in responding. I’m now ready to reveal this unwieldy project for whatever it’s worth. It’s a four-generation “tree” of family members of the Indian side of our family. Beginning in the middle, there’s Hubby’s father and mother (with a larger photo just above), then fanning out on both sides with each of his siblings, and their children and grandchildren, all surrounded by candid photographs from each family. Thumb sized pictures are also shown in each box, along with the birth-marriage-death dates, so that future generations can easily pair the person with the name. My daughters have commented on how many facial characteristics–head shape, lips, etc.,  they share with some of their aunts, uncles and cousins in India. It was done using Microsoft Word 2010 in a word document with all the complications encountered in producing a poster sized document on a much-smaller scaled computer monitor, drawing the text boxes within text boxes with Word’s “paint” program in the manner of “eyeballing to make everything fit. Miraculously, everything did!

Some of you may remember our planned 2010 Indian family reunion in Goa where we planned a weekend to reacquaint our daughters and their families with Hubby’s side of the family. Unfortunately, my health concerns precluded my participation, but we urged the family to proceed without us. Our daughters, not having been to India in about 25 years, asked their father for a crash course of sorts–who was married to whom, who were their children, their father or mother and so on. That may have been when the initial seed was sown to develop a patriarchal family tree for everyone’s benefit. This idea was further reinforced when we had most of Hubby’s relatives  based in the US visit us during the summer. Family genealogies were typically passed along orally, or hand-written by elders to be passed down, so somebody knew some family specifics, but despite the effort so much family history seems to get lost. I, for one, am a strong believer is preserving and strengthening family links. So for my own sake and that of our small family, I decided to undertake the task of setting down–as officially as possible within my own limitations–a family register for the current four generations, to coexist with that of my own family origins. With the current trend of geologically scattering of families, for ours it would be a beginning family connection all-around.

This undertaking was by no means a simple task. As in the case of hubby’s family in South India, complications such as there being no family surname such as Smiths or Browns as we have in the West. Instead, a child with a given name such as Fred will often be identified as Fred, son of so and so. In addition, the families often use  “clan” names which may indicate the ancestral village of their origin and the sub caste the family belongs to, although not routinely used as an official or daily use name. To complicate the matter further, the child “naming” ceremony occurs about 10 days after the birth of the child and so the hospital birth records do not identify the child with any name except as son or daughter of the father so and so. Thus, use of birth records to construct a family tree is out of the question.   The way the children in the Tamil Brahmin families are named also adds another layer of confusion. Depending on the sex of the child the given name  may be a god’s name, or a deceased grandfather or grandmother’s name.  Very often the grandparents and other close relatives weigh in on the names and the parents try to accommodate everyone’s wishes.  So, the children end up with official name (for school records) and several other names given by the relatives.  Most of the time, as in this country, the long names are shortened with nicknames for daily use.  That explains why so many of Hubby’s family are known by different names within the family. I think you can see how, for anyone born in the West, it makes for much confusion about who’s who in the family. The project was duly completed and mailed to each family a week or more before Christmas.

I believe it quite appropriate to end this posting with the same quote by Rabindranath Tagore printed on the poster itself (just above the bottom picture border). “The tapestry of life’s story is woven with the threads of life’s ties, ever joining and breaking.” Ever joining indeed! As with these kinds of charts, ours has already become obsolete, but in a good way. One of Hubby’s nephew’s wife in India just gave birth to their second daughter few days ago. As per the custom, we are waiting to learn her name.

searching the proverbial woodpile for links to ireland

While we were sitting poolside with our friend ML in India, chatting about discoveries we were making and my becoming more familiar with Hubby’s family and seeing how they live rather than just attending weddings, ML remarked to Hubby that our next trip should be to the countries of my origin. Hubby is always ready to go all the time, so he announced right there that come fall we were going to parts unknown as yet to England, Ireland and Scotland. First it would require a bit of research in between posting our adventures of India for family.

I prevailed upon my brother to mail me a genealogy chart he’d been working on that led me back six generations, to 1733. Unfortunately the information gets scanty at this point. I know the birth year, but nothing more. Presumably, these are the forebears that link me to Ireland and Scotland, but I feel a little like a swimmer on a great ocean being bounced about on the waves in my efforts, seeing as how I don’t actually know what I’m doing–YET. Enough has surfaced in my rather amateur attempt to get started that I know now I should have heeded the warning I read on a website I uncovered several weeks ago. It said:

WARNING: GENEALOGIAL RESEARCH MAY BECOME ADDICTIVE! THERE IS NO KNOWN CURE FOR THIS DISEASE.
“The following symptons may occur: burning, itching eyes; tired feet; lack of sleep; confusion; temporary loss of memory; hallucinations; writer’s cramp; rapid heartbeat; uncontrollable urge to visit courthouses; inordinate desire to walk through cemeteries; longing to speak with the dead; tendency to live in the past; habitual inclination towards excessive questioning; unnatural desire to take long trips; frustration; exhaustion; and telephonitis. If symptons persist, contact a professional genealogist.”

The quotation comes from a book by Michael Andrew Grissom, “Southern by the Grace of God” (as in American by birth, Southern by the grace, etc.). In case you hadn’t already figured it out, southerners are often accused of living in the past at best, or accused of ancestral worship at worst.

This same genealogical website contains information about my great- and great-great grandmothers, or  my paternal grandfather’s mother and grandmother, and therein lay my first link. The website host is apparently connected to me in that my great-great grandmother was his g-g-grandmother too. Our connection is through Lavinia (Taylor) Koon, (my great-great grandfather Absalom’s wife). Their daughter (Francis Melissa) was my great-grandmother. See how confusing this stuff gets?

If the facts posted are correct, in about 1859, Viney (as she was called) moved from South Carolina to northern Florida with her husband, Absalom, to live near her brothers in Columbia County. They brought along their six children. Three more were born after the move. Absalom joined the Confederate Army during the civil war and fought in the battle of Cold Harbor, VA. He entered the hospital and died on a bitter cold winter’s day in January 1865 while the nine month siege of Petersburg was still going on.

Lavinia,  or Aunt Viney, as she was known there, was apparently a shrewd business woman said to have bought up a lot of land and what is now Union County in Florida. Supposedly she owned most of the county in time, and continued to live there until her death in 1906. There were many stories handed down in my family about how “bossy” she was. The puzzle pieces falling into place here indicates that she was 37 (or 40) when she was widowed, and had a very large family–many of whom were probably still living with her, including Francis Melissa (my great-grandmother). This tells me that she had to be a strong woman, and maybe bossy too. She used to demand whatever man–white or black–she saw walking past her house to “come on in here and chop me a stack of wood.”

Viney’s daughter (my great-grandmother, Francis Melissa) is shown here with her husband, Tristram (called Truss). Either she looked a great deal like her mother, Lavinia, or this photograph posted on the website was incorrectly identified. This picture is in my own family album  She died in March 1942, two months before I was born in her house which only weeks before had become our new home. We lived there for only a couple of years until my father was drafted in WWII. My uncles (who were boys themselves at the time) called her a witch (maybe she took after her mother with her contrariness?) and wished she would die. Not long after she did–aged about 79 years. They harbored guilt for a long time afterwards, convinced they had caused her death. I like to think of her as an early feminist though.  She did produce the large family women were expected to those days (free farm labor) and that produced many more descendants including me!

The problem with trying to solve family puzzles and mysteries about beginnings sometimes brings up information you’d just as soon not know. I’d always assumed my forebears were too poor (except in owning land) to ever have owned slaves. This made me feel good. When I turned up estate records for William Taylor, my g-grandmother Francis Melissa’s grandfather, I learned he left an estate considered fairly wealthy for the times. In perusing the list of his personal goods I was astounded to find the biggest ticket items on the list included various mules (Peat, Kid, Tom, Sal, Jenah)  worth just under $300, two Negro men, Jack and Reuben, at $600 each; two Negro females, Lucy ($400) and Esther, who was perhaps a child (only $200). They reckoned the wheat still in his fields at the time of his death to be worth $25.

In spite of this disillusionment in a descendant, my progress thus far shows one of the six counties of northern Ireland, Armagh to be where my great-great grandfather (William W. Taylor) was born. He came to this country in 1808 when he was 11 years old, and became a citizen at age 25. There’s a lot more researching to do, but we have a beginning, although it’s an indirect connection. It’s fascinating to try and find the puzzle pieces. After that, it should be even more fun (and frustrating) to get the pieces to fit. I hope I don’t find any more about owning slaves. There’s lots more to look for from another branch (that g-g-g-g-g-grandfather I mentioned at the beginning, William,  born in 1733).

Meanwhile, anyone reading this who has experience and/or has suggestions for databases or how-tos, please let me know in the comments. (Thanks Grannymar in northern Ireland for the link you provided.)

Next destination for Wintersong posting will be the eastside Lake Song Resorts in Kerala, India.