Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Family History Fun!

(Cross-posted to conversation.)

My patriarchal blessing very specifically indicates that I will be quite involved in family history work. And I am. It is now one of my greatest passions, and greatest blessings. But it did not come easily to me. I had some real family-of-origin issues that I did NOT want to confront, and besides, I figured poring through old dusty books was for old grandmothers in their eighties, and I had plenty of time for that “someday”.

But then something magical happened: I found out I could do genealogy on the computer! This was about ten or fifteen years ago, and there was no back then, but there was familysearch, and RootsWeb and GenWeb, and family web pages, and lots of people out there sharing what they’d found by email. It was pretty exciting, although things didn’t move quite as fast as they do now.

I didn’t want to know about my father’s family, but decided I could risk finding out about my mother’s side. I started poking around, and kept finding stuff that led me to my great-great grandparents (my mom’s paternal grandparents), who were named Alexander Moore Woodell and Martha Ann McKinnon. I saw census transcriptions for them (this was long before a couple of clicks on ancestry would reveal actual census images on demand!) that someone had hand-copied from some dusty old book that read:

1850 Census Robeson County, North Carolina
Alexander Woodall 22 M Farmer Robeson
Martha 21 F Robeson
Catharine 4 F Robeson
Archibald 2M Robeson
Lenora 6 months Robeson

I also found a marriage record for Alexander and Martha:
Bride: Martha Ann McKinnon
Groom: Alexander Woodel
Bond Date: 27 Jul 1844
County: Robeson
Record #: 01 170
Bondsman: Benjamin Pate; Lewis C Thompson
Witness: Sdh Howell
Bond #: 000118512

Now, if there’s one thing I love in this life, it’s people, and stories about people! (Ok, that’s two, and I really love a lot more than that, but they ARE very important to me!) So, in my head, I now have a story of a young couple who have met, fallen in love (cue the hearts and flowers), married and have three young children. Life for them seems quite rosy, and I like it. (Archibald is my great-grandfather, by the way, and I very much regret laughing at my mom when she used to tell me his name as a child; she was always telling me about family history back then, and she was not even LDS!)

But finding more information took quite some time. Seems there were lots of Woodells and McKinnons in Robeson County that had been mapped out, but nobody appeared to claim either Alexander or Martha. And they had just disappeared without a trace. I searched and searched, but to no avail for a very long time. Then I discovered this tidbit: (again,handcopied, but with Daniel miscopied as “David”!)

1870 Ouachita Co., AR census, pg #346B, dated 23 Aug 1870
Missouri Township, P.O. Lone Grove

26/26 Wordell, M. A. 42/F/W Farmer b. NC
Catherine 25/F/W NC
Archibald 23/M/W teaches school NC
Lenora 20/F/W NC
Daniel 18/M/W GA
Missouri 16/F/W GA
Theophilus 12/M/W GA
Evander 8/M/W AR

Wordell? Now, I’ve seen Woodell spelled many ways, but that was a new one. And where’s Alexander? And look at those kids’ birthplaces! Kept dropping ‘em out all over the place, like Gretel’s breadcrumb trail! Ok, so now I know, they spent some time in GA (1852 to at least 1858, as we can tell from the birthdays), and moved to Arkansas by at least 1862. BUT, WHERE’S ALEXANDER???

Ok, so there was a little thing called the War Between the States. Oh. Yeah. So, here’s the scoop:

Woodale, Alex R PVT, Co. G 11th Arkansas captured 10/21/64 Dallas Co., Arkansas died 01/01/65 Rem. Fever Died in Alton. IL Prison camp in Civil War

Conditions in the prison were harsh and the mortality rate was above average for a Union prison. Hot, humid summers and cold Midwestern winters took a heavy toll on prisoners already weakened by poor nourishment and inadequate clothing. The prison was overcrowded much of the time and sanitary facilities were inadequate. Pneumonia and dysentery were common killers but contagious diseases such as smallpox and rubella were the most feared. When smallpox infection became alarmingly high in the winter of 1862 and spring of 1863, a quarantine hospital was located on an island across the Mississippi River from the prison. Up to 300 prisoners and soldiers died and are buried on the island, now under water. A cemetery in North Alton that belonged to the State of Illinois was used for most that died. A monument there lists 1,534 names of Confederate soldiers that are known to have died.

I CRIED! I cried A LOT! I kept telling myself, “Peggy, they’re ALL dead!” But in my head, the story was a young couple with three sweet babies. Now, we have a 42 year old widow with seven kids (it was actually eight!) and a dead husband. Yes, I know, lots of people lost their husbands. But it was such an abrupt change. I needed, desperately, to know more of the story. And I found lots of it, like how all of Martha and Alexander’s kinfolk either died or moved away, and they moved to Georgia to be with the Clan McKinnon, and how they moved to Arkansas to be near Alexander’s family. I’ve met lots of cousins online, and it has been an amazing journey.

But, I was obsessed with Martha. What happened to her? How did she raise those kids alone, and did she remarry? I found lots of tidbits here and there, but my heart was still filled with sorrow for her. And then, I found out something wonderful! She had a brother! Ok, lots of people do, I know. But you see, what I found out is that after the war, it was hard times in Arkansas, but Martha decided to move to Texas, where her brother lived. His name was Alexander, too. He went by A.J. McKinnon (too many Alexanders!). He enlisted in the war with Alexander Woodell, but A.J. survived because he was a “surgeon”, or a medic, we might say now. And A.J. went on to become a physician, as many Scots did, and when I found my gggrandmother Martha in the 1880 Census, it looked like this:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
Self M Female W 51 NC Keeping House NC NC
Theophelus WOODELLE
Son M Male W 20 GA Works On Farm NC NC
Son M Male W 18 AR Works On Farm NC NC

What I didn’t know yet (though the information was there!) is that if I’d clicked on the “next family” button on familysearch it would have shown this family:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
Self M Male W 53 NC Farmer NC NC
Wife M Female W 53 SC Keeping House NC NC
Son S Male W 11 AR Works On Farm NC SC
Son S Male W 9 TX NC SC
Dau S Female W 6 TX NC SC

I didn’t know who this family next door was yet, but Mary Singletary (wife) was Mary Frances McKinnon, Martha’s sister! And up the road a bit was this family:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Race Age Birthplace Occupation Father's Birthplace Mother's Birthplace
Self M Male W 47 NC Physician NC NC
Wife M Female W 25 TX Keeping House SC GA
Dau S Female W 10 TX At Home NC TX
Dau S Female W 7 TX At Home NC TX
Dau S Female W 4 TX At Home NC TX
Son S Male W 1 TX NC TX

A.J., Martha and Mary’s younger brother, who survived the war! Maybe it is difficult to understand how YEARS of searching, and thinking of poor Martha raising all those children alone in difficult circumstances made me jump for joy to see her nestled in relative peace and prosperity, surrounded on either side by her loving family, but all I can say is that I was overjoyed, absolutely thrilled and delighted!

I still needed more details, but I started writing a novel about Martha, to account for all the information I was finding and to get the picture straight in my head. But I could find nothing beyond the 1880 Census. Until. A new cousin saw a post of mine about Alexander’s parents (still working on that!), and responded. She is also a descendant of Martha and Alexander, by their youngest, Evander. And she had some stories for me! One of them revealed that Martha was still alive in 1903. (You see, the 1890 Census was destroyed by fire, and I couldn’t find Martha in the 1900, so I figured she died—I’d gotten my happy ending in 1880, after all!) Seems that Martha remarried, for the family knew her as Martha Tyson, and she moved to another town in Texas. But I can’t find her!!! I can’t bring myself to work on the book anymore, until I know what happened to her!

So, with the move to North Carolina, I figured the Lord (and Martha!) are giving me a nudge to continue the search in person, for all of my lines pretty much go to NC, and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to see all those places they lived that I’ve only read about (and imagined!).

I could have told you that Joseph Smith said, "The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us [as individuals] is to seek after our dead" or that he said “…in the resurrection those who had been worked for would fall at the feet of those who had done their work, kiss their feet, embrace their knees and manifest the most exquisite gratitude.” But I decided that what I really wanted to tell you is that family history work is NOT work. It is FUN!! It is the best video game ever. It is why the Lord gave us computers. (I am serious about that!!) It is the best puzzle game ever. (My 23 year old INACTIVE daughter is quite addicted to it, thank God!) When the Spirit of Elijah turns the children’s hearts to the fathers, the children must reach out to each other to find all the pieces of the puzzle. Family history will write on your heart the stories of your family in a way that you will know you belong, and that you are loved, greatly, by generations of people you may not have ever met in this life, but that you knew and loved in the premortal world. And, it’s a lot of fun! Also, I don’t have to feel guilty, like when I play video games (btw, when I do, it is usually The Sims and the families I make are my own ancestors, with old-fashioned clothes and stuff!) because Boyd K. Packer said, "Every hour spent on genealogical research, however unproductive it appears, is worthwhile. It is pleasing to the Lord. It is our testimony to Him that we accept the doctrine of the resurrection and the plan of salvation." So, have fun!!
(And if you need any help, email me!!)
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