Thursday, November 27, 2008

Children Without Names

On this Thanksgiving Day, 2008, I can honestly say I have much to be thankful for. My children are healthy, growing and learning every day, and Gary and I have jobs in this sagging economy. We even like our jobs, which is almost unheard of. I am thankful for the love and support of close friends. And I am thankful to live in a country that allows me to pursue my dreams.

These dreams include writing this genealogy blog. Sure, there are selfish reasons to do this; I wish to leave my words as a legacy for my own children so they may understand their family history. And it fulfills my inner-desire to write regularly. But in writing this blog, I have also learned the power of communication, of sharing, and of family bonds. The people I have met in the past months because of this blog have enriched my life considerably, and I am so thankful for their presence in my life.

Of course, I cannot forget those people a little closer to home. There are many members of my family that have taken interest in my writings and provide encouragement every week. In particular, I wish to thank my father, Howard Garrison Martin, Jr. Not only has my dad encouraged my crazy genealogy passions for years, he has contributed time and energy into furthering this dream. He has commented on every piece that is published, coordinated correspondence amongst long-lost cousins, and contributed stories detailing his own quests. I'm not sure what might have become of the fledgling posts had he not supported my early efforts. Dad, thank you for everything. I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am excited to present the second in a series written by my dad detailing his own genealogical journeys. I hope to publish many more.

Earlier in this blog I described the first stop in a genealogy road trip by my sister and me after the death of our father in 2000. It told of our emotional experience in Bancroft, a small community in southern, West Virginia. Bancroft was the girlhood home of our mother and the destination for many trips in our youth to visit Grandma Osborne.
After leaving Bancroft and visiting Aunt Betty in nearby Nitro, we traveled north to Morgantown where our father was raised. Morgantown is still the home of Uncle Hubert, who was 80 at the time of our visit. Hubert, or Hube as he is called within the family, is married to Traudl, a gracious host who has lost little of the energy of her youth. Hube, the only surviving sibling of my father, knows the location of paternal ancestors’ burial sites and is a valuable source of family lore.

Although there are many choices for genealogy research on both sides of my family, I have always been drawn to John Wesley Martin, our paternal great-grandfather who served with distinction in the Civil War. John Wesley must have been a busy man having found time both before and after the war to father 12 children with his wife Mary Ann while scratching out a living as a farmer in the hills around Cassville, West Virginia.

Children Without Names

Hube and Cousin Chris guided us to Oak Grove Cemetery where we found the marker for John Wesley and Mary Ann. The inscriptions were very clear and informative but I was immediately drawn to the nearby small unreadable stones. We were told by Hube that these were placed there by John Wesley and Mary Ann to mark each of their three children who died shortly after birth. Reflecting the modest income of a farmer, the children’s markers were of fieldstone - perhaps taken from the family farm.

Although admittedly a strange thing to do, I’ve been known to stop in country cemeteries during pleasure drives to read inscriptions and try to visualize the people who are buried there. I’ve seen many markers that are too worn to read and they had no effect on me. However, looking at the three unreadable stones caused a completely different emotion perhaps because of the blood relationship or the fact they were children. I promised myself to give the children back their names.

The process was not easy. Charcoal rubbing techniques which worked well for me on other stones yielded no results. Cemetery records were helpful but not complete. After despairing that I had reached an impasse, a friend suggested searching pension application forms which were filled out periodically by Civil War veterans in order to continue their pension payments.
And there it was, question #9 on a Department of The Interior Bureau of Pensions forms dated March 22, 1915, “ state the names and dates of birth of all your children, living and dead”. Two years before his death and in his own shaky handwriting, John Wesley had penned the names and dates which were the object of my search: Rebecca , Lulu and “infant son”.

A monument company in Morgantown found a granite stone which could be reconditioned and proceeded with the lettering and installation. Not wanting to disturb the original stones, I specified a ground level marker from which the viewer could also see the originals.

A genealogy crazed relative and I have a running joke about a gigantic family reunion in heaven attended by all the Martins of our lineage both past and present. After all the feasting, drinking, and story telling, the meeting is called to order by Michael and Jillian Martin who started all this by coming to America from England in 1680. The first order of business is to take nominations for the prestigious Martin Family Genealogy Award - an honor given to the relative who did the most during his/her time on earth to document family history. At one time I thought I held the lead in this competition. However, whatever lead I may have had is now diminished as more and more relatives find themselves intrigued by unraveling mysteries within the family.

As Martha Stewart is fond of saying, “this is a good thing”. It could be a close race!

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