Archive for August, 2012

Why doesn’t anyone write interesting obituaries anymore?  Why can’t they sound more like this one?


The Pale horse and his rider visited the Cowenshannock Congregation and took away from our dear Brother Martin his companion in life, and our much esteemed Sister Esther John, who was born October 11th 1828.  Fell asleep in Jesus March 7, 1894.  Aged 66 years 4 months and 26 days.  Sister John had been intermarried with Hawk, raised a family of 14 children one of which preceded her to the spirit world.  She left a dear husband, thirteen children, seventy six grand and three great grand chidren to mourn their loss which we believe is her eternal gain.  Sister John had been a consistant member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for a period of between 45 and 50 years, but about two years ago I had the pleasure of baptizing Sister John who up to the time of her departure to rest was a very consistant member of the Brethren church.  One of the sons informed the writer that for many years she kept family worship in her house.  We believe that she had her house set in order. May all her children follow her Christian example, and be prepared to meet their mother in the haven of eternal rest and join with her in singing the song of redeeming love.  The memorial sermon was Preached by the writer from the language of the apostle Paul 1st Cor.iii, 22, 23 on the 10th of March 1894.  May the God of all peace sanctify this providence to the good of all who may learn of it and especially to the bereaved, “Be ye also ready.”  J.B. Wampler  Blanco, Pa.

Here’s a picture of Esther:

I think I’m a little bit afraid of her.

But back to obituaries . . . .  “The pale horse and his rider” . . .  “fell asleep in Jesus” . . . “had her house set in order” . . .  “haven of eternal rest” . . .  “singing the song of redeeming love” . . . .

Please don’t think I’m mocking this obituary, or the obvious faith of Esther and the folks who memorialized her.  You can count me among the believers.  My point here is that obituaries now are so cut-and-dried, so boring, so name-name-name-date-date-place-place-church-cemetery-the end.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s an app for that . . . .

This obituary took time to write.  The writer knew Esther and her family, and has given all of her descendants a treasure with this brief capsule of her life.  The writer knew the community of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and the folks who would be reading the obituary.  What we get in 2012 is a glimpse of another time, when a person’s character might be reflected in her obituary, where the things and people that were important to her were spelled out, so the readers could perhaps nod their heads while reading and say, “Yep – that was Esther.”

I have no idea what will be included in my own obituary.  All the obvious information, sure – husband, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, church, cemetery.  And anyone who finds me in 3012 will know nothing important, except that I lived.  Who do I have to pay to end my obituary with “Be ye also ready!” ????

Disclaimer: I am not related to Esther (John) Hawk.  She is the great-great-grandmother of one of my dearest friends.  This obituary and the photo were attached to the tree of another researcher on Ancestry.com.  The obituary originally appeared in an unknown newspaper, and was credited as having been given to Carol K. Fisher O’Melia (great-great-grandaughter of Esther John Hawk and David Hawk) by Robert William Hawk, who received it from Edward Tiger.


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Family Pictures

Where am I from ?  What an easy question !  What a hard question ….

If I asked you where you are from, your first instinct would likely be to tell where you grew up, or maybe where you live now, depending on the context of the question.  But to a genealogist, even an amateur one like me, that question is loaded.  A genealogist hears not only “Where did you grow up?”, we also hear, “Where are your parents and grandparents from? What about THEIR parents and grandparents? Did your family originate in Europe? Asia? Africa? the Mideast? How did they get to America? When did they get to America? Why did they come to America?”  (At least, that’s what an American genealogist hears … I have no clue what a European/Asian/African/etc. genealogist hears!)

All my life, I was convinced I had Irish roots.  I mean, if you could see me, you’d agree … dark hair, light skin, a smattering of freckles (even at my age), green eyes.  SCREAMS Irish, doesn’t it?  Plus, once I read “Gone With The Wind,” I was convinced I was Irish.  Me and Scarlett (with her Irish father) … soul sisters for sure.  At some point, someone (not sure who) mentioned we were Scots-Irish, but at the time I (a) had no idea what that meant, and (b) cared only about the Irish part.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that the dream died.  OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic.  The point is, as I began to explore my family’s heritage, I discovered that we are very, ummm … white bread.  Not a melting pot.  No hyphenated heritage.  Not a blend of anything, unless you consider a blend of various towns and villages from England to be a blend.  Yep, that’s right.  I’m as English as they come.  Both sides.  No forking of that part of my family tree … one straight trunk all the way deep into English soil.  Queen Elizabeth likely has more variants in her bloodlines than I do.  If Henry Louis Gates, Jr. were to search my tree, he’d fall asleep.  (If you have no idea who he is, let me recommend “Finding Your Roots” on PBS – fascinating stuff.)

I was so disappointed.

But then the questions began, and disappointment faded.  Why did William Stewardson come here from England in the first place?  What about Ralph Shelton?  And the more questions I had, the more interested I became.  How did the Childress family, the Pettit family, the Elliott family, and the Mills family come into the picture?  And how about the Noels? The Parkers?  The Drumhellers?  WHAAAAAT ??  Drumhellers??!!??  Look! Germans!  Oh, for heaven’s sake!  How did THEY get in here ???  I was making a point … I was on a roll !!

My point is this … even the most direct line has some surprises.  You may know about them, you may not.  But every single one of those people had something to do with you drawing breath as you read this.  The fun of genealogy is stumbling over those surprises, meeting those people (even if it’s only on paper), and figuring out where they lived, how they lived, and how they fit into your history and the history of their society, wherever it may be.

So one of my goals of this blog is to explore where I come from geographically.  Mostly, that answer is Virginia, Virginia, Virginia, England, England, England. And Germany. Maybe Scotland.  And (oh please oh please oh please) maybe even Ireland.

Next post … where in Virginia ?

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