There’s nothing like hearing you’re related to slave owning confederates and murderers.
Susan Dotson, my lovely grandma, has been researching family history since the 60’s. While I spoke with her, she said her story started with her own grandmother, my great-great grandma!
Susan had been challenged by some church leaders to research four generations of her family. At the time, she didn’t know much about family history work, but her grandmother had been an expert. They wrote each other letters back and forth for a few years before my great-great grandma passed away in 1967. Although the time they spent writing each other was relatively short, the fire had been lit inside of Susan. She felt something drawing her to learn more about her relatives and ancestors.
“Learning about my ancestors is what made me so passionate about the work,” said Susan.
Upon asking what her favorite story was to share, Susan had just a plethora of adventures. Her particular favorite, she isn’t even sure if it’s true!
The family have had a couple of stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Like a detective solving mysteries, Susan enjoys uncovering the truth about these stories. Unfortunately, this one cannot be disproven, so we just assume it’s true.
When he father left to fight in the Civil War, a 13-year-old girl named Sally had been given charge over her family (and no, he did not fight against the confederates). This family lived in Georgia and worked on a plantation for their living, having many slaves to help with the work as well. Sally’s father made her promise that she would take care of her mother and eight siblings.
It wasn’t much longer after this when the Sherman’s March through Georgia occurred. The soldiers demanded to take Sally’s family’s plantation as a homebase. Just as this military leader was about to barge into the home and claim it as his own, Sally blocked his path. Spreading her arms and legs in the front door of her house, Sally denied this man entrance.
“You will not come into my home!” Sally cried out, scowling down this much larger, much stronger man without fear. “My mom is sleeping with her new baby, and you will not come into my home.”
Just to give you a picture, Sally wasn’t just 13, but she was also under 5 feet tall.
You would think that the general would get upset and push her out of the way, but the exact opposite happened! He thought Sally’s bravery was the funniest thing he had ever seen, and began laughing right in front of her.
Sally’s bravery amused this man so much, the general and his troops packed up and left!
I would hope such fearlessness runs in the family, but I have no idea.
Advice for Beginners
Susan said that the very best thing if you are new to family history work is to start with what you know.
Start writing down your immediate family’s history. It could be small things like nicknames you had for them, how they treated you, or even their names. Even a little bit of information can be preserved and then passed down after you’re gone.
Once you’ve written everything you know, go to your parents and ask them what they knew about their families. Then go to your grandparents if they’re still around.
There are some great resources out there too. Below are a couple that my grandma suggested. It might be a good place to start!
Now, my grandma had told me a few other stories (one being about a lady who killed her abusive husband with an ax), but I’ll be saving those for the future.
What I Learned
These family stories take research and time to compile, but they can be a unifying tool. Everyone likes knowing who they are and they loved hearing fun stories like the ones above.
Even knowing a little about the past can stabilize your future a little. I honestly don’t know why that is, but I challenge you to try it out. Call up your grandma and ask her about her high school experience or ask your grandpa about your great grandpa. As you learn more about the people in your past, it’s almost as if a missing part of you becomes complete.