Monday, March 2, 2015

A “Who’s Who” of
Your Own Family History


Have you run into any famous names as you push your way into the unknown of your family’s past history?

I thought it rather notable when I bumped into a name of significance as I rolled through the genealogy of my extended Taliaferro line: Frank Lebby Stanton, writer and creator of the poem from which the Association of Graveyard Rabbits has drawn its name.

Finding mention of that name reminded me of the Unit Studies approach of my homeschooling years: a technique for studying a central figure or topic in history, then exploring all the related trails branching from that one point of examination. Sort of like mind-mapping for curriculum design, developing Unit Studies could escort you through varied educational terrain—math, science, composition, geography, language, sometimes even performing arts or athletics—all while studying history. Unit Studies took learning out of the education box and turned it into an observatory of how life really is, where everything is (or can be) related.

That experience—finding Frank—got me to thinking: could there be others who were once recognized as significant by their peers, during their lifetime?

Of course, that thought led to another: would there be enough of those interesting people in my extended family universe to warrant creation of my own family’s Who’s Who of relatives?

While I thought this an interesting possibility, my inner critic decided finding Frank was definitely a fluke—besides, he was an in-law—and dismissed the idea.

Then I ran into yesterday’s story.

There I was, mindlessly grinding my way through the Taliaferro genealogy I’ve been studying for the past month—Willie Catherine Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro—and I saw the possibility for entry number two in my own family's Who’s Who.

By this point in my progress, I was up to page fifty six in the Ivey text, and working on the descendants of Dr. John’s son Charles. I had moved on to Charles’ son—named John, after his grandfather—who married Martha Wright and moved from the family’s hometown in Surry County, North Carolina, to Tennessee.

This younger John Taliaferro had a son whom he named William, who had been married twice, owing to the death of his first wife sometime before 1869. William and his second wife—a cousin named Martha Franklin whom everyone called (for some inexplicable reason) Pattie—had one child, born in 1870. They named this son Charles Franklin Taliaferro.

While this younger Charles Taliaferro was listed as “a prominent physician,” that is not why I bring up his story today. Since Charles and his wife had no children, I’m certainly not mentioning his story for that reason—he, too, joined the ranks of those who became the last leaf on their family tree’s branch.

It is solely for one sentence in the Ivey book that I bring up Charles’ record today. He married a woman whose own genealogy was notable enough to be included in the Ivey narrative.
He married Ida Virginia Bolejack, daughter of Nathaniel Bolejack and Victoria (Bunker) Bolejack of Mount Airy, N.C…

Up to this point, nothing in the narrative would be unusual for a genealogy book. It is the continuation of that last sentence that made all the difference.
…and granddaughter of Chang Bunker, one of the Siamese twins.

Siamese twins? I thought the name, Chang, to be quite unusual for the spouse of anyone associated with a family whose roots reached back to colonial days in America. More than that, though, while I understood the concept of Siamese twins, I had never given any thought to the reason why such twins might be dubbed “Siamese.”

Straight to Wikipedia I flew, looking for any possible entry on Chang Bunker.

I found one.

Yes, the original Siamese twins were indeed named Chang and Eng, and they were, literally, Siamese. Born in 1811 near Bangkok, they were observed as teenagers by a Scottish merchant living in the area. The merchant realized the financial possibilities in exploiting the curiosity of the twins’ predicament, and entered into a contract with the twins’ family to take the boys on a world tour.

At the end of their agreed contractual terms, the now-world-traveler twins decided that the place where they would most like to settle was an area near Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They adopted Western styles and ways, choosing even to assume an anglicized surname: Bunker. Becoming naturalized American citizens, they went into business for themselves and became an established part of their new community.

Incredibly—and awkwardly, I am assuming—the brothers married. Two sisters became their wives, Chang marrying Adelaide Yates, his brother marrying her sister Sarah Anne.

Chang and Adelaide became parents of eleven children. One of those children was Victoria Bunker, who eventually married Nathaniel Bolejack. They, in turn, became parents of Ida Virginia Bolejack. And she, as we read above, became the wife of Dr. Charles Franklin Taliaferro.

While Chang and his constant-companion brother Eng became worldwide curiosities, Chang’s granddaughter became someone in my own extended family whom I can consider intriguing. If it hadn’t been for stumbling upon her name—and the inclusion of her family’s story in my family’s genealogy—I wouldn’t have revisited the history of the concept of “Siamese twins” and would have missed the personal connection totally. Though yet another in-law to my Taliaferro line, Ida Virginia Bolejack Taliaferro makes a great candidate for my own private Who’s Who of interesting relatives.



Above: "Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins, One Holding a Book," undated lithograph by unidentified publisher; public domain image in the Iconographic Collections at Wellcome Library, from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom; this image shared under Creative Commons Attribution only license CC BY 4.0; via Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Write Choice


Driving home from a meeting the other evening, I had a thought. It was a thought about writing and the many stories we researchers glean from our examination of our own family history.

This particular meeting I had just left was for a specialized group of members of my local genealogical society. Our purpose in meeting every month is to encourage members who wish to write about their family history.

Though the stated purpose sounds impressive, not everyone has the same end product in mind. While some do intend to write actual books, others hope to prepare manuscripts for private sharing among family members, or create a scrapbook, or organize their data to pass along to a relative willing to take up where the originator of the work left off.

Yet, despite the wide variety of hoped-for results, we all have one thing in common: a need for encouragement to Just Do It.

The writing process is very much a journey: a matter of lifting one heavy foot after another, and setting it ahead of the one still firmly planted on the ground. It’s that plodding progress that turns dreaming into doing, paragraphs into pages, and collections into chapters. None of that will happen until we Do It.

Our small group has a number of fascinating stories to tell. One woman’s Norwegian ancestor was a journalist in Bergen who became acquainted with the noted playwright, Henrik Ibsen. A second researcher, fairly new to genealogy, delved into her family’s story with gusto, following her roots to Mexico where, documented in the Spanish language, were published accounts leading her back to the seventeenth century founder of one town—then to further connections in Spain. Another member wants to share her memories of immigrant family members, including an Assyrian grandmother who suffered from post-traumatic stress as a survivor of genocide in her family’s homeland.

These are all stories that need to be told. The question is: how to do it? How to put that one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward?

It is interesting to take the broad perspective, when considering records of family histories. It seems these projects sweep over us in cycles. Depending on the economic conditions of the times, there have been eras in which no one seemed to care “about dead people”—then other periods in which genealogy seems to be a popular passion.

I remember when first learning about my father’s Polish ancestors, a fellow researcher mentioned the blank stares she received from villagers back in her family’s homeland; when it takes every waking moment just to keep body and soul together, the thought of inquiring about one’s dead relatives seems foolishly extravagant.

Here in the United States, by the end of the 1800s, we must have been doing well; several locales had “History of” volumes published with their county or city name included in the title. Likewise, a number of surname studies—at least among the families I’ve been researching—made their appearance with initial print runs in the early 1900s.

The wave seems to be coming back in again with a resurgence in interest in genealogy. And so, we find ourselves gathering in Special Interest Groups, mutually encouraging ourselves as budding writers. Yet, nineteenth century or now, the only cure to lack of accomplishment is still: Just Do It.

I didn’t think of the idea until that long drive home the other night. Being the editor of our local genealogical society’s newsletter, I found it the logical thing to suggest, especially considering our newsletter’s constant need for appropriate content. Simple: encourage our group members to start by writing something small, but worthy of publication.

The same could be applied to all of us in the blogging world: write a scene from your family history that would be of interest to a local genealogical society, then submit it for inclusion in their newsletter. Put that one writing foot in front of the other and, step by step, initiate the journey. After all, those of us who are blogging certainly must have a vested interest in having our work read by others.

Granted, our local society would be most interested in printing stories about people who lived in our county. However, not all our members are researching people who lived here, one hundred years ago. Yet, there is hardly a county or region in this country that doesn’t have a corresponding genealogical society. Someone, somewhere, would be interested in your family’s story—and would love to include it in their local newsletter. It’s just a matter of doing it: putting one word after another on paper, until the story takes shape in a way that makes sense to others.

It seems we writers are always hoping for that bright opportunity for our words to be read—yet miss the humble, plainspoken chances right under our own noses. The accountability of preparing something for publication in a local genealogical society’s newsletter or journal is a practical exercise for the craft, as well as an opportunity to remember one family’s story from local history.

I like how Carmen Nigro put it, in recapping “Twenty Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History” for a recent New York Public Library blog post: “individual voices from the past” provide “important historical documents” through their first-person narratives. These are remembrances that we, as genealogists with the incentive to write, are well equipped to provide.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Some Saturday Stats


Through the years, a number of expletive-laden comments have been made about statistics. After all, not many people have fond memories of their college statistics classes. I can hardly blame them.

Today, though, I am not ashamed to stand and confess, “Statistics is my friend.” Why? In times when a researcher gets so mired in the details as to lose sight of the goal, impartial numbers can serve as encouragement. After all, a number doesn’t bend to make me happy, or tell me lies (contrary to a certain popular quote). A number is a number is a number. And right now, I need some numbers to help me see that I am, indeed, making progress.

It’s the task I’m bogging down in that’s gotten to me: trying to sort through the generations of all the descendants of my Taliaferro line. I’ve gone back to the beginning of the 1700s to start with Richard Taliaferro. From there, I’m wending my way through the descendant lines of each of Richard and Rose Berryman Taliaferro’s thirteen—at least—children.

Last time I talked about this, I had been working on the lines of their son, Dr. John Taliaferro. That was nine days ago.

I’m still working on that same line. Did I make any progress at all?

It doesn’t feel like it.

That, you see, is why I need to employ some numbers. Think of this as my Cheering-Up Party. Statistics are for celebrating.

Turns out, all that hard work did get me somewhere. Last time I looked, I had less than fourteen hundred people in my family tree database. I am now up to almost nineteen hundred. Over five hundred entries in nine days isn’t bad. No wonder it felt so tedious!

Meanwhile, over at Family Tree DNA, where my autosomal DNA “Family Finder” test results await my return, the match tally is racing me. Last time I looked, I had seven hundred fifty matches. Now, there are seven hundred sixty seven.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to add any more of those matches to my confirmed relationships count. There is so much yet to learn about those ancestors seven generations back—and beyond.

When you find yourself doing a lot of work, yet having precious little to show for the effort, it is statistics that can shine the light on your progress. Yes, I’ve been swamped under the data dump from endless pages of old genealogies. But sometimes, it helps to stop what you are doing and come up for air. Keeping a count of the mile markers passed, the surnames aggregated, the records collected helps.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Brothers and a War


Absorbing the sweeping panorama of the Taliaferro family history in rapid-fire succession of generations as I have been, I’ve fast-forwarded through quite a bit of family drama. Because I’m taking as methodical an approach as possible using an established genealogy, I’ve started with the siblings of my fifth great grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, reading forward through time in all the descendant branches.

Right now, I’m following the lines of Zachariah’s brother, Dr. John Taliaferro, born just three years after my ancestor’s 1730 arrival in colonial Virginia. Working through the descendants of John’s daughter Rose—no doubt named after his own mother, Rose Berryman—I have now been approaching the generation spanning the Civil War.

Reading through genealogies tends to subordinate major historical events to that dull—though constant—litany of name, date of birth, date of marriage to specified spouse, listed issue, and, eventually, date of death. The droning of that thrum, thrum, thrum through the ages almost obliterates the realization that those born in the 1840s were most certainly exposed to great upheaval in their young adult lives, twenty years later.

As I moved through the lines of Dr. John’s daughter Rose, the consecutive details on one page of the  genealogy shook me out of that hypnotic lethargy. Rose, who had married a man by name of Joseph Porter, had several children, though the task of documenting them had been challenging, as some from that generation of the family moved from Wilkinson County in Georgia to land in the southern region of Alabama.

Their (possibly) youngest child, Richard Porter, was one of the family who had left their home in Georgia. He and his wife, the former Mary Collins Paul, had at least eleven children.

As I reviewed the details from the genealogical record, I ran across three brothers, born consecutively around the early 1840s. James Henry Porter was born in 1839, followed by Julius Nicholas Porter in 1841 and John Ambrose Benjamin Porter in 1843.

In the book I was consulting—Willie Catherine Ivey’s Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. JohnTaliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro—each young man’s entry was followed by an extra comment: killed in Civil War.

Three sons in one family were lost in one war. I can hardly think of how a loss like that could have been borne. The news reached the family when the first one fell—Julius in January, 1862—and was followed later that same year with confirmation of Benjamin’s loss in August. Less than a year after that—in May, 1863—a third report carried news of the loss of the oldest of the three brothers, James.

I realize casualties like these were experienced by many other families as well—a combination of the prevalence of large families with lack of policy limiting any one family’s risk of losing several sons in military service. When you realize that over six hundred thousand soldiers lost their lives in this war—including an estimated thirty percent of all Southern white males between the ages of eighteen and forty—you gain an academic sense of the enormity of the carnage in those Southern states of my forebears.

What is not as easy to grasp, though, is the impact such tragedy must have had on the individual families living through those times. Reviewing the vital statistics as we in genealogy are wont to do—the litany of name, birth, marriage, death—seems to pass us through such details unscathed. It dulls our senses to the pain of life experiences.

Sometimes, though, despite the repetition, a glitch in the rhythm of life knocks us out of step. Three young sons in a row with names pinned next to premature dates of death can do that. Though this era was also a time filled with childhood deaths and deaths of young mothers, you know this kind of loss must have been received with a great deal of pain by their family, no matter how large it may have been.   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Same Place, Same Day, Two Marys


Sometimes, genealogical research conundrums drive me to distraction. Prepare yourself for another rabbit trail from said distraction.

As I plow through the ages and generations of Taliaferros and their related lines, it begins to dawn on me just how many of those kin could claim the name Mary Taliaferro.

It all started when I located the actual paperwork—digitized online, of course—for the marriage of my third great grandparents.

I was first alerted to this documentation, thanks to the much-maligned shaky-leaf hints at Ancestry.com. One hint linked me to a typewritten statement transcribed from some Oglethorpe County, Georgia, official’s records in the early 1800s.

Underneath entry number 1537 dated May 30th, the record added the following:
FACT OF CEREMONY. (Recorded Page 61, Original Book “A”.)
I hereby certify that on the 9th day of June 1818 I joined in holy wedlock Thos. F. Rainey and Mary E. Taliferro.                       Nicholas Powers, M. G.

“M. G.,” of course, referring to the designation “Minister of the Gospel,” informed me—presumably—of the name of the couple’s pastor, from which I might be able to infer the church they attended. I began to think of how I could determine which church might have kept corresponding records of the family’s early years, and how I could possibly locate more information on this nagging roadblock to my research progress. You see, this is the couple for whom I have no other confirmation of the wife’s name. According to other records, Thomas was to be happily married to someone named Nancy, not Mary.

I also began to grouse about not being able to access the original record books, themselves, where I could ascertain for myself whether the transcription was handled properly. After all, people can make mistakes—and, given the abysmal state of some officials’ handwriting, such mistakes were often come by quite honestly.

What was “Original Book ‘A’” and how could I get a look at it?

No sooner said than digitally served up, for the shaky leaves at Ancestry turn out to be prescient, as well. There, in all its abysmal glory, was the near-illegible entry confirming that Nicholas Powers “joined in holy wedlock” Thomas F. Rainey and Mary E. “Talafero.”


Looking back at the original transcript, I’d say that unnamed transcriber got this one right—well, close enough, considering the misspelling of that deceptive Taliaferro surname.

Somehow, in double checking the entry, my eye, caught once again at the name of the minister, happened to slip below to the very next line on the transcription, where, on the exact same day, an entry was made for the marriage of one Nicholas Powers.

Same man? Could the Rev. Nicholas Powers have been in to the Oglethorpe County offices to file the proper paperwork on two of his parishioners, and then slip in the requisite forms for his own marriage at the same time?

But there was more. On this same date—May 30, 1818—this same Nicholas Powers (at least, we presume it was the same man) was not only declaring that he was marrying Mary Taliaferro to Thomas Rainey, he was declaring that he was marrying Mary Taliaferro…to himself.

What?


How could this be? There must have been some confusion in the transcription.

I looked back to the original, handwritten record, to see if I could find the second entry in its original form. Now that I was taking a close look at the original record, I discovered how disjointed it was. Nothing was in date order. This was the record from the Oglethorpe “Ordinary Office,” and apparently, when someone showed up to hand-enter a record, it got the next empty line on the page—whether in date order or not.

It turned out that Thomas Rainey’s wedding was recorded on May 30, but apparently transpired on June 9. Though I checked the page preceding and following the duly noted page 61, I could not find any marriage of a second Mary Taliaferro. Did two Mary Taliaferros get married like the May 30 entries declared? Or was one merely a clerical error? And if not, who was the second Mary? Or was one of the grooms’ names a mistake?

I was beginning to see my recently-acquired confidence over finding Mary Taliaferro’s husband fading into the ether.

Sitting down to think through this puzzle about the consecutively numbered entries, I realized that entry number 1537—Thomas Rainey’s entry—had the follow-up “Fact of Ceremony” entered below it, while entry number 1538—that for the minister, himself—did not. Did the second couple file their intention, yet get cold feet before that fateful day in which they were to meet at the altar?

History, thankfully, was on my side in supplying ample additional evidence that Nicholas Powers did get married to a Mary Taliaferro. But I had yet to figure that out.

I did, eventually, find another digitized, handwritten record book of marriage records—yes, again thanks to Ancestry.com’s shaky leaf hints—showing the two consecutive entries. Both dated May 30, 1818, and following one after another on the same page, were the entries I sought.


In the end, it all came down to one specific detail that allowed me to tell the Marys apart: their middle initial. Thomas Rainey, you see, married Mary E. Taliaferro, while his pastor was wed to Mary M. Taliaferro.

While I still cannot find what I need to confirm my suspicions on this case, I believe the Mary who married Thomas Rainey was herself the daughter of the Mary who married the minister. The elder Mary, you see, was the widow of Warren Taliaferro, who apparently died before 1818. This widow was the former Mary Meriwether Gilmer, daughter of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis Gilmer. Her 1818 marriage to Nicholas Powers would have been her second.

The only rub is that, if this elder Mary was indeed mother of the Mary who married Thomas Rainey in 1818, both she and her daughter, at their respective first marriages, would have had to have been quite young. You see, the elder Mary—if her headstone can be believed—was born in 1786. The younger Mary was born in 1804.

I’ll let you do the math and decide whether there’s enough margin for this possibility.



All images above courtesy Ancestry.com, with specific document locations indicated by in-line hyperlinks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stopping to Smell
Those Genealogical Roses


Every now and then, I run across a solitary detail that makes me perk up and realize the discovery calls for a break from the relentless grind of research. This week, I had such a moment.

Sometimes, in completing genealogical projects, it seems I am just flying through the steps, gleaning data from documents and affixing them to the appropriate locations on my extended family tree. In the case of this current project—that of laying down the foundation of the entire Taliaferro line from settlement in the American colony of Virginia to current day descendants—the rush seems doubly weighing.

The current Taliaferro line I’ve been concentrating on has been that of Dr. John Taliaferro, son of Richard Taliaferro and his wife, Rose Berryman. If you recall your Taliaferro genealogy well—and I can’t blame you if you don’t, even after reading along here at A Family Tapestry faithfully for the last few months—you will realize that Dr. John was younger brother of the Zachariah Taliaferro who was my sixth great grandfather.

My purpose in gathering what seems like extraneous family detail is to provide a database from which to extract links to the seven hundred fifty matches to my autosomal DNA test—many of whom likely relate to me thanks to such colonial connections as the extended Taliaferro family.

Right now, I’ve been laying down a tentative family trail by use of published genealogies from the prior century. I realize these may be rife with fallacies, but I am also certain that, with the aid of computerized search assistance, I can verify those details which were correct in the original publications and modify those which need attention.

The current book I’ve been using has been Willie Catherine Ivey’s The Ancestry and Posterity of Dr. John Taliaferro and Mary (Hardin) Taliaferro, originally published in 1926. There are several copies of this compilation in libraries across the nation. Thankfully, the Sutro Library in San Francisco was within driving range for me to locate it in my earliest days of research, long before the dawn of convenient online search capabilities—but that edition is now available online through subscription services such as Ancestry.com and Heritage Quest.

So there I was, following the line of Dr. John Taliaferro through the decades. I went from his son Richard Taliaferro to his daughter Mary Hardin Taliaferro and her husband Elijah Lingo, to their daughter Mary Hardin Lingo who married Joseph Chappell, to their daughter Varilla Behethland Chappell, wife of Josiah Webster Jossey.

At that point, I started copying out the information on the Jossey daughters, Lorene and Leona. Lorene happened to marry a man whose surname was McNabb, and I couldn’t help but chuckle when that surname conjured up images of law enforcement caricatures created by opportunists in the cartoon world.

I found my mind jerked back to the real world when I moved on to the entry on Lorene’s younger sister, Leona. Born in 1870, by the time she turned the appropriate eighteen years of age, she was given in marriage to a man listed in the Ivey book as Frank L. Stanton. The author’s narrative went on to explain,
Mr. Stanton is Poet Laureate of Georgia and is also connected with The Atlanta Constitution.

Poet laureate? Connected to The Atlanta Constitution? This might be cause to stop and investigate.

I turned to the ever-handy Wikipedia to check out my hunches. Wikipedia obliged, with an article explaining that Frank Lebby Stanton was indeed a columnists for The Constitution—as well as being a well-known lyricist and, two years before his death, appointed the first poet laureate of the State of Georgia by then-governor, Clifford Walker.

Stanton’s roots provide some grounding for his career trajectory. As early as the 1860 census, the three year old Franklin L. Stanton was in the South Carolina household of editor Valentine Stanton. After the Civil War, he was apprenticed to a printer—an occupation he assumed in his early twenties, as witnessed by this 1879 city directory for Charleston, South Carolina.

Through a series of career moves—coupled with sage advice from luminaries in the field of journalism—Stanton ended up in his position as editor and columnist at The Constitution by 1889.

That is all very nicely academic for those of you who aren’t really concerned about the monotonous details of the in-laws of other people’s families. However, by following this Stanton rabbit trail, I discovered a bit more about just what prompted the governor of Georgia to pin Frank L. Stanton with the title of Poet Laureate.

I also discovered how I connect with the creator of the poem inspiring the dubbing of the organization, Graveyard Rabbits.

Perhaps, as a genealogical researcher yourself, you are familiar with the concept of The Association of Graveyard Rabbits. It doesn’t take but a moment of perusing their website to spot a couplet from the poem that inspired their name:
Among the graves…in the gloom and gleam,
Content to dwell where the dead men dream…

The author of that verse, of course, was none other than Georgia’s first Poet Laureate, Frank Lebby Stanton.

In a beautiful setting on a different website—A Graveyard Rabbit in Southeast Missouri—blogger Anne Berbling shares the entire poem on the right sidebar, just under the Graveyard Rabbit logo.

The original poem, “The Graveyard Rabbit,” first appeared in Edmund Clarence Stedman’s American Anthology 1787-1900, along with four other Stanton poems. In addition, many of Stanton’s poems were set to music, including the lullaby, “Mighty Lak’ a Rose,” one of several “dialect songs” of the era—though this one has endured through generations.

The rose became a trademark detail of Stanton’s work, reappearing in such poems as “Keep A-Goin’!”
If you strike a thorn or rose,
Keep a-goin’!
If it hails or if it snows,
Keep a-goin!
’Tain’t no use to sit and whine
When the fish ain’t on your line;
Bait your hook an’ keep a-tryin’—
Keep a’goin’!

Do you suppose, at the point of his death in 1927, that his contemporaries who took their place in my immediate family line realized their connection to so beloved a writer? Hardly. My maternal grandmother, descending from the same Richard and Rose Taliaferro line, would have been fifth cousin to Leona Jossey Stanton, Frank’s wife.

How many of you know your fifth cousins?

Yet, more of us are familiar with the work of Frank Lebby Stanton than we realize. From lengthy to lyrical, Stanton’s works adorned the pages of over three hundred publication in three languages, commemorated occasions of state, and were carried on catchy tunes of his time. He was acknowledged by many as the prototype for American newspaper columnists. Even at the close of his life, Stanton's 1927 memorial carries the quatrain so widely quoted during his lifetime:
This old world we’re livin’ in
Is mighty hard to beat.
You get a thorn with every rose,
But ain’t the roses sweet?

Strictly speaking, it would be unlikely for a genealogist to make a detour to consider the in-laws of a fifth cousin, twice removed. But sometimes, even we need to lift our noses from our research grindstones and stop to smell the roses.



Photograph, top right: Frank Lebby Stanton, circa 1920; below, 1901 cover of sheet music with lyrics written by Frank Stanton, "Mighty Lak' a Rose." Both images courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Genealogy of Chocolate


While my daughter was in the midst of a semester abroad, studying in Ireland, she saved one treat for herself at the end of her school commitment: a trip to Paris. But, of course! Where else would a longtime student of the French language wish to go?

As a consolation prize, upon her return home—barely in time for Christmas—she brought special gifts. One of them was an exquisite bar of chocolate, wrapped simply in a transparent plastic wrapper with an orange cardboard label affixed to the exterior.

The label itself—barring the fact that it is in French and not our native English—was plainspoken as well: Chocolatier à Paris à la Mère de Famille. A line on the side of the container added the note: Depuis 1761.

I assure you: words cannot begin to describe the delectable treat resting inside. It is like no other chocolate I’ve had the privilege of sampling. If you are ever in Paris, think of me and buy me another bar of this delicacy. I have been nursing this solitary treat through the weeks following its presentation at Christmas and, sadly, there are only a few squares of the precious stuff remaining.

Despite its marvelous smoothness, though, that is not why I chose to tell you about it today. I have another reason. Actually, it is a rather sorry reason, owing to the foul temper in which I remain, subsequent to spending hours searching for the specific link connecting my second great grandmother to the rest of the Taliaferro clan in Virginia. I am stuck in 1851—not a very impressive date for those delving into colonial genealogies. I should be wallowing in the names of my many ancestors preceding that brick wall date. Somewhere like 1761 should be no problem whatsoever for a surname as well documented as Taliaferro.

But here I sit, stymied with the mismatched records which will not let me budge beyond that 1851 Waterloo. And yet a chocolate bar—a chocolate bar, of all things—can do a better job of tracing its history beyond that taunting 1851 roadblock.

I should be able to do better than a chocolate bar.

French chocolate bar label from Paris
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