Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beginnings and Endings

I live about 7 miles from the cemetery where I caught the genealogy bug--closer as the crow flies. How I ended up just miles from the resting place of my paternal great-grandfather is a story in itself. But first, what was it about Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville, Oklahoma, that sparked an interest that hasn't burned out in 50 years?

I remember the day we were walking around the cemetery, looking for the graves of my great-uncle Owen and his wife Fern, when I noticed a number of graves with close to the same death dates.  I asked my grandmother, who usually had the answers, "Why did so many people die around the same time? Was there a fire or an explosion?"  "No," she replied, "it was the flu." The fact that most of them were young people, not much older than I was at the time, made it all the more poignant. Compound that with the sad story of Aunt Fern and the romantic tale of my grandparents' meeting, and you had a genealogy fanatic for life.

Fern Walker Smith
Uncle Owen Smith and my grandfather owned the Candy Kitchen in Collinsville. Grandpa was the soda jerk. Uncle Owen was married to Fern, daughter of Elizabeth Whitmore Walker. My grandmother was a first-year schoolteacher, teaching in a one-room school outside of town and boarding with Mrs. Walker. Owen introduced his mother-in-law's boarder to his brother Weaver. My grandmother kept Grandpa on a string for a couple of years; he dropped her off at the train station in Collinsville so that she could spend weekends at her parents' house in Red Fork, a small community outside of Tulsa. Her other boyfriend Gilbert dropped her off on Sunday afternoons at the train station in Red Fork. Eventually, however, Grandpa won out--partly because Gilbert told her she was number 2 in his heart after his church, and she wouldn't be number 2 at anything. Owen and Fern's story didn't have as happy an ending. Fern died young of typhoid fever and their daughter Billie was raised by her maternal relatives.

Billie and my grandmother, Fannie Castle Smith

We visited Collinsville often when I was a young girl, but after Uncle Owen and Grandpa and Grandpa's sister Aunt Lou were gone, we only visited the cemetery once in a while. Flash forward 30 years and my son marries a girl whose grandparents live outside of Collinsville. They buy a little house on Broadway, not far from where my grandpa's father, Stephen Albert Smith, ran his boarding house. Then I become a widow and move 10 minutes away so that I can see them more often. I drive by the cemetery when I leave their house and think about Grandpa Smith, Uncle Owen and Fern, Aunt Lou, Mrs. Walker, and all those young people whose lives were taken by the flu.

(L to r) Uncle Turner, ?, Uncle Albert, Grandpa,
Uncle John holding the horse

So today I begin this blog about genealogy and my family.  I want to write about events that happened long ago that might still have some relevance for today.  I’ve noticed that some things seem to cross the generations—spirituality and bravery and lost love—and I want to write about those things.  I’ll be thinking about what pushes me to keep searching—to find connections between the past and the present, to be the bridge between my ancestors and my descendants, even those yet to come.    

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