Several years ago I became hooked on genealogy. Growing up, my knowledge of ancestors stopped with my grandparents. It remained there until I turned 60. My older brother Marshall inspired me. Describing himself as “a homeless man with a pickup truck and a bank account,” he had wandered America searching out our Mother’s side of the family, the Marshalls.
He did it the old-fashioned way (as he likes to remind me): leafing through yellow, aging documents, tramping through almost forgotten graveyards, and spending countless hours in Mormon libraries.
I was skimming through a summary of his findings when I learned that our Great, Great Grandfather, George Loomis Marshall, had abandoned his pregnant wife, family, farm and friends in Will County, Illinois to the siren call of gold in California. He struck it rich but then his luck ran out. He started home by sea and was killed for his gold.
Had my Great, Great Grandmother, Margaret Paddock, not been pregnant when he left Illinois, I wouldn’t be writing this paragraph. How could I not be intrigued? I became addicted to looking for long dead relatives.
I am not alone. Google lists 107 million sites related to genealogy and these numbers relate a fact; genealogy is no longer a hobby limited to aging elders (which I sort of resemble) rummaging around in musty courthouse basements.
Millions of people today are using the Internet in search of their roots. Ancestral information that once required years of research is now available at the touch of a keystroke. Large Internet databases hold hundreds of millions of genealogy records and thousands more are added daily.
What captures our imagination about genealogy? Is there something about contemplating our future that sends us scurrying for our past? Is searching for our roots a way of seeking immortality in reverse? Or are we seeking fame? Was one of our ancestors a king? Or possibly she was a pirate… Maybe our inspiration is just plain-old-fashioned curiosity.
Whatever the bait that leads us to ask our first question about Great Grandma, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps us searching. A blank space on an ancestral chart is a mystery begging to be solved. Hours can be devoted to finding a single answer and that answer inevitably leads to another question, and another blank space.
Over the past 2½ years as Peggy and I have crisscrossed America traveling 65,000 miles in our van Quivera, we’ve added the search for roots to our itinerary of exploring the Country and doing grandparent duty.
Much to my surprise, I have discovered that the Marshalls arrived in America in the 1630s and the Mekemsons/Makemsons in the 1750s. The story of these two families is wrapped up in the story of America.
The Marshalls began their American sojourn as stern Puritans in the 1600s. Three hundred years later they were in on the creation of Goofy. Four, and possibly all six sons of Andrew Mekemson (my first Mekemson ancestor to arrive in America) fought in the Revolutionary War.
Two of his sons died in heroic efforts at Fort Mifflin, a battle that allowed George Washington to escape to Valley Forge and possibly save the fledgling nation.
William Brown Mekemson had his head chopped off by tomahawks in the Black Hawk Indian War and rolled down a hill. His great-uncle may have wandered the forests with Daniel Boone. Abe Lincoln argued both for and against Makemsons in his early years as a lawyer. The stories go on and on leading up to modern times.
One of the most rewarding elements of my investigation has been collaborating with distant cousins on research. Early on I was lucky to come in contact with three of the leading Mekemson family genealogists, Ann Nell Baughman out of Kansas and Bill and Jan Makemson out of Florida. In addition to providing valuable information and support, these folks, along with other cousins, have become valued friends.
Ann even makes clothes for Bone.
Since genealogy is about wandering through both time and space, it is a fitting subject for the Peripatetic Bone’s blog. As I come across interesting stories, I will relate them on this site. Bone is particularly enamored with exploring old graveyards. He feels a kinship with the inhabitants.