Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tennessee Twins

Occasionally I feel like I am just so "over"  I'll toy with the idea of cancelling my subscription.  I'll go weeks without logging on.  Then something like this happens....

As I've no doubt mentioned previously, my mother's side of the family is pretty much a blank wall for me.  At the beginning of my genealogy journey one of the few stories I knew about Mom's extended family had to do with her maternal grandmother Jennie Kyle Harrison.  Jennie died in the "spanish" flu epidemic after World War I as did her teen daughter Ruth.  Losing both her mother and her sister in this way devastated my grandmother.  In fact, when I learned their real full names (Virginia and Ruth) the meaning of my mother's name, Virginia Ruth, became clear.  My grandmother gave my mother,  her only daughter,  their names as a way of honoring their loss.
The other tidbit I knew about my grandmother was that there were twins in her family.  Exactly where in the family I didn't know.  My younger sisters are twins so this trait apparently runs in the family.  When I started researching I found out that the twin I was searching for was actually my great grandmother Jennie!  Identical or fraternal I had no idea but according to the 1870 census they were born in 1866, just after the Civil War and that Jennie's twin was named Tennessee or "Tennie"!  Virginia and Tennessee. Jennie and Tennie.  Hmmm....  Given the timing of their birth and their names, if Daddy wasn't a Confederate soldier I'll eat my hat.

Anyway, back to Ancestry. I was poking around on the site one day when I found some information about Tennie and her descendants on another tree.   I emailed the tree owner Pat and not only did she reply but she sent me pictures....the only picture I've ever seen of my great grandmother.

Jennie (left) and Tennie Kyle
about age 13

 The originals were tintypes taken about 1880.  There is some damage, especially to Tennie's, but it is obvious that the girls are identical.
Pat also shared some family stories with me. 
 Tennie gave birth to 2 sets of twins, one set identical and one fraternal. She also died young... in another flu epidemic 10 years before her twin Jennie died of the "Spanish" flu.  Ironically, just like her twin, Tennie also lost a daughter in that same 1908 epidemic.   
After Jennie and Tennie, there were no more twin births in our branch of the tree until my mother gave birth to my twin sisters.  But obviously this tendency to twins runs in the family. If the old wive's tale about twins skipping generations hold true I may be knitting a lot of grandbaby booties in the future!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cousin Reunion Revisited

The reunion began for me on Friday night in the parking lot of Roaring River State Park lodge.  I had driven up with my father and stepmother and we were just getting out of the car when my cousin Tony and his family pulled in. Hugs all around. We went inside to check into our rooms. By this time it was about 10:30pm.  I knew my cousin Mike and his wife Sally had arrived earlier in the day.  Tony and I decided he didn't really need to sleep but  needed hang out with us instead.  Thoughtful cousins that we are we proceeded to pound on his door until he finally answered.  Mike is a very good sport.  He and Sally invited us in and we had great time catching up before finally turning in for the night.

Mike and Sally
Tony and Connie
The next morning we had arranged for everyone to meet at 9 a.m in the lodge restaurant for breakfast.  The poor servers never knew what hit them. But they bravely pushed a bunch of tables together and started taking orders.  As people trickled into the dining room there was lots of laughter and talking and a few     tears as we embraced each other…many for the first time in 30 or more years.

Saturday morning breakfast
My Kentucky cousins
Tammy and Di

Thomas Allen's headstone
Spanish Fort Cemetery
After breakfast we lingered in the main gathering room of the lodge visiting and taking pictures. As luck would have it, my cousin Mark is married to Jackie, a professional photographer who is very skilled at herding cats organizing family group photos. After the photo shoot everyone split up for the afternoon activities....some went down the river to fish, some hiked and some (meaning me) went on a field trip to the family cemetery. Nobody can appreciate a good cemetery like a genealogist, right?  Dad’s brother, my Uncle Jerry and his son Chris (the other genealogy nerd in the family) served as tour guides. They have worked hard over the past few years to restore and maintain the old cemetery which had been sadly neglected. The cemetery originally looked out over a valley but is now surrounded by a thicket of trees. The thicket was winning until Uncle Jerry and Chris beat it back into submission. They had also researched the family’s land records in the area and were able to show us the valley our family had homesteaded and our ancestor Thomas Allen’s house. It is not only still standing but lovingly restored by it’s current owners who were gracious enough to let me take pictures. 

Thomas Allen

In late afternoon, we reconvened at Uncle Jerry's place, conveniently located close to the state park.   Cousin Chris and his sons are professional musicians and had set up their equipment to provide us with live music. We grilled burgers and brats (brought direct from Wisconsin by Cousin Mark along with some yummy cheese curds). More local aunts/uncles/cousins arrived, more photos were taken.  The evening was progressing nicely when Chris  announced over the microphone that he had a surprise and would everyone please gather around.  Next thing we know Chris and his lovely girlfriend ( I thought she was a little overdressed for a BBQ!) were saying their wedding vows!  The brief ceremony was officiated by Chris's son who had just become an ordained minister. The bride and groom decided that as long as the whole family was together they might as well get married at the reunion!  Once again Jackie was pressed into herding cats service, this time as wedding photographer.  While the bride and groom danced a couple of the cousins quickly ran into town to buy a wedding cake. It was the perfect crown to the day.  

Bessie Allen Gray
It may have been grief and loss that had provided the motivation we needed to finally come together along with our heightened awareness of the brevity of life and the necessity of taking every opportunity to love each other. But it was our deep connection to each other, in spite of years and miles that really made it all possible.   That bond can be laid squarely at the feet of our shared mother and grandmother, Bessie, who loved us well.  Thanks to her we have the one thing we all need to survive this life.  Each other.  Because ultimately that is what heals and comforts and gives us hope. 

Our reunion began with tragedy but ended with a wedding.  What is more hopeful than that?

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I'm so excited to tell you that I have been chosen by Accessible Archives as an official blogger!  Accessible Archives is a treasure trove of primary source documents including a collection of African American newspapers and two women's publications:  Godey's Lady's Book and The Lily.  They also have a large collection of Civil War materials and are currently adding a collection of American county histories.

I will continue to blog here at Gathering Stories but click on over to the Accessible Archives blog to see what cool stuff I uncover there!

Yes I'm a history nerd.  Which is probably news to no one.

Planning the Cousin Reunion

My dad (right) and his two surviving siblings, Jerry and Barbara
My paternal grandmother Bessie Allen Gray had 5 children, three of whom are still living.   She raised her family in Neosho in southwest MO and the bulk of the family still live in the surrounding area.  The five siblings produced 13 grandchildren, my first cousins.  We knew each other to varying degrees, all held together by the gentle gravitational pull of our mutual grandmother.  When she passed away in 1994 we lost our reason to gather and so gradually drifted out of the family orbit, busy with our own lives.
  Last year that side of my family had two unexpected and tragic deaths as well as the trauma of the Joplin tornado.  We were reminded in a big way of the reality that life is short, often much shorter than we anticipate, and it left us with an urgency to re-connect before it was too late.  Again.
A few of us had found each other on Facebook prior to the sad events of 2011 but each of us was missing a cousin or two.  Also, we had become parents and grandparents over the years and those generations, sadly, were virtual strangers to us and to each other.  After the last funeral, we cousins began posting back and forth on Facebook, "friending" each other and trying to make sense of all the tragedies that had just hit our family.
One day I realized that what we needed was a Facebook "group".  A place for us to communicate with each other that was more private than posts on each others' walls.  So I created the Bessie's Grandkids group and invited my cousins to join. That group was a turning point.
We began chatting and sharing stories and photos and even recipes.  Soon we began tossing around the idea of a "cousin reunion". And for several months that's where it an idea.  Lucky for us, one of the cousins is a chief petty officer in the Navy and used to bossing organizing people.  He took the initiative and set a date, found a location and told all of us we better show up.  The location he chose was ideal, Roaring River State Park in southwest Missouri, close to the Arkansas state line.  There was a lodge and cabins for us to stay in and his dad, my uncle Jerry, lived nearby.  Although some of the cousins were coming from as far away as Kentucky, Wisconsin and Mississippi, it was still a central location for most of us.

So the plans were made and all we had to do was make our travel plans and wait for April 28.
                                                                                                             be continued.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reunion Review

Well the cousin reunion last weekend was a rousing success!  A lot of laughter, not a few tears and, as the piece de resistance, a surprise wedding! I even think we may have a new genealogy convert among my cousins.  The hardest part of the cell service.  Nada.  Nothing.  The lodge we were staying in did have wireless internet but the signal was so weak as to be useless.  I had no idea how pitiful I become when the tech withdrawal sets in.  Not a pretty picture.

This is the whole gang at a barbecue on Saturday evening.  I'll be posting a blow-by-blow account soon along with instructions for creating a family history movie like the one in the last post and some tips for planning your own cousin reunion.  See you soon!

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