Have you ever been on a Family Heritage trip? Have you ever thought about taking a little trip just to explore your family heritage? It can be a destination or just a side trip on your way to somewhere else. Which is where we were going last week–a trip to some place else.
Chuck and I recently made a road trip to Augusta, Georgia to join in the celebration of his Aunt Betty’s 95th birthday. I explained to Chuck that on the way up to Augusta we would pass through a little town which his ancestors had helped settle. So we left a day early to spend an extra day in Thomson, Georgia.
I knew that Chuck knew very little about his mother’s maternal family, so I took along my iPad with its Ancestry app to help us locate some of the family landmarks. I had already done the research, and my iPad was full of information such as who his maternal grandmother’s parents and grandparents were, where they lived, and where they were buried.
We stopped first in Thomson just west of Augusta, and we found Chuck’s great-great grandparents’ graves in the city cemetery. I had found them online earlier using FindaGrave.com. For those of you who are unaware of this website, it is sourced by volunteers. When someone finds a grave not already on FindaGrave, they are encouraged to add it themselves.
Just before we got to the little town, I used our GPS to find the cemetery. Finding the grave itself in the cemetery does take time, though. Chuck worked one side of the cemetery, and I worked the other. It helped that we had a picture of the tombstone showing their graves nearby.
A photo of William Johnston in his Confederate uniform sits on a shelf in our den, but this was the first time Chuck really got to know a little about the man himself. As we drove closer to Thomson, I read out loud about William Johnston. I used his Ancestry timeline so Chuck could better understand who it was we were going to find. Chuck calls the act f hunting graves “grave robbing,” but all we were really taking were William Johnston’s memories.
Chuck learned that his Great-great grandfather was a lumber merchant and later owned a mill and a gin, information found in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. It appears that after the virgin timber was logged out in the area, the people of Thomson moved on to cotton. Chuck’s ancestor’s occupations clearly reflect the economic history of this era in Thomson.
We learned a little about William’s wife, Chuck’s second great-grandmother Martha AnnFrancis Stone. Chuck recognized that her maiden name was his grandmother’s middle name. He never knew where that name came from until now.
Also, when I told him that this woman’s mother’s maiden name was Napier, Chuck quickly realized where his Aunt Pier got her name. Everyone called her Pier but it was short for Napier. Learning his ancestors names helped him understand from where several of his family names came.
Chuck’s great grandparents William and Martha had a daughter named Annie Stephens Johnston. When I mentioned this, Chuck said that he remembered this great grandmother. They called her Granny.
She lived a long life and didn’t pass away until Chuck was nine years old. He remembers visiting her home and that one of her adult sons lived with her there but was reclusive in manner.
He remembered his Granny’s house as being a nice home, and he wondered what happened to it. Later while in Augusta a cousin took us on a tour of the city so we could find some of the remembered and earlier residences.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself, because we are still in Thomson. Chuck’s great grandmother Annie married William Lokey, so I looked this family up and found that William Lokey’s father was Samuel Lokey. I wondered where this family was from and found that they too had lived in Thomson.
So I looked up his grave using FindAGrave.com and found it was in a church yard cemetery just a few miles south of town. Again, using GPS we visited this second set of great-great grandparent’s graves.
We could have tarried much longer in Thomson. as both families were prominent members of the town and I knew that there was probably much more to be found in the town’s local genealogy files and maybe even their local museum; but we had used up most of our time. We left and drove on into Augusta.
Because much of Chuck’s mother’s family history and especially her childhood was in Augusta, I had done some earlier research using literally over fifty years of city directory entries showing street addresses where the families lived, the heads of household occupations, and even added information like when a woman listed herself as a widow but her husband had actually just divorced her. This provided rich information about Chuck’s great-grandmother, his mother, her sisters and their parents.
Using the addresses found in Augusta’s city directories, we followed the path of Chuck’s grandparents and subsequently his mom’s history as well. Several of the addresses were vacant lots, but you could look at other old homes nearby and tell something about the neighborhood in which they had lived.
We did find one special address where Chuck’s mom had lived when she was a young teenager. It was really interesting to stand before it and imagine her as a young girl hanging out up there on its balcony porch just to catch a summer breeze in the heat of July or August. These southern interior cities aren’t fortunate enough to have sea breezes.
Later, with Chuck’s cousin Ross in tow and accompanied by Chuck’s sister Susan, we looked up their Granny’s home (this was Chuck’s great grandmother Annie Stephens Johnston Lokey). It was just as grand as Chuck described.
It had been moved from one of those vacant lots we had seen earlier. Today that vacant lot is across the street from some recreational fields, but in Dody’s day those fields were a beautifully well-manicured city park with lots of oaks and magnolias.
The house is several blocks away, and today it houses the offices of a law firm. But I plan to try to look up historical pictures of the street and park where it once set. It is amazing what you can find online now days using Google.
Using GPS and the city directories we also found his Grandmother’s home where she lived from 1947 until she died in 1988. This is the house that Chuck, his sisters and cousins remember best. I took pictures while Chuck and his sister walked around outside the house, obviously trespassing. I noticed that no one came to investigate, and it was clear that someone was home. Smart people, because Chuck and his sister would have surely asked to see the inside.
One of Chuck’s aunt’s stories told about how her older sister would take the two younger ones and cross the very wide Savannah River using an old railroad trestle. Oh dear! Their parents would have killed them if they had known what they were doing. But all three of those girls lived to be over 90 years old. They were living proof that natural selection does not work every time.
We found the trestle and took more photos. Susan and I walked a little ways out, but our adult instincts told us that this was surely dangerous. We quickly returned.
We didn’t focus on Dody’s father during this trip, but we couldn’t help noticing his occupation during all those years between 1917 and his death in 1960. He worked his entire life for the Charleston and Western Carolina (the CW&C) Railroad. He started out as a flagman and continued to promote from one railroad position to the next, including engineer, conductor and finally superintendent where he retired.
Chuck remembered vacationing with his grandfather and step-grandmother when Chuck was a boy. His grandfather had use of a club car typically the last car on the train, and the three of them spent as much as two weeks seeing the country. Chuck remembered playing a lot of canasta and watching the world go by outside the club car windows. The porter brought them their meals, and they slept there at night. He says that today he has no idea where all they went.
It was a wonderful two days walking in Augusta where Dody Littlejohn had once tread. We lost her about five years ago now, but our little trip into her past is how her memory will stay alive for her descendants.
I have been sharing some of the photos we took on Facebook with her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I will also add the photos to her family page gallery in Ancestry for future generations to enjoy.
Through research we now know that sharing our family history with our children helps them to be better-grounded adults. A little family trip like this is a perfect way to bring their family heritage to life.
Planning a heritage trip like this involves a few steps.
1. Pick a family and destination. In this case, I knew that we were going to Augusta, so I decided to look up Chuck’s great-great grandfather Johnston, who lived in a town nearby. I started with him because he lived a most interesting life.
2. Research this ancestor and the town where he or she lived. Find two or three sites to visit.
3. GPS the addresses for the sites. Prepare your stops ahead of time.
4. Prepare your family members for what they will see. Read about the ancestor(s). Show them pictures if you have them.
5. After reaching the sites, ask for their help in locating the grave, church, etc. It helps to have photos.
6. Stop after two or three sites a day. You don’t want to bore or overwhelm them. And you want to leave with them asking for more.
7. Follow up with photos on Facebook or another way of networking for other family members who were unable to join you for the trip.