For most of January I have been getting ready to start writing a book. I have to admit that it has been on my mind for years, but who had any time for such. I was embroiled in a full-time career, raising children, keeping house, traveling and trying to spend time with my husband. There was no time for such extra-curricular activities. Somehow, though, I did find time to research my family. This was my hobby.
This hobby started when I was in my mid twenties, and I’m still doing it today. Problem is, I’m getting old; and now I worry that I may never write any of this down in a way that will interest the rest of the family. My fear is that I’ll die, and the kids will find all these boxes of research. It could happen while they are raising their children, keeping house, working and trying to spend time with their families. They won’t have time, either.
So here I am. Chuck and I retired last May, and I’m finally ready to write. I started before Christmas by joining a group called the Family History Writing Challenge, which is a 28-day commitment to writing about my family history. It runs February 1st to February 28th. I was having a little trouble getting started, so I signed up.
The challenge is designed to help me develop good writing habits, to provide inspiration and to offer pointers to help me write. It helped me organize my thoughts by asking me questions that led me to develop answers, such as whether I wanted to write about a single ancestor, a surname, or an entire branch of my tree.
I began to think about the timeframe or the setting, about any added research needed, and about narrative fiction or nonfiction. I decided to write the book as narrative non-fiction.
It suggested I set a goal, so I decided to write at least 500 words a day.
I started writing this morning. I have a set time on my calendar, and an alarm that sounds like Big Ben in London went off at 1 p.m. to clue me in that I should be sitting at my desk and beginning to write. It worked, because that is just what I did. When the hour was up, I had written 910 words.
I decided that I would begin with Mary Adeline Walker, my third great grandmother. I know that she came with her family to Florida about 1827 at the age of seven. I had planned to begin my story from her point of view, and the setting would be the trail that the family had most likely used as they made their way down from South Carolina. That is when I ran into my first problem. I discovered that I needed more research about this trail–a lot more research about this trail.
So I switched gears, so as not to be thrown off the course so early in the process; and I started writing from a different angle. I simply started writing about something that I knew about–how I arrived at and placed Mary Adeline Walker as my main character. After writing several paragraphs, I realized that I wasn’t writing an intro but instead I was writing a forward.
So below are a few paragraphs of my incomplete intro and almost all of my forward.
What if it’s not good enough? Well, that is for all of you to decide. I try not to play those head games with myself. My pea brain doesn’t fare too well under my own criticism.
Outside criticism works better for me, and so I invite your comments!
There was an old Indian Trail that once led from…. It wound through the hickories and oaks of the Piedmont plains of North Carolina down into the hills of South Carolina and on down into the central plains of Georgia. DeSoto took it up for a ways, because there were the whispers of gold up there somewhere and later the white man took it for his own and widened it for his wagons and sleds. To a seven year old girl named Mary Adeline Walker, though, it was the adventure of her lifetime.
(Need to do more research on this trail. What was it really like. What modern roads does it most closely follow today)
She was the first born of Jesse and Elizabeth Wilson Walker, born in 1821 on the Little Saltketchy (sp) River in Colleton District, SC.
(Find out what this area is like today. Who did they leave behind. How many people traveled with them.)
Along with her Grandparents Joel and Elizabeth Carter Walker and several of her uncles James, Joel,Jr; LIttleberry and David and their families, they traveled this trail in 1827 arriving at the newly formed Jefferson County in Florida. The new county seat, though, had been here a while. Built next to a little Indian village, the village leaders claimed the high ground for the center of the town.
(Need to do more research on the village in 1827. What did she see when they arrived.)
My Grandmother Hamrick was a talker so much so that my dad said that we didn’t need to take the “Monticello News”, because Annis was enough. That is where all of this took place, in Monticello, Florida, a little town in North Florida, almost now a bedroom community of Tallahassee, but in mental miles much more than thirty miles away to the east.
It was Grandma Hamrick who told the family stories, along with my Granddaddy Hamrick, for it was his family that reached back more than four generations in this county, or at least we thought so at the time. By the time I was fourteen, Granddaddy died of a cerebral hemorrhage one Sunday morning in March while the two of them sat watching the First Baptist Church of Tallahassee on their television. He got up that morning and said, “Shug, can we miss church. I don’t feel so good.” Shug was short for Sugar, and it was his pet name for her. From then on, I got all my local family stories from Grandma; and those are the ones I seem to remember the most.
There was never any mention of anyone before Granddaddy’s Grandfather William Aseph Hamrick, except for one story about William’s mother who daringly loaded all her children in a wagon and came to Florida from York, South Carolina, shortly after her husband was killed in an accident. They said that she was mad at her in-laws and that it was before the “War”, which for those of you not from the southern part of America, this means the American Civil War. Stories often went that way. They would say, “before the War…” or “just after the War…”. Needless to say, it was a very important event to folks down here, even those who were born many years after the War.
What we found years later, though, were several more generations; but they materialized through the women of our family, our maternal lines. This led us to Mary Adeline Walker. She is the common denominator, and I had never heard about her until one day when I became a temporary secretary to County Judge Charlie Anderson in Monticello.
I was 25 and married. I had a one year old baby. It was 1978. My friend Pam Cooksey was pregnant, and she was looking for someone to work in her office for about four weeks, until she could return to her job. I was already beginning to go a little stir crazy, so I agreed. What I did on the job is insignificant to this, but the office where I worked became very significant. In a vault next to Judge Anderson’s offices were many of the territorial Florida records for Jefferson County dating before 1845. I began to wonder if there were secrets there about my family.
I started with William Aseph and quickly found him and his family in the years after the War in census records. I had gone to Tallahassee to the Florida State Archives to search through their books. The Hamrick trail ran out before 1850. They were not in the 1840 books, and this fit the story that they had come sometime just before the War.
Well, what about Granddaddy Hamrick’s mother? Her name was Hattie Augusta Lightsey Hamrick. I found that her lineage traced all the way back to George Lightsey, her great-grandfather. I found him in Florida’s 1830 census. Her parents were George Henry and Laura R. Lightsey.
Back at the Judge’s vault, I began looking for anything that had to do with the Hamricks and the Lightseys, until one day I found George and Laura’s marriage certificate. Her name was Laura R. Andrews, and just like that I had another new surname to search. Andrews was a surname I had never heard them talk about, though I knew a lot of Andrews in the area.
Laura R. Andrews in 1850 was still living with her parents’ William H. and Mary A. Andrews in Monticello. With this information I went back to the vault and found a marriage certificate for them dated 1843. Mary’s maiden name was Mary Adeline Walker, and finally I had a surname that fit into some more of Grandma Annis’s early stories.
There are lots of Walkers in Jefferson County, and I noticed that almost any who lived in the northern part of the county were always described to me as “kin”. The exact way I was kin was never explained, but the conversation always went a little like this. Grandma would say, “Oh, you’re kin to him,” which really meant “Honey, you probably shouldn’t date him.” So I thought I took care of that problem and married into the family of Walkers from the southern part of the county.
The northern Walkers weren’t the only ones to whom I were “kin”. It was also the Bishops, Hartsfields, Kinseys, Scruggs, Sledges and too many families to name right here and now.
What I stumbled upon while working for the Judge was that all my family’s roots led back to or through this Mary Adeline Walker. She is the keystone for my family’s lineage in Jefferson County; however, she was not our first Walker to come here. She made the trip down with her father and grandfather. Counting them, I discovered that I was the eighth generation to live in Jefferson County; and my newborn daughter was the ninth.
What I also stumbled upon was a life-long hobby called genealogy. I am now over 60 years old, and it is finally time to write some of this stuff down.