There is a town that was built on the banks of the Ohio River. In the morning you can drive up the hill to one of the larger cemeteries in the county, and look across the river to West Virginia or look down into the valley and see “main street U.S.A”. If you were to find yourself walking around the town square, you would hear the faint rhythmic squeak of a park swing that sits on the river bank, as it sways back and forth carrying a father and daughter as they share a conversation about their day. In the center park sits a bandstand that rises above park visitors. One can almost hear the faint strains of a band filtering through the air on a warm summer’s eve. The last of the summer flowers are still blooming brilliantly in their hanging baskets. They’re still thriving in the warm October weather that is a stark contrast to the chill in the air that has begun to sneak into my western New York forecast.
This is Gallipolis. This is Gallia County. This is where my ancestors lived.
I know it, I’ve researched it, I’ve seen the documents that prove it – land owners maps that show me specifically where they lived and farmed…a cemetery with the family name that still sits on the corner of the land that was once the family farm. And yet, when discussing my ancestors with those who live there….they felt unknown. How can generations of a family live in the area and still be so unknown by the community? Sure the records exist…but when I inquired about the people in these records, I felt as though I was the only one who had ever asked about who they were.
I don’t know about other family historians, but I want those who came before me to be known…outside of my personal world (or my computer family tree database for that matter). When I discovered just how undocumented my family was, I realized that I wanted to be the one to write their story. Not only did I want to be the one to write it, there very well was nobody else to do it given the fact that only my grandmother and I are the lone researchers in the family. I can easily foresee future generations – many, MANY years down the road – going to their local library to research and actually being able to find a history there on the shelf that will document those from the past.
I set out to make it happen, and last weekend was the first step in the realization of that dream.
I travelled to this fantastic southern Ohio town this past weekend. After doing the research, submitting the documents, and getting A LOT of extra help from my genealogical society family – my ancestors were officially named as “Builders and Settlers” of Gallia County. We had proved residence between 1821 and 1860, and Saturday night I stood at there as they were acknowledged:
Lester Hulbert, Feronia Henshaw, Alonzo Hulbert, Lydia Watts, Charles J. Hulbert, Florida Kerr, Benson Kerr, Martha Perkins, Andrew Kerr, and Susannah Carns.
As I heard their names being read one by one, I had to catch myself as a surprising amount of emotion began to well up inside of me. As their names were being read in front of other Gallia County descendants, the realization hit me that my ancestors are now known.
My family is a documented part of history.
“I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond. And their eyes were my eyes.”