Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On The Street Where You Lived

I've spent many days walking down the streets and visiting the homes where my ancestors lived. Unlike the song, I can't claim that I've "often walked" on those streets in most cases, but I have walked on many of them for in essence the same reason ..... Love. Love of my ancestors and my interest in who they were, where they lived, worked, died and are buried.

Like most of you, I've spent thousands of hours searching for their records and with any luck photos of them and places associated with them. Irregardless of my success in these efforts, the words on paper and the images don't tell me enough about them.

I knew that my Drew ancestors lived near Plymouth Rock for many generations and that their sail making shop was even closer, but until I stood on the porch of their home and looked across the green down to the bay, the words on my records had limited life.

Hours turned into days walking where so many of my Bradford, Brewster, Burgess, Churchill, Drew, and dozens of other ancestral families lived, walked and shopped over the centuries in Plymouth and the surrounding towns.

The same was true in Salem, Haverhill, Yarmouth, Bristol, Stewartstown and over 100 other communities in New England.

Grandma Susanna Martin was tried and hung in Salem along with two aunts. William Tirrill was an original settler in Stewartstown and the list could go on for pages and pages just like your lists would do.

Touching their tombstones I tried to picture the emotions of the family and friends who stood on Drew_burial_hill_headstone the same ground when they were buried. The scenes came to life in my mind's eye. A freeze frame of those attending the funeral appeared in the images in my mind time after time, in town after town. I could walk around in it, peering into the faces, often recognizing them by name. Then the scenes became overlays allowing the nearby stones that now stood as sentinels over their remains to be visible.

Was a photo of their stones enough? No. I had to gently touch them and establish a connection. I had to clean the weeds or tall grass away. I had to prop them up when they were in danger of collapsing to the ground.

Many town clerks allowed me to hold and touch the original records books. I touched my ancestors family birth, marriage and death entries in them.

A marriage of my 3rd great grandparents appeared on the page. I touched it thinking of the young couple standing in front of the same book giving their names and marriage intentions and dates to the clerk. Did the clerk have any idea how precious his writing would be to someone two centuries later or was he bored with the whole process and wrote quickly to get it done so he could get on to something else? Did he congratulate them? Was there laughter, back slaps and hand shakes of congratulations?

200 years later, there were a few tears and a huge smile in evidence when I touched the ink laid down by the quill points and brass nibs so long ago.

I'm sure the emotions exhibited when deaths were reported were of a much different nature, but the clerk would feel the intensity of loss lift when the information of the new babies in the town were brought in by proud parents to be recorded.

The time and expense to travel to locations associated with my 'roots' was money well spent. Nay, it was essential that I do it.

So, 51 Pleasant Street in Plymouth, hanging hill in Salem, Piper Hill Cemetery in Stewartstown, Drew home in Copperopolis, and all the other locations around the U.S. and world that allowed my ancestors feet to pass, Thank You! Thanks a second time for standing as witness of them today and allowing yet another generation of feet from the family to pass by as well.