Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Knocking on an Ancestors Door

In the mid-1990’s I happened to visit the homes of my 2nd great grandfather within a day of each other even though they were located on two different sides of America. 

Tuesday.  Copperopolis, Calaveras County, California. 

In the area on business, I stopped by Copperopolis to take photos of the tombstones of my 2nd great grandparents, David Lewis and Helen Farrar Drew.  Their home still existed along the highway through this wide spot in the road.

Looking east from the top of the cemetery hill, it was fairly easy to identify it based on photos of it from the early 1900’s. 

As you can see in the photo above, David had built a water tower on the side of their home.  It was filled with water fed from a windmill uphill from the home.  A pressurized water system in homes in that era was far and few between.  Grandpa’s innovative design put them ahead of almost everyone else in the area.

The home was owned by Helen’s father, Thomas Farrar, for a period of time.  He passed the title on to David and Helen a few years after they married.

Knocking on the front door, I was greeted by the current owner.  She wasn’t thrilled to see me.  I asked permission make a walking circuit around the home to get a feel for the setting and was given five minutes to make the loop and get off the property. 

I briefly touched the door frame for a second when saying “Thank You”.  Four minutes later, I had made a quick loop and exited the property through the stand of stag horn trees.  The water tower was gone but the home was largely intact in size and outward appearance.

The stag horn trees weren’t there in the above 1905 photo, but my quick glimpse inside over the shoulder of the owner, verified that the seven foot high ceilings were still in place.

Wednesday.  Boston and then Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I had hopped from Sacramento to Salt Lake City and then to Boston.  A two hour drive took me to Plymouth where David Lewis Drew was born.  The morning was spent walking through the Burial Hill Cemetery finding and taking photos of the tombstones of dozens of my ancestors. 

Folks smiled and waved at my wife and I as we walked through town down to Plymouth Rock.  Visitors with ancestral quest crazed stares were common place there and besides, they were good for the local economy.

A stop at the library at the Mayflower Society was fruitful and then after doing the touristy things a few hundred yards down hill yet again, we wandered arm in arm through Brewster Gardens.   Following the stream uphill under the highway, we exited its course when we were adjacent to Pleasant Street. 

Within a few minutes we stood in front of the Drew home at 51 Pleasant Street.  It was built by my 4th great grandfather and had been home to four generations of the family.

On the 4th of July 1907, the home was decked out with an American Flag and other colorful decorations celebrating the holiday.  Family members sat on the front porch watching their neighbors return home from the celebratory activities downtown as seen in the above photo taken from the green across the street.

The power pole on the corner in front of the house was still there but now it also carried large telephone and cable television cables that almost acted as a flying curtain to block the view of the home.

Photoshop is a very useful tool when removing visual pollution from photos.

Knock, knock, knock on the front door.  No answer.  No sounds from inside.  Knock, knock again.  No one was home.  Reaching out, I touched the door frame here too.  Undoubtedly, the doors at both of the homes has been replaced in the last 100 years, but if the thickness of the paint covering them is any indication, the molding around them appeared to be original.

How many hours had it been between the time David touched the same molding when he left for California during the gold rush and his arrival in Jamestown in Calaveras County, California?  It was certainly a lot longer than the relatively short flight time in my pilgrimage. 

David never returned home to Plymouth.  I wonder if he knew that his goodbyes to his family would be his last vision of them?  His youngest brother eventually moved to California and stayed with him for a time but the smell and sights of Plymouth didn’t survive the journey.

Google Maps tells me that the two homes are 3074 miles apart and that I could drive from one to the other in 45 hours.  That means I’d average 68 miles per hour if the travel estimate is correct.  Most of my time would be spent on freeways with stops only dictated by the need to refuel, defuel and stand under a waterfall.

David’s journey wasn’t quite that easy.  Nor were the journeys of your ancestors.  It would be an enjoyable experience to walk with them as they told how their homes and cities looked in their day and then returning the favor by showing them the magic associated with technology in our day.

If you have spent many hours in the quest of your ancestors and have then followed their migratory paths in person, imagining them with you isn’t too difficult.  I’m sure I felt a second rush of excitement in addition to my own reaction as we approached 51 Pleasant Street. 

Knock, knock.  Was that an echo of the rap of my knuckles or was it another knock mirroring mine?  

Welcome home grandpa.  Has the place changed?