The triumphs and tragedies of past generations become real and heartfelt when you learn about an ancestor’s life as an indentured servant, or feel the sorrow of a mother as her sons depart for America, or the loyalty that drove a soldier to wander a dark battlefield, lantern in hand, stepping over the dead and dying, to find his missing brother.
East Tennessee Historical Society’s First Families project lists the earliest settlers to Tennessee. I bought the book today. The first thing I did was open it to the name list, ran my finger down the smooth glossy pages to find William Murphy, the first preacher installed at the Cherokee Creek Baptist Church in Jonesborough, TN, 1783.
Once I prove the descendancy, the only benefit I care about is knowing with proof. The pride goes no further. The trendy word is closure. I say knowing. The point is a printed legacy, a certificate, a documented heritage. To say to the former employer who said there were no points for my previous generations having come through Tennessee, I can say to him First Family. I won’t. I can’t even remember his name. And there are probably no points credited to my validity in Tennessee even from other First Family descendents. After all, my line left for Illinois in the mid 19th century making me “not from around here.” Somehow, that matters a great deal to locals. I won’t win hearts with my proven ancestry. My point is passing it on, not waving it in faces.
I will find the proof. When the next edition is printed with my name as one of the submitted and certified descendents of a Tennessee pioneer, I will buy a copy for each of my children and include it in all the rest of the genealogy material. They don’t care that much for ancestry so far. But someday one or more of their kids or grandkids will want to know and the answers will be at their fingertips on paper, in print, and they will say in the language of their day, “cool.”