I have no living grandparents yet I am continually enjoying several thousand grandparents through my studies in family history. I started with the four grandparents I knew, then explored their eight parents, and their sixteen, and so on. The geometric progression of multiplying every generation by two causes the numbers to add up quickly!
My actual Hayes ancestors I have been able to trace back only to Thomas, who came from Ireland to America with his four year old son James (and perhaps other family members) in 1750. They began their life in the New World in Baltimore, where in the 1780s James and his family were registered as members of the St. James Protestant Episcopal Church. The first son of James and his wife Cassandra was Jacob, who moved at some point to New Jersey where he married Hope Kemble.
Hope, my great great grandmother, has been fascinating for me. She bore twelve children, some in New Jersey and some in Indiana, where she and her husband eventually settled. I have visited their graves in a small cemetery near Greensburg, IN. Many others of the family are buried there, including Hope’s mother Ruth Garwood. Ruth was raised as a Quaker but had been banned for marrying a non-Quaker. Hope, I have learned, continued to speak with thee’s and thou’s all her life, though she was part of Star Baptist Church in rural Greensburg.
Through Ruth Garwood I have been able to identify a number of families of my grandparents who moved to the newly established colony of Pennsylvania in the 1680s with William Penn. Thanks to the headstart given me by a book called The Welsh Settlement of Pennsylvania (by Charles Browning), I have been able to record many thousands of Ruth’s ancestors in Wales, England, France, Spain, central Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, and on and on.
My favorite of Ruth’s ancestors is Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and then Queen of England in the 12th century. Eleanor, about whom several biographies have been written, was a major influence in developing the image of late Medieval chivalry, which included a fascination with the old Roman poems of Ovid call “Arts of Love.” Very racy material!
While in the Greensburg courthouse a few years ago, I was reading the inventory of Hope Kemble’s brother Isaiah. He owned five books, two on farming, two on animal husbandry, and Ovid’s “Arts of Love.” Surely the family hadn’t kept alive the memory of Eleanor of Aquitaine, had they? But why else would a rural farmer have such a book?
Such questions are great fun for me, though they cannot be answered, as I try to imagine myself in the shoes of each of my ancestors. Jacob and Hope Hayes almost certainly never heard a Beethoven symphony, never dreamed of indoor plumbing or automobiles or airplanes or telephones or televisions or Smartphones, yet I have to count back only four generations to their time.
Sometimes I stop to ask whether any of this research has any actual meaning. The answer is always Yes and there are always three reasons that come to mind. Knowing my roots seems to have a great effect on my sense of who I am. I am not isolated but am part of a long long of people who have lived and died before me and of people who will live and die after me. And that’s the second reason: I want to work hard on this family history so that my children, grandchildren and their grandchildren will also have a sense of rootedness in a specific and long family history. The third reason is that my study of history is greatly enriched both by knowing that many of the key players in history are family members and by imagining what the more obscure ancestors were experiencing at various points. It even fascinates me that I had grandparents on the Mayflower, though the pride is greatly diminished by the fact that my Mayflower ancestor John Billington was the first person in New England to be hanged for murder. Even my enjoyment of chocolate has been enhanced by my studies in family history, since one of my grandmothers was the original Lady Godiva.
I really get a kick out of the dubious record that appears in Burke’s official genealogies of the royal and noble families of England, the record that goes back to Adam and Eve (after including Jupiter and Venus). Achilles has nothing on me — I too am descended from the gods (unless the genealogy is not quite accurate that far back. . .).