Branches On My Family Tree
by Nola Redd
When I first started exploring my family tree, I sought to draw
a line straight back as far as possible. Within a short time, I
had names and dates - all taken from shaky sources - for several
ancestors. Soon after, I learned that genealogy is like
detective work: just because something is in print doesn't make
it right. The truth tends to take a little hunting around.
The more I worked, the more I wondered about the lives of my
forefathers (and foremothers, too). I looked first at my dad's
grandfather. A man named Styrle Iretone Taylor must have had a
hard life! As I looked at the death dates of his parents, I
realized that was true, but not because of his name. His parents
had died scarcely two weeks apart while he was fourteen.
Regular death records gave me no clue, and since they passed
away in 1914 and 1915, I was pretty sure they weren't victims of
a car crash, as cars rarely reached such fatal speed and were
few and far between. Perhaps a train wreck? The death notices
gave me the clue I had been looking for.
It seemed William Ellett Taylor (my grandfather's grandfather)
had been a well-to-do businessman. He owned a saw mill and a
general store in rural Virginia. Sadly, the sawmill did him in.
While working one late December day, one of the blades flew off
the saw and cut a major artery in his leg. By the time the
doctor arrived, death had claimed him.
Such an account piqued my interest. Unless his wife stood
nearby (and the newspaper account did not mention her), the
deaths were unrelated. I searched for an obituary and learned
that she had been sick for a number of years (an account
verified by a letter written to her son while she traveled to
Atlanta for treatment). Apparently, the loss of her husband was
too much for her, and she followed him to the grave a scant two
As I sat at the microfilm, having read this, I could not have
put myself in young Styrle's shoes. Only six months from his
fifteenth birthday, he had surely been preparing himself for the
loss of his mother. Suddenly, out of the blue, his father was
taken from him, as well, leaving him orphaned. How must he have
reacted to this?
Family rumor notes that he traveled for several years around
the country (a fact I have been unable to prove, which makes it
even more believable) before coming home to marry. He stayed in
the same small town where he grew up. Death seemed to have him
marked -his oldest son and namesake (yes, he named my grandfater
Styrle Iretone Junior) died unexpectedly of a heart attack at
age 57, and his wife died six years before he did. Styrle Senior
passed on at the age of 92 in the home he raised his children
in, long before researching my family tree ever interested me,
long before I could ask him for details about his life.
For me, genealogy started off as an adventure, an opportunity
to solve a puzzle and connect the dots from myself to someone
centuries before. The more I learned, however, the more I came
to see that genealogy is more than that. It is a way to connect
with and learn about those who came before me, who brought me
into this world. It is my chance to learn where those things my
father taught me may actually have come from, to learn the
challenges I face today have been survived by those who came to
this world before me.
It is a way to learn who I am by determining where I am from.
article re-published 1 November 2006