March 2008
Billie Silvey
--bringing family history to life
By Barbara Webb

I’ve always loved history. My sister and I kept “history
files� of articles we had clipped from magazines. We both
excelled in history classes. I loved “old things� in our
grandparents’ houses. From the time I was very small, I
remember both of my grandmothers telling me stories of their
families and of their childhoods. I grew up knowing that
Grandmother was from the North and that Granny was from the
South. I knew some of the stories of their lifetimes, but not much
about generations before. My interest didn’t extend very far
beyond my love for them and for history and the happiness I saw
in them when I would ask about their families.

After college came marriage, career and children. I faithfully put
the information I had in the boys’ baby books on the family
tree pages and rushed on to the next task. Years later, with â
€œempty nestâ€� pressing in, I discovered genealogy and my
world changed.

I found it was much easier to trace Grandmother and Granddaddy
than Granny and her husband, who had died when our father was
a baby. The northern people kept excellent records while many of
the southern records were destroyed, particularly by Sherman on
his “march to the sea.� Remembering the names they told
me proved invaluable in my search. I found that some family
stories were factual while some were “embellished� almost
beyond recognition. I found Revolutionary soldiers, including a real
Minuteman (you had to be a member of a Train Band), pilgrims,
crusaders, knights, Lady Godiva, and several ancestors who were
Plantagenets and kings of Wales and France, even Charlemagne.

However, it is still the stories that I love best. They are what flesh
out the dates and make the people involved real. One of my
favorite stories is of the major in the War of 1812, decorated for
gallantry, who was accused of impropriety at the fort he
commanded. He demanded a court martial and when acquitted,
promptly challenged the offender to a duel. When the man
declined to fight him, he had his second from the duel (later a Vice
President of the United States) post signs all over town that the
man was a coward.

Another favorite is the ancestor who bought his land (Marthaâ
€™s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands) from
England, Spain, and other colonists and still didn’t feel he had
clear title. So, he bought it again from the native Indians. When he
was made governor for life, he made a law that no land could be
taken from the Indians and that the Indians had to agree to the
price. While the rest of the colonists were fighting, scalping and
being scalped, relations on Martha’s Vineyard were so
peaceful that often Indians were asked to serve as impartial judges
in land disputes between colonists.

There was the colonist, his wife and baby son of Longmeadow
who were traveling to church in Springfield for the baby’s
christening, escorted by a troop of forty soldiers. When they were
attacked by eight Indians, the soldiers ran away. The father was
mortally wounded but stayed on his horse until he reached
Springfield. The mother and baby were captured and killed. This
gave rise to the colonial poem, “Seven Indians, and one
without a gun, caused Capt. Nixon and forty men to run.�

There was the poor baby in the 1600’s whose mother
managed to keep it alive for two years and eight days even though
it weighed only eight pounds. There was the tanner whose toddler
died when it fell into a vat of acid. There was the will from the
father asking an ancestor to please take care of his brother whom
God saw fit to make where he could not take care of himself.
There was the signature of the daughter of a colonial governor that
looks like it was printed by a four year old. (Her husband’s
writing was excellent.) There were the women who dressed in
their husband’s clothing and defended their town and captured
a spy, who was then released by the men because he had already
been punished enough by being captured by women. There was
joy, sorrow, good, bad, justice, injustice, courage and cowardice--
just like today.

Does knowing any of this make a difference? In one way, it makes
no difference at all. I’m still responsible for my own life and
my own character and conscience. Although I can see some
inherited character traits in myself, I am also a product of my
individual life experiences. However, in other ways, knowing my
ancestors makes a great deal of difference in my life. I feel even
closer to history than ever before. Thanksgiving, for example,
seems much more meaningful when I realize that it was my
ancestors who suffered through the long period before that first
harvest. It was my ancestors who risked torture and death when
they forced another ancestor, King John, to sign the Magna Carta.
I can empathize with their feelings. I find myself wanting to uphold
the traditions they set. I see that people of today are not at all
superior to people of the past. I feel the continuation of life and the
fact that my ancestors realized their dependence on divine
providence just as I do.
My sister Barbara Webb lives in Lubbock, Texas, with her
husband Douglas.  She works with a tutoring program at
South Plains Community College.  She has two sons--Chad,
who is married to Joy, in Amarillo, and Brad in Houston.  
Two grandchildren, Autumn and Sam, continue her family
History of L.A.
Bible History