I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
May 13, 2013
Mother’s Day was a little more special to me this year than it’s ever been before.
A few months ago, I started researching my family tree, with the help of my 88-year-old grandmother, the Internet, and an out-of-print history book on Harlan County, Kentucky that contained my great great grandmother’s notes in the margins.
The research became a rabbit hole for me, where I could lose myself for hours. I’ve discovered to my surprise that I’m as American as it gets- Every single line I’ve traced back began in England or Wales and crossed over to the United States in the 1600s or early 1700s. I’ve discovered that I’m a direct descendant of English nobility, Native Americans, Quakers, Revolutionary and Civil War heroes, a murderer, and Oliver Cromwell. I’ve read 300-year-old wills, newspaper clippings, death certificates, and census records. I’ve connected with distant cousins who’ve sent me photos of family members that I’ve never seen before, like my great grandmother on her wedding day, and I’ve made it my goal to attend a family reunion at the historic (and hard-to-get-to) Hensley settlement in Harlan County. The Hensleys, apparently, are genealogy fools, and I can’t wait to add their stories to my own records.
My favorite discoveries, though, have been the photos. I’ve found a surprising number of them. The women interest me the most, because they’re the hardest to trace. They didn’t buy land or serve in the military or vote. They were, primarily, mothers. That was their job, and it was an important one. They often had staggering numbers of children. And while I didn’t know most of them well or even at all, they each contributed in a very real way to the person I am today.
Here are just a few of their stories.
Sally Clark Eager is my fifth great grandmother. She told her children that she remembered when her father returned home from the War of 1812, walking to Harlan, Kentucky from the Mexican border. He was still wearing his red uniform jacket and he carried a small bottle of wine for her mother, encased in woven straw.
Now that’s love.
Anna Miracle Hoskins is my third great grandmother. She had three sons with my great great grandfather Ezekiel, who died in the Civil War. She remarried and had ten more children with her second husband, and she ultimately lived to be 77 years old. This photo was taken alongside husband number two. You can just tell by looking at her that she liked my great great great grandfather SO much better.
Laura Vaughn Williams is my great great grandmother. She’s pictured here with my great great grandfather. She died at the age of 52, when my great grandfather was 20, and it deeply affected him. He had been very close to her, and kept many of her things after she died.
I wish he had kept that hat.
Olive “Ollie” Jones Hensley is my great great grandmother. She had 18 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood. Women like Ollie are rockstars on sites like Ancestry.com– Since hundreds of people can trace their roots back to her, there’s lots of information about her. Ollie wrote down quite a few of her family memories in the margins of my Harlan County history book. I feel now like I know her, even though we’ve never met.
Cassandra Davis Hoskins is my great great grandmother. She lived in the log cabin pictured here. My grandmother still remembers a time when Cassie’s husband, my great great grandfather, stood up in church and invited anyone who needed shelter during an upcoming revival to come stay with them. 70 people showed up and the Hoskins fed and housed them all, killing pigs and a cow in order to feed everyone.
Now that’s hospitality.
Zella Hensley Walker is my great grandmother. This is Zella on her wedding day. She was full of mischief, and loved playing pranks even when she was elderly. She hated cooking and her method was to shove everything in the oven and cook it on high, in order to get it done as quickly as possible. This resulted in our family’s famous “Chunky Pumpkin Pie” recipe, which is, quite frankly, to die for.
Nancy Hoskins Williams is my great grandmother. This picture was taken on her wedding day, when she was just 15 years old. I love imagining what was going through her mind when this photo was made– She must have been terrified. Don’t worry, though. It all turned out fine. My great grandparents were married 56 years and my grandmother never once saw them argue.
Jeanette is my grandmother, and the daughter of Nancy. She’s 88 now and my children agree that she’s the nicest woman on earth. I love her so much, it hurts.
Sharon is my mother. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and a great mom. I know for a fact that she’d do anything for me. She might complain about it, but she’d do it.
I never knew all that much about the women in my family until now. I feel stronger armed with this knowledge, and connected to something that’s far bigger and more complex than I can even comprehend.
I am part of a line of amazing women, who loved and lost and fought and endured and dared and suffered and rejoiced. My daughter will grow up now knowing about them, and she will be better because of it.
This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of all of them.