When Ancestry.com offered to spend a little time looking into my family history, I thought it would be fun. I didn’t expect it to be so emotional or surprising. I filled out some forms and gave them free rein to investigate with nothing off limits. What was I thinking?
I was born and raised in Washington State, far from my Mom’s family in Tennessee and my Dad’s in Michigan. I met my Grandparents a couple of times, but there wasn’t much extended family around.
I did know that my Dad, James Barry, was a first generation American. His folks immigrated from England and Ireland and settled in the Detroit, Michigan area. That’s not much, but it was more than I knew about my Mom and her family. So that’s where Ancestry.com decided to focus their search.
They didn’t have to go back very far to find a scandal and a scoundrel. My Great Grandfather Tom Pollock was listed as deceased in the 1920 census. Except he wasn’t. He had just left his wife, Ada, and moved to a different state and remarried. Something he did several more times in about a 15 year period. Apparently without Facebook or Google it was pretty hard to track him down.
This wasn’t my Great Grandmother Ada’s first heartbreak either. Documents show at the age of 11 she was already working in a cotton mill in Tennessee, helping to support her family. The good news is that she had learned to read, something neither of her parents could do.
And going back even further it turns out we have a direct connection to the Civil War through Ada’s dad, Royal Brewer. Ancestry.com even found a copy of the pass he was given at the surrender at Appomattox. As a Confederate he was considered a “released prisoner of war.” He needed that pass to get home. Since it took a long time for news to spread that the war was over, he could have easily been captured by Union soldiers or bounty hunters looking for southern deserters without that pass.
So how did I end up a Northwest native? My mom married my dad while working in her Aunt Bea’s diner in Michigan. Shortly after, my dad shipped out for the South Pacific in World War II. While he was overseas, my mom visited Washington State with a girlfriend and decided to stay. For good. She loved her family and the South, but she wanted her kids to grow up picking colleges, not cotton. And we did.
I knew my mom had a hard childhood and wanted more for us kids, but I don’t think I realized just how brave she was to leave everything she knew to start a new future, until I understood her past.
If these stories leave you wondering more about your family, www.ancestry.com is loaded with resources. Also, the Oregon Historical Society holds workshops to help you trace your roots. Good luck!