A Genealogy Journey of 14,496 Miles in 86 Days ~ Part I

6/6/2010 5 comment(s)

Tom McKnight
I had served with the United Nations for some 25 years, when Mom passed away in 2004. I came home from an overseas U.N. mission for the funeral. Knowing that Mom always wondered "what happened to the family" whose, family origins were in northwest Alabama and were separated during the Depression, I decided to make a tribute to her memory. After returning to complete my U.N. assignment I came back to the States in 2005 and dedicated the next 2 years in her honor to connect the family dots as best as I could.

Though family tree history was rarely discussed during my formative years, the little bit gleaned from Mom in my youth and adult life and especially from my Uncle in my effort to heal from her loss resulted in bits of pieces of information. Led by what I refer to as Divine Intervention and guidance from the 'Ancestors' who I believe will tap someone on the shoulder to make sure they're not long gone and forgotten, I settled in Russellville, Alabama in the Spring of 2005. It was then I decided to find family that I did not know existed and never met before. Armed only with a couple of family stories, one address of a cousin I heard about and a GPS, I set out on an 86 day drive covering 14,496 miles to find unknown and unmet relatives. To find the living, one had to research the dead as I soon found out. The 'Ancestors' make you work for their success.

I began, by resuming a task leftover from the previous year's bereavement leave, based on parcels of information conveyed by my Uncle about the life of my Grandmother; Hattie Missouri Watkins Snyder. I never had the pleasure of her acquaintance, as she died in 1937, eight years before I was born. I set out to continue the search of her unmarked grave in Massillon Cemetery, Ohio. "Nonexistent," inaccurate records were at the source fueled by cemetery staff supposition of where Grandmother "might be buried." The final analysis resulted in a cold case resurrection bingo! 68 years after her death, her grandson researched, rattled cages and placed a headstone at her grave honoring her presence on this earth. As every civilized society has always honored their dead, neither time, distance nor circumstance should ever result in our treasured elders receiving anything less.

Little did I realize that the 'Ancestors' were only grooming me for bigger, better and harder tasks. They make you work. The 14,496 miles drive in 86 days kept me on the road, eating fast foods on the way and gaining weight even faster but the mission to connect the dots, for Mom, prevailed. This journey comprises a lot of details of how bits and pieces of information and research of libraries for obituary data, churches where family member attended, Departments of Vital Statistics, Census records, probate court records all played a part in this ongoing story, which may be better suited for film or a novel.

Given the web site space limitation to tell all, as each family member I found beginning with the dead, led me to the living, the real mind blowing discovery during the marathon drive revealed that my Great Grandmother, Sophia Napier Watkins was the cook at the Helen Keller home at Ivy Green, Tuscumbia, Alabama when Helen Keller was a child. Excitedly calling my Uncle, long distance no less, to convey this news, I discovered it was not news at all to him as he commented "Yes, I knew". Well, I replied "Why didn't anyone ever tell me?" "Because no one asked" was his answer. OK, I consented, though my mind was boggled.

Why hadn’t I ever heard this information? Wasn’t this a noteworthy bit of family history? And why didn’t Uncle mention it to me, in our previous conversations?

Stay tuned to Part II of “A Genealogy Journey of 14,496 miles in 86 days.”

Peace, Love and Strength

Tom McKnight


Janine Smith Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 5:17:52 AM
If I had a penny for each bombshell revelation that was met with "I knew that"...! Wonderful Part 1! I'm hooked and waiting *patiently* for Part 2...
Leslie Ann Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 5:18:33 AM
Wonderful story Tom. Would have been nice to have a head start on Helen Keller connection I bet. You got me wanting more!
Tom McKnight Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 5:19:19 AM
Thanks for the comments. Most times, the elders/adults didn't reveal much in the presence of children or “the young'uns” because there was a clear line of demarcation and respect established, managed and maintained between the generations. If one was brave enough to ask questions, it was always met with the reply "You don't need to know that", or, a non verbal response - the dreaded "look" which was the signal for you to excuse yourself and go outside and play leaving the adults to talk about adult things.

To some degree, 'old school' may have been good but the 'silence' of reality also has its downside - whereby successive generations are at risk of suffering from culture, history and tradition Alzheimer’s driven by a morphing global expansion environment 'ism'.

Today the term is 'globalism' which in time, will be replaced by other euphemisms as the world evolves (or devolves). This process however comes at a cost; steady erosion of civil liberties, reduced ability to gain access to information for research which used to be inalienable rights; and accelerated loss of who we are as individuals, families, communities and as a nation.

One now is forced to jump through administrative and bureaucratic hoops to obtain data in a security management-identity/theft protection and facts parceling environment signaling a new era and phenomenal period that impacts our collective lives on a daily basis.

This post 911 environment has changed and will continue to impact the world’s morphing ‘ism’s’ forever. Though the older generation's physical, psychic, emotional, mental, spiritual and even genetic pains may have been something they did not want to pass on to a new generation - lest they burden them with the mental shackles of the past, we, those of us alive and on the path acquiring knowledge of who we are today, must break the silence of reality cycle and pass our knowledge, share our own pains, deprivations and hope with the “young'uns”.

Teach them to transmute the negative aspects of our lives and culture into the positive. Guide them on how to light the torches of hope to promote their future from the embers of yesterday so that the current generation of children and grand children know where they came from and know where they are expected to go; and most importantly, know, and believe, that they ARE - somebody.
Yes, after we have found the facts- (the hard way) and someone says later down the road "I knew that", well fore-knowledge might have saved a lot of driven miles but the question is - what would have surfaced if we had known; Would we have done anything differently or dynamic with the knowledge?; or would we have just let it rest in our heads and hearts?; possibly the latter - possibly not.
The ancestors make you work – for them, for us and the future. I have come to believe that missions have their time and place and as water will seek its own level, isn’t it spiritually ironic that I have the pleasure and privilege of sharing thoughts and receiving experiences with you all. Stay tuned for Part II – A Genealogy Journey of 14,496 Miles in 86 Days.

Peace, Love and Strength - Tom
Sandra Taliaferro Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 5:19:54 AM

I'm a little behind in my reading, and just getting to read your guest posts on Amy's blog. Death has a way of making us think about the living as well as the dead, and gives us a renewed respect for our ancestors. This is starting out like a wonderful mystery. I am anxious to read more, and heading straight to part 2. Thanks for sharing the memories of your journey with us.

H Gordon Fleming Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 5:20:35 AM
Mr McKnight,
You are amazing ! This site is a beautiful tribute to your Family, Angels and Ancestors. You have worked hard I see.
I came to your site because, like you, I want to find my Family-Past and Present. I am related to you by marriage.
Here is how we are connected :


Harold S Fleming
My father

Edith Deshields-Wormley
his mother

Ella Cooney Granville
her mother

Charlotte M Granville
her sister

Granville A Davis
her son

Michael Granville Davis
his son

Marion Wilson
his wife

Francis Garrison Wilson
her father

Mary P Evans
his mother

Henrietta Leary
her mother

Lewis Sheridan Leary
her brother

Mary Sampson Patterson
his ex-wife

Charles Henry Langston
her husband

Rep. John Mercer Langston
his brother

Nettie Della Langston
his daughter

James Carroll Napier Esq
her husband

Sophia Napier
his sister

My problem is that I get side-tracked and go on tangents
to find not only MY Relatives, but THEIR Family as well. As a result I have found about 2,000 !! And finding connections everyday. I have discovered a great and FREE Family Tree Making Site, Geni.com where I have this on-going project that began some 7 years ago.

Thank you for sharing these wonderful Family Stories and Lore with us folks. And I guess now I can add you to my Tree !!

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