At The Courthouse: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Its been quite a while since I’ve been to a courthouse. I used them quite a bit during my career as an architectural historian, but now the records I’ve used that were created in courthouses are housed in historical societies and/or are available online.

There is research that I still need to do that has to be done at the courthouse. One of our burning questions is how the farm outside of Bluefield came to the Jarrell family, and when it did. I believe that it originated with the family of Rebecca George, who married George Washington Jarrell in 1838.

The courthouse where the records for that parcel of land are located is just a few hours from me, but since most of my time away from home is spent taking care of my elderly mother, I haven’t been able to get there yet. One of these days I will.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: I’d like to Meet

I’ve been putting this one off to see what bubbled up, but there was really only one choice. The ancestor I’d like to meet is one I’ve already met, but I can’t remember him.

My maternal grandfather, Frank Hereford Jarrell, died in July 1963, when I was not quite 2 1/2 years old. We lived in southeastern Pennsylvania and they lived in southwestern West Virginia, so we didn’t see them often, but we did visit at least once a year for Easter so I know we’d have met at least a couple of times.

They came to visit soon after I was born, though that I had been born was a surprise. My mother had several miscarriages and my parents had one child who only lived 3 days. My grandparents married late. My grandmother was 35 and my grandfather was 38. My parents were 18 and 25 when they married, but their struggles to have children meant that by the time my brother Bobby died my mother’s parents were in their 70s. I think my mother was concerned about the effect it had on them and any more losses would have on them. So, when my mom was pregnant with the younger of my sisters and with me, the ones who came after Bobby, they weren’t told we were on the way.

My sister was born in February, so that year when it was time for the Easter trip my parents took her. My dad played football in high school and college and I’ve been told that he had the habit when we were small of carrying us tucked under his arm, like a football. (I really wish I could see a photo of this) When he walked in carrying my sister, completely bundled up in a blanket, my grandfather thought she was a ham and offered to put her in the refrigerator.

I arrived in March, so it was too close to Easter to make that trip. Instead my grandparents were told that my mother’s varicose veins were bothering her and she couldn’t travel, so they came to visit. When they asked how she felt, I was produced as the reason she was feeling better.

My mother told me stories about her father, but not a lot of them. It wasn’t until I started researching my family history, less than a decade ago, that I learned how much she and her siblings knew of their family and about their family history. At a gathering of many of my cousins, who are 8-17 years older than I am, I learned that both of our grandparents had told the older cousins stories about their family history, both his Jarrells and her Kahles, and the younger ones had been told stories by an uncle. Each cousin told me something that they remembered being told as a child, and I began to feel that I knew my grandfather.

After that trip, my sisters and I visited my mother to help her rearrange some things. As we were sorting, everything that pertained to our family was put in a pile for me. In that pile were letters that distant cousins of my grandfather’s had written to him. The oldest letter was written in 1936, the last of them was written in 1961, not long before both that cousin and my grandfather both passed away. One of those cousins explained that he had written to the DAR near where their great-grandfathers had both married, who recommended that they contact my grandfather. So, at least one DAR chapter knew my grandfather as an authority on his family’s history.

Apparently his research did not survive, except in the memories of his children and grandchildren. Probably because of the gap between our siblings and cousins and us, no one told my sister and I stories about our family history when we were children. I was 8 when my grandmother died in 1969, and at that point we stopped going to West Virginia for Easter.

Various members of my family went back for the reunions my grandmother’s family held every year, but the first time I went back after my grandmother died was in 2013. When my cousins and I visited the family cemetery on the farm our grandfather’s family owned for roughly 160 years and where members of four different generations of his family are buried, I was glad that now I know my grandfather and his family.