Finding Real People

Fortunately for me, my great-grandmother – Ruby Henton (Davis) – cared a great deal about preserving the names and faces of members of her family, and she left all of her notes and pictures to my grandpa. I had no idea that my grandpa had any pictures or papers about his maternal line until I mentioned this course, and he gladly offered all of the information he had. I had the incredible opportunity to go through the piles of pictures and notes this weekend, and I learned more than I could have ever hoped to.

This assortment included pictures of people I didn’t even have on my tree yet; thankfully, Ruby was very good about writing names, dates and details on the back of almost every picture. I found pictures not just of her and her siblings, but of her parents, and even her grandparents – dating back to the mid-1800s. I also found out that Ruby, a native of Kentucky, traveled over 880 miles in a covered wagon to Clayton, New Mexico (with the modern conveniences of cars and interstates that trip takes a little over 16 hours).  And, thanks to the helpful notes she left on the pictures, I found a picture of the home that she shared with the rest of her family.

One of the many pictures my great-grandmother, Ruby, left with very helpful notes on the back.

Thankfully, pictures weren’t the only thing that Ruby kept, I also found a letter from my great-great-grandfather (Washington Davis) to his son and daughter-in-law (my great-grandpa Jack Davis and Ruby) written on 13 January 1930. The letter is particularly interesting to a history lover like myself because of it’s references to the Great Depression and it shows just how desperate times were, Washington writes:

The worst thing with us is that every body is so poor around here I have made the best crop I’ve made in Ten years and the price has gone down so that I can’t pay last years expenses and it seems to be a general condition many of the farmers around here don’t know yet whether they will be able to farm this year or not just lots of land being sold for taxes and it looks like mine will have to go as I don’t see how I’m going to raise the two hundred dollars between now and Feb 1….May be it will all come out right some day. 

But even more striking than that was the realization that these were real people. Having pictures of them wasn’t enough, hearing stories about them wasn’t enough, but seeing a handwritten letter from father to son really hit me with the reality that these aren’t just names on a tree, nor are they simply pictures in a frame. They were living, breathing men and women, with triumphs and with tragedies  with talents and with shortcomings. In the letter, Washington talked about how wonderful Christmas was, and how kind his neighbors were to him when he came down with the flu, Washington’s signature at the bottom of the page sealed the deal for me – “Again, wishing you all the good luck in the world I am affectionately yours, Daddy.” Wow.

-Allen Lollis