Unfolding the Map
Sorry about the long time between posts. I have been out at a hospital in Sebastopol, California tending to my mother who just had two major back surgeries. I'm supposed to go back home and get back into my routine on Sunday. But we can't leave William Least Heat-Moon hanging, so here's a post for you before the weekend. Comments and suggestions welcome!
"The next morning I headed back toward Asheboro, past the roads to Snow Camp and Silk Hope, over the Haw River, into pine and deciduous hills of red soil, into Randolph County, past crumbling stone milldams, through fields of winter wheat. Ramseur, a nineteenth-century cotton-mill village secluded in the valley of the Deep River, was the first town in the county I came to."
Blue Highways: Part 2, Chapter 1
Ramseur, North Carolina
Reading this passage, and going a little farther into William Least Heat-Moon's account of finding information about his namesake William Trogdon, a miller and patriot killed by Tories on the shores of Sandy Creek in North Carolina. He discovers that there is a grave of his ancestor that was flooded when the county built a dam. However, he learns that there is a monument on the shore of the reservoir. In Ramseur, a local tells him about a guy who knows the area like the back of his hand, and who can help guide him to the spot.
Finding relatives in the mists of history often depends, to paraphrase Tennessee Williams, on "the kindness of strangers." You can't be too proud, and you take up anyone who can help you find a lead.
In 2007, such a lead embarked me on a journey to find more about my birth parents. I was trying to learn more about my adoptive father's father, and stumbled across an amateur genealogist named Ruth. Ruth had a similar interest in my family because she was related to a half-sibling of my father's mother. She had collected some information relating to my father's ancestry, and I discovered it online. I contacted her, and soon she and I began collaborating in a search. The search yielded much information about my adoptive grandfather and the family he left behind in Ohio.
However, Ruth, whom I have never met in person, also learned that I was adopted and offered me a deal. She said she could help me find my birth family if I was willing. I hadn't really considered it seriously before. California law does not make it easy for adoptees to find their birth parents. My wife had her doubts. "What does Ruth want out of this?" she asked. It turned out Ruth didn't want anything but the thrill of the search and the possibility of helping me find my own ancestry.
In a long story short, Ruth did what she said she would. Today, I now know who my birth parents were and some of their story. I have a newly discovered half-brother and half-sister on my birth mother's side. (I also have some half-siblings on my birth father's side, but their story is painful enough that they don't want to know about me.) I also have cousins on both sides that want to know more about me. I have been to the family reunion of my birth mother's kin, and I plan to go up to meet my birth father's only surviving brother, perhaps this year.
All of this wouldn't have happened without the assistance of Ruth. Our online meeting was the equivalence of William Least Heat-Moon stopping in Ramseur and asking for help from a librarian, who directed him to Madge in the dry goods store, who was out of town but whose employee sent Heat-Moon to the Water Commissioner, who told him to go see Noel Jones in Franklinville (our next stop with Heat-Moon).
The kindness of strangers, whether it is in electronic cyberspace or in Ramseur in rural North Carolina, can lead us back to new understandings of ourselves and the history that made us what we are.
If you want to know more about Ramseur
Next up: Franklinville, North Carolina