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I Used to Hate the Begats but Now I Love Them

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Descendants of Fred Johnson, Jr. & Ora Lee Johnson

This picture was taken in August following the funeral of my mother-in-law, Ora Lee Johnson.  These are most of her children, some of her grandchildren and a few of her great-grandchildren.  It is a modern representation of the Johnson’s begats.

I was raised by my god-parents, extremely God fearing people and both were church trustees.  Needless to say, I was always in church:  Sunday School, Sunday Morning Service, HYPBC (Holy Young People’s Bible Class), Sunday Evening Services and mid-week Bible study.  Every now and then we studied what was my least favorite Bible passage: the begats.  I hated to read the begats.

An incomplete list of begats from Genesis 5  (KJV)

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;

 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth:

 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos:

And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters:

And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died.

And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan:

And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters:

And Cainan lived seventy years and begat Mahalaleel:

And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters:

 And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died.

 And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared:

And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters:

This list goes on and on and on!

This long list of people whose names were incredibly hard to pronounce was terribly intimidating.  Truth be told, when I didn’t have to read aloud, I skipped the entire section of begats.  I couldn’t figure out why it was important to know whose daddy was whose and why it was important to know all these people.  Little did I know that decades later my time would be consumed with my own list of begats:  ancestors who came before me and my parents.  I want to know who begat them, who they begat, where they lived and something about their lives.

If I could turn back time, I would have asked more questions of my mother and uncles; especially my Uncle Owen.  Uncle Owen,  mom’s half brother, was 30 years older than my mother.  He would have known more about my mother’s paternal line.  Unfortunately, that was a missed opportunity that can’t be reclaimed.  Mom is still living and her mind is pretty sharp but she has forgotten a lot of things; and there are a lot of things she never knew.  She’s been as helpful as she can but she doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about.

These days I spend most of my money on two things:  my grandson and genealogy.  Internet subscriptions, books, pedigree charts, ancestry charts, workshops, conferences and travel – these are the items that fill my expense list.  All of this to feed my curiosity of my family’s begats.

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What, we’re not from Mississippi?

As long as I can remember, my mother Ruth Washington, told me that our family was originally from Mississippi.  Mom and Uncle Thomas were born in Tennessee and my Aunt Lillian was born in Kentucky. alabama-county-mapAccording to Mom, both maternal grandparents and my grandfather’s first set of children were all born in Mississippi.

With this information in hand, I scoured census documents on Ancestry.com looking for my grandparents in Mississippi. As a genealogy newbie, it didn’t occur to me that this information passed down by recent generations was not true. Unfortunately, this type of misinformation is common in many families, especially when the family history is oral and not documented.

Of course, I believed that we were from Mississippi because my mother said so.  There was no reason for me to believe otherwise.  Another reason I thought our family was from Mississippi was my childhood memory of my cousin’s death.  When I was 12 years old, my cousin Lula Mae died of a brain aneurysm.  After the funeral, I traveled with my family to Iuka, Mississippi where my cousin was buried in a family cemetery plot. For me, that confirmed that our family was originally from Mississippi.

I found out that at some point my great-grandfather, Thomas Harris, moved his wife and children from Alabama to Mississippi. He and his wife stayed in Mississippi where they died; hence the burial plots. His children and grandchildren eventually moved to Tennessee.

From several types of records found on Ancestry.com and Family Search I found ancestors as far back as 1823 who were born in Alabama.  Most of them were born in Clarke County, Alabama; a few ancestors were born in Choctaw County and the Choctaw Nation.

It took some time to solve this mystery, but I finally got it done and was ready to move on to other family mysteries.

That’s My Daddy

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When I was five years old, my parents separated.  My mother left Philadelphia and went back to her home town of Nashville to help take care of her mother who was seriously ill.  Even though I was still living in Philadelphia with my god-parents, I didn’t see my father on a regular basis and when he did visit, we didn’t talk about family.  When dad died in 1985, I still didn’t know anything about his side of the family.

In 2012 I joined Ancestry in hopes of gleaning some insight into dad’s family.  After working my way through a ton of census reports for a George Washington born in Georgia, I managed to find one census document.  I don’t know why in the world so many people named their sons George Washington other than to teach me to carefully peruse documents in search of the one I needed. In addition to the census report, I found his military registration and a death record from the state of Pennsylvania.

Even though I was extremely frustrated, every few months I would run a search on dad’s name with no new discoveries.  Then one day in August 2015, I ran a search and the picture above appeared.  At first I started to ignore it but something said, click on the picture. I looked at it and said, “That’s my Daddy.” I looked at the information on who posted the picture and saw that it was posted by a Winnie Whitfield who labeled the picture “Uncle George and Maggie.”  I contacted her through  Ancestry messages and found out that she was my first cousin – the daughter of dad’s sister Essie Mae.

It wasn’t long before Winnie and I were talking on the phone and exchanging addresses.  By this time, I was living in Smyrna, Georgia and Winnie was living in her home town of Tifton, Georgia. Between phone calls and visits, Winnie and I have become close friends and she has shared a lot about dad’s family.

You never know when a random search will pay off.