When I lived in England there was a popular show on the BBC called Who do You Think You Are? In the show, celebrities searched for their family history, traveling wherever a clue takes them in order to discover his or her past. There is also an American version and it’s just as compelling as the British one.
I have long been fascinated by my family history, and when I was in the 8th grade I made a science project about family trees. I remember sitting on the floor at my grandma’s house listening as my Great Aunt Mary and Great Aunt Elaine told me a little bit about the Medved side, which is on my father’s branch. The Medveds were immigrants from Austro-Hungarian Empire and came through Ellis Island. Even though I was only 12, these people, whom I’d never met, fascinated me. Did I look like them? Did we share some of the same habits? Was there anyone in the past who loved to write and ride horses like I did?
Being a historical novelist, I’m even more fascinated by my past, and my Aunt Shirley (the one I dedicated my novel to) is the family registrar on my mom’s side. She and my mother traced our family line all the way back to England in the 1400s.
One of my many times grandfathers was responsible for bringing British emigrants to Virginia in order to settle it. The more people he arranged passage for, the more land the Crown granted him. Most of his land is now a state park. Another grandfather, Bennett Crafton, fought in the Revolutionary War as a major. Normally this piece of info would be interesting, but nothing I would spend a lot of time pondering. Until I found a letter of his, archived in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. Photos of my ancestors always amaze me, but I suppose because I’m a writer, letters and journal entries thrill me more.
Here is what he wrote:
Major Bennett Crafton to Brig. General Sumner
Camp Durham Halls, Febry. 6th 1782
By Col. Sewell’s Express I must beg Leave to inform you of my having One Lewis Gant a man who has been Detected in Aiding & Assisting one of the State Legion to Desert. He has been Condemned to serve during the War by a Board of Justices. I should be glad you will let me know what I am to do with him.
I am Sir with Respt.,
Yr. very Hble. Servt.,
A few weeks later my grandpa was writing again. This time you can really hear the irritation that flowed from his quill.
To Gov. Burke, From Maj. Bennett Crafton; Camp at Dr. Hall’s, February 28th, 1782
On my return to Camp last evening, I found the Camp out of provision. I this morning sent to the Commissioner of Franklin County who was ordered by His Excellency Gov. Martin to furnish me with all necessaries for the men and horses until ordered from this station. He has refused to furnish me with any thing further. I am at a loss what to do on this occasion and would be glad if you would send me some orders and let me know in what manner I am to be supplied with provisions, &c, as I have not one ounce of any kind on hand.
There are, since I was down with you, ten men who have joined the Regiment from New Berne District. When I was at Halifax I did not receive the several articles that I much need that I did not mention in the memorandum I gave you, viz; drums and Colors and Fifes, pots and fifty men.
I think I love this letter the best. No sign off, just his name, dammit. I can understand the need for pots (I’m assuming we’re talking cooking here and not chamber). What I really love is the anger over the missing drums, Colors and Fifes. I mean, grandpa, get a grip. Can’t you live without a few fifes and a drum or two? And a Color (or flag) is probably just for show or tradition. It’s nothing to get upset about. But usually, as with most things, it’s the small things on top of the bigger things that tip the boat over. And so it is, that in this last letter, I found the link between my ancestor and me. Like my many times great grandfather, I’m not easily irritated and I have a long fuse, but when something like a missing fife shows up on a bad day, I’m apt to act like Grandpa Crafton. I first name the culprit (Gov. Martin has refused) jump to sarcasm (I have not one ounce of any kind on hand), and then move on to blatant disregard for niceties (Bennett Crafton).
What about you? Is there something in your family history that you’ve found and can relate to? I’d love to hear it.