Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Family Tree Continues ~ Part 2

Are you sitting down? This is not how this blog post was supposed to begin, but I must tell all three of you who may be slightly interested that, between the time of my first Family Tree post two days ago, to now, I have, thanks to the amazing Ancestry.com, discovered the names and certain details of my 6th and 7th maternal great-grandparents! And guess what? My 7th great-grandfather, Christian Bernhard Kehr, was born May 21, 1704, in Prussia, Germany! 

May I pause and just say, Guten Morgen Liebe Freunde. That is to say, Good morning, dear friends. (Yeah, Google helped me with that, but hey, I've just discovered my German roots. Give me a minute.) 

Christian Bernhard Kehr, along with his wife, Anna, immigrated to the United States in 1733. Their son, my 6th great-grandfather, John (Johannes) Kehr, was born in York, Pennsylvania on May 21, 1738.

Of course, this means nothing to anyone not related to me, and maybe means nothing to anyone related to me (hehe), but I've certainly been having a blast, as you can tell. 

I fully expect to discover even deeper roots, as a little green leaf has already appeared by his name, but for now, onward with the scheduled Part II of my family tree saga. :)

My interest in genealogy came about quite unexpectedly. I was not particularly looking for myself—nor for the branch from which I sprouted on the family tree—the day in 1993 when my mother handed me a soft-bound book entitled, Ancestors and Descendants of Dr. Abner Elkin Fant, a work of genealogical research compiled by my second-cousin once removed, as the genealogy groupies might say.

Even though Abner Elkin Fant, born in 1816, happens to be my 3rd great-grandfather, on my mother’s paternal side, I was—with all due respect—not particularly interested in ancient history. As I saw it, dear old Grandpa Fant had little to do with who I was or what I had become. I could take him or leave him.

But, being a dutiful daughter, I graciously accepted the book, promising to browse through it at some future date. In the meantime, I placed it on the coffee table to gather dust.

One rainy afternoon, while nursing a bad cold, it seemed the perfect time to check out the Fant branch of my family tree. Besides, it was the only book I could reach from the sofa.


With a critical eye, I studied the photograph bearing the face of Abner Elkin Fant—elongated nose, narrow face, thin neck, a pleasant expression. I searched for any resemblance of myself.

I saw none.

But in minutes I was spellbound by the rich history before me. Born to a minister and his wife in Fairfield County, South Carolina, Abner Elkin Fant attended the South Carolina Medical University in Charleston, graduating in 1836 at the age of 20. (A two-year program in the 19th Century.) His thesis was on Puerperal Fever.

The following year, Dr. Fant married and between 1836 and 1851, he and his wife produced two girls and four boys.


When the Civil War broke out in 1861, my 3rd great-grandfather was commissioned an officer of the Confederate States, and served as a surgeon in the Medical Staff Infantry Regiment. 

His 19-year-old son, James, was taken prisoner of war at Fort Morgan, Alabama, following the Battle of Mobile Bay

When I read the last letter James wrote to his father, prior to his capture, it brought me to tears. In the letter, it is clear James knows his words may well be his final words to his family.

The letter, dated August 8, 1864, begins:

Dear Father,

Having a chance to send a letter through I now write to you for the last time, I expect if this reaches you. I wrote a long letter before the siege and one after it commenced. A man is going to try and slip through by land tonight. I hope he will get through.

The letter goes on to describe in detail the bombardment of “the yanks,” a bloody siege with casualties on both sides. 


The Battle of Mobile Bay wouldn't end until August 23, 1864, when General Page surrendered Fort Morgan, one of three forts that guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay. And to think that my 3rd great-uncle was there is a bit overwhelming.

As James closes his letter, he writes:

I must close, for the two hours I have to rest is pretty near out. Farewell. Write to your affectionate son, James.

And it was the added postscript that moved me to tears. The first line is addressed to his younger sister, Alice:

P.S.  Alice please take good care of mother. I know you will. I even heard old General Page fairly cried when he saw the Yankee flag hoisted. He made a speech to the men in which he said he intended to hold the fort at all hazards. I think we can hold it until our provisions [run] out but we will have to surrender then. Please write to me anyway. Probably the letter will get here and if it don’t it will not be much trouble to write. We are seeing a hard time. Give my lasting farewell to all for I am as sure to be taken prisoner as sure as the war lasts long enough. I wish I had some gold but I know it is impossible to get it in this thickness.

James died in a Civil War prison in Elmira, New York, in freezing conditions, on January 27, 1865. This piece of my family history made me weep, not just for James, but for all of the 19-year-olds who ever spent Christmas far from home, cold and alone, knowing they would never see their families again.

By this time, I was very interested in Grandpa Fant, his heartaches, his triumphs, so I kept on reading and discovered that by 1871, Dr. Fant had moved his family to West Point, Mississippi, a city dear to my heart, a city I went to many times as a child, while visiting my maternal grandparents. But back to Grandpa Fant. It was in West Point where he was a beloved physician and practiced medicine until he was no longer able. After a long illness, he passed away in 1883, at the age of 67. 

I found my 3rd great-grandfather's obituaries particularly touching:

From the Clay County Leader, dated December 20, 1883:

DIED: At 7 o’clock on Tuesday morning, after a protracted illness, Dr. A. E. Fant. And now has West Point lost one of her truest and noblest sons. In her palmy days he was one of her most active leaders; in her political struggles, he was ever in the van. For several years past his health has been precarious, and his field of usefulness thereby greatly circumscribed. He was one of our oldest and most reliable physicians, but was compelled some time since to give up his practice, to the great regret of his patients. Now death has taken him away, casting a gloom over our community, and leaving a void that cannot be filled. The sympathies of all our people are with the afflicted family.

And from the Macon Beacon, dated December 22, 1883:

Dr. A. E. Fant died in West Point last Monday night, after long continued illness and much suffering. For many years he was a prominent physician and distinguished citizen of this country, and was well known to all of our old residents, who will regret to learn of his death. He removed to West Point about twelve years ago, and at once took a position at the head of his profession. A large concourse of people followed his remains to the grave on Thursday, and many were the expressions of sorrow over the loss of so honored and useful a citizen. Dr. Fant was nearly 70 years of age, and leaves a wife and four grown children, with whom we sincerely sympathize.

The book didn't end there, and the more I read, the more absorbed I became, imagining what it might have been like, living during this period in history.

I kept looking for something to make me feel linked to my 3rd great-grandfather in a personal way.

And I found it! On Page 77, something leaped off the page and smacked me in the face, but since this post is longer than should be legal, you'll have to wait until another time to hear the rest of this riveting episode of my family tree. You won't believe it. I promise it's worth coming back for, so stay tuned.

Until next time, dear ones, thanks for keeping me company, for listening to me ramble on and on ... or not.


***


12 comments:

  1. This is intriguing, Dayle! Thanks for sharing it. I am waiting with bated breath for the next installment.
    (Ancestors from Fairfield County! Close to home.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your leaving us all hanging here! Just like a good mystery series on PBS...that's ok though. Can you just imagine what went on in the lives of these folks? How cool that you have uncovered this information!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is so fascinating, Dayle. I have not gone on any genealogical websites yet, but love poring through old photos and papers with my mom. Your post has sorely tempted me to take the plunge and register on one of those websites.

    The stories of our past come alive, don't they? I was captivated by the story of Dr. Fant. But really, a cliffhanger?! I'll be back...

    GOD BLESS!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sharon, it is really fascinating work. The personal stories of Dr. Fant that I'm sharing are from the book, researched and compiled by my second-cousin years ago, for which I'm grateful because it got me started on my ancestry search at ancestry.com. But the thing that is amazing is that all you have to have, in order to start getting the hints pouring in, is a simple name and possible date of birth. I plug in all of the members of our family and The Man's family and before I know it, another tree is "born." :) And to see the original documents from the early 19th century, even earlier, is jaw-dropping.

      Delete
  4. You got me hooked--will be looking forward to the next installment!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yup, sitting down and interested.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm loving your new discoveries, and now I'm certain you and I were speaking German when Mother couldn't understand a word we said as toddlers. "Tan-day-ya"? German for Granddaddy, of course! If you don't stop yourself, you just might make it all the way back to Adam in the Garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hehe ... love the twist you've put on our early language skills. We were just trying to let out the German in us. :) I told Stan the same thing about Adam and Eve. We're all related, I suppose, in some way.

      Delete
  7. Oh Dayle. How utterly exciting for you to be finding out more and more about your family roots. Oh gosh. Tell what the link is soon ! Susan

    ReplyDelete
  8. It can be very exciting, I know. Several in my family were interested in our German roots...and due to a German speaking relative, over time, they amassed quite a bit of information. I did a series of posts last year...if you are interested in old photos with the old clothing, etc there's quite a bit to look at....under Family Tree Research category on my blog. Anyway I know how captivating it can be to find out this that and the other....one of mine was a tutor ( music ) to a king of prussia! Then we found an incident of adultery in church records....lots of variety, lol! Going to check out your other post now .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're probably distant cousins, Deb. I told my husband we're all related; we came from Adam and Eve. :)

      Delete

Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle