Chester Martin Remembers The Pleasures Of Discovering Family History

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

While growing up in Chattanooga I was blessed with having a rather large family on my father's side, whom I saw frequently. My mother's family - once large - had dwindled to only a few older members, however. I knew most of them by name, on both sides, but often had no clear idea of just how they were related to me. We could trace dad's family back to his grandfather who was born in 1821, but had only sketchy information beyond that. Many years intervened before the Internet came along and simplified the whole process, bringing wonderful new ways to share information.

On one of those new sites ("Geni") I was very surprised one day when I had at long last determined who my g-g-grandfather was. I simply typed in my dad's name, followed by HIS name, and seconds later his line had been traced back to Maryland, then to England, and wound up in Central Europe during Medieval times! This was stunning! And it told exactly how I  was related to everyone on the list...

My mother's family has been much harder than my dad's to trace. But much to my own credit I made a tape recording in 1962 of the oldest living member of her family - Jim Young of Dayton, Tn. He was 81 years old at the time and related how his grandfather had been a "Jung" from the Netherlands, and when he got angry no one could understand him. Very nice clue, for now the search must shift to ship's passenger lists...a daunting task to say the least. It may never get done in my lifetime. (Dutch "Jung" was anglicized to "Young"). I also recorded interviews with both my dad and mom - separately - in 1961. I feel guilty that I asked a lot of the "wrong" questions, but I at least have a fragmentary record, plus the sound of their voices.

It is an established fact that my grandfather, James Lyde Young, was born in Missouri and then brought to Tennessee...and then, according to the Young of the recording, (above), the family moved back to Missouri, resulting in one unholy garbled mess.  His father, (my great grandfather Young), died a POW in Fort Delaware prison during the Civil War, and my grandfather never knew him... So you get the idea that Genealogy can be very frustrating, though also a lot of fun at the same time. Oh, incidentally, the U.S. Census records show my Youngs to be from "Mississippi", instead of "Missouri". So beware the pitfalls and false leads you will surely encounter in your researches!

I have known a number of people who enjoyed nothing better than to roam through old cemeteries in search of any name that fits with their own family histories. I have done some of that myself and never found cemeteries to be the least bit gruesome. A number of years ago I was at Macedonia cemetery on Ga. Hwy. 337 in Chattooga County, and found two ladies copying names and dates off every tombstone. No idea what database(s) would benefit from their efforts, but I thought it a very worthy project that should be "catching", nationwide. It would be very nice if every cemetery in the country could be so catalogued.

Long before the Internet, my mother would go one day every week to spend a few hours in the really super "Genealogical Room" at our local library. It is now called the "Local History Department", and it is amazing what you can find there. It is a totally different experience from staring at a computer screen, and a lot more fun. Librarians bend over backwards to be helpful, and to unlock ancient books, microfiche, microfilm, etc., not available except by request. My oldest local Martin ancestors came from Greene County, Ga., and there is a whole book from that period (War of 1812 era) which describes the poverty of that area when the ports of Charleston and Savannah were both blockaded by English warships. The only new "store-bought" goods were brought in by pedlars from Connecticut! Details like that help me understand just why my G-G Grandfather may have wanted to relocate his family to Walker County as soon as the Native Americans were removed. They liked it there in Walker County, and so here I am in Hamilton County, - which is the next county up from Walker - and about 180 years later, as a result of that move.

Oldsters like myself are forever amazed  and amused by the proliferation of new gadgets which are capable of doing so many diverse things! If you are not at least 40 years old, you do not know how recently they all burst on the scene! Last night I watched home videos of my brother-in-law playing in an Alumni band at UT on  Saturday. They zoomed in on his face from very far back in the stadium and the HD quality allowed me to see his moustache which was tantamount to positive ID!  If only our great grandparents could have had such fabulous devices! Wouldn't it be great to watch videos of Aunt Tilly, now 75, when she was celebrating her third birthday? These things were only the wildest of dreams in my generation, when Dick Tracy's phenomenal (and fictional) "wrist radio" was the highest tech electronic device we had to contemplate. If the world will just survive we will have those digital  memories recorded forever.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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