“Ultimately, the great truths of family history don’t live in any book. They live in the hearts and minds of the living descendants.” Laurence Overmire
Two months ago, when I saw the word Water on the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks list of weekly writing prompts it reminded me of a story my grandmother Ruby Isaacs Roe, liked to tell about the day she was born. She was born on February 9, 1911, in western Kentucky, near the banks of the Cumberland River.
As the story goes, winter was colder than usual that year. It was so cold on the day she was born that the river froze. It froze solid. The ice was so thick that one man drove a heavy mule drawn wagon all the way across the river, from one bank to the other.
Two months in advance of when the Water prompt was due, I knew that was the story to tell. I would write of that cold icy day when my grandmother first arrived in this world. It was the perfect story for Water
Or so it seemed.
My plan started to change after last week rolled around. That’s when I wrote a blog post about my sixth great grandmother Elizabeth McKibben Rhea. I wrote about her for the 52 Ancestors weekly prompt, Nearly Forgotten. After I wrote the piece, I just couldn’t get her off my mind.
Every time I sat down at my desk to write about the day my grandmother was born, I was distracted by thoughts of Elizabeth McKibben Rhea. I couldn’t stop thinking about how in her young years she traveled 3,346 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to reach the Virginia Colony in the New World.
That’s a lot of water to cross over.
Young Elizabeth McKibben was among the first immigranst from Ireland to arrive in Virginia. The Scotch Irish Presbyterians began to arrive in the colony sometime around 1730. They mostly arrived from the city of Londonderry and other parts of Northern Ireland.
According to Eyewitness to history.comThe passage to America was treacherous by any standard. Many of the immigrants were too poor to pay for the journey and therefore indentured themselves to wealthier colonialists – selling their services for a period of years in return for the price of the passage. Crammed into a small wooden ship, rolling and rocking at the mercy of the sea, the voyagers – men, women and children – endured hardships unimaginable to us today. Misery was the most common description of a journey that typically lasted seven weeks.
I can’t fathom all the unimaginable hardships she suffered. But, unless she was a small child when she made the voyage, she probably knew how miserable it would be long before she booked passage. I also don’t know if she was indentured when she arrived in Virginia. I truly hope not. I can’t imagine any way that she could have prepared herself for the horrors of that system. No matter her age.
I am on a mission to learn more about Elizabeth McKibben Rhea. Water played a role in her early story.
I am excited to uncover more about her and I am curious to see where my future writing prompts lead me.
“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.” ― Liam Callanan
Unlike me and her three descendants who connect us my great-great-grandmother Emily Manus Isaacs, for most of her life, stayed :
CLOSE TO HOME
The word wanderlust is one of my favorite words. Fashioned of three soft syllables it rolls easily off the tongue. It is a fun word to say, it’s a whimsical word that sounds like its meaning. It conjures the romantic nature of travel and the poetry found in dreams of faraway places.
For me personally the word wanderlust best explains a trait that I believe that I inherited from my mother and from some of our most immediate predecessors on our shared family tree. While the manifestation of restlessness varies in my bloodline from generation to generation our mutual history reveals that an urge to travel exists in my background. It was passed down to me through the generations,
One way I like to describe my great-grandfather William Gordon Isaacs is to say that he was a rolling stone. One of ten children safely delivered to my great-great grandmother Emily Manus Isaacs, he was in his thirties when he packed up his belongings and moved his wife and young children away from his long-time home in Kuttawa Kentucky. For many years after he remained a rootless man, moving his family from one work camp to another, never staying long in any one place. He seemed always ready to move somewhere new, eternally eager to make a fresh start. Like the rolling stone that he was, William Issacs gathered no moss.
Like her father William before her, my grandmother Ruby Elizabeth Isaacs Roe was also in her thirties when the desire to travel overcame her. In 1946 she boarded a westbound Greyhound bus in rural Greenwood Mississippi. Traveling with my grandfather Henry David Roe, five children and all their worldly possessions, she left behind the familiar cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta that had been home to her since before her marriage and set out for the unknown wilds of the Great Pacific Northwest. She was a migrant mother, part of the Southern Diaspora, she was one of the more than three million white adult southerners who fled the South after the end of World War II. Men and women left in mass. Searching for a better way of life for themselves and their children in the most northern and western regions of the United States of America. Migrants of the Southern Diaspora helped reshape America by southernizing the communities they settled in. When my grandmother arrived in Dorena Oregon, she brought a love of country music and a set of southern cooking skills with her. For the rest of her long-life Ruby Roe shared her joy in southern regional pleasures with every guest that entered her home in the northwest.
My mother, Nannie Elizabeth Roe Cross is a globe trotter. I’m not sure when the travel bug first bit her, but I do know that following the honeymoon trip through Nevada and California she took with my father LaMoine Lee Cross in 1957, she planned many family trips, and vacations throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Summer excursions to see local sights, like the Oregon coast, the lava beds near the town of Sisters, and Peterson’s Rock Garden outside of Redmond Oregon eventually expanded in to overnight road trips and full blown weeks long vacations. Thanks to my mother’s wanderlust, me and my two younger brothers, Randy LaMoine Cross, and Nicky Scott Cross enjoyed a backseat view of America. We watched the landscape change through the windows of our parent’s Rambler American automobile. The Redwood Forest, Disneyland, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, Devils Tower, The Great Salt Lake, the Gulf Coast, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, and New Orleans were just some of the iconic places we visited. A few years later with her children grown my mother made her maiden overseas journey when she flew across the Atlantic to see London with my father. Since then Nannie Cross has visited more than fifty countries and has enjoyed sights on every continent on the globe except Antarctica. She is very proud of her travels and would be the first to tell you that she would probably never have had the opportunity to become a globetrotter if her mother, Ruby Roe, had not sought a better life for her family and migrated from Mississippi to Oregon when she—Nannie—was a nine year old girl.
Me? I am a free spirit. When I was young, I was bent on finding the real America and my lust for travel was couched in my desire to understand the world I lived in. I was determined to change the world, to make it a better place. I trekked from place to place never sure of my destination, not knowing how long I would stay once I arrived there. I suppose that in this regard I had more in common with my rolling stone great grandfather, than I did with my migrant grandmother, or my globetrotting mother. For according to the stories I heard about him when I was a child it seemed to me that William moved from place to place whenever the notion struck unlike my grandmother and my mother who each traveled with a definite purpose and after much planning. Me? I remain a free spirit, still on a quest to discover the true nature of my country, but I have changed. For now, when I embark on a journey I do so with a certain end in mind. I put much more thought in the details of my travels than I ever did during my free-wheeling days. In this regard I have become much more like my grandmother and my mother than I ever was in the past.
There is one more direct ancestor that is of interest here. Williams mother, Emily Isaacs. I don’t know much about her. Memory of her was almost lost to history. But thanks to a few legal documents, government records and one treasured photograph, I have enough information to thoughtfully speculate on how she lived her life. I can definitively state that for the greatest part of her life Emily stayed close to home. She was born on June 12, 1860 in Lyon’s County Kentucky, in 1879, at the age of nineteen, she married my great-great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Isaacs there. She passed away in Lyons County on November 18, 1936 at the age of seventy-seven. The only record I have of her ever leaving that area was when she gave birth to her first child—and my great grandfather—William on October 11, 1880 in Memphis Tennessee, almost two hundred miles away. I will never know why she gave birth so far away from home, or if she shared the wanderlust, that I believe I inherited from her son. I like to think that she did. It is possible that she possessed an urge to travel. Even if her urge to travel was strong enough to pass down to future generations it is imaginable that as the mother of ten children, she pushed her personal wants and desires aside while she cared for her family. The responsibility of caring for such a large brood would most likely overwhelm even the most free-spirited characters among us and keep even the most adventurous of souls close to home.