In the early years of my genealogy career, we went to Virginia to trace my husband’s Eakle ancestry: Alma, his mother Mary Alice, and his youngest sister Betty. And me! Some of the time, a part of our entourage included Rick, Betty’s boy friend, who was in the US Army and stationed at Arlington.
We left Utah early that February. The day in Utah was bitterly cold–below zero. Our car windows did not thaw completely until we had been in Oklahoma for 2 days.
When we arrived in Virginia, the afternoon and early evening were balmy and so much warmer, that we walked cemeteries in Rockbridge county without coats!
But, oh…the snow fell!
The next morning, we awakened to 24 inches of snow in the Shenandoah Valley–and topping our car. And it continued to snow all that day and into the night. A total of 36 inches fell. Of course it paralyzed Virginia. They had to import snowplows from Pennsylvania. It did not paralyze us. We had snow tires with heavy grid and tire chains in the trunk!
We were staying in a small motel in rural Rockbridge. Our focus was the courthouse at Augusta County–to the north. We just had to wait until the main roads were cleared and the courthouse opened. So we played games. Shoveled snow. And ate the kitchen, attached to the motel, out of almost all their food. All that is, except the lemon meringue pie, baked just for us. It crashed as the waitress slid on the floor wet from opening the outside door to cool the porch… and the pie.
That trip we visited with relatives and those who knew the relatives. Walked over 300 cemeteries. Personally dusted the original court case files tied tightly in neat bundles and stored in metal file boxes. Hand-copied from the original land and personal property tax rolls. Unfolded the original marriage bonds of many Virginia ancestors.
We attended the churches our ancestors attended and even sat in the same pews. We watched the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. We walked down “bloody lane” at Antietam Cemetery and studied modern-day memorials for each regiment and some individual companies who fought in that horrendous 2-day Civil War battle. We crossed the upper bridge over Antietam Creek, with its supports firmly planted on Eakle land, along the edge of the Battlefield.
Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania–the origins of the Eakle family and all the families they married into. In the snow, as it fell, and after it was cleared from the roads, and finally when it started to melt.
And on to Washington DC, where we visited the National Archives. Not the White House. Not the Pentagon. The National Archives–where we examined the original enumerators books for our Eakle Ancestors.
…the strictest of need…
Never again, would we have the privilege of holding the originals of these documents in our hands. And copying pertinent entries on our ancestors.
Today, its microfilm, microfiche, print, and computer screen where we view these documents. The originals, now too fragile to be handled and exposed to florescent lights, are unavailable–except under the strictest of need. Genealogy is not considered “strictest” of need.
So as the snow in Virginia piles higher, this week, I reflect on that wonderful trip and the work crew I assembled to help with the research. Alma and his mother Mary Alice are gone. There is a 4-drawer file cabinet where 2 very full drawers house the document copies and transcripts we collected. Here are the photographs of the cemeteries and tombstones we copied. Photographs of the homes and churches our ancestors inhabited. And the photographs of the piles of snow on the land.
Virginia has not had a snow storm like we encountered…until now. It still paralyzes the people. And in Utah, where the snow is still piled over 2 feet in my back yard and 12 feet over my yard well, we have snow tires with heavy treads and tire chains under the seat of my 3/4 ton truck. Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle
PS Did you know…that snow and cemeteries are quite compatible? Snow is strong enough to clear the green moss and lyken from the stones so they can be read and photographed, and soft enough not to damage them.