Our ancestors make us who we are. With each passing generation, their fingerprints make a lasting impression on our lives. Their pioneering spirits carry us on through the uncertain world we live in.
I recently became a member of Ancestry.com. This website has intrigued me since I started watching NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Lisa Kudrow and Gwenyth Paltrow have taken journeys across the United States and abroad to uncover their family’s roots. This show propelled me to find out more about my lineage — particularly on my mother’s side.
So, on Saturday I took the plunge and started looking up my family’s history on Ancestry.com. I was absolutely captivated by the information that was available. I decided to begin my search with my great-great-grandmother, Lucy Ann Slininger Armstrong, who was born June 11, 1865.
Since my families records only go back to her parents, I wanted to see if I could track her family back even farther. And much to my amazement, I did. I opened doors, I never knew existed.
I was able to go back as far as Lucy’s paternal grandfather who was born in France. I had no idea I was French. Now, I know why I love all of those romantic movies from the 1940s.
I then decided to look up information on her mother’s side, the Rathburns. Her mother was born in 1838 and died in 1898. Now, this family tree just kept going and going. I managed to trace this family back to the 1500s in Prescott, Lancashire, England. To me, this is just too cool for words. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be able to track my ancestors back that far.
I managed to locate the gravestone of one of my earliest ancestors who was born March 8, 1629, in Prescott Parrish, Lancashire, England. He died in Block Island, Newport, Rhode Island, on Oct. 6, 1702. His marker said, “Natives of Lancashire County England; Emigrated to America about 1654 – among the first settlers of Block Island, 1661; he was a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly, 1681-1684.” This revelation just absolutely blew my mind.
I just can’t help but wonder, did my great-great-grandmother know about any of these ancestors? Even if she didn’t, I think she inherited some of their traits — most of all strength and a pioneering spirit. From the documents I have read in the last few days and stories I heard growing up from my grandmother, she was quite a woman — a woman I wish I had known.
Lucy married her husband, Gabriel, the son of a Civil War veteran, in 1885. Together, they had eight children — the youngest, Sarah, was crippled at birth. Unfortunately, her husband died after suffering injuries while training wild horses in 1908; he was 46.
According to family records, she and her family continued to work and managed to stay together. She then farmed with one of her sons, Walter, until he married. She then purchased 40 acres of land where she lived with her daughter, Sarah. Three of her sons farmed her land until 1938.
I really enjoyed reading this segment of her life, “Lucy had three cows, raised a few pigs and had chickens and ducks. She drove a horse and buggy, raised a garden and enjoyed living on her little farm.”
To me, she was quite a strong-willed, independent woman. The photos I saw of her in her later years posted on Ancestry.com, really struck me — her dress, tanned face and hands. Her hands looked worn by time, but strong. I am very proud to call her my great-great-grandmother.
Before leaving this Earth on Nov. 16, 1941, she passed on a family heirloom. I am very grateful to have in my possession a quilt Lucy made for my grandmother, Ruth. I treasure this quilt just like my grandmother did. I can still remember seeing my grandmother point to it in her cedar chest saying, “You see this, my grandma made this for me a long time ago.”
When I open my cedar chest and see Lucy’s quilt wrapped in tissue paper, I can’t help but think of that remarkable woman who is one of the branches in my family tree.
Angie Bicker has been employed with the Clinton Herald since 2001. She can be reached at email@example.com.