Monday, February 8, 2016
Epilogue: The John Hogue Story
Though it took two months to recount, we've now covered the main points of the saga of John Syme Hogue of Charleston, West Virginia. It was certainly not the story I anticipated uncovering, once I arrived at this spot in the various branches of my own matrilineal line. Even though it did touch upon the who, what, where and when of the man's life history, it leaves somewhat to be desired concerning the why of the tale.
That "why" begins with the question of why even pursue the story in the first place. After all, if I stack my family tree next to his, the final tally is that he was fifth cousins with my great grandmother—hardly even someone she'd be aware of, much less know personally. The only link we'd share would be my seventh great grandmother, Margaret Watts, daughter of Richard Watts and wife of William Strother of King George County in colonial Virginia. And, if we recall how some members of our complete genealogical tree may not even be included in our genetic tree, that leads to the realization that John Hogue and I likely share not one shred of DNA in common.
So why pursue such a person's story? It certainly wasn't for the genealogy of it all. The litany of names and dates could have been stripped from the documentation quickly, allowing me to add each in its respective slot and move on to the next line as a matter of routine research.
Perhaps it was owing to the jolt of the unexpected or to that sixth sense of sniffing out a story. Still, why bother? After all, it wasn't my direct line.
I rather suspect it has to do with that penchant for discovering the stories of these individuals. Whoever these people are, with their labels neatly hanging on our family trees, despite those full names and complete dates, they are still as virtually unknown as if they had been pinned up on the display as nameless entities. Who cares if a person's name, five or seven generations back, was John or James or Joseph? We still won't know who he was—until we learn his life's story. That's when an ancestor becomes a real person to us.
Then, too, perhaps it was because of the unresolved drama. John Hogue's story became not only his own story, but the story of the lives of all the people his life touched—or, as the case turned out to be, snuffed out in an ill-conceived moment of desperation. His was a tangle of unresolved stories—everything from the ruined reputation of the family he left behind, to the family he tore apart in Canada, to even the young family he left behind by his death in the formative years of their lives. I want to know what became of them—each one of them and the ripple effect radiating out from their own experience. Perhaps, even now, that story continues to unfold.
The story of John Hogue reminds me of why I choose to see this research task not as genealogy but as family history. A matter of semantics for some, I suppose, but a very real differentiation in my own mind. Though these family members may, in their own cases, each have lived what might be considered, in the big picture, insignificant lives, I still want to unfold that story line to see how it played out, to follow the connections and realize the network of its impact. And, above all, to preserve what I've found and pass it on, so others may know about it, as well.
Above: "Farm with sleigh," 1900 oil on canvas by Russian painter Titus Dvornikov (1862-1922); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.