Monday, September 18, 2017

Getting Lost in the Details

Can you understand your ancestors without understanding the times in which they were living?

In trying to determine not only why but how my Tilson ancestors left their home in Massachusetts colony after their marriage in 1762 to end up in southwest Virginia, I'm having to absorb a lot of Virginia history. And, not being a speed reader, I'm learning a lot of detail I hadn't anticipated including in my pursuit of family history.

Virginia, like the Florida of my McClellan ancestors, is one of those locations in which I have family roots, but have never traveled through, myself. Thus, it makes the research that much harder, for the place names don't evoke any memories of spatial relationships. I have no idea which two town names might constitute a short trip of a few hours, and which represent distant journeys. Geographic identifiers, such as the Blue Ridge mountains or the Piedmont, the James River or the Shenandoah Valley, mean nothing to me. I have to slog through corollary material like maps and documents to guide me through the explanatory texts I hope will answer the question initiating this search.

What, indeed, made these crazy ancestors travel all that way? And what made them think this was the way to get there?

And so, as I try to retrace my ancestors' steps, I'm wandering down detours of my own, reading summaries of a history so intricate yet seemingly so disconnected from the roots I thought I had.

Take this website found on colonial Virginian expansion, courtesy of Google, explaining the several treaties drawn up in the 1700s which opened the way for westward expansion of the colonies. (Did you know Virginia claimed land rights all the way across the continent to the Pacific Ocean?)

Even as the article meanders through details I once hoped would easily provide me with an answer, I feel as if I'm coming up short when the immigrant pathways outlined in the text mention Scots-Irish traveling on foot to the destinations I thought were the communities formed by my Mayflower English settlers. Somehow, these details don't seem to mix.

And yet, I read on, somehow hoping these recitations of history will lead me to some slight clue producing the answer I'm seeking.

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