Saturday, December 30, 2017

For Auld Lang Syne:
Reaching Back a Couple Years

It's not only this year's stories that have been cause for connecting to people around the world. Even after almost two years, I've gotten comments and emails from relatives of the people I've written about.

If you've been a reader here at A Family Tapestry for a while, perhaps you recall what I often refer to as my most outrageous family history discovery ever: the story of John Syme Hogue. Descendant of a longstanding respectable Virginia family with connections to the likes of our nation's first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshall, John Syme Hogue was a distant cousin on my maternal grandmother's line.

It was not under such auspices that I first encountered John Syme Hogue's story, however. In research that chased that early twentieth century man from West Virginia across the midwest and into western Canada before his brother snatched him from the claws noose of death in Ontario, I uncovered a story which kept unfolding unbelievably from one episode to another. This is the stuff movies are made of, not real life. But this really was his life.

After his brother, Andrew O'Beirne Hogue, brought him home from his last escapade, John's life seemed to settle into a surreal normalcy—hard to believe, considering all that had preceded that earlier chapter in his life. And yet, I always wondered whether those who knew John after he returned home had any idea what had transpired before that return to normalcy. I had found a way to contact some of his descendants, but sent an introductory letter devoid of any hints of that wild, earlier life, in case family members weren't aware of what he had been rescued from. I never heard back from them.

Fast forward to this past summer, and a comment which appeared at my concluding post for the John Syme Hogue story. A descendant of John's brother—that sainted sibling who doubled as best friend and sage counselor—reached out to contact me. Sure enough, he seemed to indicate that what I suspected might indeed have been the way things were: that family now may not be aware of John's incredible personal saga.

While it's no secret that what intrigues me about family history is not just the names and dates of these ancestors but their stories, I'm not simply content to hear the part of the story I've been able to uncover through document research. I want to know the rest of the story—the impact it had on others in the family, the repercussions it had in the person's life from that point onward. That's what I still hope to discover about John Syme Hogue and his descendants and relatives. I still wonder whether, when John arrived back home for good, his past history was swallowed up in a rehabilitating silence—meant all for the good, of course—but never again referred to, despite its being part of his legacy.

Some day, I hope to revisit this story from a different slant: the repercussions it had on others, both in West Virginia and in Canada. Did whatever emotional energy that originally drove him to do what he did just evaporate when he returned home? Or did he find a more productive direction in which to channel his energies? What was life like for him, once he returned home?

And, most important question in my mind, did anyone in the next generation have any awareness of what went on before John Syme Hogue returned home and took up his humble position in the family's mining operations once again?

The only ones who can reflect adequately on these answers would be the ones who actually knew him. Which is why it was such a welcome, yet out-of-the-blue, moment when a descendant of John's brother got in touch.

With blogging and the ability to connect via comments, you never know who you will find yourself connecting with. After all these years since the story actually happened, hopefully, it will become a more welcome time to reflect and recollect what family remembered of those days long ago.   


  1. Yeah!! So glad someone contacted you! I am anxious to hear the rest of the story:)

    1. Sometimes, it can be difficult to connect with family members so distantly related--and especially considering the life story of this one person in particular. But I'm sure you already know that, Far Side, considering how many times you've been over this path yourself.


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