Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Getting to Know the State of my Roots

Yesterday was a different day for this family history hound: we set aside the questions and the conversations we'd been following, and just took a drive through the countryside. I may have roots that reach back deeply into Florida's history, but I really don't know the state up close—at least, not personally. I know family stories, but not the places which inspired those stories.

Florida as a state has a very different look than the state in which I grew up (New York), and certainly is much different than the state where I've lived for most of my life since college (California). Remember, I've only set foot in this state for the first time just a few years ago. And it's not yet a familiar sight to me.

So yesterday, we went driving. And discovered that Florida is a state where "you can't get there from here"—at least, that seems to be the case as far as the interstate highways are concerned, particularly if you are traveling from one small town to another.

I don't know what I was expecting, but knowing that Florida has long been a haven for retirees from the colder northern reaches of the east coast, I had imagined the state would take on the more metropolitan ambience of its transplanted residents. That, as it turns out, is not so. Not, at least, for the rest of the state outside the real estate of the largest and most well-known Florida cities.

To get to our destination yesterday, we stayed on roads which, though numbered as state highways, consisted merely of one lane in each direction. Get stuck behind a truck hauling gravel, and that's where you'll be for the next thirty miles—unless you have a route which requires turning off onto another highway of equal capacity...with another gravel truck backing up traffic.

Other than that, we drove through countryside which could have looked this same way fifty or one hundred years ago. I could let my imagination run with thoughts of what life might have been like for my great-great grandparents with such bucolic scenery. It was that easy.

While I accomplished no great revelations to push back the family tree even one more generation, it helps to be able to gain a sense of place concerning one's ancestors—especially if those ancestors claimed occupations which tied them to the land in one way or another. Those tall, thin pines from which my ancestors likely produced turpentine? I saw plenty of those. Likewise, orange groves, part of another branch of my maternal line.

Though I had a dentist and mayor as one of my ancestors in Florida, even those "professionals" had property which produced an income for them through agriculture. And the land we drove through represented the types of soil and topography my ancestors would have not only found to be familiar, but would have cast a keen analytical eye on, in passing through on their route. The soil of the place held a far more important place in the life of our ancestors, something I needed to remember during this "down" time on my research trip.

Perhaps "getting to know our roots" may represent more than one way of looking at things. Those roots, after all, thrived based on the soil in which they were grown. We can learn a lot about our people by taking a closer look at where they were planted. We may be far removed from that turf now, but we still owe a lot more to those roots than we think.


  1. I am sure the landscape has made many changes. When we lived in Tampa there were Orange groves all the way to Orlando...that was 1973:)

    1. I didn't realize you had lived in Tampa, Far Side. My great-grandmother once owned one of those orange groves outside of Tampa, although that was decades before the time when you were living there. It must have been a very different place back then!


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