Monday, March 11, 2024

Sketches of the Family


Mary Meriwether Gilmer, my fourth great-grandmother, was someone whose family came alive to me thanks to the biographical sketches drawn up by her brother, George Rockingham Gilmer. It was the 1855 Gilmer book, Sketches of Some of the First Settlers of Upper Georgia, in which we first learned to appreciate the plainspoken writing style of the former Georgia governor. Right away, in finding her brother's description of Mary, we had gleaned the author's opinion about her two husbands.

In those same pages, we can read the author's personal opinion about each of his siblings, as well as his description of their parents. There, the author paints quite the picture of his father, Thomas Meriwether Gilmer. "His frame of body was small, and his limbs of proper proportions and much muscular strength," the author starts out, innocently enough, but then can't seem to keep his blunt self from making additional comments.

Despite small hands and feet, "regular" features—even noting "his teeth good"—the author divulged that his dad had been "very fat from childhood." As a student in Virginia, Thomas Gilmer discovered he could float on water "without any effort" and made his preferred route home from school the nearby Shenandoah River, upon which current he found he could "easily outstrip the usual speed of his school companions."

As amusing (and yet enlightening) as those vignettes about family quirks and personalities might have been, George Gilmer folded in a few family legends which didn't quite seem to hold water. One was the author's comment that his father, in his younger days, had served "a tour of militia duty under the Marquis La Fayette." However, if that military service had been performed at all, it couldn't have been during the American Revolutionary War. For one, Thomas Gilmer's date of birth would have made him too young to participate at the beginning of that struggle. In addition, as the records of the Daughters of the American Revolution now indicate, there is "no service found in any acceptable sources."

Sometimes, family stories can be enlightening, even entertaining. At other times, perhaps they are just...stories.

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