Mysterious Mizes, Disappearing Durboraws, Vanishing Vaughns

Of all the branches of my family that I have researched my mother’s upcountry South Carolina lines have been the most difficult and, sometimes the most rewarding. The most rewarding because it may take as much time and effort, not to mention thought and critical analysis to figure out a single generation, a single individual even, as it has on my father’s side to trace a whole line back to 850AD.

Part of this is that while growing up we saw and knew my father’s family in New Jersey, but not my mother’s family in South Carolina. I remember getting a high school graduation card from my maternal grandmother and I remember the stories my mother told of her upbringing in poverty, her much older siblings, adults when she was a child, and of her father who never lived with the family but was in and out of the veterans hospital system from the day he returned from WWI until he died in 1967. My mother told of his home visits on furlough from the hospital and of family trips on the train to Tennessee or North Carolina to visit him at the hospital. The story went that he had lung damage from mustard gas, but had also been shot in the chest and had bullets in his lungs that moved or wandered, and he had to remain close to life saving medical facilities lest one move and enter his heart or aorta. While I have, indeed, found that he was in and out of federal and veterans hospitals at least through the nineteen thirties, the reason was probably not the heroic war injuries of which I’d been told. While I have heard otherwise, that he would just disappear, run an errand, say he was going to the store and then not return for years I think the hospital scenario told by my mother really was the case since I have seen some of his military medical records and seen his pattern of years in and out of the old TB Sanitorium in Johnson City, Tennessee which was commandeered as a soldier’s hospital after the first world war. It is somewhat puzzling, however, that in those records his diagnosis is given as “chronic active tuberculosis”, that two of my grandmother’s three brothers were also hospitalized there for tuberculosis, and that there is no evidence that this grandfather I never met ever saw combat at all during the great war to end all wars into which he had been drafted.

When I started building a family history for the branches on my mother’s side I had met my maternal grandmother only once. I was about four and my career Air Force father was being transferred from Massachusetts to Arizona. We stopped in Gaffney,SC and stayed overnight. I remember clearly small and shabby surroundings: a long room running along the front of the house where they put us to sleep. I remember an arch separating the two halves of this long room and the single bare bulb in the ceiling lighting fixture. When I visited this house in October 2009 I was somewhat surprised to see that, indeed, the little house on Smith Street under the water tower was very much as I had remembered it, little more than a shack, in a row of similar or identical tiny houses.

The House on Smith St., Gaffney,SC, Oct. 2009

When I sat down at my computer some sixty years after my only meeting with my Grandmother Mize, what I knew of my mother’s mother was absolutely nothing save her husband’s name. I knew she was the wife (well, maybe the wife….) of my grandfather, who was called Calvin Mize, although I found out later, that that was not the name he had been given at birth. I did not know my grandmother Mize’s given name, I did not know her maiden name, although my mother had always spoken vaguely of an “olde south” history, Devereaux roots, Confederate allegiance, and her Devereaux relative who was a doctor in Denver. I did know that my grandmother Mize had been married and widowed several times and had had many children over a long period of time, but I knew nothing of the husbands and nothing of the half siblings,or, for that matter, of my mothers only full sibling. In fact, it was only after I began researching this family that I found that my mother even had a full sibling, a brother.

So, the story begins with a newly retired grandmother with broadband internet access, Google, and a shiny new subscription to Ancestry.com.

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Yes, the Title’s a Double Entendre

So…..I admit, I am a chronic procrastinator and the work of gathering my genealogical data and piecing it together into what might be a family story just has this habit of getting in the way of actually adding my work to the blog I lay in bed at night and dream of.

And, of course, the stories I’ll tell are about family, the dead that lived before me, the human context in which I was raised but have only recently realized. The line of dead from which I, my brothers, and my children sprang.

At any rate, that’s what I thought doing family history would be when I started, but, as the months, now years, have passed I have taken on, and sometimes been able to answer inquiries regarding the puzzles, dead ends and brick walls plaguing others in my world of budding or full blown family historians. They say it takes two to tango, I say, when it comes to family puzzles, the more minds the merrier. So, sprinkled among my kin, living and dead, among my cousins in the broad sense, parents, grandparents, my brothers and children, you’ll find stories of the not related, the distantly related, the thought or presumed to be distantly related, those with which I share not even a known kinship, but only with any certainty, a surname, perhaps a place, and along with those small hints, their mysteries among mine.

Or so, I hope.

How it all began

At Christmastime 2004 my daughter in law’s grandmother, “Grandma Zelda” asked me for some family history on my side of the family so that she would have it to build family histories for my grandchildren, her great grandchildren.

At the time I had only a vague knowledge of my family background, on both my maternal and paternal sides. I had virtually no stories or “family lore” going into my search and my known family history was as close to “tabula rasa” as is possible for someone who was not adopted and grew up in an intact birth family. I knew my paternal grandparents’ names, but had been told that my grandfather’s background couldn’t be traced because he had been “adopted”. Yet, I’d always been told that my grandfather’s middle name, Searing, had been his mother’s maiden name. Throughout my childhood we had regular contact with my father’s family while we followed my father from one USAF assignment to another. Until I began to search for my ancestors on my father’s side I never realized that the old aunties, uncles, and second cousins that I met  as we gathered for family reunions and passed through the New Jersey town in which my father had been raised until he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII were all members of my grandmother’s extended family; that I never met anyone from my grandfather’s side and no one mentioned any of his family.

On my mother’s side things were much murkier. My father had met her in her home state of South Carolina during the war, they had honeymooned in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, then moved on to West Texas where my father trained as an aviator before being sent overseas to fight for our country during the war. My mother spent part of her first pregnancy, the one that produced me, in South Carolina with her mother, but at the time of my birth, three days after the war ended, she was in my father’s home town, Dover, New Jersey; my father was home there with her at 10 Union St.

I met my mother’s mother only once, when I was four and we moved, courtesy of the Air Force, from Ayer, Massachsetts to Tucson, Arizona. I remember her not at all.

After Grandma Zelda’s request I hit the internet beginning with Googling my maternal grandfather, Calvin Mize’s, name. Up popped my maternal grandmother’s given name in her obituary abstract. Encouraged, I moved on to Ancestry.com and was well on my way. Looking back, after that first year I knew little, but what I did know so encouraged and excited me that I was able, at Christmas 2005, just a year later, to give Grandma Zelda a small bound folder bearing the title: “Roots; or How Grandma Zelda Created a Monster”. Compared to now, I knew virtually nothing, and, armed with my Ancestry.com membership and a lot of curiously, I’ve come a long time since then.

And, I was hooked, obsessed, with from where I had come.

In May 2008 I took early retirement in order to devote more time to following the families from which I had come deeper and deeper into history.

It’s been a wild ride which I plan to chronicle here, “brick walls” and all.