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.
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.