A short time ago, the world lost a great man and my husband lost his father. My words can’t do justice to his legacy. He was a man who loved his children more than anything in the world, and did everything he could to give them a better life. He believed in hard work, perseverance, family ties and the value of education. He taught his children these values as well. He sacrificed so much to raise four children on his own.
He was born in Guyana, where he lost his father at an early age. He educated himself and became a teacher at the age of 16. Like all young men, he served in the military, and eventually served in the office of the President of Guyana. He married in his late 20’s and had four children. He moved the family to St. Lucia for better opportunities, then later moved to the Bahamas. He raised four young children on his own. He bought a run-down house, and worked hard to make it the best house on the block. He taught his children how to paint, put in flooring and tile. He taught them that if you don’t know something, the answer can be found at the library. He was a teacher and inspired countless other young people to work hard for their dreams. He found time to write poetry, leaving an impressive collection of sonnets, ballads and narratives. He even published one young adult novel. In 2008, he relocated to the United States, where his children had or were attending college. He wore many hats during his lifetime, but his most rewarding job was that of a father.
As a young man in Guyana
With his children in St. Lucia
He also believed in strong family ties and connecting with family. He helped organize large family reunions in Guyana and was one of the founders of the “Gillis/McCammon Family Reunion Organization.” Because of his efforts, much of the family is in contact with each other through the annual family reunions in Hopetown. He kept the rich family stories alive. I hope to do my part to keep them going to his future grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
An essential part of family history is remembering the family stories and legacies of those who have gone before you, and who are now part of you. Family values, just like family heirlooms, are passed down carefully to each generation. My husband is a great man because he had a great role model in his father. I feel honored that he was a part of my life for the past 8.5 years. He’ll be missed dearly.
Many family historians know that recording your family history does not only include recording birth dates and death dates of all our relatives. It’s also important to remember what happened in their life in between the dashes… who they were, what they valued, and what they loved to do.
On my mom’s side of the family, spending time in the kitchen has always brought my family together. When I was young, cooking wasn’t a chore. It was a time to spend with my mom, my Nana, my aunt and my cousins, and occasionally my uncle and my Papa. It was a time to talk and learn and laugh. Almost everyone perfected their favorite recipe: Papa made his peanut brittle, my aunt Pat loved peach cobbler, my mom baked excellent bread and coffeecakes, my uncle George cooked bean soup, and I made speedy brownies. Especially during the holidays, the kitchen was always full of happy cooks.
One of my Nana’s many talents was baking the perfect homemade pie. I know that everyone thinks that their grandma is the best baker in town, but Nana’s pies were truly the best pies around. I’ve never really eaten a pie that can rival it.
Surprisingly, my Nana, Millie Drake, didn’t learn how to bake from her mother. She actually learned to cook and bake from her father-in-law, Charles Drake. Charles had lost his father when he was a child, and lost his mother when he was a young adult, so he probably learned how to cook on his own. Nana grew up in town with many siblings, and her mother always took care of the cooking on her own. When Nana and Papa got married, Nana quickly had to learn how to cook and help manage her father-in-law’s farm. I’m not sure exactly where she learned how to bake a pie, but it was likely from him.
Being connected to the farm meant that there was always plenty of fruit and berries to make into pies. After many years of practice, she had perfected her pie crust. In our family, it was said that you could either be a bread maker or a pie maker. It was hard to get both perfect. If your hands were used to kneading bread, you’d tend to knead the pie crust dough too much and it would be tough. If you excelled at making pie crusts, you would probably under-knead the bread dough. (I’m trying to excel at both, but I’m not sure how well I’ll do! I need many more years of practice.)
Here’s Nana’s recipe for her pie crust and apple pie. Like many older recipes, it’s not something that you can make just from following the recipe. Her written recipes are usually sparse on directions, and just rely on background knowledge. I learned to make the pie crust by watching how Nana’s hands carefully folded the ingredients together, and listening to her reasons for adjusting the measurements for one thing or another. Things like the weather can affect how much milk to add, so you have to watch the dough and constantly adjust. You can’t just mix the flour and shortening, you need to cut the shortening into the flour until it’s crumbly. You can’t mix too much, otherwise it doesn’t stick together well. Likewise, her “recipe” for apple pie filling doesn’t include any directions, just ingredients. And even the measurements would change from one recipe card to another! Most of the spices were adjusted to taste. A good cook can always rely on instinct.
Nana was well-known in our town for her homemade pies. Nana and her friend Jan Campbell used to make dozens of pies for Genoa’s Pioneer Day in August. The pies would be sold at the pie sale. When I was young, I remember going to Mrs. Campbell’s house the day before the sale. Her large kitchen was filled with friends and family making pie crust, cutting fruit, assembling pies, or tending the oven. The pie-making extravaganza was something I looked forward to every year, but it was an exhausting day of baking. I’m sure Mrs. Campbell, my mom, and Nana were relieved when they finally retired from doing the pie sale.
Nana’s pies could bring the family together. Most Sundays when I was growing up, my family would get together for a meal. My aunt and her family lived next door, and my Nana and Papa lived close by, so it was easy to see each other often. Nana would make some kind of dessert for Sunday dinner… usually a pie, but sometimes Mississippi mud pie or berry crisp. If it was July, she’d make a pie out of the black raspberries that grew in our backyard. If it was fall, we’d get apples from Edward’s Orchard and we’d have an apple pie. My uncle used to work in the Department of Agriculture in South Carolina, and he gave her a recipe for peach pie that he’d acquired from a local peach farmer. Sometimes she’d get Door County cherries to fill her pies. It was always fresh fruit, and it was always delicious! We’d also have a whole spread of pies for Thanksgiving… Apple Cranberry, Mincemeat, and of course Pumpkin! My Papa had his own special way of mixing up the pumpkin filling.
Whenever I make a pie, I think fondly of Nana and how she loved to share the sweetness of life with others. Nana passed away last summer. We ate the last pie that she made at Thanksgiving last year. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be making the pies. I’m thankful for all her life lessons, and for teaching me how to make something sweet for those I love. These are traditions that I hope to keep alive with my children someday.
Rolling out the dough for one of the pies this year.
My grandparents Ed and Millie on their wedding day 70 years ago.
Our wedding day, one year (and a few days) ago.
My grandparents were married 70 years ago today. Before they passed away, they had celebrated 64 anniversaries. This is the first wedding anniversary that they’ll be celebrating together in heaven. My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary. We hope to share just as many years together!
Sometimes I’m amazed at how often certain dates repeat themselves in my family tree. For instance, five living members of my family have birthdays in July, three of which are on consecutive days. My birthday is within a week of my sister’s and my grandfather’s consecutive birthdays, and sometimes we would have a triple birthday party together! My paternal grandparents and cousin share birthdays within 5 days of each other in November. My husband’s family also have birthdays within a few days of members of my family. Further back on my family tree, certain generations will have close birthdays as well.
Although our birthdays were close together, my mom would always make sure that each of our days was special. But some of my fondest birthday memories are the birthday parties with three delicious cakes- especially Papa’s favorite, German Chocolate cake!
Welcome to my new family history blog! I am so excited to start writing about my research into my own genealogy! I decided to start writing about my experiences in family history research because I have learned a lot from other genealogy bloggers like Young and Savvy Genealogists and Nicole from The Family Locket, as well as several online communities. I wanted a way to give back and share what I am learning about genealogy research in today’s world. I also hope to record fun tidbits to share with my own family, near and far!
How did I become interested in my family history?
My journey into genealogy began when I was ten years old in an independent study class at school. It gave me the opportunity to research a particular topic throughout the semester, and then present my findings with a display and presentation. I chose to research my own family history to create a family tree. I also created a short kids’ how-to guide to genealogy. I had four months to learn what genealogy was, and to find out as much as I could about my family’s past.
I was lucky to be able to interview all four of my grandparents, as well as many other older relatives. Everyone was eager to contribute their memories, old photos and family mementos. For the first time, I saw baby pictures of my grandparents and parents, and learned the stories behind some family heirlooms. My parents drove me to libraries, cemeteries, archives, and genealogy workshops. I was always the youngest genealogist there! My parents had caught the genealogy bug too. By the end of the project, I had created quite an impressive family tree.
For many years after this project, I spent less time actively researching my family tree. It was hard to find anyone else my age interested in genealogy, and I pursued other hobbies and interests. Our family tree generally was left untouched, except for research that my father occasionally did. However, I was always interested to hear what my dad’s research had uncovered, and I still loved listening to memories that my grandparents shared over Sunday meals. In the past year, I have taken up active research again, and I’m loving it! I have been able to connect with other younger family researchers, and I am no longer shy about sharing my love for my ancestors!
I believe that when we connect with our family’s past, we are better able to understand who we are and where we are going. In a strange way, it has given me a way to remember loved ones that have passed away, and to preserve our stories for future members of our family. I have a lot to learn about today’s genealogy research, so I hope to share what I am learning through this blog! To be honest, I am a bit overwhelmed and very excited by the huge variety of resources that are now available online, which have opened up many new avenues for my research! I want to share personal family stories, and other interesting tidbits that I’ve found. As a librarian-in-training, I also hope to contribute ways that libraries can guide family history research. Thank you for coming with me on this journey into the past!