My sister and I met on a Wednesday, had a quick lunch, and took off in my car for the Catskill area of New York to seek the family homestead. She had driven down to my house from hers in New Hampshire and so I drove. My hybrid does road trips!

There are a number of discoveries and stories to tell from this trip, and many pictures from cemeteries, but the central story is of our climbing Denman Mountain with our cousins. This is where our branch of the Denman family first settled, in 1795. We had met the cousins the day before and they had offered to take us up to see the original place our family owned and lived. Since I had read somewhere or another that you needed a 4-wheel drive vehicle, I was happy to accept the offer. It had been very hot and humid for several days already, so we all agreed that we’d meet pretty early to start up (8:00 AM is still early in my book!).

We all were there, on time, and it was arranged that I would follow them to the road we were going to ascend. Even the paved road was noticeably uphill, so I was glad I wasn’t going to be driving the hard part. Denman Mountain is reputed to be the highest location in Sullivan county, although there is some recent dispute of that, I understand.

At the designated spot, I parked my car off the road and in as much shade as possible (have I said it was hot?!). My sister and I climbed into the back seat of the Jeep and we were off. Cousins Jack and Bruce were in front, with Jack driving. We had left my car at the point where the road switched from paved to unpaved. The road didn’t seem so bad for the first little while, although it was bumpy and very slow going.

The dirt road at its best

Basically the road is two ruts with more or less grass in the middle. As we climbed, it soon became less grass in the middle and more rock and downed tree branches. We stopped a number of times for Cousin Jack to get out and move a large tree branch or rock to the side of the road. He was an excellent driver of this terrain, and I was very relieved that he was behind the wheel.

As they drove, the two brothers talked about growing up in the area. They particularly remembered going up the mountain to pick grapes on the old property. We were shown two different places where there had been plane crashes on the mountain (which comes up at you unexpectedly so if you don’t know the flying route it would be an unpleasant surprise). Their father told the story about one crash in the night time: he and his wife heard the sound of it and went up to see if they could find anything or be of help. They only had one flashlight, and somehow his wife ended up with it, so he was in total darkness. All of a sudden he felt something hard with his foot. Reaching down, he discovered a flashlight – and it still worked. They were not able to find that crash and ended up returning home. The other plane crash location and story was less positive. It was a military plane that had been warned about the mountain, the story goes, but ignored the warning for whatever reason. It crashed and their father took his tractor and wagon up to help ferry bodies down off the mountain. He was there when the person in charge of the site decided to blow up the plane wreckage to prevent looting. He told the man that the forest was very dry and he would start a fire if he followed through. Well, he did and it did. The local fire department had to send crews up to put the fire out. I suspect they weren’t happy about being called out for this one!

By this time we were fairly far up the mountain and the road was getting worse and worse, crossing little brooks, and low places that were very muddy, and the question of putting on the four-wheel drive came up. Everyone (but me – I was trapped on the side of the truck looking down at the stream) got out and looked at the front wheels. Both men tried to move the piece that needed to move to set the drive – you can tell how much I don’t know about four-wheel drive let alone mountain driving. The short story is that the mechanisms were stuck and wouldn’t engage. So we decided to go ahead until the road was too dicey and then to walk the rest of the way in.

We start up the road on foot

Which we did. I don’t know how far we had to walk from the road – it wasn’t that far, but it was cross country with no paths and waist-high grasses and small trees, and swampy areas that were hard to see. The one cousin, who was our expedition leader, was breaking the trail and we other three were strung out behind him like ducklings. As is usual for me in such situations, I was bringing up the rear most of the time. I am a somewhat slow walker, and I have short legs. The short legs were my downfall. I didn’t quite make the leap from one dry hummock to the next and as my feet hit a marshy and soft patch I went down on my knees. I couldn’t find a solid place to put my hands to help myself up, and ended up requiring the arm of my sister to get out of my predicament. After that Jack loaned me his walking stick and I was fine again. But for the rest of the day I had a great time telling anyone who would listen, how Jack pushed me into Denman Swamp. He thought it was pretty funny.

Shortly afterward we reached the place

Natural chimney for the home fireplace

where the emigrant Denman family first built a lean-to against a rock outcropping. The crack between the rocks provided a natural chimney for their fire. There is a sign carved close to that chimney, that says William Denman settled here 1795 (I think). This picture shows that the rock has moss and maybe lichens growing on it and obscuring the carved letters. This carving may have been done by William when he paid off his obligation for the first 200 acres he purchased by leasing first. The thrill was to see and stand on the place where our ancestor lived and built his family’s first house in America.

carving on rock where lean-to had been

Having safely climbed the mountain and then safely gotten back down it, we were ready to rest and have lunch. The cousins were too, and we were all pleased with ourselves for the successful expedition. They took off in two directions and my sister and I took off in another. This was our last full day in New York and we had several other goals to meet as well. But before we all left, we planned to meet Jack at his house the next morning to see some of his wildflowers and chestnut trees. I will

My very own walking stick

probably write other posts about this trip and what we saw and did but the finishing touch to the family part of the trip was when we got to Jack’s and as we were getting in his truck to go see his upper pond and cabin, he presented me with a walking stick made just for me. He had cut down a wooden handle to my height and put a tip on it, and carved my name into the side. Here is my trophy. If you look closely (or enlarge the picture) you can see my name and everything!

A few weeks ago Randy Seaver asked in Saturday Night Fun, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have…”  As I was searching for an answer the question became tangled up in my mind with the controversy following Roots Tech about how to welcome young people into the world of genealogy.  The answer came pretty quickly.

Are you kidding Randy?  What would I have done differently?  I would have RUN.  Yes, run, on legs that moved a lot faster before they spent all their time sitting in dusty archives or in front of a computer screen.  What is wrong with you all?  Who are these young people that you hate so much?  What have they done to you to deserve this?  Is it the way they dress?  Is their music too loud?  Have they threatened your social security benefits or worse, moved back into the house?

If you possess any shred of decency you should be telling them to RUN AWAY as quickly as possible, before they are ensnared in the evil web of family history.

I was just a young foolish thing when I was snared.  A friend had a story.  It was a great story.  I wish I could tell it to you, but I must leave that to her.  She showed me how to get started.  She failed to mention how many months, nay years, it had taken her to ferret out the story.

And then there is Pat.  I love Pat dearly.  If I had a sister I’m sure she would not be as dear to me as Pat, but Pat is EVIL.

“Hey, Jude, there’s a workshop at this place in Boston, the New England Historical Genealogical Society.  Why don’t we go?  You can stay at my house and we’ll drive in for the day.  It’ll be fun.”

And so it began: the missed meals, the children who barely recognize me, the family who run when I enter the room, the life savings gone to fund my habit.  Pat is responsible for all of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are on the left before family history and here, on the right is a picture taken last week by our friend Ann.  Not only have we become immobile, but apparently the sadness of our story kills  surrounding vegetation.  Okay, that’s not really us on the left, but it could have been.

“Let’s do a blog together.  It’ll be fun.”  Do you see a pattern here? So now I sit in front of my computer desperate for something to say that won’t actually repel people or make my family hate me, wishing I could get back to searching for dead people.

 

The credit for the Boston Marathon picture is here.

The picture of not Judy and Pat can be viewed here.

This week’s post is another joint effort by Pat and me.  We both wanted to have an opportunity to congratulate Jasia on the 100th edition of the COG.  My efforts are in standard type; Pat’s additions are in italics.

This month’s theme for the COG is There’s One in Every Family.  Great theme, how hard could it be?  Rip off a few lines about crazy Uncle Gordon or silly Aunt Emma and be a contributor.   The thing is, most of my relatives, living and dead, are kind of ordinary. (I know I’ve been looking and hoping, for a real Black Sheep.  If I can ever document it, I have a 2-woman scandal in the very early 1800s.) Of course, everyone has a story, just not one that wants to be told for this sort of thing. (Oh, maybe mine is one of those.)

And then it came to me, every family has a genealogist or, as we say now, a family historian.  Yes, it is you I am writing about or for whom I am writing.

When I started climbing the family tree there was no family history, there was only genealogy.  Who cares?  Well, me, and if you remember The Look you will too. The Look, is what you got when you told people you were a genealogist.  Genealogy has grown to be wildly popular with TV shows and podcasts and, you know, blogs, but this was not always the case. Years ago the declaration that you were a genealogist, the one that generated The Look, meant one of two things.  Either:

1.  You lived alone in an attic with no fewer than 5 cats, or

2.  You were an unbearable snob who was about to reveal that she was heir to the throne of Godknowswhereistan.

For the record, I have never had more than 3 cats at once and, although hope never dies, I don’t appear to be the heir to anything. (And I keep hoping that I will turn out to be the heir to all of Nantucket, but alas, that also doesn’t seem to be the case.)

It is so much more pleasant to be a family historian.  Many people just hear the historian part and assume that you actually know something.  Having spent years suffering The Look, I see no reason to disabuse them of this notion.

The other thing I vastly prefer about family historian is that most people with a fourth grade education can spell both family and historian, not so with genealogy.  What is it with that “a” in the middle.  OK, I grew up in Philadelphia and some people, most of whom are related to me, have made note of the fact that I don’t always pronounce words in precisely the same way as people in New England.  Still, I think that “a” needs to be an “o”.  After all, it’s anthropologist, biologist, criminologist, musicologist, otologist (look it up, new words are good for you), phraseologist (yup, the study of phrases), and, my personal favorite, storiologist. Not an  ” a”  in the bunch.

So, if you’re younger than I am, and who isn’t, count yourself lucky to be a family historian, and count yourself lucky for the work Jasia does to bring us the COG. Congratulations on the 100th edition (from both of us).  Pop the champagne and let the celebration begin.

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