In Search of Our Roots

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ripley, Henning, & Dyersburg, TN
April 25-27, 2010

Our maternal grandmother often told us that her mother Clara's parents died in the late 1800s when Clara was just a young girl.  According to our memory of Grandmother's story, a family in western Tennessee took in young Clara and some of her siblings after their parents' death.  Our mission for the roots portion of this tour was to learn the names of Clara's parents.

Our first stop was Ripley, one of the towns where Grandmother said Clara had lived. Sure enough, at the Lauderdale County courthouse, we found the old record book where Clara's marriage to James had been recorded in 1902.
A serendipitous conversation with other customers at a local restaurant led to a contact with a local history buff, Bobbie. When we mentioned the names of the family that cared for Clara, Bobbie pointed us to the nearby town of Henning.

After finding everything we could in the excellent local history section of Ripley's public library, we headed off to Henning. Like Alex Haley, we did find some pieces to our puzzle there. In fact, in the same cemetery where Haley's celebrated ancestor Chicken George is buried, we found the graves of the couple whom our grandmother always described as Clara's caretakers.
We came up empty in our search of this cemetery for graves that might be Clara's parents. Our only other lead was a local couple we had learned about from Bobbie.

With no introduction, we found the phone number and called Frank and Pat. "We're visiting from Alabama and Georgia, and we think some of your ancestors may have taken care of our great grandmother when she was a girl," we explained. "Come on over!" they replied and gave us directions to their farm.
Frank and Pat live on a "century farm," called such because the farm has been owned and operated by Frank's family since his great grandparents established the farm outside Henning in 1861. Today they raise cattle and horses.
Their appreciation for history bode well for our mission. They brought out album after album of old photos of their family. We recognized some of the names as friends who had visited Clara in Alabama when our grandmother was a girl. There were even photos taken in the small Alabama town where they lived.

So many familiar threads were there but we were unable to tie them all together. Our search for the names of Clara's parents will continue. Maybe our future efforts will benefit from the good luck charms Frank and Pat insisted we take with us as a memento of their farm.
As if their gracious hospitality weren't enough.