I could not title this the “moment” I knew because it was a series of events that made me realize I wanted to research my genealogy. I was fortunate to live near both sets of grandparents growing up, but my paternal grandmother was a widow and I never knew my grandfather. I never thought to ask her about Joseph Rawlings since her name was that of her second husband.
Then I found my mother’s family register and she nearly took my skin off telling me that had belonged to her Grandpa Nick and I was not to touch it. I was able to look at this family group sheet from 1909 long enough to recognize my maternal grandmother’s name, but didn’t get a chance to really study it. I was so intrigued that my mouth nearly watered. I should have asked my grandmother about it, but she literally believed in the saying “children should be seen not heard”. When she came to live with us she had developed Alzheimer’s disease before it had that name. She would tell me things like that she spoke German with her parents and that her father did not let her date when she was 21 years old. I did learn some things about her life growing up in a home where the European fashion of living was still the norm and they carried Catholic Missals with the Mass in German.
When I had back surgery in 1995, I attempted to return to work, but was suffering constant pain. I was accustomed to a high-pressure world of creating new banking products in response to our competition. I was at home with nothing to do and going quietly crazy. It was then that everything came together. I got a copy of the family register from my mother. She still would not let me have the original! I made calls to my relatives in Ohio to pick their brains. Then I started recording my mother reminiscing about the past. I had started. I was becoming a genealogist. I did as much research as I could with my computer and the branch of the National Archives in Atlanta. I discovered that my paternal grandfather had been born across the state of Ohio from where I was born and raised. But why did he move so far and without any relatives nearby? Obviously I had to go to my hometown of Wellsville, Ohio and to my Aunt Esther. Esther was related to me by marriage to my father’s brother Joseph. She was the collector of all of the family traditions and faithfully recorded all births, marriages and deaths in her Bible. She had also known my grandfather since she married into the Rawlings family in 1938 or 1939 and my grandfather did not pass away until 1941. She talked about him being away on trips as an engineer on a steam locomotive with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Esther also told me that my grandfather’s mother had died rather young and that his father sent the boy to live with his grandfather. It was more to add to the story, but I still didn’t know their names or where they had lived.
One item that came up for discussion was a phone call my aunt had received from a woman who claimed that her name was also Rawlings and she was trying to discover what had become of Joseph Henry Rawlings, my grandfather. The woman said she knew he had moved to Wellsville. The stranger named Rawlings had called my aunt because she knew that there was a good chance that if there were sons, they may be named Joseph or Henry since those names occurred often in the Rawlings family. Esther’s telephone was still listed as Rawlings, Joseph and Esther and so the searcher called there. My Aunt Esther was trying to be cautious and told Ms. Rawlings that she would have someone call her back. It was over a year later when she was telling me about the telephone call and all I could do was hope she had kept the caller’s information. My great luck was holding; she had placed the name and telephone number in her Bible.
Nervously I called Teresa Rawlings the next day hoping that she would remember calling my aunt. She not only remembered, she was pleased to hear from me. I learned that day that my grandfather was called “Little Joe” by his father and other relatives. His father’s name was Andrew Johnson Rawlings rather than John as I had found in my baby book. She had married into the Rawlings family of Meigs County, Ohio which was across the state from my hometown in Columbiana County. Her husband Donald was the grandson of Andrew Johnson Rawlings. But wait, Andrew was my great-grandfather but the grandfather of Donald who was only 4 years older than me. After my great-grandmother had died, my great-grandfather eventually remarried and fathered 3 more children. The youngest was Raymond Vincent the father of Teresa’s husband Donald.
I visited my newly found relatives several months later. I learned while there that my grandfather had moved across the state to work on the railroad. He didn’t care for being a farmer. I shared pictures of my father and his siblings and Teresa showed me the notes that my grandfather had written to his father.
Each day holds the promise of new discoveries. Recently I found the granddaughter of my father’s sister Gladys. This granddaughter has access to photographs of my grandfather whom I had never seen. I have now seen the wedding photograph of Joseph Henry Rawlings and Mary Gillespie. I have even seen Mary as a beautiful blonde 4-year old.
Every morning I get up wondering what I may discover.