Back a few years ago, I was asked to do some guest speaking on the topic of genealogy……and have continued to do so, finding myself frequently introduced as Ms. Sharon Barrows Sanzo, “The Historians Worst Nightmare”! And I actually find that to be one of my grandest compliments now! I also work as a volunteer look-up person for some of the US Gen Web sites, primarily Manchester CT. and Plymouth, Ma. I am always more than happy to share any information that I may have with someone seeking to explore their roots. Though occasionally I do get a little chuckle when I hear back from that person who states that they have found a different date for so and so’s death…. and I certainly must have made some type of error in my recordings! Where as I have July 3rd 1764, they found another source giving July 4th 1764 as that persons date of death. Well….personally…I don’t get all that upset over conflicting dates anymore!!! I figure if we are all in the same month we’re doing pretty darn good! I had found this one cousins death date to read the 16th in the Church Records, the 18th in the Town records, the 15th in the family Bible records and yet the 17th on the tombstone inscription!!! I figure he most likely did succumb sometime within that period…good enough for me! When I tell that story , it’s about at that time that I watch the true Historians rubbing their chin and shaking their heads in total disgust! I was blessed as I was growing up, to be surrounded by loving grand-parents and great-grand-parents, who filled me with stories of my ancestors before me and the lives they led. They never dwelled a whole lot on particular dates as I remember back. The memories of the times we shared together and those stories stayed with me as I grew up and I tried to share all of those stories with my three sons as they were growing up. After the boys were grown and married, I guess I began to fill my “empty nest syndrome” by delving into the never ending hobby of genealogy. I busied myself filling volumes of notebooks with names, births, marriages, offspring and deaths. As the time passed, I sat down sifting through the material I had spent so much time documenting, referencing and cross-referencing and trying to put it all together so that it actually meant something. As I started this, it brought to mind a time, when as a young girl, I started to read the Bible for the first of what would be several times. I remember trying to read through Genesis which began with “and Adam lived x amount of years and begat Seth ,who lived x amount of years and begat so and so”. I thought to myself, if this is going to follow all the way through to where Arthur begets Sharon…I think I can save myself some time and skip a few chapters and go directly to psalms which appealed more to my love of poetry ..or…Revelations….which absolutely blew my mind and caused me to pull the sheets way up over my head many nights as I tried to fall asleep. So, as I sat there with these notes of mine, I began to think, that unless I was planning on adding all these begats to the book of Genesis , I had better come up with a better way of preserving the history of our particular family . Not to mention that these begats did not seen to include the female off-spring, which is another story which I will not get into in depth at this time. But, less the gentlemen forget, these female ancestors of ours were by far much more than baby making machines and dare say they should be given their just mention in our family history. But not to get off on another subject…. I went back to remembering how the stories from my childhood filled me with pride and steadfastly led me into learning more about US. History, geography, social and moral issues and family values. So with a renewed interest I went back and began my research again, this time, digging into the lives of these people that I had previously statistically researched. The stories I found were endless and fascinating. Oh okay…there is the one “Mountain Cat Story” that has become a bit farfetched. Either this ancestor of mine was the original “Superman” or this particular Bob Cat was somehow related to “Godzilla”! Most likely, as with most good fish stories, this bob cat story has been slightly exaggerated over the years. And yes, like one elderly gentleman Historian told me “Every family needs to have at least one endearing “Woman of the Night” and one “ Good Thief”! To that end, I have filled that part of our family history I dare say. In fact I have ended up purchasing and reading each 1st issue copy of Sydney Bittle Barrows , “ The Mayflower Madam’s” books, to which I have added to my personal library under the reference title of “ Life’s finer assets” and will cover that topic in more depth with my grand-children as they grow older.
I have traced this family and some of it’s related branches from the very beginning of this wonderful Country of ours, from the French and Indian Wars, The American Revolution, The Spanish American War, The Civil War and all the other Wars straight through to the Gulf War. Almost 400 years of fighting for and seeking freedom and human rights for all. To actually visit the sites of some of the early battles and dig into the” why’s and how comes “ is truly fascinating. We’ve had family serving at Annapolis Royal in Eastern Canada, and during the entire Canadian Expedition. The ruins of Annapolis, which the English colonists finally took control from the French in 1710, is still accessible to visitors . As is Fort William Henry, near Lake George in up-state New York. When I toured that Fort, I was already aware that at least two of my family members had fought there and one had died there. The Colonists had held that Fort from the advances of the French for two years, until the summer of 1757, when the French and Indian allies mounted a force of 13,000 and after a fierce six day battle, the English Colonists were forced to surrender. The evening of the sixth day, the English flag was lowered and the French flag was raised. Under the terms of the surrender, all weapons were confiscated and safe passage to nearby Fort Edward was to be grated to all non-commissioned soldiers and all women and children on the following day. Now this deal did not sit well with the Indians at all! After all what would happen to the English bounty and belongings if they were allowed to leave the Fort? So, at dawn, the Indians attacked the Fort. The Colonists had no weapons, no defense. Hundreds of British colonial men, women and children were tomahawked, butchered and scalped. It is said the walls of the Fort ran red on that day. One of those men, one of my ancestors, left a pregnant wife and 9 other children back in Middleboro, Massachusetts. You will find our family serving at Ticonderoga , Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord, to name just a few. Traveling to some of these places with my grandchildren led us on one particular trip, to the home of Daniel Chester French in southwestern Massachusetts, who did the sculpture of “The Minuteman” and also the Lincoln Memorial” and the one of the most breathtaking sculptures I have ever seen, the lovely “ Andromada”. So on that trip we combined a little Art along with American History. I try never to pass up an opportunity to expand my knowledge and theirs.
Getting back to our family history in the shaping of this Country, we continue with the War with the French and then the American Revolution Now this brings me to one of my all time favorite family ghost stories! I went to an Encampment and visited an old homestead in nearby Tolland, Connecticut . The story uncovered was eerie to say the least. Several articles have been written on the story and a movie was made of it for the History Channel. The house had belonged to the Benton Family, a rather prominent family, in the Colonial days. The Bentons sent three of it’s sons off to fight in the Revolution. All three eventually being captured and held aboard a prison ship in New Haven Harbor. Two died there and the third, plagued with “the pox”, was sent home to die. It seems this young man was hopelessly smitten and had pledged his love to what must have been the sweetest, cutest , loveliest little cousin of mine. Unfortunately, the boys father was hell bent on breaking up this engagement. It seems he deemed the young lady socially beneath the Bentons. Seems her daddy was a laborer, a mere cabinet maker no less! Her uncle no more than the local silversmith, and two others but just ministers of the Church! Now I guess anyone can see why Daddy Benton was so upset!!!! This was my grandchildren’s first introduction to a lesson in “class distinction”. So, the boy comes home, his body ravaged with the pox. He is placed in the “birth and dying room”. Now…the family has the problem of what to do with him and who is to care for him! Who would be the one willing to sacrifice their life and risk contracting this deadly disease? Oh, can you see how the door was so eagerly opened for the young girl now? Come right in my darling girl, your betrothed lies yonder behind that door awaiting your healing touch. Well, she did truly love him. She went right on in, no hesitation, bathed his fevered, decaying body, nourished him with food and broth and held him closely as he shivered and convulsed. Her parents, finding out about the whereabouts of their daughter, come to plead with her to save herself and return to the safety of her home. The movie states that they left, promising to return shortly with her clothing and personal effects that she requested but that they never returned. Nobody ever bothered to look into why they never returned. I did!! They must have visited their daughter and her lover at a fairly close distance, for of the family of seven, five, including the young lover, her parents and two of her siblings succumbed to the pox within weeks of each other. The surviving two siblings being sent to friends in Massachusetts, where upon their arrival, they were told that they were misspelling their surname, and hence the family name changes spelling once again as it does time and time again throughout history. Back at the Benton homestead, the girl tends to her lover for a month before he succumbs. She binds his body in sheeting and it is passed out through the window and buried lovingly in the gardens. Hmmmm and now there is one!!! Now don’t you just wonder who tended to this young girls needs as she lay there dying? It is said she survived three weeks, alone, crying out in grief and agony. And, when she dies, what to do with the body? Bury her down yonder the pathway I guess! Can’t cart the poxed body about Town! Now, can you see why this young girl is not especially happy, even in death? And why she wanders about the house and property weeping and wailing? She had loved her betrothed. She gave her life to care for him. And yet, they had the nerve to still not except her, to separate them even in death! So, for the past few hundred years, she has been most unhappy and has made this know to many a visitor. So this is the favorite ghost story amongst my grandchildren . They even like it better than the “mountain cat” story”.
So my version of our family genealogy continues as I share all this information and travel with my grandchildren. But, sometimes I must admit, they completely exasperate me! As an example, last summer I take three of the children on one my research trips. We go to General Washington’s headquarters just above West Point, down through West Point and then even further down the Delaware River. So here we are, mid July, tubing down the Delaware River, dangling our feet in the water as we slowly drift along. There is myself, my teenage granddaughter , a 12 year old and 9 year grandson. The youngest child speaks up 1st! “ Gwam?” Most of his lisping has stopped by know and I just think that he actually believes my name is “Gwam” now. So I don’t bother to correct his pronunciation and simply reply “ yes dear?” “Not for nothing Gwam, but why did General Washington and his guys have so much trouble crossing this river? Now if they had thought a bit, and picked the right spot, you know I think you could actually spit across from one bank to the other.” I try and surpress my laughter as I explain that while that may be true at this point, the topography of the river has most likely changed a great deal over a few hundred years and that the General and his men may have not had the option of crossing at a more advantageous point. This answer satisfied the young boy. Then comes the voice of the highly intelligent teenage girl! “ Oh the whole crossing of the Delaware thing has probably been a bit exaggerated to make it more historical of a story and more artistic for the artist who painted the picture. You know how writers an artists love to dramatize!” I can only look at her in amazement and with a great deal of containment I reply. “ My darling girl….think about this please. It was mid winter, General Washington and his men were freezing, some having nothing left but rags to warp around their feet in place of boots. They were weary, tired, hungry. They hadn’t seen their loved ones in a long time. Unlike us my dear…they were not tubing leisurely down the river in mid July, sipping a bottle of Snapple, munching on Doritos, carrying a pre packed boxed lunch, listening to the “Back Street Boys” on a portable CD player and wearing SPF 25 to keep from getting sunburned. So can you see how conditions may not have been all the same as ours?” She smiles….”But gram, come on, the picture isn’t just a little over done? Washington in the front of this what looks like a row boat, tattered flag in hand blowing in the wind. But…he’s still wearing one of those powdered wigs, with not a hair out of place.” Well, now she’s gone and done it! Opened up a whole new can of worms and leads me right into my next lecture of the day. “ Speaking of our flag children!.” Now that the subject of desecration of the flag is before Congress again, never let it be said that I pass up an opportunity to get into Current Events and combine it with a few good old family stories. So we discuss the picture and medal of my great great grandfather from the Civil War that hangs in my living room. And I remind them of the flag that I have shown them…the ones full of bullet holes right through. The Union flag had been cornered and folded and placed in his jacket pocket before he charged down the hill on horseback into battle. The 1st bullet striking his horse and as it fell, the 2nd bullet hit great great grandfather in the chest . You can guess where! This we have this flag with the blackened holes through it. He was wounded, but survived. The flag had saved his life and therefore made possible our very existence today. Good thing the guys weren’t sitting around the campfire the night before discussing their rights to “freedom of expression” by burning the flag! And I bet Francis Scott Keye was not sitting there watching the bombs bursting in air but still able to watch the flag of freedom illuminating through the night long battle, thinking to himself….” Gee ,some day, because of this night, some snot nose kid is going to claim his inevitable right to burn that glorious flag as his right under the soon to be written Bill of Rights! Not to mention poor dear Betsey Ross…hey she sat there sewing that 1st flag by hand, no sewing machine or pattern to work with! Bet she sat there thinking, I better not move this chair up any closer to the fireplace, can’t take any chances on any sparks hitting it after all the hard work I put into this!
Now, going down to the Civil War. Here, our ancestors,
such as Byron, Louis and Harrison Calkins, Clarence , Daniel and Ranslar
Barrows, and so many of the other family members in the Connecticut Regiments,
the New York 77th and the New York 134th Infantry served their Country
well. They fought in Harpers Ferry, Charlotsville, Appomatix, Fredricksburg,
Gettysburg, and Peach Tree Creek. I found out the New York 134th left with
better than 1,00 men and returned 3 years later with only 275. Some of
those fallen soldiers were our family members. The stories are endless!!
Our family history truly amazing. It continues down till present. What
will our future descendants learn about us ? Will they sit there
with endless notebooks filled with statistical facts or will they speak
of our moments of triumph, heartache, happiness and pain? I would hope
that we are to them what I have found our previous ancestors to be. And
I hope that many of you will come to share my ideas of what Genealogy should
be about and not get too locked into the formality of what many people
have found them selves doing. So, as we share our names and dates and stories
together, please forgive me if I have a date or spelling listed incorrectly.
And please……please…..remember to share and document your stories
for future generations. And take advantage of what you have compiled up
to this point to use as tools to teach our young ones about history, social
studies, geography, social and moral issues and family values and in doing
so, keeping the memory of our early ancestors alive forever.