THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK (February 15, 2015):
Who currently owns the property where our ancestors once homesteaded farms in Scott County, Arkansas? That information is available. You just have to take the time to obtain it. Let me illustrate: About fifteen years ago, my brother Paul attempted to find out the answer to that question. I don’t think he found out everything that he wanted to know, but he proved that it is possible to find out that kind of information if you are willing to learn the basic information. In this week’s posts, I will share the basic information of when and where Eliza Hope Dane Cartwright and her son Thomas Baskin Cartwright made their initial homestead claims and at what points in time they “proved” the claim and received deeds to the properties involved. With that information in view, any of the Cartwright cousins who might want to find out who the current owners are will have all the information you need to register the question with the officials in Scott County. And if you don’t want to bother asking that question, you can use the information to locate a visual sense in the Google Maps application.
THE MONTHLY MYSTERY (February 2015):
Does anyone know when folks in the Cartwright family began to claim that the family lineage includes Native Americans? If you have read some parts of Billy’s memoir about Jess, you may have noticed that he identifies Grandma Millie as a Choctaw Indian (apparently through her father’s family), but from what I have gathered there is no stable documentation to prove that is the case. There is no listing in “the Dawes rolls” that demonstrates this. My brother Paul Cartwright and my cousin Karen Snyder Smith have uncovered some additional references that suggest that this claim may go back beyond Millie’s generation, but to the best of my knowledge there is no documentation that ties this down. What we find, however, is persistent storytelling about ancestors who are believed to have been “Indians.”
THE $64,000 QUESTION:
What kinds of “silences” have been passed down in our extended family?
In remarkable book, The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures, the Australian journalist Christine Kenneally devotes an entire chapter to the role played by silence. She discusses some fascinating examples, some of which she takes from the early history of Australia, which was a place where England sent convicts. Many of these people reinvented themselves, and having turned their lives around, were quite deliberate about not passing on their previous histories.
Kenneally writes, “It used to be that people could expect their illicit pasts would die with them, but the personal computer and the internet revolution have changed all that. . . .The easy availability of all records means it will be harder and harder to invent your own past. For good and bad, the new historical transparency brings new responsibilities with it too.” Some of those responsibilities are personal. Some are public. Kenneally describes the painful circumstance in which her father gathered her and her siblings to tell them that he had recently discovered that “The man who had raised him, who we thought was our long-dead grandfather, was actually our dad’s long-dead grandfather.” Her father felt a responsibility to tell the children about this instance of incest in their family history because he thought it might have implications for each of them, but he found it too painful to talk about beyond that.
There are all kinds of silences. Not all silences are for reasons of shame. For years, I have joked with my brother Paul that I am reasonably confident that if we look long enough, we are likely to find a horse thief (instead of a connection to royalty) in our family’s past. The question is what do you do with such knowledge when you discover it? The answer, I take it, isn’t straightforward for us or for those who come after us. Some things that we used to think of as “private” are going to be harder and harder to keep from becoming “public” and in the process the significance of the silences will shift as well.
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