Winter Brain Finds Many Excuses

Winter brain has gotten me. I am so not in the mood to work on my work-in-progress, Revival. I’m not sure what prompted it, but I was suddenly seized by a long-dormant desire to research my family tree. See, I was bitten by the genealogy bug years and years ago. My first published work was in Genealogical Helper, on using computers in genealogy. My research even inspired my first novel, Second Death. [Actually I do know what prompted it. I got an email from Ancestry.com that the 1930 census was free for a week.]

I made a huge breakthrough last night, but let me back up a little and tell you what’s so intrigued me about the story.

Old Stone Church, Ringgold, Catoosa County, Georgia

My great-grandfather was a man named George Washington Roach. He died in Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1946. He was born in Catoosa, Georgia, in 1880. Despite those towns being in separate states, the distance is only something less than 30 miles. I knew from his death certificate that his father was named Jim, and from census records found his full name was James D. Roach.James D. Roach was born in 1862 in Georgia and, like his son, died in Tennessee, near Cleveland in a place called McDonald. The intriguing thing to me about him is that he seemed to be alone from a young age. In the 1870 census, at age 8, he is living with a family not named Roach. The head of household is a woman named Martha Banfield, and includes an older couple, Christopher Nations and his wife. The key here to me is what happened in the year James was born.

Georgia voted to leave the United States on January 19, 1861. Fighting occurred primarily on the coast through 1862. In August 1863, the Chickamauga campaign began, and the Siege of Chattanooga followed in September. This battle happened about 20 miles from where James and his family lived.

One of the untold stories (or at least I haven’t located those stories) of the American Civil War is what happened to the children orphaned by the conflict. James’ father, James H. Roach, was alive in 1860, but I can find no trace of him after that census, at least not without going to Georgia myself. And then his 8 year old son turns up in the same area living with another family. I’ve always thought James H. must have died in the war, whether as a soldier or a civilian I don’t know. I’ve been researching the family he lived with and the neighbors, trying to pierce the veil of history and find out what happened. Ten years later he appears in the census, again in the same area, as a servant of another family. A book on the county tells that James H.’s father David (born in 1800) was “killed by bushwhackers” during the Civil War.

Last night I made the discovery that James D.’s uncle Stephen lived next door to him in both censuses. I don’t know why Stephen didn’t take him in, although it’s possible James D.’s mother remarried and lost another husband during the 8 years he was growing up.

It’s easy to get caught up in the research, stretching the line back, finding connections, and forget that these were real people with joys and sorrows and frustrations. What was it like for a young boy to live around so much fighting and death? A Confederate hospital was located at nearby Catoosa Springs. Did his father die in such a hospital? What kind of mark did that conflict leave on his psyche?

I don’t feel all this research is wasted. The reflections on family and their lives plant seeds for future stories.

Maybe Winter Brain is doing me a favor after all.

What’s your winter brain up to? Share in the comments below.

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