civil war fiction, family histories, genealogy, historical fiction, Saga Saturdays, sun's parting ray

Saga Saturdays: The Story Behind SUN’S PARTING RAY (Part One)

Saga Saturdays

I got bitten by the amateur genealogy bug a long time ago—back when it was still somewhat okay to surf the Internet at work, and no one would really say anything to you about it, as long as you got the work done you were supposed to. So, there I was, finished with my work (for the time being) and trying to keep myself occupied. I had heard people talk about “Googling yourself.” Up to this point, my search engine of choice was Yahoo, but I decided to give it a try, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I found MY name (spelled correctly, mind you) at the bottom of what looked like a long list of other names under one woman’s name, Mary Susan Pare (1829-1865), who married one Hezekiah Blankenship in 1850. Blankenship, I knew, was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. Sure enough, I had stumbled across some genealogy research someone else had done on their family, which just happened to coincide with mine. From that moment, I was hooked.

I started to delve into everything I could find about my father’s ancestry. Over the next couple of years, I made pretty good progress with his mother’s genealogy…and a little progress with his father’s (on his mother’s side). But our surname, Austin, was giving me problems. It’s a fairly common name; therefore, it wasn’t so easy to conduct an accurate search.

I knew my grandfather’s name. I knew HIS father’s name, but that’s where I drew a blank—a dead end, so to speak. So I found out that I could order a birth certificate for my great-grandfather from the state (I knew he was born in Kentucky), so that’s what I did, and I discovered that his parent’s names were “Bill Austin and Mollie A. Mayes.” They were both born in Kentucky, and I knew their self-reported ages. So I went to the online census records (I had the money at the time to pay for the membership; I don’t now).

Bill, I knew (or at least I suspected), would be short for William; however, I did not know that Mollie was a nickname often used for Mary. It took me a while to figure that out. But, once I did, I found their marriage certificate and a marriage permission slip signed by Mary’s father, Henry William Mayes. That was back in 1886.

Then, I found my great-grandfather’s name in the 1900 Barren County, Kentucky Census. He was living with his brothers and sisters in his grandfather’s house (Henry W. Mayes), and there was someone else living with them—one Jane Austin, listed as a “relative.” This, I knew, had to be Bill Austin’s mother. My great-great-great-grandmother. I was excited to finally be making some progress, and I was intrigued by the living arrangement. The two “unmarried” grandparents living together and taking care of their grandchildren because, presumably, their children are both dead. I later discovered that they both died in 1896, but there was no cause listed. Probably flu, but it could have been something different because all their children survived. Henry’s wife, I discovered, died in 1899. But I still had no information about Jane’s husband.

So, I went back to the census information. Finally, in the 1860 Monroe County census, I found Jane Austin (and W.H. Austin, of the right age to be my Bill Austin) listed in the household of one “M. Austin.” That was it. Nothing else. And it seemed that this “M. Austin” disappeared from the face of the earth after this 1860 census. What was going on in Kentucky between 1860 and 1870? The same thing that was going on in the rest of the country—the American Civil War.

At this point, I got really excited, thinking that “M. Austin” must have been some sort of war hero (or that he at least fought in the war, as so many people did). But I never was very certain of it because I didn’t know exactly what his first name was.

It turns out, I was barking up the wrong tree…but that’s a post for another week. 😉

In the meantime, check out SUN’S PARTING RAY on Amazon.


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