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In my family, the collecting of family history and geneology began with me, sparked by my Grandma Mae's storytelling. Although she was only one-quarter Cherokee, Mae looked like an Indian princess with jet black hair and a serenity that would serve her well through all her trials. Grandma's faith in her Savior was unshakable and spoke of her upbringing by her faternal grandparents, "Maw", half-Cherokee, and "Paw", a farmer who labored deep in the hills of Iredell County, North Carolina.
Grandma remembered everything except her own mother who died (probably of what we now call toxemia). Emma Genelia passed soon after the birth of her first born, Mae, who lay on a layer of cotton in a primative incubator, a shoebox sitting by the wood stove to keep her warm. In 1895, one assumed that a tiny, two-pound baby would soon follow her mother to the grave. As a sign of her indominable spirit, Mae lived.
As a teen-ager, I learned of her Aunt Mag, the youngest of Maw and Paw's children who was like a surrogate mother more than an aunt to Mae. Soon after I was married, I met my second-great aunt, Aunt Mag, for the first and last time in Gastonia, North Carolina, where she stayed with her daughter. She was 92 years of age, legally blind and nearly deaf, but her memory was formidable. I was amazed as she revealed precise names and dates for all twelve of her brothers and sisters, taking me back several generation with information that would prove to be completely accurate. I was hooked!
At moments like that, I tend to forget the long hours of research. Those moments of discovery have been inspiring. I have been miraculously connected with distant cousins who have written books, or in one case, with a sexton who knew Grandma Mae's 4th cousin, W. T. Pennell of Alexander County, North Carolina. It was W. T. who provided our connection to Annie White, Mae's great-grandma, through his private genealogical collections. W. T. told me that he had known his cousin Mae's grandpa Mack Pennell, an old Civil War Veteran who would spit into the frying pan, hanging over the fire in his old log cabin, to see if it was hot enough to cook his cornbread. Young W. T. was impressed.
Then as I visited the log cabin perched high on the hill where Mae was born, I found her mother's grave. A few years later, upon inquiring across the street from where the log house had been, I discovered Annie White looking directly at me from a shoebox filled with old pictures that had been loosely stored in the attic of the pre-Civil War log house. Annie, with a knowing little smile on her lips, peered up at me as if to say calmly, "I know you; do you remember me?" ("Oh yes, Annie. You are Grandma Mae's great-grandma!") In her lap was Mae's grandfather, Mack Pennell, as a young toddler. When my distant cousin, Elsie Bentley, asked if I would like the picture, I accepted graciously as the self-appointed family historian for Grandma Mae's family.
Miracles do happen in family history and genealogical research.
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