St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Past, Part 2

My mother was right. Of course, she always knew that. It’s just that I didn’t. Her family did have strong roots going way back in South Carolina. “The Book”, which I mentioned when last we met, was a great starting point for me to find her family. While the information was indeed sketchy on her direct bloodline, the clues jumped off the pages at me.

By looking at the location of some of the distant sides of her paternal line, I was able to determine where I needed to look. I had always thought her family was from Charleston. Not so. Before they got down to Charleston in the mid-1800s, they were up in the Marion District. Going further back led me to North Carolina and even back to the Philadelphia area in the 1700s. That was a surprise! Who knew that my mother’s genteel southern family had roots up in Yankee land?

The Marion District of South Carolina was up by the North Carolina border. I started looking at wills and deeds to find the family. I even came across some old jurors’ names that had been called for jury duty. This all just didn’t appear. It took many hours of laborious searching and endless sneezing at the dust on old books in the Charleston library as well as locating a local historical society outside of Charleston. There is a great historical society called the Three Rivers Historical Society. They have gathered a lot of information on the Marion, Williamsburg, Florence, Pee Dee and Georgetown areas of South Carolina. If you have any roots going back to those areas, these people, who are located next to a funeral home, have a good chance of either having it or knowing someone who does. Their records include wills, deeds, old family Bibles, cemetery readings, obituaries, local church records, and other obscure documentation. They are certainly worth checking out. I own several of their books and use them as reference on a regular basis.

It was relatively easy to trace some of my mother’s people by looking at all these records. What made it fun was stumbling across a 94-year old woman who remembered my great grandmother. She was a charming old lady and happy to talk of the old times. When I asked where my great grandmother was from, she replied, “Hell Hole Swamp.” “Just exactly what,” I asked as she glanced at the astonished look on my face, “is Hell Hole Swamp?” She laughed easily and said, “It’s a BAD place to be from.”

I found that comment intriguing enough to start me on another road trip. Hell Hole Swamp is actually a very real place located in the Francis Marion National Forest outside of Charleston. With my trusty map, spouse, children, and a full tank of gas, we started out on this journey. We turned right at the little old store that she had spoken of and found the cemetery where some of the family rests. We traced back to the store, turned left, and found one of the plantations, which she had mentioned. Then, a little ways further down the road, we drove into Cordesville, the actual birthplace of my grandfather. A turn, the only turn I might add, onto Alligator Road led us to Hell Hole Swamp. The only sign of human life on this journey, other than the man at the store, was one other man who was putting on hip pants, presumably to protect him as he prepared to walk in the swamp.

We found two more cemeteries, which yielded me with more pictures of relatives’ final resting places. I even gleaned some other surnames for which I would later search. After all, in the middle of the swamp, how many other families come through with fresh blood to marry? In those days of old? Not many, I would say.

We found one hand painted sign on the side of the road, which read “Hell Hole Swamp”. Voila! We were there! Suffice it to say, there was nothing there. At least, nothing that I would classify as civilization. That’s not quite right. There’s plenty of lush vegetation and I would venture to say it’s just chock full of animals who slither and crawl around. I imagine some of the swamp’s occupants gave Alligator Road its name. It’s hard to believe anyone ever had any reason to live there. But live there, they did. They were there during the jubilant era of rice planting in the Carolinas. That took lots of water and the swamp was a natural place for these fields.

As cell phone service was nonexistent in the swamp, I was thrilled our car did not break down. I doubt the local inhabitants would truly believe that I was just looking for my family deep in the swamp! Just looking at the landscape made me truly realize how far my grandfather did go in his lifetime. From birth on the edge of a swamp, to marrying the daughter of Swedish emigrants, to becoming renowned as the person to call to restore old plantations, to witnessing the births of his grandchildren, my grandfather had an interesting story. I only wish he was here to tell me about it.

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