1800 miles, hundreds of records at multiple repositories, a week attending an outstanding class on genealogical writing, too many hotel rooms, lots of killer BBQ, and countless friends. A few of the stops on this journey were planned but most were impromptu. I planned to learn new techniques for my writing and to research a few places I had on my radar, but the lessons I learned surprised me.
My first stop was Birmingham, AL for the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research at Samford University. This is the final year this educational institute is being held at Samford and I felt the need to experience what many of my peers and mentors learned and applied to their profession. Dr. Tom Jones coordinated an intense and challenging course that focused on components to becoming a better writer, editor, and genealogist. I have never been a classroom learner and have preferred self-guided education. I will be pouring over the curriculum during the next few weeks to fully digest the massive amount of experience and instruction embedded in the class materials.
During my stay in Birmingham, my peers were next to me experiencing their own paths to genealogical enlightenment. Reconnecting with old friends and forging new friendships is an integral part of the experience of institutes. The range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives provided fodder for my appetite to learn, explore, and challenge myself. As I left Birmingham with fond memories and bittersweet goodbyes, I hit the blacktop knowing that I would be leaving not only as a better genealogist, but a better person.
My next stop was LaGrange in Troup County, Georgia via North Alabama. As I drove through the hazy, green trees of Talladega National Forest, I sensed a familiarity with the surroundings. The names: Okfuskee, Eufala, Catoosa. All names of tribal towns brought to Indian Territory in the early 19th century by the Muscogee Creek. As I drove past the pontoons and fishing boats of summer transplants living it up on West Point Lake, I reflected on the history of the tribal land and the Muscogee families that sustained the land for generations before opportunistic transplants colonized their homeland. I pondered my unique position as an ancestor of the tribe and transplants (that’s a blog post for a different day).
As I entered LaGrange, I felt that same familiarity. The town had that classic Southern feel: vines growing over iron, columns supporting houses with questionable histories, an illuminated fountain in the city square with a statue of Marquis de LaFayette honoring the town named for his French estate. I felt the excitement that comes with walking the same paths my 4th great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Escoe. The mystery of his birth was on my mind. I came to Lagrange for that purpose: to uncover the history and mystery surrounding his birth and his parents.
The Troup County Archives would be my first stop to begin the research. After checking into my room, I verified the Saturday hours- the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month- and went back through some of the holdings I wanted to dive into at 10 a.m. My excitement and anticipation created a rush of adrenaline that fought against the exhaustion aggravated by a long day of red strikethrough edits and blacktop dotted with white lines.
I woke up rested and ready to tackle the world. Shower, breakfast, last-minute check of research tools, and on the road. I drove to Main Street and found a close spot on a beautiful tree-lined street. I grabbed my bag and trotted across the street with confidence dripping from my pores (the southern humidity had a lot to do with that). I was finally here! I grabbed the handle and pulled. Nothing. I pulled again. Nope. I looked down. A politely typed note stated that the archives would be closed on Saturday, June 18th. ‘Hmmmm…now what?”