Climbing Family Trees: My Restless Quest To Find Some Rest by Diane Sanfilippo

Climbing Family Trees

More great stories, poems, and helpful hints about genealogy and searching for your family's roots from the twin authors of "Climbing Family Trees: Whispers In The Leaves"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My Restless Quest To Find Some Rest by Diane Sanfilippo

“My Restless Quest to Find Some Rest”
Diane Sanfilippo
When I first began my search, I had nothing more than a few sheets of badly worn paper where my grandmother had written down her family tree. There was not much order to any of her scribbling, just names and dates that were left for me to piece together. Who went with whom, why and how? I never dreamt when I bought our first computer there were so many people like me who have an untiring interest in our country’s great heritage. I am fascinated by those whose blood, toil, tears, and longing to be free created our great country. Little did I know a vast expansion was looming for family researchers as ‘genealogy’ became more and more popular with the masses.

It did not take me long to organize names and dates on my primary families, but documentation took a much longer time. Were it not for the tireless volunteers on the free GenWeb project and those who monitor the name and place lists, I would never have completed my search for my elusive McDonald family. If you think about it, the records they have transcribed, the census, tax lists, veterans' lists, and so much more, make our own research so much easier, particularly if the ancestor is in another state. My own journey was paved with good deeds from kind friends, who included information about my great grandfather David's record of service! I think I now know him as much as my own family, having spent years searching for him. This journey first led me to the Banks County, Georgia, GenWeb site, where I made two, hopefully lifelong, friends.

David fought through the Shenandoah campaign, the Battle of Williamsburg, and several other conflicts. He died alone, his family far away in Georgia. Since his death came in the middle of the Peninsula Campaign, he was buried in a common trench, in a plain pine box, three soldiers to a grave. There he lay for almost 150 years without kith or kin knowing what had become of him.

It was on the Oakwood Cemetery's website that I found him. I was incredulous that he should be buried so near my own home. After all the years of searching, his grave was within driving distance! I would not be satisfied until my husband drove me there. On a warm late winter day since we were ‘in the neighborhood’, we drove to Oakwood. I have to admit I was pretty upset by my first glimpse of the flat, bare land, covered with new graves, not to mention the area of town. However, the manager of the cemetery soothed me a bit by telling me that what I was seeing was the ‘new’ cemetery, and the Confederate soldiers were in the ‘old’ section.

We followed him as he drove, down the main road past the office, then down a hill and over an old stone bridge with trees lining both sides of the road. Directly in front of us were narrow concrete steps, set into the steep hill, leading the way from the cool of the trees to old ornate tombstones, basking in the sun. As the road divided, we continued to follow our guide’s lead. My husband turned right and began a slow ascent of the hill. Once out of the trees and again on a straight road, the tidiness of the grounds without the red mud of recent graves and ornate funeral offerings gave the impression of dignity and age, and harkened back to a time long ago. Soon, Ricky’s truck stopped in front of what looked like a National Military Cemetery with square stones set in direct line with one another.

Our guide counted off the rows, then walked down three stones and said, “Here is your David McDonald from Georgia.” At once satisfied that, indeed, this was his resting place, a feeling of peace overwhelmed me as I stood by the unmarked grave. I knew I could not leave it this way. I had to let the world know that David McDonald, Pvt., Troup’s Artillery, Georgia Volunteers, Confederate States of America, an old man who died in a young man’s war lay under the green grass that covered hundreds of graves, most unmarked like his.
When I first found him, my thought was to move his bones back the McDonald Cemetery with his father in Georgia. However, after my visit, and realizing how quiet and serene it is there, I was satisfied he is among his own. Besides, it would be a DNA nightmare to sort out the bones with three soldiers buried to a grave, the pine boxes now rotten with age, and didn’t want to be the one to disturb their rest.

It was in early spring, not long before Memorial Day we journeyed, once again, to Oakwood, this time to see our newly installed marker. This time we were able to find David’s grave without guidance and soon the gleam of new bronze marked the exact spot. Because there are none nearby, it served as a beacon.

I cannot describe the feelings that overwhelmed me, standing there by my great-great-great grandfather’s grave. I feel as if I know him now. It had been a long journey from the first glimpse of his daughter’s scribbled name. I did not even know he existed five years ago, but now he is family and he can rest in peace, knowing that everyone who visits here will see his name and know his sacrifice. Thus ends my quest for peace for an old soldier. “Day is done, gone the sun. Soldier rest."

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