Monday, March 14, 2016

When the Shaky Leaf Leads to a Living Branch: Alabama Recap

So, I just got back two nights ago from spending two weeks in Alabama. Family, the most amazing thing happened while I was there: I met real, live, actual relatives of my great-grandfather, Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson!!

Main entrance of the Birmingham Public Library, my first research stop.
I thought I was going to be spending all my time on documents and photos, in archives, libraries and county courthouses between Birmingham and Montgomery. And that is pretty much what happened...until two days before I left.

That's when I updated my family tree on and got one of those shaky leaf hints they are always talking about in their commercials. (This is NOT a commercial. Those ads make genealogy look like a walk in the park where you barely put in any effort and your whole ancestry unfurls in front of you like a red carpet. FALSE FALSE FALSE. But, I digress.) That hint directed me to another user's tree that shared individuals with mine. I clicked on the username to get more info, but it said that this person hadn't logged in in over a year. Still, I figured I'd reach out, so I sent a message and went to bed.

Alabama Department of Archives and History, in Montgomery.
The very next day, you all, there was an email in my inbox! It was the great-granddaughter of Steve Evans' sister Janie Mae (who I've mentioned in my previous posts about reconstructing Steve's life) and she was absolutely interested in connecting! And, she'd already filled in her mother, who was raised by Janie Mae, and had included some of her mother's memories in the email. How awesome! Then, her mother sent me an email with even more information, and an open invitation to talk!

I was in an archive in Montgomery when I got the first email. There was some mime-screaming. And some chair dancing. And a VERY excited call to my grandmother, Steve Evans' daughter. I wrote back, and then finished my research and headed back to Birmingham, since my trip was wrapping up.

As we exchanged emails, it came out that I was in Birmingham, and guess what? So was the cousin who was raised by Janie Mae! And she sure enough made sure that we met up both my last night in Birmingham and the very next morning - she literally dropped me off at the train station.

Headed towards the former coal camps of New Castle, Alabama.
But, man, what we did in between is what was awesome. We shared photos of our branches of the family and put pieces of the family story together based on her memories and stories (some passed down by Janie Mae, who was her grandmother), the documents I'd collected, and the stories I'd heard from my Grandma and her cousins in Illinois (which I haven't shared on here yet, but will!).  She introduced me to a few of her grandkids, fed me, and took me out to New Castle, one of the coal mining camps where the family lived. SHE TOOK ME TO THE FAMILY CEMETERY. (Yes, I know all caps is yelling.) Her hospitality, warmth, and excitement seriously meant the world to me. I can't believe these two branches of the family have the opportunity to link up again.

I'm excited to share what I've learned, but bear with me, b/c I need to organize the info before I can write about it! I'm also very excited to continue to get to know Janie Mae's descendents, and of course, for them to be in touch with Steve's other descendants (and Marshall Evans' descendants as well). Who knows, maybe there'll be a reunion in our family future?

But, as a start, my Grandma now has her cousins' info and a picture of her aunt. And I've got two new Facebook friends :)

Note: We did a lot of talking and looking at photos, and yet, somehow we managed to forget to take a picture together! Next time!

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