It’s Not Easy Being Green(e)

It’s library day.  My library.  Time to go back and spend some time with my own collection of research books.   After all, I have learned so much over time and old information will yield new understanding of what I have already read.  Today’s selection is the monograph “The History of Levi Greene of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and his descendants” by Mary Shaw Green.

The first time I used this book I was (forgive the pun) a pretty green genealogical researcher…full of passion and excitement for the hunt.  I wasn’t much of an historian yet.   I didn’t stop to read the full text and consider the scope of its rich tale.  In subsequent work I used it for reference and guidance…reading it in measured bits just for the work at hand.

I have learned since that if I was truly going to do justice to my family history that spending quality time with all manner of documents and publications…parsing archaic language and legalese…deciphering old handwriting is a must.  And reading monographs from start to finish.

A Labor of Love

Monographs such as the one compiled and written by Mary Shaw Green are labors of love and reflect it in every word written.  The work that it takes to compile the information and the personal outreach to family members for anecdotal remembrances, relationships and the recounting of memorabilia is monumental.  Compilation.  Such a simple word for such a complicated and comprehensive effort.  Which makes reading the work cover to cover before dissecting it so important if one is to pick up the work and add to it…correct any errors.   There will always be inconsistencies.  That is important to remember when using a family history publication.  Most are due to the anecdotal nature of the data.  Some errors are a result of the sheer daunting scope of trying to be detailed for so many generations.   Perhaps too many nights ‘burning the midnight oil’.    And the rush to publish.  The author feeling the march of time in his or her own life or as in other situations readying the publication for an important family gathering.

Read each preface carefully.  This is where the author reveals their heart.  Their process and many times their failings.  It will be the closest you get to walking in their footsteps.

Early love for history and interest in the tales told by my parents of their distant relatives, led me to adopt the hobby of collecting this data and recording it.  Later, I decided this material, so collected, should be verified, amplified, and preserved for future generations.  This I set about doing in my leisure hours.  I consulted old letters, written to my father, grandfather, and great grandfather by relatives in the early days.  I advertised through leading papers in the country for the families with whom we had lost contact.  I wrote hundreds of letters asking for family records.   I also wrote to county clerks, historical societies, libraries, churches and cemetery associations.  Whenever possible, I consulted vital records for verification of names and dates.

M. S. G.

Mary Shaw GreenMary Shaw Green (14 Mar 1869 – 16 Apr 1956), granddaughter of Zepheniah Ripley Green and his wife Zerilla Gould is my second cousin-three times removed.  Zepheniah’s sister, Sophia Green Curtis is my maternal 3rd great grandmother.  Simply put she and I share the same ancestral grandparents.  Levi Greene (1759-1851) and Asenath Robinson (1766-1847).  They are my maternal 4th great grandparents and Mary’s great grandparents.

Her obituary in the Farmington (Michigan) Enterprise calls her a “member of a pioneer Farmington family” and tells the reader that she was a life-long teacher.  When she retired in 1939, “she engaged in compiling several family histories and the writing of historical sketches based upon the diaries of her parents.”  She was an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research and “the Universalist Church of Farmington which her ancestors helped to establish.”  In addition, Mary was a member of the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society.

Mary was an educator…and she still is.  Carefully reading her publication is an David and Sophia Greene Curtis Tombstonesinstruction on data gathering, analysis, cataloging and organizing.  My notes continue to grow and the additions to her information as well.  While her great grandparents, Zephenia and Zerilla Green moved to Michigan along with his brother Horace and his family, the rest,  save Emma Green Beardsley who migrated to Minnesota with her husband Abner, stayed in New York state.  They raised generations in the lush rolling hills above Cayuga Lake and in the quaint village of Livonia in Livingston County where my 3rd great grandparents, David Curtis and Sophia Green are buried side-by-side in Oakridge Cemetery.  Other siblings found their homes in Oswego and Otsego counties.

Rolling Up My Sleeves

I went to work on the children of Levi Greene and Asenath Robinson.  Using Mary’s publication I found Aurelia, Waterman*, Eunice, Sophia, Fanny, Horace, Huldah, Zepheniah Ripley, Emma, Speedy and Laura Green.  Where Mary’s publication left off, my research on the siblings took me through to current generations…many of whom lived in my hometown.  They were my cousins and I had no clue.  Because without a Mary Shaw Green to continue the work, we lost each other.  For awhile anyway.

Mary performed her work in a time when the old pioneers were still alive..or their children were and young folks found the time to listen to their elders speak of times long past.  Family reunions brought distant cousins together from far away places where family histories were told and memories shared along with songs and poems and feasts both humble and grand.

Much has changed since the days of Mary Shaw Green.  What’s new and future had become more important than family history.  And family pride seems confined to the most immediate members as we have left home and moved on in pursuit of other things.  Modern times and the thrum of the outside world cause families to make an effort to sit down to a meal with one another.   On the other hand, new generations of family historians have stepped up and those that pursue it with a deep passion and commitment to accuracy seem to be multiplying in dizzying numbers.  Or is it because we are and have been the same number all along and we can now connect with greater ease facilitated by the community created by the internet.   So instead of Mary’s letter writing campaign and newspaper solicitations in search of family information, I am engaged in Google research, emailing, posting on forums, reading archival material on library and historical society sites.   And finding cousins.

To date I have found or been found by several cousins who share the same ancestor and experienced the thrill of sharing pieces of the family puzzle, photos and memorabilia.  In fact I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of them.  Traveling long distances…sharing a meal and talk of our family history…both humble and grand.

So What’s Next?

Perhaps an addendum publication to Mary’s 1944 publication.  I think she would like that.  And dedicated to her.  I and my fellow descendants of Reverend Timothy Greene owe her that and more.

Author’s Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t provide one example of a tender and personal anecdote that is an example of what makes Mary’s publication…and others like hers…so special. A family keepsake that humanizes the one printed line in the list of offspring with an asterisk after it…”Waterman Greene*,”.   Only one of Levi and Asenath Greene’s children failed to survive to adulthood…their eldest son, Waterman Greene.  Waterman was just eighteen when he was killed by a tree falling on him.  Such things that survive the march of time give historians a brief glimpse into the humanity that clinical data fails to impart.  And Mary knew that and included many of them…sorrowful, joyful…and exalting piety and courage as well.

In a poem written in acrostic form to her parents by youngest child, Laura-

Wake ev’ry heart to sympathy and mourn,

Alas! The blooming youth will ne’er return,

To all the piteous tale of woe impart,

Extreme dejection overwhelms my heart,

Revolving seasons roll the tide of grief

Mark the dire stroke on some unfading leaf

And may the fair creation in its round

Ne’er witness or inflict so deep a wound!

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