Life has a funny way of putting you where you *need* to be versus where you necessarily *want* to be. When we moved to New York from Ohio, my genealogy had not expanded far past the Ohio/Kentucky borders. It had taken a backseat to life as an Army wife and it wasn’t till we had been here sometime before I found time and interest to pick genealogy up again. It was during this time period that the show TURN debuted on AMC and I recognized the Woodhull name in my own family tree. The Woodhull family started in Long Island but had meandered westward to Orange County in which I now live. That was a super cool discovery to be sure… but fate, Providence, or whatever you want to call it had more curveballs to throw my way.
In beginning my research work for Boston University’s genealogy program, we had to seek out a repository and mine was the Moffat Library in Washingtonville. There I met the local history librarian who let me view the Caldwell family files from their vault. Long story short, (and you can read more about it here if you’re interested) I talked my DAR chapter into preserving and digitizing those Caldwell papers. But through my growing friendship with the librarian, I was introduced to the Village of Washingtonville’s historian and through my friendship with her, I volunteered to help her build a database of the Washingtonville Cemetery when she told me that there was no working or searchable database of records for the cemetery. In fact, they had no real clue who was all buried there as record-keeping had been spotty at best until 1950 or so. The cemetery was founded in 1854 so there were over 100 years of burials that hadn’t truly been accounted for or properly documented. When I started helping her with Find a Grave to document the cemetery, it was under 40% photographed and had about 1100 people in it. Today, we have accounted for nearly 3,000 people and it’s 87% photographed. We have identified over 300 veterans spanning the Revolution to the Persian Gulf War and we have accumulated military records, obituaries, articles, probates and so much more on nearly ALL of these 3,000 people. That’s been a monumental feat that has pushed my genealogical limits as we’ve researched all the families to connect them and link them all together.
However… in a very hilarious, if not completely serendipitous way, it turns out that I am related to half the cemetery! I think that’s short-changing it, too. I just have to laugh that here I am, a girl from the middle of Ohio who just happens to marry a man who decides late in life to join the military, and we end up stationed at West Point, smack in the state where my 75% of my paternal family originated from, in the exact same county where my maternal grandfather served in the Revolutionary War and the same county where my paternal grandfather made the Great Chain which stretched over the Hudson River to block the British. I have walked my paternal grandfather’s land here in my county – in fact, I care for the Woodhull cemetery which is on my grandfather’s land that he sold to them before he moved south. I have stood on the same cliff my maternal grandfather did at Fort Montgomery and took in the same unchanging view he did of the Hudson. My family’s history is literally all around me and often, under me!
I had started working on my portfolio and having extended it twice already I vowed this year would be THE year I’d finish it but I believe that I’m going to stop pursuing my certification. The other day, my husband, best friend, and the village historian and her husband spent the day installing headstones for black Civil War soldiers who either didn’t have one or that was now broken or missing. They had been treated so badly, even by the cemetery itself back in the late 1880s, and had been relegated to “the black section” at the back of the cemetery in the less visible and undesirable plots. In seeing my doctor this week, his nurse (a young black man) chided me that the doctor was going to yell at me for getting sunburned. I had said it was for a good cause installing headstones. His interest was, of course, piqued and when I told him about the black soldiers, he got all teary-eyed with an ear-to-ear smile and said “Can I hug you?” but not before blessing me multiple times for doing this for those men and their families. I realized then and there, that what I’m doing (and the cemetery committee, too) out there matters tremendously – not just because my own distant family is buried there but because we’re righting wrongs and making sure these people are remembered and their stories are told finally. I have finally, after 47 years, found a personal purpose beyond being a wife and mother.
In finding this purpose of telling their tales, I realized that I have my own family tales to tell and I kept putting off doing so for the next generation with the belief that “someday when I have time” I’d do my own genealogy. Last year I had a car wreck that wasn’t serious but still shook me for a few months and then as the Delta variant runs rampant and has the potential to mutate again, even being vaccinated, I worry that perhaps my time could be cut short before I have the time to write it all down for my family. I don’t want to leave a pile of papers that will get pitched eventually. In the end, rather than pushing myself to have a CG at the end of my name by the end of the year/paying for an extension again, my own legacy and preserving the legacy of the people at the cemetery seems like a much more meaningful pursuit for me. And maybe once that’s all done, perhaps I’ll pursue certification again. But I feel this is the right move for me and it honestly feels like a boulder has been lifted off my shoulders.
In any event, I’ll keep writing here and sharing always… and you can always catch up with me on Facebook.