India and Tom
Among the pleasures and terrors of coming from a family which has lived in one place for a very long time, is "trackdownability". If someone starts sniffing around my home town inquiring about any one of us, living, dead or far far removed, it won't be long before contact is made with that particular branch of the family. The above photograph was addressed to a woman deceased for a decade, on a street since renamed, in a town of thirty thousand people. It had been sent to Rhode Island by an amateur genealogist from California, who was a distant relation of Tom and India's mother. Through the small town network of everyone knowing everybody, the photo and accompanying information made their way to my uncle in Massachusetts, who is also interested in genealogy. The sender had never met, corresponded, or spoken with the intended recipient, my paternal grandmother, but had found her name and partial address in her father's forty year old obituary. Grandma was described as the last living member of that particular clan.
My grandmother told me that her father Tom, pictured above with his sister as children around 1905, had lead an interesting colorful life; a traveler, a naturalist, a high school principle, and a successful furrier who tanned raw hides at his Maryland Eastern Shore workshop with the skills learned hunting during his youth in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. My Dad keeps his own bills in the roll top desk where Tom managed his accounts with the 5th Avenue retailers who sold his coats and jackets, and I have the tiny brass telescope in a black morocco leather fitted case he carried to Peru for studies in botany. While there he was among the first white men to visit Matchu Pitchu.
There are only a handful of photos extant of Tom's large family or his life before leaving for college around 1915. I have two of them, both mounted on bordered cabinet cards. Grandma said Tom treasured the photos, her shaky late in life handwriting inscribes the backs but doesn't name the subjects who she so strongly resembles. Taken in front of the house where Tom and his extended family lived, two proud men with shotguns stand on either side of a black bear skin lashed to a split rail frame. Walker Coon Hounds leashed with looped rope are poised at their feet, and one stands on hind legs, paws against his master's rough canvas coat. The man and his companion ignore the dog, peering solemnly toward the camera from beneath deep hat brim shadows. The lens has caught one man's free hand in especially crisp, clear focus. Large and articulate it hangs at his side, ready, but forever frozen and unmoving. Behind them is the well kept Greek Revival clapboard house where Tom was raised. He, the eldest, left it for college - the first in his family to attend. Perhaps the pictures were sent to him so far away to share the spoils of the hunting season he was missing, to retain connection to his life in the woods. Shortly after the photos were sent, before Christmas in 1916, Tom received news of a horrible accident; the house had burned to the ground. His entire family, including India, had perished-burned alive. Tom never returned to live in the mountains.
After Grandma's death, my Uncle in Boston furthered his genealogical research into Tom's family. He subsequently found that their deaths were almost certainly not accidental; newspapers and police records indicate that the fire was a deliberate arson. The distant California relation corroborates this, adding that he has discovered evidence that the fire was the result of a Hatfields vs. McCoys type blood feud, and that he's determined the likely culprits. They're all long dead of course, and I assume that however interested in genealogy their descendants may be, they probably won't be all that interested in finding more about that
particular family history.