The summer I turned 13, we got a visit from a distant cousin from Northern Virginia.  He came partly to see us but I think mostly because he was anxious to visit the courthouse in Pittsylvania County in search of old family records.  He was looking for information about the Anglea line.

I was invited to ride along and thought it might be interesting and, in a way it was...although I decided that spending a summer day stuck in a stuffy courthouse pouring over old deed and marriage records was not the best way to spend a perfectly good summer day.

In years to come, I’d spend quite a few days pouring over the same sorts of records in other courthouses.  Genealogy is one of those things that sneaks up on you and before you know it, you’re addicted to the family history.  

What I didn’t know on that long, hot summer day when I was 13 was that Allen Cary Anglea, my great, great, great grandfather, was born in 1797 in Pittsylvania County.  At 17, during the War of 1812, he left home and joined Penick’s Light Infantry Company.  He survived the war and on December 3, 1825, he married Mary Elizabeth Ritchie, of Prince Edward County.

Census figures show that by 1850 and 1860, the family had bought a small farm in Cascade, Va., outside of Danville.

You can learn a lot from old census records.  For example,  if a family owned slaves they were listed on the census.  Census figures from 1850 and 1860 show the family did not.

By 1861, three of the sons were “adults.” Allen Jr., would have been 29.  Samuel would have been 23 years old.   Thomas would have been 19.

All of them were married and there was no draft yet.  They didn’t have to go but when war broke out they all volunteered with the 38th Virginia Infantry.

Allen was killed in the Battle of Chester Station on May 10, 1864,

Thomas was killed during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.

Samuel was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1862 but recovered.  He was taken prisoner during the Battle of Chester Station on May 10,1864.  He was held at the infamous Point Lookout POW Camp in Maryland.

My big question was “why?”  

The Anglea family did not own slaves and I don’t believe they’d leave their homes and families to risk it all to fight for rich folks who did.

They were all literate but not highly educated and I don’t believe they would risk everything to fight for some abstract concept like “states rights.”  They were too busy trying to work and support their families for that.

The only answer that I’ve found that fits the facts I know about my family is that they joined and fought for the same reason their father fought in the War of 1812.  They fought to protect their homes and families from what they considered a hostile, invading army.

My mother wasn’t a history buff and she never really understood my fascination with the history of our family.  “Those dead people aren’t going to help you a bit,” she once told me.

I understood what she was saying but I don’t agree.  They have helped me, a lot.

I used the Anglea branch as an example but it’s just one small piece of the history of our ancestors.  I’ve tracked some branches of the family back to Europe in the 13th century and we were in this part of the country when we were still just a handful of British colonies.  

Right now, we’re living through some tough times but they’re no worse than our ancestors had to deal with.

We’re facing the Covid-19 Pandemic.  We can handle it.  Our ancestors had to deal with the 1918 Flu Pandemic.  Some of them lived through the Black Death in the mid 1300’s.

Our economy right now is on shaky ground.  My ancestors got through the Great Depression as well as every other economic downturn our country has ever faced.

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”  Matthew 24:6

The proof of that statement is that you’re reading this.  

Our ancestors were not perfect people.  They were just people.  But my ancestors, and yours survived the best, and the worst, of times.  If your family has managed to get this far, you have the blood of survivors running through your veins.  Don’t ever forget that.

This holiday weekend, virtually all of the “official” 4th of July celebrations have been cancelled due to the pandemic.  That doesn’t have to stop your celebration.

If you’ve wondered about your family history, it doesn’t take much to get started.  Today, any information you might want can probably be found online.   Along with a computer and an internet connection, all you need are the names of your parents and/or a couple of grandparents.  If you know when and where your grandparents were born and where they lived, you’re off and running.

If your ancestors were slaves, information will probably be more challenging to find but there is a lot of information out there.  Starting in 1850, it was required that slaves be listed in census figures, readily available online.  There is lots of hints and tips online to help you get started.  

You can subscribe to a paid online service like Ancestry.com if you like.  They are considered the “gold standard” of family research sites but there are other, free options that are worth checking out.

Familysearch.com is one of my “go to” free sites.  You do have to register for a free account but the only info they ask for is a name and a password.  It’s free and they don’t try to sell you anything.  Best of all, they’ve got lots of great information, all for free.  This site took me to a letter written by my great great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Dodson to his wife, Delia, shortly before he was killed during the Siege of Petersburg.

A word of warning, however.  Family history is highly addictive.  Each answer you find leads to more questions.  The search never really ends.  On the plus side, every answer you find teaches you more about not only your own family but about our history and how it shaped you and your family.  

Understanding is always worth the effort and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our country than understanding what role your family played in it’s history.