Old Family Pictures & Genealogy: Our Connection to the Past

grandma2I can still remember sitting at the dining room table in my grandma’s house and looking at old family pictures. Those days were at least 25 years ago now.

When you’re a kid, time almost seems to stand still. Those Sunday afternoons at Grandma’s house seemed like they would never end.

Now I cannot believe how much time has passed.

The photo to the right shows my grandma’s family around 1921. My grandma is the girl in the front, about 8 years old here. She grew up in a family of nine (her younger brother hadn’t yet been born here) in Cleveland, Ohio.

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My grandparents in 1942: Love the hat!

Those old photographs now belong to my mom, but I have scanned several of them. They reside in a box in the closet, on my computer, and in my heart. I look at them now with an awe and appreciation I couldn’t as a child. Now I’m a mother. My mom is a grandmother, and so the cycle continues.

Seven years ago, I dove into genealogy and researching my family tree on both sides. I used Family Search as a free resource to find a lot of my information, but I was also fortunate to have documentation of my own. I used My Heritage to build my family tree online and share it with my family. Next week, I will share more about my experiences with family tree creation, so come back to check that out!

I wanted to update and document my family tree, as heritage is important to me. Knowing where I come from is part of who I am. When I see old pictures of family members, I can look into their eyes and smile with them, feeling that connection. I am transported back in time, and Grandma is sitting next to me at her dining room table again, telling me who all those people are in the photographs.

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Review of Dark Territory by Jerry Hunter

darkterritorySummary: From the Civil War battlefields of England and Ireland to a mystery lost in the forests of North America, this is both a roaring adventure and a timely commentary on the dangers of religious extremism.

Rhisiart Dafydd is a zealous Roundhead who embraces Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the violence it entails. But can his convictions survive the atrocities of the English Civil Wars and Parliament’s campaign in Ireland? Called upon by his former commander to voyage to America to seek out a missing group of Welsh Puritans, he must first survive the journey, and then – if he can find the community – see whether they really have created the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

An epic historical adventure set during one of the most turbulent periods in history, this gripping thriller also poses questions about violence, power, religious extremism and rejection of difference which are chillingly relevant to our world today.

Note: I was given a copy of this novel by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

If history teaches us one thing, it’s that humanity never really changes. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. History repeats itself.

Dark Territory is historical fiction and was written in Welsh, originally published under the title Y Fro Dywyll, and was translated by Patrick K. Ford.

The novel opens with a former soldier named Rhisiart Daffyd walking through the noisy, sometimes harrowing, streets of 1656 London. Among the sights and sounds of the living, death stares back through mounted heads on pikes, a stark reminder of where we are all headed. The climate is chilling, despite the children running through the streets, the vendors selling their wares, and life continuing on as a man who has seen his fair share of death walks these cobbled streets. I am right there with Rhisiart, an invisible set of eyes on his shoulder. The description of the streets of London is done so vividly, with such beautiful detailed language, that the reader really gets a sense of what life was like then.

Rhisiart Daffyd served in Oliver Cromwell’s Army of the Saints and has come to London under the summons of his former commanding officer, John Powel. Powel has gotten word of a settlement in America that has drifted from the Calvinist views being upheld in Cromwellian England, and he wishes to send Rhisiart to the new country to investigate and report back to him.

Rhisiart boards the ship Primrose. He is surrounded by Englishmen, the only other Welshman an older man named Owen Lewys. Some of the best dialogue in the book occurs between these two during the voyage. Having witnessed, and taken part in, so much death during the war, Rhisiart questions his beliefs. The faith he once adhered to is no longer true for him. He and Owen, who his a Quaker, discuss passages in the Gospel of John, where the light within every man is written about. Rhisiart dismisses Predestination, believing it ludicrous that God would select some souls for damnation and others for salvation prior to their births. Rather, he believes now that God’s light shines within all people, even though humanity is flawed. He keeps quiet about his views aboard the ship, however, as he and Owen are in the minority.

A storm rages at sea as the ship approaches land. It hits rocks, leaving Rhisiart and a black tom cat named Nicholas the only survivors.

The novel then gives us the backstory of Rhisiart, from the time he was a boy and lost both of his parents, raised by his sister Alys and his uncle, to when he started apprenticing under a blacksmith. There is lovely narrative about Rhisiart working words into the objects he crafts. It is during this time that he develops his belief in what Cromwell professes. He marries the blacksmith’s daughter, Elisabeth, but he soon goes off to war.

When he returns from war a broken man who now questions everything he believed in, having witnessed atrocities, including the Battle of Naseby in 1645, he hopes to settle down. The “little plague” darkens his family’s doorstep, killing Elisabeth and his unborn child.

I was devastated right along with Rhisiart. Despite the atrocities he has participated in, he is still a man who loves and thought he was doing right for his homeland. It’s no wonder he takes on the mission Powel entrusts him with, seeing as he has no one keeping him in England any longer.

The book switches back to 1656. Once Rhisiart comes ashore, he is cared for by some Native Americans. There aren’t many of them at all, and the one who speaks English tells him how many of their tribe died from diseases from the settlers. The kindness of the Native Americans toward Rhisiart shows more of true Christian (or otherwise) charity than any of the characters in the book, despite they aren’t Christian. This truth is resonates with Rhisiart and does with me as well. It is heartbreaking to look back on history and see how the Native Americans were driven from their land, in some cases, and how such things still occurs today, both in America and globally. The refugee crisis in the world today comes to mind. To show kindness and generosity to your fellow person is in the spirit of what is at the heart of Christianity, the whole to do what Jesus did. To show mercy, understanding, love.

I think this is what strikes Rhisiart, both in his discussion aboard the Primrose with Owen Lewys and with the Native Americans. More than ever, he doesn’t believe in the Calvinist doctrine. He sees it for the manmade construct it is, not a divine ordinance…although he still has a mission to see through.

He regains his strength while in the care of the Native Americans. They give him a map to the settlement Powel told him to seek. Rhisiart travels several days through the woods in the dying fall and arrives at New Jerusalem. By the name alone, you can be sure this settlement believes it is God’s kingdom on Earth.

Rhisiart settles there for several months, befriending some (blacksmith Griffith John Griffith and his son, Ifan, and young, pregnant widow Rebecca) and at odds with others (namely the Elder, Rhosier Wyn). He learns some secrets about the corrupted ways the leaders of New Jerusalem carry out what they believe is divine justice. His beliefs are challenged more every passing day, and as Rebecca’s pregnancy nears its end, dread overcomes the reader, wondering how this is all going to end.

We have seen the crimes and wars done in the name of religion over the centuries, including the accurate historical representation in Dark Territory. So much unnecessary violence and death has resulted over disagreements. The whole “I am right, you are wrong” mentality and the pride of believing one’s way is the only true way puts up walls between people, between nations, and it tears down the Golden Rule. In theory, it should be simple to follow the path of love, to treat others as you wish to be treated, even in our human imperfection.

We can look at the serious nature of the English Civil Wars of the seventeenth century and the harsh beliefs of the Puritans in America and believe we have come so far from those ways of thinking, but a quick look around the world today paints a different story.

Dark territory, indeed. This novel shows the journey, the struggle, the life of one man in the midst of religious wars and tyranny. It forces us to look deep within ourselves and examine our hearts, our beliefs, to trod the path today through dark territory.

This novel is one of those rare gems that hooked me from the beginning. The themes are important for anyone to realize and think about. This is one of those masterpieces that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

5 out of 5 stars

Favorite quotes: “He imagined that silence would roll down the corridors like mist on the surface of a river, that quiet would collect in the chambers like water gathers in a fountain’s pool, turning sound to vapour and dulling the ear, keeping secrets secret.”

“He tilts his face to the sun, his eyes closed, and all the sounds of the ship are like a whisper in a dream. This is the world, he thinks, and this is the life I have lived. The heat he feels on his face has the warmth of skin: like another cheek pressing against his own cheek. Living fingers playing with his hair, a hand caressing his skin playfully.”

“Is the way that the most insignificant instincts lead an animal to its death essentially different from the way that most men follow their instincts to the end?”

“‘I do. He knew that I… had lived the life… had believed… had done. And he knew that I now doubt many of the things I used to believe in. And he saw value in that.’”

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What’s Holding You Back from Your Dreams?

Everyone has dreams, and I don’t mean the kind you have at night when your mind slips into an unconscious state.

When you’re asked what your dreams are, what do you say? Do you freeze up, unable to articulate your dreams because you claim you aren’t sure? I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to bet the uncertainty that plagues you is fear.

Maybe you won’t even name your dreams or dare to dream because of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, low self-esteem, a negative self-image, and caring too much that others think or say (which is mostly in your mind, anyway) are all factors of not daring to dream in the first place.  

I have been following a vlogger on YouTube for years now who I think is beautiful (inside and out), talented, adorable in her antics, inspiring, and a fighter.  She admits often that the persona she portrays to the world in her videos is much more confident than she really is.

I used to be shy, but now I am able to talk and usually joke around with just about anyone. I can laugh about life when I’m in a group, even the things that bother me. Put me alone with my thoughts, and I am not that outgoing, confident person.

I get what this vlogger is saying. We can put on a smile on the stage. As I wrote in one of my novels, a smile can cover a lot of pain. Laugh enough and it doesn’t hurt so much, right? Yeah, something like that.

I look at this lovely young woman who I know only through the Internet and marvel. She has enormous support, but with any sort of fame come those who are all too happy to belittle, threaten, and hurt. Funny how 99 people can compliment you, but it only takes that one person to tear you down. What do we focus on? The negative.

Like this vlogger I follow and think the world of, many people suffer inwardly. She admits to turning down several opportunities because she doesn’t feel worthy. She has wonderful dreams, but her low self-confidence gets in the way. That is what holds her back from her dreams. She knows that.

For years, I said I wanted to be a published author. That was my dream, at least one of them. Yet for years, I did very little to make my dreams a reality. I had ideas for my first novel (based off my late grandma’s life, who I loved dearly). You can read more about the inspiration behind my first book here.

I managed a few pithy chapters. I read my grandma’s diary and a few pages she had written about her life while growing up. I jotted down several notes. This was between October 2006 and January 2009. I then left the book sitting on my hard drive. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but whenever I thought about sitting down at the keyboard and writing, I faltered. Overwhelmed at the prospect of writing an original story, I let fear dictate my actions and reasons.

Fear wasn’t the only culprit. It was easy to find excuses, a hundred other things that needed my daily attention. Many of those things were legitimate, like caring for my young kids and the house, but I believe if you really want something, you will do whatever you need (within reason) to attain it.

If I wanted to work out more, I would get to the gym more often. If I wanted to eat healthier, I wouldn’t buy chocolate or go through the McDonald’s drive thru. If I wanted to save more money, I would stop buying unnecessary items.

Sure, I want these things, but how much do I want them? Not enough, apparently.

pablo (25)I came to the hard realization that even though part of me wanted better or more, I must not have wanted those things badly enough.

I have written about having no regrets in a previous blog post. This one ties into that. Both topics involve fear of failure.

I believe the only way to fail is to do nothing.

In March 2015, I finally make a life-altering decision: I would write every day on my original story, even if I never published it, even if no one ever read it. Tired of traipsing through the lands of other authors and their characters in the world of fan fiction for 20 years, I knew that if I was to take myself as a writer seriously, I NEEDED to write every day, even if only for ten minutes.

Ten minutes. That’s all I told myself. It was a realistic goal.

To reach your dreams, you must set realistic, attainable, often short-term goals. Setting the goal of writing a whole book could have been too much. It was for me for years. As I said, overwhelming. I had already committed to exercising at least three days a week and had been doing it for three years at that point. If I could do that, I could write for ten minutes a day. Besides, I loved writing. I believe and have always believed that writing is in my blood, my fourth child (I have three actual ones), and was one of my purposes in life.

Your life purpose is what drives your desire to have dreams, but getting there is the intimidating and often difficult part. Goals at the stepping stones, every inch of pavement poured to create the road you travel from purpose to dreams. Day by day, little goal by little goal, you get there.

I finished my first draft of my first novel ten months after seriously sitting down to write it. I published it seven months after that. Once I got going, I couldn’t stop. I now have published a second novel, completed two more, and am nearing completion on my fifth.

Besides all this? I have joined a writers group at my local library, which you can read more about here. I have made invaluable friendships with several of these wonderful people who are like-minded. They are writers. They understand my raison-d’etre. I get them.

I have days when I question my ability to write, but they are fleeting. Our days are numbered in a fleeting life, so why do anything other than go for your dreams? If I hadn’t overcome my fears, I would have never gotten where I am today. I wouldn’t have shared my stories. I wouldn’t be spending time doing what I love daily.  I wouldn’t have met so many lovely friends.

Speaking of friends, a long-time and dear friend of mine has written extensively on the topics of life purpose, goals, and dreams on her blog. I highly recommend you check her blog out if you would like to seriously pursue these topics further.

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It’s funny that I had this blog idea for months and how its placement at the beginning of February coincided with my friend’s recent blog posts about the same topics. Fortuitous? Meant to be? I would like to think so.

Keeping dreaming, my friends, but if you’re serious about making your dreams a reality, you have to do the work. Pave your road with goals, not good intentions. Build your life with action, not ideas.

As any good writer knows, a story is driven by action. Ideas are good and all, but a good idea doesn’t necessarily make for a good story. You have one life. Make it a good story, even a great one.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Support me on Patreon!