Life can really get busy and it seems like mine has been that way all year! I have spent a good bit of time getting my house in order but I still have much to do. I am trying to simplify which means shedding layers of things that I don’t need and many that I truly don’t want anymore. I am finally feeling much lighter as a result of cleaning out, throwing out, selling and donating. Then, I decided it was time to paint the interior of my house, so I did it. I am still in the middle of a dining room table project which is a story unto itself. Ha! All of this has left little time for painting or even sharing what I have painted and drawn. I have managed to do something creative every day, even though most of it is not worth sharing. Just doodles really. My spare time has really been spent seeking dead people. Yes, I do genealogy. It is my other passion.
I did paint a mixed media piece (16×20) which is the first painting in what I hope will become a series of paintings that reflect my heritage. I had my DNA tested last year through Ancestry. There were not really any surprises but I confirmed that my DNA traces to 53% Ireland/Scotland/Wales and 29% Scandinavian (Swedish g grandparents,) 8% Great Britain, 4% Europe South, 3% Europe West and less than 1% Caucasus, Middle East and Iberian Penisula. I was pretty sure about the three largest percentages but was wanting to see if there were any surprises and as it turns out there really weren’t any. Still, it was fun to have my heritage confirmed from a DNA standpoint and it led to a lot of new connections with cousins on Ancestry.
The heritage series that I am pursuing is a natural derivative of my love of family history and genealogy. I have been studying our family since my teenage years when I would write down all the stories and information that my paternal grandmother and aunt could recall for me and everything my mother could remember. The first piece in the series is representative of my father’s grandmother, Elizabeth. Although it is not meant to be a portrait at all I did include dark hair and blue eyes as a reflection of her own. Below is a portrait that was done from an old photo and is actually how she looked at an older age than what I represented in my heritage painting. Her jawline was square and her mouth, nose, and eyes were much smaller than my lady. My goal in the painting was simply to capture an image of a woman of the same ancestry living on a farm in North Georgia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not to paint a realistic portrait. I also wanted it to have a folk-art (one the genres I currently love), rather than a fine-art feel to it.
Elizabeth or Grandma Dobbs, as she is known in my family, was the wife of a farmer. When she first married in 1872 as a twenty-year-old girl, she lived adjacent to her new husband’s parents, Jasper and Melisa. Elizabeth and William may have actually lived in the home of Jasper and Melisa or possibly in a separate house on property owned by her in-laws. The census for 1880, shows them as a separate household with William working “mostly on the farm.” My guess is this was the farm of Jasper and Melisa, not his own farm. By 1900, we find them in their own home in an adjacent county and farming and in 1910 they have moved again, still farming, but now they are in Fulton County. This move was closer to the city of Atlanta, where their sons lived and would soon enter into a partnership for a tire repair and sales company in 1911. My painting represents a composite of all these farms, their lifestyle in general, the geography of the area of Georgia in which they lived, and a few symbols of the South.
The magnolia tree, the nearby, small church cemetery were all prevalent in rural Georgia at the time they lived and, of course, they still are. The area where they lived and farmed for most of their lives was near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I don’t know a great deal about Elizabeth’s daily life or her specific activities on their farms. Did she gather the eggs, churn the butter and milk the cows, hoe a garden? I don’t know. I do know that she sold the eggs, butter, and milk because I have her old ledger where she kept the record of what the neighbors owed for the goods they purchased from her. She would keep the accounting of their charges and payments in the ledger. Also, in the ledger are dress sizes of the various ladies for whom dresses were made. These possible later entries might have been added by my grandmother, Effie, Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law and a fine seamstress, from whom the ledger was passed down to me.
My great-grandmother, Elizabeth with my aunt, my dad, and my uncle. The house in the background of the photo on the right was the inspiration for the house in the painting.
Genealogy often leaves us with more questions than answers. That is why I encourage young people who are interested in their history to ask as many questions as they can while relatives are still living. We can find some answers in the dusty old papers and faded photographs and now through the internet and DNA, but they only reveal a tiny bit. The facts and stories that make our ancestors come alive must come from those who were there, the ones who lived the lives, shared the joys and hardships, and who heard and retold the stories that were passed down from one generation to the next. Once they are gone, the stories and all that wonderful history are lost forever, if not preserved. It has never been easier to preserve that history than it is with all of the wonderful technology available today.