Thursday, September 30, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
News not only travels fast, it travels far
News can travel fast. I learned that when I asked out my first college date. The men’s dorm, where I had made the call from the hall pay phone (yes, this was indeed the “dark ages”), was about half a ball field’s length away from the dining hall.
I hung up the phone and walked to the cafeteria, and every girl there already knew. Till then, I never realized what a desirable guy I was!
Onto more prosaic subjects, I have been transcribing and annotating the handwritten 19th century records of the Presbyterians of North Mississippi. Now, there’s a sleeper I know! But to me, it is an interesting exercise, and therapy. I must need lots of therapy because the project is now into hundreds of typed pages.
I undertook the project because one of my duties in my part-time job in our regional office at Camp Hopewell, near Oxford, is to field requests for historical information. You would be surprised at how many such requests we receive. Some of them concern property locations and title searches. Recently they wanted to build a natural gas pipeline through the site of one of our abandoned churches. There is a cemetery, however, and this complicates the matter greatly.
Other requests come from people doing genealogical research. The family history bug seems to bite when you are in your late 50s, just after all the people you could ask have passed on. So you start doing the work “the hard way,” which means consulting old records, when before you could have easily asked Grandma. The “bug” has bitten me in the worst kind of way, and so I am sympathetic with others who have the same concern.
By the way, the Bible is full of genealogies, which most people skip over when on one of those quixotic “cover to cover” Bible-reading marathons. But the genealogies are interesting. Literalists claim them when arguing that the Bible teaches that the earth is only 5,000 years old and that Jesus was a linear (and fully traceable) descendant of King David, not to mention Adam and Eve. I don’t want to argue about all that, but here I will simply say that our spiritual ancestors thought that family trees were important. A lot of Biblical ink is devoted to that subject.
My own quest to establish genealogical bragging rights came to a grinding halt, with the discovery of the inevitable “skeleton in the closet.” It seems my paternal grandmother’s ancestors, the Arringtons, arrived in Virginia in the 1650s. That is almost as good as arriving on the Mayflower!
But I turned to the next page in the record, and found that my long-ago ancestor had been convicted before the magistrate there in Smithfield, Virginia ,(where the wonderful hams come from) and branded a felonious thief! “Blood will tell,” as they say.
I have developed the skill of reading old-time handwriting. Some of our old North Mississippi church records are beautifully written, but most indicate that the “honor” was given to the oldest member present. Still, these fragile, old books are full of interesting names, and records of churches established and congregations faithful. Sometimes there are sad stories. Presbyterians argued about the most peculiar things in the long ago — perhaps those who come after will say the same about our present-day quarrels. Reading history does give a perspective.
Anyhow, as to my first sentence, about “news traveling fast,” I have posted the results of my labor on our website: www.standrewpresbytery.org and would you believe it, the other day there came an email from a gentleman in Illinois, who had “discovered” his great-great grandfather and was so thrilled. I have material about lots of people’s great-grandfathers, if they want to pursue the subject. The work is fun for me, and in one case, we turned up a piece of abandoned property out in the woods down in Lafayette County that the presbytery was able to sell and it netted $40,000 that we put in our “New Church Development” fund. Who would have thought that someone Googling away in Illinois would find such things online from Mississippi? So I guess news not only travels fast, it travels far.
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