[Continued from a previous post]
When you first meet someone you haven’t seen in 163 years, you’re understandably nervous. Preston Taylor, Jr., and I shared a common great-great-grandfather, John H. Groves. I unearthed a photograph of John in the local historical museum.
John was posing with the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR, which consisted of Civil War veterans who fought for the Union, or as they put it, “veterans of the late unpleasantness.” I was astonished to learn that they were quite a force for good, supporting voting rights for black veterans, lobbying Congress to establish veterans’ pensions, and supporting liberal political candidates.
I was terribly excited when I discovered this photograph in a local history book, Thru the Years. I scanned and examined it, but was disappointed with the results.
Try as I might, I can’t make out much from the photograph above. Okay, here’s what I can see. He’s white. He has a beard nearly to his chest. He’s trim. Looking at his face and using other information to help pinpoint it, John could be anywhere from 42 to 55 years old, which would put the date of this photo at 1878 to ’91. I’ve asked the museum director to research and see if she can locate the original, so an improved photograph may be forthcoming.
(This Grand Army of the Republic is not to be confused with the Star Wars Grand Army of the Republic, which is a clone army created by Jango Fett.)
John and Caroline Groves had six children.
My line started with their son Charles, who moved away from Reading, and then continued with his three sons, who moved out of state, luckily, just before the Dust Bowl. I ended up in Southern California.
Preston’s line started with Rosa Groves, who married Perry Taylor and stayed in Reading, as did their progeny. As I drove to our rendezvous at the Emporia Historical Museum, I pondered how fate can veer some people left, other people right, and keep still others right where they are. Driving through the wheat fields, and reading extensively on how the big money had been fleeing Kansas for years, I mused that my line had been the lucky one.
There he was, Preston Taylor, leaning against a tree in jeans overalls and a hat. Finally, after all these years. I walked up and shook hands, knowing that hugging might seem strange after 163 years. We talked, but while we did, my mind was like a river flowing beneath it all. I looked at his face while we talked, examining it for traces of myself, and found little there. I looked at his bare arms, and they looked familiar. I looked at his height and he bested me by about three inches.
Later, I compared the faces in a more Photoshoppy manner.
In this mind-meld photograph, I see little similarities in our facial features, but nothing major. Most of what I recognize in his face is my intensity. His intensity is saying, I can work 10 hours a day and earn a good wage and feel good about myself, while mine says, I’m from the big city and I use the most expensive razor blade in the store, so don’t hate me because I’m handsome.
At the outset, Preston and I stood behind my car, my genealogy papers spread across the top of the trunk, and talked about specific ancestors.
“I’m very interested in genealogy, but I haven’t put much effort into it yet,” Preston said. “When I was a kid, I was much more comfortable being around adults than I was around children. I idolized my uncle, John Taylor, and he used to talk an awful lot about the different people in our line. I remembered a lot of what he said, even though he died 44 years ago.”
In fact, I learned from Preston, Rosa Groves was a maid in the Taylor household when young Perry Taylor first fell in love with her. Preston offered to show me the house where this all happened, so we drove a few blocks away and saw a fabulous yellow house from a bygone era.
Kansas is the kind of place where they’ve saved their architectural treasures, and this is a case in point. The reason, unfortunately, is financial. First, there has been the money and manpower drain. And secondly, for decades people have been living in the same old houses rather than knocking them down or renovating them, which is the way it’s done in Southern California. Thus, what we’ve been left with is a kind of historical preservation by default.
Even the street itself is historically preserved, being made from old brick rather than asphalt, as you can see below.
“Would you like to go to the graveyard?” Preston asked.
It seemed like as good a place as any to start, with death.
“Jump in,” he said.
So I grabbed my camera, my research papers, and a little bit of courage, and stepped into Preston’s aging white Neon. It was a wretched little car with a bunch of junk on the dashboard: a box of nails, a couple wrenches, and other mechanic’s detritus. The seatbelt didn’t work, either. But as the car putted off down Emporia’s quaint old streets, and then out of Emporia and onto wide-open country roads, I realized that I wasn’t just driving to some podunk town, I was driving into the distant past.
[To be continued]