52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks- Week 1

Week 1: Start


Start is such a simple word. Begin. Just do something, anything, get it down on paper to show progress. We all know that is much easier said than done. If you were given the option of writing about anyone in your family, who would it be? Would you choose a parent or grandparent? Would you choose someone you have never met? That is our main challenge as genealogists, to take the date we find and actually turn that information into a human being. We may find census, birth and death records for an individual, however, we have to keep in mind that this was an actual living, breathing person. To a researcher it is just a name on paper. However, to your client, this was someone who was his or her family. There is a blood tie to this name on paper. This person was real and they are trying to form a connection within the family. We all know what that feels like when we have a major breakthrough. It’s exhilarating.

Therefore, this exercise is to help your ancestors come back to life- no, not in a zombie way, but for us as individuals to make a connection to our past. So I ask again, with whom would you start your story?


This isn’t an easy decision to make. That being said, I decided to start with my maternal grandmother. Vivian Johnson was born on November 27, 1919 in Mud Creek, Alabama. Her parents were Eugene Johnson and Donie Bell Gwin. Vivian was child number 5 our of 11. She married my grandfather Horace Hudson on March 10, 1939.

That is the black and white version. That is the version that future genealogists will find. However, she and her family were much more and I think that is why writing down stories of our families will be so important in the future.

I believe one of my favorite memories would have to be when I was younger, my grandmother would have me help her shell peas. No, that wasn’t the exciting part. My grandmother would tell me stories about her childhood as we worked. Her wonderful stories were exciting for a young girl who wanted to learn more about her family history. One story that always stuck in my mind was about Grandpa Gwin who died before she was born. My grandmother said her Grandma Gwin and others who knew him would always say how he had quite a reputation. Apparently Grandpa Gwin was well to do being that he owned a sawmill, cotton gin, country store and a bit of land. He couldn’t read a word but could add sums in his head before anyone else could with a paper and pencil. One story that circulated the town was that he was asked to sit on  jury and during recess Grandpa Gwin was reading the paper- although it was upside-down. Someone asked, “What’s the news today Mr. Gwin?” He replied, “Well it looks like they’ve a hell of a storm up north.”


My grandmother and her 10 siblings had almost the typical southern childhood. Each child worked hard before and after school to help the family run the farm. That was especially true when the Great Depression hit. It was a good thing there were so many kids to help because most of the family’s food would be raised themselves. One story that was another favorite is how in the usual hot, humid Alabama summers, the kids would be out helping in the fields. One field was near the creek so they would hoe a row of crops and jump in the creek to cool off. This would be great fun; until they made it back down the rows again they would almost be dry!

After my grandparents got married, they lived near Birmingham for a bit before moving to Fairhope, Alabama during World War II. My grandfather worked in the shipyards in Mobile, while she kept house and then gave birth to my uncle in 1943. After the war ended, they knew my grandfather would have to find a new job so back to Birmingham they went. After starting work at U.S. Steel my grandfather also took on a side job, one his father did before him. Moonshine. My grandmother did not like that but she said it sure was nice to expand onto their house and have indoor plumbing. They didn’t get electricity in their house until 1948.

I wasn’t really sure how to finish this post about my grandmother. I guess most people my age still have their grandparents and can still talk to them about their lives. My grandmother gave birth to my Mom when she was 45 years old. I have always loved talking to the older generation and hearing their stories. If my grandmother hadn’t given birth at a later age, I am not sure if I would have been as interested in history. I love to learn about history but she got to live it.


Coming up: Week 2- Favorite Photo