For a number of years I have been involved in researching the heritage of our family. Some sections have fallen into place without much effort (except in trying to verifying what is verifiable and removing, or at the very least qualifying the parts that may be more legend than fact).
When it came to the family tree of my paternal grandmother. Using a
couple of documents my Dad gave to me as my starting point I was able to
find establish the basic foundation upon which this search could be
built. Grandma Bragg's maternal grandparents, the Munson family, came from a
pretty distinguished family reaching back to the earliest period of
American history. In the first few generations of Munson family in America,
for example, we encountered Capt. Thomas Munson (1612-1685), Grandma
Bragg's 7th great-grandfather, who was involved with the founding of a
little college named Yale.
Grandma Bragg's paternal grandparents posed a more difficult proposal,
mainly due to the fact that neither she nor any of her siblings had any
idea who their grandparents were. All we did know is that they had
settled near Linton, IN (Green County), where Cicero Gilbreath's father
died while Cicero (Dad's grandfather) was just a boy. At first I thought
the mystery was solved as nearly every lead too me back to the
prestigious Gilbreath family that settled in and around Greensboro, NC.
Then I was contacted via e-mail by my first cousin one time removed,
Elizabeth Esterholdt who likewise interested in our family history but
whose own study raised questions regarding my conclusions. Upon closer
examination, and correspondence with the sources I had relied upon in my
research, I realized that she was in fact correct.
This put us right back to square. Occasionally Elizabeth would find a
new lead for a possible connection, often helping to fill in very slowly
the elusive information. The big break came with her a string of very
1. That Ellen Hale Gilbreath was the mother of Cicero Gilbreath (Dad's grandfather).
2. The birth record for Cicero's younger brother, Arnie, showing his
parents to be William and Ellen Gilbreath (Dad's maternal grandparents).
3. A marriage record for William Gilbreath and "Eleanor" Hale for April 1,18?8 in Greene Co., Indiana.
4. Then she uncovered a source with the following information: "John
Gilbreath" in Greene County, Indiana, born in 1810, married to
Mary "Polly" Hoke in 1831, and father of two children, Cynthia A. and
William H., who married Eleanor Hale in Greene County in 1858."
And just like that we were able to open a door leading up the Gilbreath
family tree from Dad's father-in-law, Cicero Gilbreath, all the way back
to Dad's fourth great-grandfather John Galbreath, who was born in Ireland and died on August 18, 1800.
That vital source Elizabeth discovered led us to the author, Gene
Gilbreath, of Terra Haute, IN. Gene, Dad's third cousin, is the author
of "For Pete's Sake: a sons reflects on his father's forty-seven year
confinement with mental illness, seeking understanding, hope, and caring
for our mentally ill." Not only did Gene provide us with an abundance
of information on the Gilbreath family, he also provided us a copy of
his book. I have just completed reading his book and wanted to share
some thoughts with you regarding "For Pete's Sake."
Gene's book is the account of life in rural Indiana during the Great
Depression and afterwards as this family struggled to cope with the
illness of his father, Clarence Homer Gilbreath (1907-1995), known to
family and friends as "Pete." Toward the end of WW II Pete came down
with a bad case of the flu, which lead to inflammation of the lining of
his brain. Gradually his plight led to his mental breakdown resulting in
schizophrenia and nearly fifty years confinement ("28 years in
Evansville State Hospital, Evansville, Indiana, and 19 more in two
nursing homes," from Gene's website). Gene describes his father's plight as like unto that of Rip Van Winkle.
This work is of far greater value than a lens to look deeper into a
segment of our family tree previously unknown, it is a fascinating
account of coping with the unexpected hardships rocking a very real
family and how they found the strength to survive its impact. It is the
story of rebuilding a relationship after decades of interruption. It is a
story of family strength and determination exhibited by Gene's mother.
It also alerts the reader to the need of becoming aware of an all too
frequently forgotten segment of society, the mentally ill.
I was impressed with a number of things in reading "For Pete's Sake." On
page 80, for example, Gene compares the study of one's genealogy with
the use of one's rear view mirror in driving down the road. While we
must keep looking forward, it really helps to take that occasional
glimpse to see what is behind you. Any generation will be enriched by
simply taking the time to get to know the generations that have passed.
It is not just listing names and dates, but to realize these were real
people from whom we can continue to learn.
But this book is not primarily a record of family history. It is a study
of the impact of mental illness on the afflicted individual and their
family. Gene encourages family members and loved ones to become involved
in the treatment prescribed for the patient. Family and friends need
to also be involved in encouraging the patient. Gene write,
"Specifically, we have asked that we develop a partnership in this
healing and comforting process that includes the human rights of the
patient and the full involvement of their families" (p. 228).
I heartily recommend Gene's book to anyone reading this blog. If you know
someone, some family dealing with the mental health issues this book
would make a wonderful and uplifting read. "For Pete's Sake" can be
ordered through through Gene's website, and you might also enjoy visiting his blog, Filed and Forgotten (although the blog has not been updated lately).