A lot of who we are today can be traced back to who our ancestors were. The quest of delving into the past to find our ancestors is not a new activity but genealogy as a hobby has definitely gain popularity with such easy access to records and archives that can be found on various Internet databases and other genealogy websites dedicated to helping people trace their lineage.
Both Newton and Rockdale counties, like all of colonial America, have rich Native American history which is still present today; some historical traces more obvious than others. Both counties have clubs which celebrate our heritage and in turn find ways to discover just a little bit more of who we are.
We even have recently begun running a weekly genealogy column in our Sunday edition by Ellen Blakeslee. She is a professional genealogist living in Covington. Email her with questions about genealogy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in the 1700's, what we know as Newton County today belonged to the Creek Indians. Remnants of the Native American culture can be seen at The Burge Plantation.
The artifact collection displayed in the main house shows a variety of knife points, tools, projectile points, and other implements used by Native American tribes.
In Rockdale, The Rockdale County Genealogical Society presented "The Forgotten Americans as Seen Through the Eyes of an Apache" earlier this year.
The society's program chair Gerre Byrd, who is part Cherokee herself, was so excited when guest speaker Ed Farmer, came to one of their monthly meetings.
"My home town is Tulsa, Okla., and I'm just so interested in [Native Americans]," said Byrd. "Today we will learn about another culture, perhaps a culture that has probably lived closer to God than any of our other ancestors."
Ed Farmer, a Conyers resident who is also originally from Oklahoma, shared his story and Apache Indian heritage.
Farmer is a natural story teller and loves to tell stories about his family.
"The legend goes that we, the Apache nation, traveled down from the northwest and we followed the backbone (the Rocky Mountains) of our mother (earth) and the scouts felt that the best place to live where we wouldn't have to fight over land was what is now the southwest and parts of Mexico," Farmer said.
Farmer was the fifth out of eight children. He and his brothers were deemed too savage and therefore could not be taught. In an attempt to "civilize them" with separation and indoctrination, his mother and uncles were given Christian names and forbidden to speak their language. Eventually, they forgot their language and only spoke English. Meanwhile, Farmer's grandmother knew and spoke 14 different Native American languages.
"For me, Apache is my first language, English is my second," said Farmer. "I remember when I was in first or second grade, there was a wonderful librarian who introduced me to the world called books and they became my best friend. They took me on many great adventures. As I grew up I got really involved in reading but I also got away from my heritage. I didn't understand the importance of it until my father started talking to me."
For instance, you can tell a lot about an Apache man by the length of his hair. Apache men do not cut their hair unless someone dies and he mourns him. Or unless he himself is about to die, he will cut his hair very short.
"Pay attention to an Apache woman's hairstyle and you will know what's going on in the village," said Farmer. "If her hair is cut on one side, it's a birth. If her hair is cut on another, it's a death. If her hair is cut at varying lengths, that could mean a wedding."
Story telling conveys history through a narrative and Farmer said that while his family anecdotes are humorous, what he enjoys more than telling stories is teaching.
"If there is anything that I hope to teach you is this: Whatever your background is, I wish to teach you to study it, to learn it," said Farmer. "Once you learn your heritage in this lifetime, you will understand the glory of your heritage in the next lifetime, so study it. Know it well. The way you leave one life path is how you enter another life path."
The Rockdale Genealogical Society meets once a month at the Church of Latter Saints. 1275 Flat Shoals Road SE, Conyers. For more information, call Gerre Byrd at (770) 388-7113.
The Newton County Historical Society will be hosting a picnic on June 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Burge Plantation. 44Jeff Cook Road, Mansfield. The program will include an overview of Newton County history with old maps and an update on Brick Store. For more information, call (770) 786-7310.