Over a decade ago, I made my first “leap” backwards, into my family’s past, a past that was beyond my grandfather’s memory. That was significant, for Pop had quite a memory, and his passion for storytelling had become my passion for finding the “truth” behind the stories.
On that day I found that my great-great-great grandmother had been born Eliza Jane Maddox (in 1813) and her parents were Edward and Rachel Maddox of Baltimore. I found this out because of all Eliza’s children, her youngest son “Johnny” had spoken her name enough that his housekeeper gave it to the doctor filling out his death certificate. The spouses of her other children (though all would have known her personally) were unable in their grief to convey that information, which–75 years later–had left me completely stuck.
Thanks to Uncle Johnny, I had a name and a cemetery. Thanks to John J. Winterbottom’s Caretaker Records of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, I had a plot (14-B) and bunch of bodies–all of whom it turns out, were the children and grandchildren of Edward and Rachel Maddox. I visited the cemetery on bitterly cold January day and said hello.
It’s been 10 years, and it’s not just a list of names and dates. It’s our family, and their history, and the history of a city whose beginnings are being forgotten. It’s a tenant farmer in Harford County and a brawl in bar in Bel Air on Christmas Eve, just after President Washington died. It’s a woman who could read and write while her husband could not whose signature is on every business license. It’s the Battle of Northpoint, and taverns on Pratt Street and Fish Market Place; policemen and sailors; Mobtown and ward politics. It’s a blessing from Lafayette on a little girl who never forgot.