By Valerie Baldowski
Gail East's interest in history and genealogy was inspired by her mother, the late Verna Gordon.
"Before my mother died, she tried to do a genealogy of the family, but she didn't get very far, because they didn't have computers," East said.
Although East's mother compiled a book listing some of the family's history collected from correspondence, East wanted to know more and began researching on her own.
She learned an ancestor who died in 1864, William Craddock, was a Confederate soldier. She became involved with the Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties, Inc., in the early 1990s, when she began delving further into her family history.
Genealogical Society member Jo Anne Miller helped East in her research, and through a series of discoveries, the women learned they were related by marriage.
"It turned out that [Miller's] husband and I had the same Revolutionary War ancestor," East said.
"They [the family] had been living there at least 15 years, and I'd never met her," said Miller.
East, and about two dozen other local residents interested in their ancestry, gathered Tuesday at the Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties' historic Brown House in McDonough, for the group's Christmas open house.
The guest for the occasion was Cassie Barrow of Griffin, a historian who read Civil War-era texts describing Christmas at the Confederate White House in Richmond, Va. One of Barrow's readings was a Christmas Eve entry from "Two Soldiers: The Campaign Diaries of Thomas J. Key, C.S.A. December 7, 1863-May 17, 1865 and Robert J. Campbell, U.S.A. January 1, 1864-July 21, 1864," edited by Wirt Armistead Cate.
Another reading was a Christmas Day letter from Tally Simpson, who camped near Fredericksburg, to his sister Anna Simpson.
Barrow became a history buff through the influence of several family members, and a former history teacher. "My family has always been interested in history, so I guess it's in the genes," she said.
Acquiring a knowledge of the subject is an integral part in self-knowledge, continued Barrow.
"I feel it's very important to know your past, whether it's your genealogy and knowing your ancestors and where they came from," she said. "That's always interesting. My grandmother always says, 'be careful, you many find a robber or a murderer,' but it's still your history."
East said knowing one's roots "makes history come alive for you."
"I took a lot of history in school, but it never meant as much to me until I found out that these were my people and their blood runs through my veins," she said.