Christmas 2002     
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Christmas 2002

Dear Family and Friends,

So... here we are, closing in again on the end of yet another year. And what a year it has been! A year of wonder and of discovery. A year of research and of roots. A year, more than anything else, of family.

Family got the better of me early this year when my brothers and sisters pulled a total surprise for my 50+1 birthday. (You may recall that I whined in last year's Christmas newsletter that I had turned 50 last year, a milestone that my siblings ignored.)

But they had reasoned (correctly) that I would be expecting something for my 50th birthday and (correctly) that I wouldn't be expecting anything for my 51st. So they got me good! Hannah dressed as the Grim Reaper, a cake shaped as a tombstone, black balloons, adult Depends for gifts, the whole works. It was wonderful.

And the family all got the better of each other when my niece Gina gave us a reason to party later in the year -- she was awarded her doctorate in speech audiology and she and her parents Evan and Judith and brother Tim hosted a family get-together in Indiana in August.

Everyone was there except Paul, Nadine and their younger two, Stefan and Katya (Paul is doing a visiting-professor deal in Pescara, Italy this year, the rat!). Everybody had such a good time that the worst complaint of the entire three-day event was that it didn't last long enough! I was the official photographer so there are plenty of photos!

And family became my focus this year as well when I became interested in genealogy and learned that my roots run a whole lot deeper into this great land than I ever dreamed. I began the year as a first generation American on my father's side, and ended it qualifying (at least once and possibly twice) for the Daughters of the American Revolution on my mother's side!

My research into my family roots began with what was one of the real low points of 2002 -- the death of my cousin, Harold Kent Richardson, of cancer, in June. As so many of the family gathered to mourn his passing, it occurred to several of us that so much of the family history was also in the process of passing and we'd better reach out and grab hold before we lost even more. So my cousins Bobette Richardson and Paula Williams and I began seeing what we could find.

And oh! what we found! Regiments of Robertsons! Companies of Cottrells! Battalions of Bakers! Gentrys and Shews and Buchanans and Davenports and... what fun it has been and continues to be! There's one line -- the Bakers --that we can trace to a man who brought his wife and two young daughters to America in the ship "Elizabeth and Ann" in 1635. There's another -- the Gentrys -- we can trace to an immigrant who was serving in the colonial militia in Virginia in 1680. We're stuck in the Robertson research with William in North Carolina in 1794, but we aren't giving up yet!

It's an intellectual challenge, of course -- a grand jigsaw puzzle in which you not only have no idea what the finished puzzle will look like but you also have to go hunt down the pieces yourself. But the real joy is in the sense of connection -- to history, to places, to people. Above all else, to people. First, the legions of unpaid volunteers all over the country who give unstintingly of their time (thank you so much!!). Then, everywhere you look, everywhere you turn -- cousins! cousins by the dozens!

On the Robertson side, we've found Michael and Bobby and Susan and Phil, cousins of my mother that I've never met and I can't wait to get to know. (Their father Ray was my grandmother's brother.) Mary Ann Thurmond's grandmother Mary Isabella was the sister of my great grandfather Jasper. Betty and Wayne McAndrews trace Wayne's line through Jasper's brother Bird. Both Mary Ann and Betty are working hand in hand with me to try to trace both the Robertson line and that of our common ancestress Isabella Gentry.

On the Cottrell side, I am so happy that we've touched base with my mother's cousin Fred Gottlieb (his mother Maude was one of four sisters who helped raise my grandfather after their mother died). Fred walked my mother down the aisle at her wedding -- and has a wonderful warm wit that has been such a pleasure to encounter. (He reports, for example, that he almost didn't make it to my mother's wedding -- it was snowing and he slid into a snowbank: "The sacrifices I make for the women in my life!") Cousin Judy Pilcher is the granddaughter of another of those sisters, Theo, and is an absolute treasure trove of family lore. We have learned the fate of cousin Phillip Cottrell, killed in World War II.

Esther Knapp, whose husband Craig is a cousin on the Shew side, has helped enormously with that research back to a common ancestor in North Carolina in 1750. Odd to find that so many of my line of the family ended up in Virginia so close to -- only a few miles from -- where the original Gentry in America lived more than 300 years ago.

And the Bakers! Oh, my, the Bakers! Hard to believe my ancestor David Baker was at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, wintered at Morristown and at Valley Forge, and has a town in North Carolina named after him. And talk about dozens of cousins, and so many trying so hard to help -- Pam Hallock in Washington, and Julie Clayton in Oregon, and Dr. Charles Baker in Texas. Julie has loaned me the "Rugged Trail" books about the first Bakers in Texas; Dr. Baker has sent photos and David Baker's pension application and more; Pam is trying to fill in the gaps.

I can't wait to see what -- and, more importantly, who -- we find in 2003.

In a strange kind of way, this foray into my past has helped me feel better about the future. Those of us here in the New York area are still deeply shaken and deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001 and both the Tribute of Lights this spring and the one-year anniversary were difficult for many of us. (The lights tribute was moving but it hurt to know it was temporary...) Still, now, knowing how deep my roots are gives me some comfort that even the strongest wind will find us only bending, and not breaking.

On the professional front, this year ends, as it began, with me still working as an editor at Gann Law Books in Newark, New Jersey, and teaching part-time at Rutgers Law School, where, for the first time, I now have as a student the daughter of a woman I once had as a student... (I have informed mother and daughter I don't expect to be around to teach a third generation!) And I'm still serving as faculty advisor to the Moot Court Board, and coach to the mock trial team, and... and... and... Sigh... I need more hours in the day, more days in the week...

That's it from this end. To all and everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Peace on earth, goodwill towards mankind.


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