I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up on Edgewood Avenue in Inman Park. My parents had five children. Even though we grew up during an era where children's toys were few, we invented our own games - drew paperdolls, wrote plays and acted on a hand-made stage in our home. So it was that the Holland Sisters took the lead for childhood fanciful entertainment in Inman Park. We exhibited art, won contests, and our sketches were shown to lower classes for years afterwards.
Musical and artistic talent came from our grandmother Evans who loved to tell us stories of the golden days of her own childhood. Every summer she was taken to the old plantation home in Brent (Monroe County). It was a commodious white clapboard house with a front porch and square columns. There was a wide wooden hallway separating two parlors and diningroom downstairs, with a staircase leading to four upstairs bedrooms. In one of the parlors sat the first piano ever to be brought to Monroe County. In 1850, when Jennie Lynn, the Swedish soprano was transported to America by Barnum and Bailey Circus, GG-Grandfather Davis Smith took his wife, Elizabeth, to hear her sing, and came back with a piano.
Elizabeth was a fine pianist and entertained her friends in the community of Brent with her concerts. She sent her children to Wesleyan Female College in Macon (the first female college in Georgia) to study music. It was from this lineage that Grandmother Evans declared her talents.
During the War Between the States, the homeplace survived, as Monroe County was not in the direct path of General Sherman. However, during his famed march to Savannah, scouting parties foraged the area. Grandfather Smith and his five daughters lived in the house, waiting for the war to end and their husbands to return home. Everyday, the yard was swept, as well as the cedar-lined lane which led to the road. One day, a scouting party headed down the dirt lane to the house. Davis Smith quickly scrambled up one of the trees, barely hiding himself in the prickly branches. Terror seized his heart as the soldiers stopped their horses under the tree where he hid. His heart pounded as he heard the ticking of his gold watch, and clutched his watch pocket to muffle the sound. It seemed to tick louder and louder. What if the soldier's heard it? But one of them spied a chicken running loose in the back yard, and was content to fetch it. Three years after the war, Davis Smith died. Jane's husband (grandfather of my Grandmother Evans) did not return home after the war. And so the story goes of the waiting and waiting, and he never came back. The daughters remained in the house after the war, and are buried in a rock wall cemetery across from the site.
The family seat was in this home from 1824 until about 1910, when economic depression caused Smith's grandchildren to leave a once prospering agricultural community and to remove to Atlanta to find work. A few years later, the homeplace was purchased, the old house torn down, and pastures planted.
The stories were wonderful! I clapped my hands with excitement, yearning to know more. As genealogists are aware, family tradition needs verification.
In 1964, I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My interest in genealogy was ignited; I knew that this was my purpose in life. Here I learned the techiques of tracing lineages, and commenced tracing the Smith family of Monroe County. I never found a record of the death of Jane's husband - just a handful of muster rolls to account for his presence in camp, and her subsequent remarriage. But I found much more. The Marriage Contract of Davis Smith after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, to a widow woman having property of her own; deed records of the substances of the plantation; slave census records which listed more than 20 slaves, making Smith a planter, rather than a farmer. His own Will was hastily drawn and did not qualify for probate. Inventories and annual returns had to be filed. In these papers, I discovered what crops he raised, who owed him money, the extent of farm animals, slaves, warehouses, etc. Even his last illness was listed, with payment to a doctor and a note that he died of cancer. The picture puzzle started fitting together and the validation of Grandmother Evans' stories were put into perspective.
Over the years, I traced my paternal and maternal genealogies back to the time of William the Conqueror (1066). Because with each generation that we trace, the names double, I call it The Endless Genealogy.
When I began working for others, I discovered other fascinating stories. To the stock comment "you might find a horse thief", I exclaimed "Good! I hope that I do. That means there will be records!" In those days the Georgia State Archives was located in the A. G. Rhodes Home on Peachtree Circle. This was an old stone home with a spiral staircase and large rooms. Shelves were put to the ceiling, and we used ladders to fetch the dusty books. There were few indexes. No census record was indexed - this meant that a search had to be made of surrounding counties, as well as the parent county where ancestors were thought to have resided. There were few county histories and genealogies. One had to dig deeply into the dust of yesterday. As I researched more, and because other family names were frequently discovered in the same county, it became necessary to extract those unindexed records. I didn't want to do double research.
As more and more research jobs came my way, my filing cabinets bulged with information which needed to be shared with others. I didn't want to be like those who'd worked for years, to have disinterested family members dispose of all the work at their death. Thus, I began publishing books on family histories, as well abstracts of county records and other reference material. Presently, the count is sixty books, with several others underway.
From 1988 to 2000, I served as Staff Training Director for the Jonesboro Family History Center. Having the privilege of establishing systems and setting up the library from scratch, databases were devised to inventory and catalogue all of its microfiche, microfilm, books and other collections. For the first time in a Family History Center in the Atlanta area, patrons could readily locate in-house materials. This center, wholly staffed by volunteers, still remains a favorite place to do genealogical research.
My website, www.genealogy-books.com began with the idea of sharing more information with researchers, and thousands of bible records have been put online for public viewing. Also, I feel that indexes to all books sold online should be available, so people will know if they really need to make a purchase. To this end, I have added the indexes to all of my books, as well as a few others, to my site.
Interesting stories have their own individual flavor. But to realize that a genealogy can be interesting, one should remember that our forebearers prepared the way for us, forging a life out of wilderness country, then study the history of the era during which they lived. This will help us to merge real people with real history. In essence, we will have discovered our own monuments to our ancestors who lived alongside of such characters as Patrick Henry, George Washington, James Madison, etc. Our ancestors may not have made the history books - that is what we are for - to trace and write these truths for our posterity - but their sacrifices and struggles for independence, liberty, and survival, are vital and lasting contributions to all history.
Jeannette Holland Austin
Member of Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce
Listed in Marquis Who's Who of American Women