I was 16 when I found out I was related to John Brown. I know that that sounds weird, but the relationship was not something that my family spoke about. The stigma, shame and no talk rule had been passed down from Annie Brown Adams through 3 generations. Even today it is hard to find a member in our line of the family that will talk about John Brown.
Here is how I found out – my family was eating dinner one night and my parents told my younger brother, James, and I to come straight home from school the next day because a woman was coming to take our picture. Our Grandmother, Beatrice Cook Keesey, wanted this lady to be allowed to take our picture for some paper, or book, or something. My folks weren’t too clear on what it was for and could not or would not answer any other questions.
We came home on time and met with Jean Libby, John Brown Historian and History Professor. She was so happy and bubbly and full of life and practically danced around us taking our pictures. She wanted to know how it felt to be related to this “Great Man”. We did not have a clue what she was talking about. She told us about John Brown and how she had found our Grandmother through a quilt Grandmother had made that included an image of the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal. When Jean questioned my Grandmother about her use of that image, Grandmother admitted to being a great grand daughter of John Brown.
When I mentioned to my history teacher who I was related to her answer pretty much summed up the reactions I got over the next 10 years: “You mean that crazy guy that was hung for treason?” I stopped telling people that I was related.
Fast forward to the year 1986 and the birth of my twin sons. I found that I was much more interested in the connection now, and for the next 18 years or so I researched it in a very haphazard manner working on the family history around the needs of my kids, my husband, and my career. In other words, as any mother can tell you, the research attempts were few and far between.
Throughout these 2 decades Jean Libby continued to update me on my famous relation. I allowed her to give my name out as a descendent that was willing to talk to researchers. I answered all inquiries for information, but always felt a bit like an imposter. Even the lay researcher knew far more about JB than I did. Oh, I picked up bits and pieces, but did not have a firm grasp on all of it.
One day I was answering an inquiry for information and I told myself I needed to know more about the man that people were questioning me about. So I started studying in earnest every book about JB I could get my hands on. I did massive internet searches for articles and tidbits of information. I studied John Brown harder than I have ever studied anything before in my life. I mapped his travels, I made chronological charts of events in his life, I delved into his family and home life and I entered thousands of pieces of data into my family tree program. Along the way I found out some very interesting things….things that I will share in future blog entries.
Sit back, relax and join me in my adventures in genealogy and history as I further my knowledge of John Brown, the Abolitionist