As I dig into my family history I’ve run into things that have made me uncomfortable. I have at least six direct ancestors that fought for the Confederacy. As my niece exclaimed when I told her of this fact: “But that is the wrong side!”
And there is more: the Jim Crow south, attitudes toward women, slavery, just to name a few. It would be lovely if I could sanitize history and ignore these things. But the more I dig into the history of the times my ancestors lived in and begin to write it up, well, it is just not all pretty. It is not all comfortable. But I have to write about what was.
But I want to put my ancestors in the context of the time they lived in. I can’t know what they thought, but I can do my best to understand the events that shaped their lives and indirectly mine.
As we say in my family: It is what it is, it ain’t what it ain’t.
Here is my first draft of my grandfather in the 1910’s and 1920’s.
Gilbert Gillespie in his early teens
Gilbert was born on March 20, 1914 in Lexington, Virginia. His father, Wyatt Paul Gillespie, was almost 49 years old and his mother, Laura Cecile DONALD, was 37 years old. He had six older brothers and sisters when he was born, the oldest, Minnie was 17 years old.1
In 1914, Woodrow Wilson was president and WWI was on the horizon. The family had purchased a lot at 108 Houston Street in 1907 and I imagine by the time Gilbert was born, they were living in the house that Wyatt had built. The address of the house was listed as either 22 and 108 Houston Street.2
By 1920, WWI was over. On January 17th of that year, prohibition had begun. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920 by the Federal Government, but Virginia did not ratify the law until 1952; women had been voting and holding elected office in Virginia since 1920.3
By 1930, The eighth and final child had arrived in the Gillespie household; Helen Mae was born on November 1st, 1918. Wyatt, 54, and Laura, 43, were living with all of their children: Minnie, Ashby, Eva, Clinton, Louise, Fred, Gilbert and Ellen. Also living with them was Harriet, Wyatt’s older sister who was 69. Eva, Clinton, Louise and Fred all attended school.4
In 1923, Warren G Harding, died of a Heart Attack in San Francisco, California. Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency until 1929, when Herbert Hoover became president. In October of 1929, the US Stock Market had crashed. By March of 1930, 3.2 million people were unemployed.5
I know my grandfather completed four years of high school, he probably attended Lexington High School.
In 1930, They owned the farm they were living on, and Wyatt worked as both a Carpenter building houses and as a farmer on presumably his own farm. Wyatt also employed two other people. Minnie was a Saleslady in a Dry Goods Store and Ashby was an Electrician in a Power Plant. They lived in a neighborhood where most people earned their living working for local merchants.6
Gilbert was known to say that jobs were hard to find, you should hang on to them. And I imagine that the family was glad to have 3 family members employed in 1930.