Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Greatgrandmothers and Elephants and Genealogy...Oh My!

This special lady is Jewell Ruth Dowling Copeland. She was my greatgrandmother, and perhaps, the most fascinating lady I've ever known. She died in March of 1996 at 99 years of age. This beautiful lady is who my daughter, Jewell, is named for.

She lived in Dasher, Georgia, and I spent a lot of time with her growing up. I would sit for hours looking at old photographs and listening to stories from long ago. She was born in the 1800's after all! She taught me to bait a hook and how to blanch peas. We also visited every cemetery in the tri-county area. She was very proud of her family's history, and she's one of the reasons why I love genealogy today. Maybe because she told me so many stories about the past. Maybe because this lady was - well, she was old. She was the past but she was very much a part of my growing up.

There are so many stories I could tell, but today, I want to share one that didn't really have anything to do with her. Well, not exactly. But it's one I remember her telling me once (or twice, or twenty times) as we drove to a family reunion, not far from her home. She was born and raised in a community in Lowndes County called "Cherry Creek". As we drove toward the camp where the reunion was to be held one summer, she mentioned something about "the elephant that got loose and ran amuck in Cherry Creek". Well, of course that captured my teen-aged imagination! 

She told me what she remembered. I only wish I remembered more of what she said. I remember the general story - circus elephant escaped, survived on the lam for a while before being shot - but I can't remember if she ever saw the elephant herself. I don't think she did. I think she just remembered it happening. 

Anyway - I filed that rather bizarre memory away until one day, while doing some genealogy research, I came upon a website by the Ray City Historical Society in Georgia. Oh, if only every historical/genealogy society was as dedicated as this one! It's a treasure trove of info, and I've found a good bit of helpful data on it from time to time.

But one day, as I quickly scrolled through, I was stopped in my tracks by this picture...

Isn't that amazing? 1902 and not in South Africa...we're talking South GEORGIA, people!

If you're interested, you can read the entire story here on the Ray City Historical Blog. Beside just the bizarrity (is that a word?) of the event, there are some really sad details like the trainer apparently had a history with the elephant...and alcohol...and the two don't mix. Beside that, the reporting is fascinating. True to the day, stories could go on for pages, with flowery detail and little verification of fact. Sensational might be a good description. But since newspapers were basically the only way for folks to get news, they went all out in reporting. 

I was fascinated when I heard her mention this story, but at the time (probably the early 1980's), it would have been really hard to research this event. (Google didn't exist yet, Jewell and Brack. Can you believe it?) But now thanks to technology and a growing interest in the past, I stumbled across this article and put two and two together. She was only five when this happened. I wish she could have read this story, because it would have put some meat on the bones of a story she remembered experiencing as a child.

I hope you'll take a few minutes to at least skim the story about poor Gypsy the Elephant, but the takeaway is this...I was a 13 year old child who idolized her greatgrandmother. Shoot - I was lucky to just have her, let alone spend so much time with her. I hung on every word she said and wanted to do every thing she did. She is still very much a part of me. I think of her regularly. 

I'm still working on uncovering details about the family that she loved so much. Technology is making it easier than it ever was, but I still hit brick walls regularly. A hundred years from now, people won't have nearly as many questions about their ancestors as we do today. Everything is online these days. Probably too much. 

But I hope that one day one of MY greatgranddaughters will follow me around hanging on MY every word. I don't have any stories yet that are nearly as exciting as an escaped elephant, but I'm working on it. I've still got a little time. Maybe I'll be somebody's favorite old lady one day! 

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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