This week’s #52Ancestors prompt, “At the Library,” gives me a chance to write about something wild that happened in the summer of 2017.
I had spent a week in Athens, Georgia, at the fabulous Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) taking a beginning DNA class. Afterward, I stayed with friends in Atlanta for a few days. My next stop before driving home to Texas was LA, as in Lower Alabama—Enterprise, in particular, to visit with a cousin and do a little research on my paternal lines.
The drive would take several hours and I had queued up all the episodes of the short-lived genealogy podcast “Twice Removed.” Sometime after I’d exited I-85 and turned south on U.S. Highway 231, Episode 2 started. Host A.J. Jacobs was featuring Ted Allen, host of “Chopped” on the Food Network.
Jacobs began the journey through Allen’s ancestry with his great-great grandfather, a Confederate soldier named Thomas Andrew Byrd. Allen recalled that a photo of him had hung in his grandparents’ home.
I found it interesting because Byrd was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. The fifth of 10 children, Virginia Byrd Sansbury came from a close-knit Byrd family. I credit her and her oldest sister, Maud Byrd Windham, with kindling my interest in genealogy at a very young age. When I was about 7, Grandma proudly showed me a huge new book called “Byrd History and Related Families of Averett, Calloway, Chancey and Goff.” The book traces the descendants of Redding Byrd and Bright Byrd, two brothers (sons of Richard Byrd) who migrated to southeast Alabama from North Carolina. The author, Tera Byrd Averett, descended from Bright. “Our Byrds” descended from his older brother, Redding. Although she wasn’t credited on the cover as an author, the research of the Redding line in the book was a labor of love for Aunt Maud.1
The book features pages upon pages of newspaper clippings and photographs as well as birth, marriage and death information for what must be thousands of Byrd descendants.
I was in awe.
And then Grandma showed me page 103 and blew my mind.
An ACTUAL book! And a BIG book at that, with a hard, black cover. In my eyes, it looked like a very important book. Seven-year-old me naturally concluded this must have meant I belong to a very important family.
Eventually, Grandma gave me my very own copy, which remains my most treasured book. I pressed flowers in it after my Sweet Sixteen. I’ve used it to flatten curled old photographs. It’s full of sticky notes and scraps of paper. I started my genealogical journey with it.
But I digress.
So there I am driving down 231 to visit a Byrd cousin, listening to this podcast, when I hear A.J. Jacobs say:2
So Ted it turns out there’s this really amazing resource about your family. It’s an obscure book that chronicles the life of your ancestors. There’s only one copy in New York. So we went and found it.
The audio shifted to an on-location recording.
Here we are in the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library, surrounded by thousands of obscure books, and we’ve got one of the most obscure right here in front of us, Byrd History and Related Families of Averett, Calloway, Chancey, and Gough, by Tara Byrd Averett, Enterprise, Alabama.
THAT’S MY BOOK!!! I screamed and I screamed and I slapped the dashboard and I finally had the good sense to pull over. My heart raced and I just sat there trying to get my head around the moment:
I was driving home from a genealogy institute and a genealogy podcast was citing the book that inspired me to become a genealogist.
Once I calmed down, I continued listening. The audio and the entire transcript can be found on the Gimlet Media site. Here’s what came next:
Now the first thing I should say is that this book is massive.
AJ: That’s a good thud.
Ted: I thought you’d been shot. (laughs)
AJ: No, that was the actual thud.
Now Ted, this book is more than 900 pages. It’s basically a scrapbook on steroids, and there are newspaper clippings about your family going back centuries.
Ted: Well I’m flabbergasted. I had no idea about that. [laughs] I wonder if my mom knows.
AJ: Let me take a picture of that
So this book, this massive tome was compiled by a distant relative of yours named Tara Byrd Averett, and amidst the hundreds of Byrds, hundreds of pages, on page 542, we found lots of stuff about your great-great-grandfather,
When I arrived at my cousin’s house, I found the podcast online and played it for her. She got just as excited as I had and then pulled out the copy of the Byrd book that had belonged to her father, my great-uncle.
She looked up Thomas Andrew Byrd—and darned if he wasn’t HIGHLIGHTED! (But there was no obvious indication why her father had been interested in him.)
It turns out Thomas Andrew was the grandson of Redding Byrd through his son Benjamin Bertis.3 I am descended through Redding’s son Curtis. It appears Ted and I are fifth cousins. (Hi Cuz!)
Fortunately for any other Redding or Bright Byrd descendants who might want to see what the fabulous Byrd book might have to say about their specific line, WorldCat.org shows there are copies in about 100 libraries all over the U.S. It is, indeed, a “scrapbook on steroids” and well worth the time to track it down.
1. Tera Byrd Averett, “Byrd History and Related Families of Averett, Callaway, Chancey and Goff,” Enterprise, Alabama: Wiregrass Printing Company, 1978, p. 93.
2. Twice Removed, “#2: Ted Allen,” https://www.gimletmedia.com/twiceremoved/2-ted-allen : accessed 3 February 2019.
3. Averett, p. 116.