The leaves from our deciduous forests are turning yellow, or brown, and dropping with alacrity to the ground. They carpet every surface–grass, water, rocks, moss, driveways.
For years I have used the family tree metaphor to structure my genealogical research. Only today did it strike me that leaf litter can also be an inspirational metaphor, as in those leaves, those ancestors, that get dropped, and disappear to nurture the soil of the family’s winding tale.
And as a review of this deed transcription suggests it is often women who carpet the family forest floor.
On 15 June 1770, Samuel Whitworth sold 120 acres of land to William Wills Green, my fifth great-grandfather. The parcel included houses, outbuildings, orchards, woods, water, and parts of Allens Creek, Mecklenburg County, Virginia…land that lay not far from where my father grew up.
William W Green took possession of the real estate on the same day. His neighbors included Edward Beavils, Francis Moore Neal, Abram Green, and Thomas Whitworth.
No women were present for the sale. No dower rights were acknowledged.
English common law crossed the ocean with the European settlers from which I descend. Among the provisions of this legal framework was coverture, the principles enshrined to govern married women, prohibiting their agency to hold property, run businesses, conduct trade, and act as citizens.
Therefore, though I know from William Wills Green’s last will and testament that he had 10 children, there is no record of their mother in this deed, or among the long list of deeds I have uncovered. There is no acknowledgement of the women with whom she quilted and cooked; no indication that a midwife helped birth all those babies; no public record of any domestic work that contributed to the Green estate development.
Which is frustrating. I have to snuffle in the leaf litter of history to discover the women in my past, more imagining than documenting their stories to fill out my family tree.
If you are a women’s studies buff, please leave any sources and ideas for research questions in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.