Saturday, August 10, 2013

Family and Fiction

From mid-July to mid-August I focus on several family history projects, notably updating a publication about descendants of my Irish grandparents and keeping the Orr family web site current. (www.orrreunion.com)  A few years ago I accepted the (self-imposed) challenge to gather hundreds of stories about thousands of close and distant cousins, and to try to tell a cogent tale.

Success is in the eye of the reader, but I did see a number of common elements in the diverse families. For example, widely dispersed family members worked in mining at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. Some were in the Pennsylvania coal mines, others in the strip mines that dotted states such as Kansas. These shallow coal deposits also became the reason many farm families had heat during the Depression.

While mining was not work that these families did in Londonderry, milling was. Two rivers ran through Aghadowey Parish (similar to a county), and one early history of the Orrs of that area says that my fourth great-grandfather had "a mill on the Reaf." It took awhile for me to associate his work there with what many families did in Jasper and Greene Counties in Missouri--operate grain mills.  In Greene, the Likins Mill evolved into Polar Bear Flour, a fairly large firm.

Mills were a place to congregate. Farm families that had little opportunity to see one another during the long months of sowing and harvesting crops brought corn or wheat to a local mill (always on a stream, which powered the mill).  During the day or two that the miller ground the crop into a usable flour or meal a family would often camp by the stream to socialize.

At the Adams Mill in Jasper County, the Adams family also operated a store on the site. They sold everything from food to fabric to farm implements. The photo at right is a set of lace collar and cuffs that was sold in the Adams Mill Store. The mill burned, and the store survived for a few more years. Minus the business that came from families waiting for their flour, widow Isabella Campbell Adams eventually closed the store as well. Today the woods have reclaimed the spot.

The far flung Orr relatives have congregated at the Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church every August since 1937. The timing is no coincidence. Some crops would have been harvested, others were soon to be. What better time to gather?  While few of today's attendees have grown the food  they bring, except tomatoes and perhaps watermelon, we can all cook. When you look at the spread at left, you'll wish we were related. Yes, that's homemade ice cream. The brownies in the foreground were my contribution.

Family traditions nurture as much as food. My fiction gets a boost from these traditions. The boost comes in the form of humor. We Orrs (by whatever name we have now) do tend to laugh easily. That's a legacy to envy.
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If you would like to know more about how this far-flung family moved across America, check out Orr, Campbell, Mitchell and Shirley Families in Ireland and America

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