Monday, March 15, 2010

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front

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All Quiet on the Western Front
is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque describing the physical and mental suffering of German soldiers during World War I, and their alienation upon returning home from the front. The novel was so powerful in its anti-war sentiment, that Adolph Hitler banned the book and burned all copies in Nazi Germany.

The western front for Germany was France. The words "all quiet on the western front" referred to the daily dispatches that were sent from the trenches in the front to the rear headquarters. "All quiet" meaning that no action had taken place. The phrase became a synonym for the drudgery and routine of surviving daily warfare. This drudgery was punctuated only occasionally by fearsome and deadly combat. More often survival was a search for food and an escape from boredom and the deadly fire of snipers.

Captain James Madison Pearson served in Second and Third American Infantry Divisions in and around Graffigny, France. He and his soldiers faced and fought the same soldiers Remarque wrote about in his novel.

It is my grandmother's father's family that I wonder about when thinking about Remarque's novel. Captain Pearson's future wife, Marguerite Chevallier Meine was raised in the little French town of Graffigny, a town close to Remarque's western front. Marguerite's father was Charles William Meine and he came from Freiburg, Germany. He served in the German military rising to the rank of colonel, but as he died in 1911, it would seem that he saw his action in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. In that war, the German armies decisively defeated the French. Following the surrender of first Paris and then France, the German armies pulled back from Paris and stationed in the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

Although Colonel Meine died before the outbreak of World War I, he came from a large German family. Undoubtedly, he had many nephews of military age who fought in the German army during World War I. It is not hard to imagine that one or more of my grandmother's cousins were young German privates alone and afraid in the trenches along the western front facing Captain Pearson.

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Friday, December 18, 2009


Our great-grandmother's name was Laura Chevallier. She lived in Graffigny-Chemin, married, and raised two daughters one named Margureite, our grandmother. The picture to the left is of the house in Graffigny (picture from the collection of George Campbell). The lady to the left of the house is Laura Chevallier Meine.

"Chevalier" is translated literally from French as “horseman”. The French title is originally equivalent to the English knight.
Chevaliers of the French royal orders had some territorial title by which they were designated. After the revolution, Napoleon reserved the right to himself of appointing chevaliers of the empire.

French knights figured prominently in the history of France as is noted in the following excerpt from a wikipedia note on the History of France.

Les chevaliers francs jouent un rôle prépondérant dans la reconquista de l'Espagne musulmane dès le milieu du XIe siècle. Ils sont si nombreux à participer à la première croisade à la fin du XIe siècle, que les États créés après la prise de Jérusalem en 1099 sont appelés États francs d'Orient.

The cemetery in Graffigny contains a grave stone for the family Chevallier. There is also a beautiful stain glass window in the church across from the family house. The family owned portions of property in and near the village of Graffigny.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

black holes

A black hole is a super dense gravitational field from which light cannot escape. The super density of matter creates a gravitational field so strong that matter the size of the earth is condensed to the size of a thimble. And like a giant vacuum cleaner everything that is within its reach is sucked into a black hole. Matter is deconstructed into the smallest of galactic elements.

Physicists call the perimeter of the black hole the event horizon. This is point at which information cannot be retrieved and beyond which all is lost.

Every family has an event horizon, a point at which all information stops. The stopping point is nearer for some and further for others. There must be some comfort in being Jewish, for their family history is traced all the way back to Abraham. And even when cultures don't know for certain, they invent histories that explain our origins. The Greeks had Helen of Troy and before that Pandora. The Romans had Romulus and Remus along with Aeneas. But, the phenomenon is not limited to Western Civilization. It is universal. The ancient Aztec civilization of Mexico relate the story of its founder Tenoch bring his people on an odyssey to a lake in Mexico where an eagle was perched on a cactus. There on a swampy island they found their promised land and created a great civilization.

These stories of origin are often part fact and part fiction. They become our badge of cultural identification so that we know who we are and where we came from. This is important for if we don't know where we have been as a people, how do we know where we are going to?

History is one of the original seven muses. History is the oldest story of mankind; a story that continues to be written. Even though many of the pages are lost forever, torn from the book of who we are by war, famine, neglect, and time, still it is comforting to know that others have before us have lived, loved, and worked to get us to this point in the story of our families.

The black hole into which we cannot see is frustrating. There must be many stories of our families which are amusing even heroic, but at the same time we must acknowledge that sometime history can reveal stories that are difficult to deal with. Events in the history of mankind are both good and bad. That is the nature of humanity.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Time Traveler

You can go from here to there in seconds.

Here is the computer where you sit and there is Graffigny-Chemin, where Marguerite Chevallier was raised and where she met First Lieutenant James Madison Pearson.

Google Earth takes you to the church (in the center of the picture) across the street from where she lived. Observe the carriage house, and gardens of her house which comprise the bottom right hand corner of the picture. In my Google Earth view, the number 52150 appears on top of the house. A path to the left of the image leads to the hill where I took the view of the village. (See wikipedia entry on Graffigny-Chemin.) The path leading out of the village to the top of the picture goes to Bourmont where during World War I, the Second Infantry Division was originally headquartered. The path leading to the right is the ancient Roman Way from Langres to Toul near the birthplace of Joan of Arc.

Time travels. The past is the compression of all that has happened, waiting to be revealed.


Sunday, September 06, 2009

family tree

This is the family tree of Benjamin Rush Pearson. Notice that in addition to the White family, there are also the McCoy, Brown, Coleman, Ferrell and Letcher names. You may recall that Benjamin went on to graduate from the Medical College of Alabama at Mobile in 1881. Benjamin had already, 1874, married Sallie Coleman Ferrell of Montgomery, Alabama.

The family tree lists three children by Benjamin and his wife Sallie: Mrs. William Rush Letcher (Elizabeth Ann Pearson), Dr. Coleman Ferrell Pearson, and James Madison Pearson, our grandfather. Benjamin Rush Pearson died March 12, 1906 at the home of his daughter in Richmond, Kentucky. Sallie died five months later in Montgomery. Our grandfather was 22 at his father and mother's deaths. At the time, he was possibly in the Army and stationed in the Philippines where the Philippine Insurrection was winding down.

Benjamin identifies William Head Pearson and Mary White Pearson as his grandparents.

Benjamin identifies James Madison Pearson and Elizabeth Brown Pearson as his parents, once living on a family farm in Dadeville, Alabama. This James Madison Pearson was an attorney, in addition to owning a family farm. This family farm passed down to Benjamin's younger brother Charles Lafayette Pearson and was owned by Charles until his death in 1940. The farm may still be there today under the ownership of another Pearson family member. A family cemetery holds the remains of many Pearsons including Benjamin's brother Charles and their father James Madison, our great great grandfather. You can visit the cemetery's names by clicking here. See my article in August on Tallapoosa County, Alabama.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

visit the grave site of Captain Jacob White

Visit the grave site of Captain Jacob White in Bedford County, Virginia. Photos are available online by going to the JLARC website containing a list of burial sites of Revolutionary War veterans. There are links to four photographs of the gravestone of Captain White.


More on the White Family

The photo is of our GGG-Grandmother, Mary White, taken in the late 1800's. This is where we begin the line of the White family. Mary White married William Head Pearson at the age of 16 in April 1807 in Elberton Georgia.The Campbells reading this may be interested to know that William Head Pearson was born in Laurens South Carolina just a short distance down the road from where we all grew up. Mary & William had three sons, Daniel, James Madison, and Jesse Marion Pearson.

When I was younger I remember my mother telling me about her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. She had told me about a young Private in the Virginia Militia from whom we were descended. Jesse White was always the name I had remembered. He was the father of Mary White pictured here. Born July 18, 1758.

Cousin Art you almost got us there in your earlier post. Jesse White was the son of Celia Page & Henry White. That is our connection to the Whites.

One other interesting fact of this line is that I believe that the name of James Madison Pearson comes through this line. Mary's Father Jesse would have almost certainly would have known James Madison as they both lived in Orange County VA. I do not know if there was a relationship but the name of James Madison Pearson shows for the first time 1 year after James Madison's Presidency ended.

Incidentally Mary White lived to the ripe old age of 91 years. Her grave can be found in Scott County Mississippi at the Old Cash Baptist Church cemetery.
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