Over the last year, one of my most significant projects was putting together my INTERSECTION photographic art exhibition. I haven’t posted about this side of my work at Jordan’s Journey, as this blog focuses on the genealogy side of things. Of course, the overall Jordan’s Journey project is a multimedia art project of which genealogical research is only one part. So I wanted to be sure to tell you about INTERSECTION. INTERSECTION is my follow-up to Jordan’s Journey. It’s not a sequel but a spiritual successor that takes the most specific art aspects and extracts them into a heritage-influenced art exhibition. The project’s focus is my debut museum exhibition, under my artist name luke kurtis, which opened on March 8th at Massillon Museum in Massillon, OH. I also published a book of photographs and writing that serves as the exhibition catalog.Read More
Although you wouldn’t know it from updates here at Jordan’s Journey, 2013 has been one of the busiest years of my life! Don’t worry, though–it’s all in a good way. Luckily for you Jordan’s Journey fans, I recently uncovered an almost-finished Jordan’s Journey video I shot in May 2012. I could not polish it off and share it with you for several reasons, and I had almost even forgotten it existed. But when I rediscovered the work in progress, I finally felt compelled to finish it. It’s a bit different from most Jordan’s Journey videos, and because of those differences, it was a more challenging video to shoot and is a bit rough in spots. But still, I’m glad to have made it.
My cousin and friend (we were friends way back before I even knew we were cousins) Christa McWilliams joined me to help document some history about the McWilliams Cemetery in West Armuchee. I couldn’t have done this video without her. It’s our attempt to tell the story about this significant cemetery, which is also a story about our families.
My post here today is a little off-topic from the usual genealogy and local history focus here at Jordan’s Journey. But what I want to talk about is relevant in a roundabout, artistic way.
This past weekend I saw Sahkanaga. Sahkanaga is an unusual film for me to watch. Not because of anything to do with the film itself, but for the fact that I happen to be from the county where it was filmed–and where the Tri-State Crematory tragedy (which the film uses as a backdrop for its coming-of-age story) happened.
I told you this post was a bit off-topic for this blog, but hear me out. I think this will be worth your time.
Sahkanaga was written and directed by John Henry Summerour, also from Walker County. Mr. Summerour is, like me, a Georgian expatriate who moved away to New York City and became an artist. Candidly speaking, I think something about growing up in a place like Walker County makes you want–need–to flee it. In the film, Lyla asks Paul, “Do you like it here?”
“Sometimes I think it’s just a really big hole, you know,” Paul responds. “I’m trapped down here. I just want to scream at the top of my lungs so that someone will hear me, send me a ladder or something, save me and get me out of here, you know.”Read More
Learning about family history teaches you a lot about history in general. The obvious areas are things like the Civil War and even World War II. When you connect your family to the collective stories of history, suddenly those grand narratives seem a bit more personal.
As a New Yorker, I can’t help but wonder how the next generation will look back and remember 9/11. As it is, I already know people who were not alive in 2001. But I lived through it. I watched those towers fall with my own eyes. I photographed them as they burned and fell (this is one of my photos here). I lived in the no-entry zone and had to show a photo ID just to get into my neighborhood. I walked over to the West Side Highway and stood with other New Yorkers cheering on firefighters who sped up and down the highway for weeks on end after those towers fell. How does my personal experience translate to the pages of history we see presented in books and documentaries? It doesn’t. The pages of history record the grand narratives and the dramatic events. But the quiet recollections of those of us who lived through it are just as important.
Often when people look at events around us–the events we know will one day be studied in history books everywhere–we talk about how much history has changed. In the case of 9/11, we use terms like “terrorism” to try and define what happened. Language, though, is limiting. The very moment we put words to tongue we somehow fail ourselves. Yet also those words are something we can’t do without. It’s important to be aware of the limitations we create through language, how our own words confine us, and how–hopefully–we can transcend them.
When we hear about violent events–say, for example, another shooting has made the news–many of us react with a “What’s happening to the world?” kind of attitude. The truth is that nothing is happening… at least nothing that unusual. We have a tendency to romanticize the past as if it represents some sort of ideal. This type of nostalgia for the past is something we all do, and it’s another way in which language fails us. Matt Novak, writing about the public’s perception of the history of the space program, warns that “romanticization of the past has real-world consequences because it breeds a certain kind of futility, a belief that we’re simply not able to accomplish things without every American behind the idea.”
For most of us, history is learned in language that glorifies the good parts, polishes them over for more than they’re worth, and skims over the bad parts. But those “bad” parts hold a lot of value and can, potentially, teach us just as much if not more than the “good” parts. History is not good. History is not bad. History just… is (or maybe “was”).Read More
Though the vast majority of my family–even going generations back–are rooted in Georgia and other parts of the south, some interesting burial locations exist in other parts of the country. I’ve not discovered any direct family connections to New York, where I call home. But there are a couple of interesting family burials in New Jersey.
James Young Foster (a descendant of the Young family) connects to my tree through his second wife, Margaret Mell Lawrence (my 1st cousin five times removed through the Lawrence family line). James fought in the Civil War in Georgia’s 1st Cavalry Regiment, Company F (National Cem.; National Park). Captured as a prisoner of war, he died in Fort Delaware and is buried in Finns Point National Cemetery in New Jersey. James left behind two daughters, Nancy Mell Foster and Frances Isabell Foster, whom Margaret raised. These daughters married into the White family, a prominent family in the Villanow and Sublgina area that connects many different family branches.
[UPDATE 17 May 2012: A Jordan’s Journey reader noted that I did not mention the children of James Young Foster’s first marriage. While not within the scope of this post, you can check out where his first wife, Martha Wade Booker, and their children are listed.]
My 2nd great grand uncle Moses Gresham Scoggins is also buried at Finns Point. Moses fought in Georgia’s 9th Infantry Regiment, Company B, and was a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware (National Cem.; National Park). Moses had never married and did not leave behind a wife or children. His line of descendancy continues only through his brothers (one of whom is my 2nd great grandfather, James Harvey Scoggins).
Both soldiers, Foster and Scoggins, are listed on the Confederate memorial at Finns Point. Moses also has a commemorative stone in the Chapman family cemetery in West Armuchee.Read More
Way back before Jordan’s Journey came out, I was doing all kinds of work, not only writing, photographing, and designing the book but also figuring out how this website was going to work, what I wanted to do for the book trailer, and of course the research itself. Almost everything I do as an artist has some purpose or meaning behind it. This sense of aesthetic plays an important role in what sets Jordan’s Journey apart from any other genealogy book I’ve ever seen.
The book trailer has its roots back in early 2011. It started with the poem that became the script for the trailer. And after that I just let it sit for a while. Creative ideas need time to incubate. By the time I visited the homeland in September 2011, things were ready to hatch. I filmed the principal photography for the trailer early one morning on the family farm. Editing didn’t happen for at least a few weeks but by the time I did start the work, I pretty much had it all laid out in my head… down to the music I wanted to use!
The music is from the album White Spirituals From The Sacred Harp and contains field recordings of the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention made by Alan Lomax in 1959. Sacred Harp is one of my favorite types of music.
I first encountered Sacred Harp in its proper form while studying music in New York City. When Professor Andrew Tomasello first dropped the needle and introduced us to the genre, it must have sounded completely foreign to my NYC-bred classmates. But it sounded instantly familiar for me and evoked images of my childhood. Though I did not grow up with Sacred Harp music proper, the music of the East Armuchee Baptist Church of my childhood was certainly influenced by this uniquely American style. We even used a shape note hymnal. I’ve always kept a copy of that Christian Praise hymnal and showed it to my music professor one day. He was intrigued by this artifact of Southern musical culture. Connecting that emotional part of my past to my new academic interests was the icing on the cake… as if fate had led me to New York in the first place. This is only one example of how creating Jordan’s Journey would not have been possible without moving away and studying art in the big city!Read More
The response to Jordan’s Journey has been extremely positive (just check out some of the recent press and see for yourself). I’ve even been contacted by a handful of people who have found me because of the press, this blog, or my social media updates. The connections are fascinating! For this synergy, I am grateful.
Today, I want to explain some of the background behind this project.Read More