Second cousins Jenny Bates Meadows-Sauls and Yvonne Perry had barely met, even though Jenny’s dad and Yvonne’s grandmother are siblings. It wasn’t until Jenny was in her seventies that she reached out through prayer and found her perfect co-author in Yvonne. Jenny had been collecting family stories and researching the Bates genealogy. She knew she needed help with writing and publishing skills to save her stories. Yvonne respected the spirits of her ancestors, and was an established author with publishing connections. This match made in Heaven resulted in a book, Oh, Come, Angel Band, available on Amazon.com; and a website about the Bates family. The research and writing were not an easy task, as any genealogist will suspect. Jenny’s inspiring story of the book’s birth is one of perseverance in the face of mystery and of technology!
Saving Our Family’s Story
by Jenny Bates Meadows-Saule
As a child, my daddy (Jay Bates) would go out of his way to go through Lackey Road in Woodstock, Georgia to show me places and tell me stories about when he and his family had lived in an area they called Sweet Apple. He couldn’t go to school. As he would say, he went in one door and out the other. And my mama told me stories of my birth, her heartaches, and how she was loved as she lived among the Bates family.
In 1978, my personal stories began to unfold and I wrote them to Guide Posts Magazine several times. However, when it comes to English, I almost failed in school. My teacher said she understood why after meeting my dad at P.T.A. He couldn’t even write his name, and the words he pronounced with a deep southern draw were a bit slurred.
In 2004, after the death of my husband, I became interested in genealogy and began searching for my roots. I added the stories to the notebooks I was keeping with the information about our ancestors. My education was too limited and I did not know how to continue. My ancestry research had only scratched the surface. In 2008, I gave up on the project and stored the binders in a closet after saying a prayer for someone to help me with the project.
A year ago, Yvonne Perry, a second cousin whom I had met at a few gatherings at my Aunt Martha’s house, contacted me. Martha is Yvonne’s grandmother and the sister to my father. I was thrilled that she had chosen me to join her on this venture. Although I am seventy and Yvonne was young enough to be my daughter and we lived more than two hundred miles from one another, we realized right away that we were both adventurous. And my determined spirit was still young at heart. We joined together in the spirit of love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We found out right away that we had both inherited these fruits of the spirit from Lillie, who was my grandmother and Yvonne’s great-grandmother. You cannot endure a project such as this without these qualities! We both spent long hours searching and encountered frustration while chasing dead ends. There was no giving up. We were loyal to each other and to the completion of the book.
I learned from the beginning that Yvonne would not go on presumptions. Every fact and detail in our research had to be warranted with some documentation or proof. I searched for hours and chased clues every night for months on Ancestry.com and other websites she gave me to follow. I emailed back and forth to complete strangers who maintained family trees on Ancestry.com only to find that they were our cousins, aunts, uncles, and descendants from the branches of our ancestors that we did not even know existed.
My computer knowledge was limited but Yvonne never made me feel intimidated. Yvonne and I daily shared disappointments and excitement. We kept our wits, laughed together, and sometimes cried as we discovered how difficult the lives of our forebears were and how much pain they suffered.
The ancestors and I became very close as I traveled back in time and conversed in spirit with each one of them. I kept Yvonne entertained by sharing things that happened to me while roaming around in Georgia graveyards—it seemed the ancestors were interacting with us quite comically. My sister, Sarah, went with me to several cemeteries. During one visit, I fell on the ground face forward as something caught my foot near a grave that I had just snapped a picture of. We thought we were going to have to call someone to help as I rolled around trying to get up. My sister was recovering from hip surgery and was not able to pull me up. When she took my hand she said I flew up like I had no weight. We curiously inspected what I had tangled my foot in, but there was nothing but smoothly mowed grass underneath the layer of freshly fallen leaves.
Yvonne and I each had our specialties. I love to talk and she loves to write. So, I called and visited libraries and courthouses, and asked our cousins to share their family memories. One cousin had a treasure—a box of Grandma Lillie’s old pictures, complete with letters from her mother-in-law’s daughter that we thought had not been heard from since she left home at age 14 to marry a man who lived in Texas. As I collected information from each family, I typed up what I had learned and sent it to Yvonne so she could edit my writing and add it to the manuscript that she was working on.
Once we had the research complete and the stories in the book, it was time for fact checking and editing. I had no idea this stage would take so long, but did I say that Yvonne would not go on presumptions? We double checked our research and asked family members to approve the edited version of their stories. Then, it was time to add the pictures. That is when my real frustration began. Since I knew everyone and could recognize who they were in old photos, I agreed to number the pictures and insert them in their proper places in the manuscript that Yvonne had put together. Try that on a $399 laptop that was purchased for personal use. It didn’t even have MS Word. On top of that, my knowledge of formatting a book was zero. I inserted the photos but when Grandma’s picture stretched so big that it took up several pages, I had to take all the photos out and start over. I didn’t know I needed to “crop” the pictures first. Being a sharecropper’s daughter, I thought a crop was cotton. Thank God for my friend Steve who kept my computer going as it became overloaded and sluggish. He taught me how to crop, insert, and move pictures—he even saved Grandma from her sudden expansion! When I lost pictures that I knew I had on my computer, he came over and retrieved them. I knew he could fix anything or teach me what to do because he worked for AT&T as a computer analyst before retiring. It took several weeks, but I got the pictures in and saved the manuscript to a flash drive and put it in the mail to Yvonne. (It was too large to email once the photos were inserted.) I sure was glad to rid myself of this difficult task. Yvonne tried to open the manuscript on her computer, but due to my word processing program being incompatible with MS Word, the pictures in the document were scrambled and many of the photos had been replaced by a blank box with a red X in the corner. There was not even a description of what or who was supposed to be in the photo. All my work was done in vain.
But, we would not be discouraged. One night at 8:00 p.m. I went to Office Depot and made a printed copy of the 182-page manuscript with the pictures in place, according to what I could see on my computer screen. I sent the bundle via Federal Express along with the file of clearly labeled pictures on another flash drive. We were hoping to get the book published in time for the holidays, but this setback meant several more weeks of work as Yvonne put the photos into her copy of the manuscript. She uploaded a copy of the book to CreateSpace, an online self-publishing site, so she could check her formatting and edit a printed copy of the book. We emailed back and forth and made a few more corrections while the custom cover was being created by Rick Chappell. After proofreading the entire book, adjusting the margins, and tweaking the photos, she uploaded a revised manuscript and added the “real” cover.
What a glorious day when she sent that email to me saying that the book was finished and she was awaiting for the final version to be approved by teh online publisher. I felt like I had given birth to a baby the day that book went live! A higher power and our love of angels joined us together. Yvonne has truly blessed and enriched my life on this journey. To be a part of this book and to work with her was an honor. Through our commitment to this project, our dream has come true. We have created a beautiful ancestry book that will allow our kinfolk to gain a new perspective of the Bates family. There are photos that very few family members have seen; and the stories will not only entertain, they will make some of us thankful for today’s easier times.
See http://charltonbatesancestry.blogspot.com to learn more about this family genealogy. Yvonne Perry’s books can be found on Amazon.com.
Thank you so much for publishing our story, Deborah. It is a joy to see it on your blog today.