“I’ve researched for hours upon end the long-lost names, birthdays, marriages, and dates of death of past relatives I’ve never met, living in places I’ve never visited, looking for a connection with something I’ve never experienced. I found myself wading knee-deep in scanned copies of birth certificates with strange yet poetic names, marriage certificates artfully hand-written in real ink, and death certificates stating causes of death I’ve never even heard of in this day and age.
It’s a daunting task really. Trying to put it all in perspective—trying to match a name and face to my blood, seeing only hints of familiarity in foggy eyed photographs. But, as I see it, without my relatives, without the sacrifices they made, I would not have had the tremendous opportunities I have had growing up in West Virginia. In most of my research I discovered that once my relatives settled among the mountains, they never left. Generations of my family have lived here—on all sides of my family—since the beginning, even before West Virginia was a state, and some, even before the United States had fought for its independence. I feel somehow deep down in my soul that I owe them a debt of gratitude because, without my family, well, I simply wouldn’t be here now.”