Nurturing those whom nature has given us

By RENE’ DAY / Community Columnist

It seems that everyone these days is interested in digging into family history. Television programs like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots” have propelled companies specializing in genealogy into mainstream America. Expanding your family tree is as easy as turning over a new leaf on sites like www.ancestry.com. And, DNA tests, once a tool used only by doctors, are easily purchased online. With a quick cheek swab, you can discover your ancient beginnings and find relatives all over the world.

Or . . . sometimes you find family a little closer to home. Growing up in Shelby County provides plenty of chances to make lifelong friendships with great people. Through these relationships, you can learn a lot about others – and a lot about yourself. Take a recent conversation with one of my oldest friends. As we discussed the 1800s family cabin in which he lives, he mentioned another original structure still standing near Calera, Alabama. It seems, he said, that James D. Alexander’s original home site has not been lost. And, further, he was a direct descendent of this James Alexander. So, too, is my husband. Not only are we all old friends – it seems we are also relatives.

Not knowing much about the Alexander man nor how he came to live in the county, I visited the Shelby County Museum and Archives in Columbiana. Jennifer Maier, the executive director, and her staff immediately joined the quest for information and what we discovered was pretty amazing. It seems that James, his mother, and other family members left South Carolina for Alabama in the late 1840s. James’ brother, John, had immigrated earlier as a governmental surveyor. John helped lay out the town of Calera, established a large farm near where Calera Middle School stands today, and started an iron-making business in Roupes Valley – known today as Tannehill. Having met great success, John convinced his family to join him. Upon his arrival, James built a house near John’s plantation. Many of their descendants are still in the area and continue to strengthen the communities in which they live.

And, then, without having to spend one minute digging through family files or hours online, our family expanded. The house is still owned by people who are a part of James Alexander’s legacy. Though they no longer live in the county, their reaction to hearing about new “cousins” was both heartwarming and exciting. A chance to meet and visit over family photos and stories further cemented a new friendship. Somehow, I believe James would have been quite pleased.

There is much debate over whether nature or nurture determines the essence of the individual. But, this is the season when family and friends are held a little closer and time spent together is a little dearer. And, it seems to me that nurturing those that nature has given us is especially important – even those just discovered. So, I say to Mavis, many thanks for opening your arms and heart to “new” members of the family.