My sisters and I had a unique and humbling experience recently. We were asked by citizens of a neighborhood in Knoxville, TN, where I grew up, to attend the dedication of a historical marker erected in honor of some of our French-Swiss ancestors who settled in East Tennessee in the mid-1800s. Alongside the marker was an old mill grindstone, donated by our family.
My great-grandparents, Alfred and Elisa Buffat, founded the Buffat Mill which became the largest grist mill south of the Ohio River. Like other families of French-Swiss immigrants, they settled in the valleys of East Tennessee, close to the Appalachian Mountains, because the region reminded them of their home in Switzerland. The site for the grist mill was by a creek that still runs through the property today.
In 1976 my father donated some of the land he had inherited to the county for the establishment of a neighborhood park. It was in this park, by the creek, that the ceremony dedicating the marker was held on a drizzly day the end of October.
As I sat there with my sisters, listening to the mayor speak about the importance of community and legacy, I was fighting back tears. I knew how very proud my dad would be that his grandparents were being honored in this way. And I was proud of him for all he did to preserve their legacy. “You won’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” he would tell my sisters and me as he launched into another history lesson about our family. We would roll our eyes, impatient to go outside and play.
At some point the stone was moved to the front yard of our family home where it sat for decades surrounded by flowers and shrubbery until my sister Mary arranged for it to be donated this year. “I remember sitting on the stone eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on days Mom would pack my lunch and send me on an adventure,” my sister Patty said. Now we sat looking at the stone in its place of honor.
Although I wrote a book about my great-grandmother Elisa in 2000, The Journey of Elisa, I don’t feel I’ve done enough to pass family history down to my own kids and grandkids, and I vow to look for more opportunities to do so. After all, don’t they deserve a chance to roll their eyes at me?
My friend Jan Keller, publisher of The Country Register, came up with a creative way to share family history. She and her husband visited the homestead of her pioneering ancestors in Eastern Colorado. The homestead once included an old rock well house and a windmill. Collecting a few of the rocks now scattered on the ground, she gave one to each grandchild for Christmas along with a little book telling them about their great-great-great grandparents! Jan said, “I told them their Grandpa Joe touched those rocks many times as he built the homestead, and now they have one they can touch.”
If Jan and I have such “family markers” in our families, surely you do also. If necessary do some research and learn stories about ancestors that you can share with those who follow you. There could be a grindstone or an old rock well house in your family’s history, too. Or perhaps your family markers include a productive farm or a grocery store that sustained a community for generations. Regardless, we all have family markers, and they are all worth remembering.
View a YouTube video of Nancy talking about The Journey of Elisa in 2011 here:
Lea Ann Brookens says
Wonderful blog on legacy Nancy. How amazing to see that legacy go on through your writing and photos. You are so dear!!
Thanks, Lea Ann. You are a faithful reader!
A wonderful blog Nancy – So poignant… Thank you for sharing this.
Sure thing, Rachel. Thank you.
Marylin Warner says
Nancy, you and Jan are both remarkable women and a credit to your families’ legacies!
Your dad and mine both shared the same wise lesson with their children: “You won’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
When SIMPLY THE SAVIOR came out, you signed a copy for my mother (both of my parents, actually). She read parts of it aloud to my dad, and they both agreed you came “from good people.” I only wish Mom could understand things now so I could read this lovely post to her. She and Dad were both so right!
What a sweet memory to share, Marylin. I wish I could have known them both back then! Hugs.
Great Blog!! loved the video, too!
I really have markers in my heritage…and tombstones!
I thought about that, Jimmie! There’s a blog or two in memories of your dad’s memorial business for sure. Get to writing! 🙂
Elizabeth Van Liere says
I love the whole blog, but especially what your father said about knowing where we are going when we know where we have been. I’d like to quote this on Monday when the pastor at church will do an interview with all the ladies over 90. One of his questions will be,”If you had to do your life over what would you do differently?” I had already known I ‘d say, “Nothing, because I am today because of who I was yesterday.”
Always enjoy reading what you write, Nancy. Thank you.
Wish I could be there to hear your interview, Betty. You are full of wisdom.
Carol Johnson Howard says
Thank you Nancy for writing about your family markers. I have my family’s Bible too and you have encouraged me to write about our family stories for my 4 grandchildren. Love hearing from you.
Carol Johnson Howard
Oh good, Carol. Even if they aren’t old enough to appreciate it now, they will some day! Thanks for your comments.
Ben Ross says
I had no idea you were related to the Buffats! My grandmother (Mary Crawford Gibbs) and my great grandfather, (William Carroll Gibbs) were friends of the Buffats. I am descended from Daniel Gibbs, the youngest son of Nicholas Gibbs, who came across the mountain’s from Orange County, NC to settle at Harbison’s Crossroads near Coryton in 1792. He earned a township for his service at Kings Mountain. He was the first member of the Knox County Court, (JP) and my great grandfather William Carroll was eventually superintendent of Knox County Schools in the late 1800’s. Small world.
That’s great, Ben. They no doubt knew one another. They were a hearty bunch! Small world indeed.
Beth Lueders says
Nancy, how marvelous! What an incredible legacy. I love your father’s wise words. And your heavenly Father is saying of your blog post, “Well done, my daughter, well done.”
Thank you, Beth! Very kind of you.
David Eick says
This immediately reminded me of the story from Joshua, Chapter 4.
Joshua 4:21-22 NIV
 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean ?’  22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground .’ …
Someday, maybe when I am retired from teaching, I intend to write about the “stones” in my family history. In the meantime, I have recorded much of it my ancestry site about Eick Family Tree- Broken Branches and All.
Thanks for sharing your story! It blessed my afternoon, and reminded me the importance of sharing our heritage as part of His story.
Thanks, Dave! Yes, I thought about the stones of the Israelites, too, but it was all getting too long. Maybe another time. You should definitely keep up the recording…a gift for your kids for sure!
Joe Bruner says
Nancy, I have driven along Buffat Mill Road all of my life and heard all about the mill as well, but somehow it had escaped me that the Buffats were your great-grandparents. Many thanks for posting this. I look forward to reading The Journey of Elisa. Sorry we missed your visit to Knoxville, but it sounds like you were plenty busy. Hope to catch up with you soon. Best wishes for continued success.
Thanks so much, Joe. Does that mean you also scraped the side of the railroad tunnel at some point? That seemed to be a rite of passage for the Parker girls! Sorry I missed you, too. It’s always too brief. Happy Thanksgiving!
You continue to share lovely history lessons of your family with the next generation. What we forget it that after much time passes, with it, go aging family member and the treasured stories. I am now the last member of my immediate family and fortunately I have had the foresight to journal from time to time. Hopefully my children and grandchildren will read some of the words I will leave behind.
Thanks, Cheryl. I’m sure your words will have lasting power!
Sandy Stevens-Woodland says
Nancy, I did not know about the dedication until right afterwards or I would have definitely been there to enjoy this meaningful event with you, Mary, and Patty. I am so sorry I missed it, as well as your book signing while in Knoxville. The following week I was with several Holston classmates, and I was surprised to learn your son is the pastor at the church where two attend. They were at your book signing in Georgia! I always look forward to reading your blogs, Nancy. Thank you for sharing your heart.
Thank you, Sandy. Great to hear from you as always. Happy Thanksgiving!