"What a Year Can Bring" (Essay)

May 25, 2017. Reflecting on a year's anniversary, with love to cousin Lee and a toast to Aunt Margaret

I am flying into the sunrise, soon to land in Dublin. Sometime during this crossing of the Atlantic we have crossed midnight and into tomorrow. It strikes me here at nearly 40,000 feet above this blue ball, that this morning marks exactly a year since a significant milestone - one that more or less led to this trip with my parents and sister.

My cousin Lee and I met in person for the first time last April near Nashville. We had worked for weeks before and after, slowly peeling back the onion of mystery around our McKnight family heritage. Her grandmother and my grandfather were siblings who lived in the same town, but didn't care much for one another. Their relationship or lack thereof was the "normal" in the McKnight family rather than the exception.

Since she and I didn't see any reason for that pattern to continue any longer, we gladly took on the collaborative detective work to figure what more we could learn our family's roots. We were both intensely curious about the family we didn't know; especially our Great Aunt Margaret, the 2nd of the eight siblings. We knew she had been an opera singer, that she'd married more than once, and gone to the west coast. And that was about it. She clearly shared the McKnight musical genes, and we were eager to learn more of her story.

Our curiosity led each of us to tantalizing clues. A 1929 playbill from the Reno Gazette for an opera in which Margaret was one of the three leads. And a 1931 article from the same paper about the minstrel show she was in. As a friend noted to me, the difference in an opera singer's fortunes between the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.

It was May 25th when Lee messaged me that she was pretty sure she had found one of Margaret's family, working as a chef in San Diego. She picked up the phone and called the restaurant, and within a few minutes was speaking voice to voice with a part of our family that we had never known. And learning about a family rich in musical heritage too (see "Uncovering Musical Jewels in the Family History")

Connecting with these "new" cousins and the many more discoveries that have ensued helped get my Dad excited about exploring his McKnight family heritage last summer, culminating in this trip to Ireland and Scotland upon which we are about to begin. It is hard to imagine all of the amazing things that have happened in this last year that brought us here. I am certain that I can't imagine the experiences and discoveries that lie ahead of us in the lands of our ancestors.


Margaret Robinson (with thanks to cousin Carson for the use of the picture). 

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