the tennessee river at the convergence of roane and several surrounding counties
chart courtesy of the us army corps of engineers
i'm addicted to maps. i don't know if my early interest developed out of a need to know exactly where i stand at any given time or out of an early sense of dislocation and a deep-seated feeling of homelessness arising from being an army brat. maybe i simply liked the bright colors and graphics. or the sense of having a bird's eye view. maybe it's all or none of these that sparked and continue to spark my interest.
i can engross myself in a map about in the same way i do a good story. when i look at a map, i feel just like that freckle-faced kid first discovering picture books, and before i know it, i'm alice down the rabbit hole. it's always a sunny day inside a map as i pass over the roads, tracking effortlessly from town to town. if i've been lucky enough to bring along a few facts to fuel my imagination, i people the villages and the areas around them. if i've had little to bring with me, i turn into old-time explorer, thrilling at my discovery of this mountain range, that huge inland lake. i love clambering over the mountains and following railroad tracks that appear out of nowhere. i'm on rivers and streams, rafting happily from one whitewater to another.
one of the two greatest gifts genealogy has given me is a sense of home, of belonging to a place. i belong to east tennessee in a way i never did as i was growing up. in the process of tracing my family lines back generations and discovering that they were among roane county's earliest settlers, i have come home.
after i discover a new east tennessee family member via the internet or in some faded note from a crumbly piece of paper i looked at in the old kingston courthouse, i'm more anxious to plot them on a map than i am to type them into my database. i can't wait to run into the kitchen and poke my finger on the map and trace where they might have been at one time or another. and i'm just learning that's because it's somewhere in the physical and tactile process of connecting the dots that the piece of land in that chart above moves way beyond history and geography. it breathes. it has spirit.
there. but, oh, i've explained it poorly. i make it sound a little woo-woo when what i'm really wanting to convey is how genealogy more and more maps me to my homeland. in ways past my ability to explain them, the land itself appears to be taking on a depth and dimension that lead it directly home to me.