I have always had a yearning for my Emmott family history in England and since they arrived in America in 1887. Also, I have been entranced by the stories I’ve heard of the families who lived near Emmottville.
As elsewhere in rural America, pioneering families came here from foreign lands to pursue dreams, marry, raise children and find happiness. They left everything behind them including mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters they knew they would never see again. They brought with them little more than a rock of faith, a strong work ethic, and hope for the best.
These ancestors were rugged, hardworking, and withstood floods, droughts, fires, disease, and pestilence to carve out for their descendants places to live, work, raise children and build churches. Churches to go to at times when there was nowhere else to go or to call home. No other place at which to be comforted by God in the face of death, crop failure, or tragedy.
Such was true for the Amish farmers who settled in Gum Island, Texas (now Fairbanks) in the 1800s. They had enough of floods, hurricanes, and mosquitos and left our area before 1900.
The Amish were followed by legendary Cypress-Fairbanks pioneering farmers, ranchers, and dairymen named Caesar, Swonke, Airola, Marietta, Francone, Jones, and more than 30 other dairymen who supported their families. They fed us. They set an example for us to follow not only in our time but for future generations.
Their stories are our stories. Their resilience in overcoming their struggles helped me in overcoming mine. The compassion I have for their disappointments and flaws enabled me to be more compassionate to others in my relationships within my own family. As with my polio, the fact that they survived hard times gave me courage to overcome the devastating consequences that polio and paralysis posed for me.
A dear friend gave me a copy of this 90-year-old treasured photograph of a school teacher, Miss Wichman, and her 17 students standing on the steps of the White Oak School House not too far from Emmottville. Next to the school stood a beautiful white wooden church with a steeple — the 1891 St. John Church. That church was relocated and now stands in Sam Houston Park near downtown Houston.
The problem with old photographs that survive the test of time and the elements is that seldom are the names of the people written on the back of the photo. But, thanks to Ruth Caesar, the beautiful girl standing to the right of her teacher, Miss Wichman, the names of every student appear. At Cy-Fair High School I went to school with the Swonke and Gabriel grandchildren of some of the students pictured here.
It is my prayer that this photograph reminds you of why faith and ancestral roots are important.
Learning their history, recording it, and preserving it is God’s blessing to us and all humankind. In the chaos, polarization, uncertainty, hardship, and death in the Pandemic, our ancestral stories give us roots to anchor us, to sustain us, and to reassure us that God has a greater plan for you and me. That is an innate need in me and probably you too.
God has spoken to us in Scripture about reverence for our ancestral spirits and the power of having a rock of faith.
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Let us pray together.
Dear God, in prayer I thank You for my ancestors who paved the way for me and future generations.
God, please help me learn from the lives my ancestors lived and thereby find wisdom and strength in the living of my own life.
God, may I find You and Your purpose for me in the example of my forefathers.
God, may my trust in You and in what my ancestral family overcame never cease. For with You whatever lies ahead for me and those I love will be seen by You through the lens of Your love for me and them. God, in 90 years from now, may my descendants see my love for You in how I lived my life and served You in faith with thanksgiving.
God, please grant to all of us the willingness and the spirit to spend time identifying family members and friends on the back of photos – especially old photos where the knowledge of generations will soon be lost. Amen
If you like this prayer, please share.
If you want to purchase for yourself or a friend a copy of Bending Angels: Living Messengers of God’s Love or Prayerful Passages: Asking God’s Help in Reconciliation, Separation or Divorce, please click on here to go to Amazon.
Jack H. Emmott is a Senior Counsel of Gray, Reed & McGraw, LLP, a 145-lawyer full-service firm in Houston, Dallas, and Waco, Texas, a Board-Certified Family Law and Master Credentialed Collaborative Law Professional Divorce Attorney, Mediator, Author, Entrepreneur, and Inspirational Speaker. For more information about Jack or his latest book, Bending Angels: Living Messengers of God’s Love, go to the Bending Angel website.