Some things….they’re just hard….really hard.
My cousin, Roy Eastes has been such an inspiration to me and others for decades now, and he passed over this week, just two days after his 94th birthday.
Yep, earned his wings. Finally free from pain. Gets to see his beloved wife again. Meeting the ancestors. Good for him. Sad for those of us left behind.
Roy was my very first DNA project co-administrator on my first DNA project. And he was a very, very unlikely candidate. I kind of thought of us as Mutt and Jeff, but we were indeed a dynamic duo and he made every escapade fun. I loved working with Roy and just having someone who was as excited as I was about every little discovery made sharing the journey wonderful. We had a special kind of camaraderie, even though he was clearly old enough to be my father – and he was somewhat of a character.
Why was Roy such an unlikely project administrator candidate? Well, because he was too old, too set in his ways, too unhealthy and too uneducated in the science of genetic genealogy. At least, that’s what he told me.
I am 81 and have been in bad health for the past 10 years. I am pretty much confined and can’t get out but very little. My wife Berniece is 80 an has had two light strokes but gets around real well with a walker. We joke and say that we get up in the mornings and flip a coin to see who takes care of who!! I can only piddle with this stuff a little bit each day but like to keep up with what’s going on!
But he wasn’t too old or too disabled, and he made up for all of those things with tenacity and sheer, utter commitment and perseverance. He was a pit bull, not a piddler…except I don’t want to offend any pit bulls out there.
I first came to know Roy in the Estes family research community over the years. We all lurked on Rootsweb and Genealogy.com posting questions and finds back and forth beginning in the early 1990s.
In 2003, Roy told me that he had been researching Estes family history for 55 years and he had made it his top retirement objective in 1983. I hate to tell you this, but Roy started with his genealogy significantly before I was born. I don’t think my Dad’s eyes were even twinkling yet or that he had met my Mom.
But Roy had a problem. He was stuck on his Estes line with an Elisha who died in Roane County, TN in 1819.
As in brick wall stuck.
Roy knew that there were several Estes men who were candidates to be Elisha’s father, but who was? And did these men all descend from the immigrant Abraham Estes, or did some of the Estes men in the late 1700s descend from other, perhaps unrelated immigrants?
When you’ve been through all the records, there just isn’t anyplace more to go unless you can find a record in a different location that connects the two families together – family history becomes impossible and you have reached a dead end.
The other alternative, at least today, is DNA testing.
In 2003 when I first really began recruiting for the Estes surname project, Roy jumped at the chance to participate. He didn’t know what he’d find, but he knew he stood a better chance of finding something and anything was more than he already knew.
Roy ordered kit number 11,727 in July of 2003.
He told me he was too old to understand “any of this,” but after I explained it to him, he began explaining it to others. So, Roy, at a mere 81 years of age wasn’t too old at all.
Roy wanted to know who else was participating in DNA testing from the Estes community, because he understood the success of his own goals depended on other male Estes’s with proven genealogical descent from Abraham taking the Y DNA test. So, he began recruiting people himself.
After Roy’s initial recruiting drive which included calling every other Estes male researcher he knew AND writing letters, he told me that he had, after he retired, entered every Estes family he could find into his genealogy software. Most of these lines had been documented somewhat in at least one earlier published book, but that was only the beginning for Roy. He added his own research and that of anyone who would send him sourced information.
In 2003, I asked Roy to be my Estes DNA project co-administrator. He assured me he could not do that, for the same list of reasons he always gave me…too this or too that…but I knew better. I wasn’t sure exactly how everything would work out. After all, this was my first project and I was learning too. But I knew for sure that Roy had one invaluable asset – enthusiasm and a willingness to reach out to people and to learn. Plus, Roy was extremely motivated by his own brick wall interests.
I suggested that Roy and I split the tasks and that I’d take the genetics and he could help people with the genealogy part. We agreed, but that was before all of the DNA results began coming in.
A few weeks later, Roy, who was “too old” to understand the genetics, was sending me spreadsheets comparing the various Estes lines, their mutations and trying to figure out which of Abraham’s sons he descended from. We knew by that time that Roy’s line did indeed match the DNA of Abraham the immigrant, so either Abraham was his ancestor or they shared a common ancestor.
It’s amazing what a little motivation can do – Roy could and did understand Y DNA just fine.
Roy asked me about doing a webpage. I told him that was not my area of expertise. Then, he told me he was unable at his age to learn anything like web programming.
About two weeks later, he mentioned that he was learning html, a web programming language, so he could write his own web page. I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought to myself, “Good luck with that.”
Another few weeks later, I received a link to something that looked a lot like this:
He had taught himself html at age 82 or 83 and constructed a genealogy webpage that still exists today. This man puts me to shame!
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a bit of a turning point in Roy’s life, the beginning of a final set of chapters. Not only was it devastating, Roy refused to evacuate. I begged him to come, family, wife, wheelchairs, pets, everyone and whatever he wanted to bring to stay with us indefinitely. He told me he would live or die, but it would be right there – and he stayed in Gulfport, Mississippi. We couldn’t contact Roy for days and days. I never told him that another cousin died in that hurricane and how desperately worried we were. His mortality became crystal clear to him, his priorities shifted, and he began to work fervently on his bucket list.
Shortly thereafter, Roy told me he was too unhealthy to continue his website, and while I fervently hoped he was wrong, I did accept the gift of Roy’s website which Estes family archivist, David Powell has graciously incorporated as part of his website today, where you can visit it at http://estes.roots-boots.net/.
Over the next few years, now entirely wheelchair bound, Roy authored several books, the last of which was published in 2009. Roy wrote a large and beautifully detailed book about his Estes family history, but that book didn’t sell one single copy. Know why? Roy gave it away, to anyone and everyone who wanted it.
Roy was a true historian, questioning everything, driving us all to distraction sometimes requesting documentation, and digging up not only the improbable but seemingly, the impossible. His stringent military training and just under four decades of service never left him and served us all very well. In fact, Roy poked around until he discovered the Bobbitt family whose Bible page included a record that Abraham Estes had sailed with their family immigrant on the same ship, the Martha, arriving in January 1674 at City Point, Virginia.
As Roy and his wife’s health both deteriorated, he did have to give up his DNA project co-administrator duties and he was preparing for the inevitable day when he would no longer be here. He signed an affadivit, for example, allowing me access to his DNA forever. That was before Family Tree DNA had their Beneficiary page for you to designate a beneficiary for your DNA. Roy was absolutely committed to genealogy and genetic genealogy, both today and in the future when he just knew all of the answers would be unraveled.
After Roy’s wife passed away, he began living in an assisted living facility and gave up his research “cave” for a laptop. He was still involved, gladly shared his work, and encouraged anyone and everyone who would listen for half a minute…that was…until the beast called Alzheimer’s began to steal his life away.
These last few months have been exceedingly difficult, watching the once vibrant and outstanding researcher descend into the darkness of confusion. We still loved Roy of course, and we still wrote to him and shared finds with him, but his answers often no longer made sense. But Roy knew we cared about him and sometimes a cognizant e-mail would slip in among the rest. Those were doubly sad, because he clearly knew what he was losing as he slipped beneath the waves. Those were heart-wrenching moments of terrifying clarity.
As I’ve looked back through Roy’s e-mails and letters these past few days, one of his e-mails really stands out in terms of clarity and prophecy.
I think when the dust clears with the DNA project we will find some fantastic information. I don’t expect this in my life time but you have really started a great thing in the project!
I will say this – My predictions are future research will show that:
- Nicholas Ewstas was not connected to The House of Este.
- Nicholas will be found connected to the Eustice line.
- The basic line will be traced back to the Flanders area.
Other predictions that will be proven :
- The spouse of Abraham Sr, was not Barbara Brock.
- Abraham was not an indentured servant as such.
- There are errors in the list of children of Abraham and Barbara that we now accept.
I only wish I knew 30 years ago what we know now! Then I would have had the time and resources to check into these things!
To date, we have evidence that indeed, Nicholas Ewstas was most likely not connected to the House of Este. The connection to the Eustice line depends on which line and who is spelling the surname. And yes, the Estes line, first found in Kent, did come from mainland Europe – but apparently not Italy. Big Y testing on a group of Estes men with known and proven descent helped to sort this out. Roy didn’t get to participate in that testing, because his line is not proven genealogically beyond Elisha. DNA can do a lot, but it can’t make up for generational genealogically connected records.
Indeed, Roy is right and there is no evidence to suggest that Abraham’s wife, Barbara, was a Brock. You can’t prove a negative using DNA, at least not in this case. I am hopeful that in years to come as we develop tools like ancestor libraries where haplotypes are associated with certain ancestors and lines that we can one day unravel Barbara’s surname. It may not be in my lifetime either – but it will happen one day.
However, until then, we just don’t know, the county records we need have burned and there is just no way to discover her surname.
Unless, unless….Roy can figure out a way to tell us her name. I know, for a fact, that the first thing Roy did after greeting Berniece and his dog was to find Abraham and Barbara and ask about her surname.
Roy wasn’t too old, too disabled, too uneducated in genetic genealogy or too anything else. He was just the opposite, extremely capable. Roy jumped right in, in his 80s and made an unparalleled contribution on several fronts, including genetic genealogy. And now that he is actually ON the other side, WITH those ancestors… I’m hoping against hope that Roy isn’t too far away. I know that if there is any way for Roy to get us that surname information, he will. And I’m counting on him.
Just so you know, Roy, I’m leaving a pad of paper out with a pen, right by the Christmas tree:)
Roy has served as a personal inspiration for me now, for years. I used to think of Roy and say to myself, thinking of him confined to his wheelchair and always working through some level of chronic pain, “If Roy can do THAT, I can surely do this.” Roy leaves a huge legacy behind.
Perhaps the most important lesson is that you are never “too” anything, unless you decide you are. However, if you don’t DO something, eventually, you will be too late. Roy wasn’t too late, he just left too soon. I miss you partner.
Rest in peace Roy, right after you send me that surname:)