Thursday, May 26, 2011

Adventures in genealogy: Visiting Old St. Andrew's Church, Charleston, South Carolina

Old St. Andrew's Church is located in the West Ashley area of Charleston - that's on the other side of the Ashley River from the main city, on the same side as Charles Towne Landing. It is the oldest surviving church in South Carolina, one of ten Church of England parishes established by the Church Act of 1706. This is the church my family belonged to at that very time, the early 1700s, which is why I wanted to see it - the building where they worshipped and the surrounding landscape in which they lived. It was the one thing I was dead-set on seeing in Charleston. I did not think it would be such an adventure to get there.

I had no car, so I went to the Charleston Visitors Center at about 9 in the morning and said to the very nice young girl behind the counter, "I'm interested in seeing Old St. Andrew's Church. How do I get there by bus?" To which she replied, "Oh, you can't get there by bus."


As it turns out, you can get there by bus, but not easily. My journey started, appropriately enough, on Mary Street behind the center, where I caught a 10:20 Route 30 bus across the river to the Citadel Mall in West Ashley. I was suddenly smack dab in suburbia. Except for the palm trees I might as well have been home. The girl at the visitors center had told me to transfer to the 302 bus toward Shadowmoss and to ask the bus driver the best stop to get off for St. Andrew's. Well, I didn't know where to catch the 302 - turns out, it's from the same exact stop at the Citadel Mall where I had been dropped off. The intense heat had me confused. As did the sign for that route that only said Orange Grove, which was the direction opposite the one I wanted. So while I was figuring all this out, I missed the connecting 302. Which was just as well because I needed more comfortable shoes, which I was able to get at Target. I was annoyed about spending my free day on vacation at the mall of all places, but that extra time helped me figure out that the 302 would have been the wrong bus. The extra time AND the walking a mile and a half or so up the road toward Ashley River Road to see what was going on with these bus stops. A mile and a half or so in 90 degree heat with tons of humidity. No wonder I got a sunburn. My hair was frizzy and wild and I was sweating and I probably looked a little like a crazy person, what with the way I looked and the mumbling to myself trying to figure out what was what - I didn't care. I was going to get to this church, even if I had to walk the whole way there.

I almost had to. I knew what bus route I needed to be on now but I didn't have a timetable for that route, so I didn't know how often the bus was running, if I'd have to wait 30 seconds or 30 minutes. But thank God for my smartphone, because I was able to look up what I needed to know (except for the timetable) and use my GPS to figure out where I was going. I would have been completely lost without it.

I think I finally got to the church about 1:30. Yes, it took me all day to get there. But it was worth it. Because no longer was I in suburbia. I was on a quiet road in the middle of the woods, next to the marshes and the water, surrounded by palm trees and magnolia trees and peace and quiet. It was so, so beautiful. Yes, there were cars and some other sides of modernity but suddenly I was not only in the place but the time that my family lived. There was a beautiful fountain and lake, which looked fairly modern, but there was an old cemetery on the grounds, which if you follow my blog, you know made me very happy. There's nothing I love more than wandering around an old cemetery for a few hours. Most of the graves were too "new" for me - 1800s and such - although I did find one that would have been a contemporary of my ancestors, so that was cool. I took some photos and basically just hung out, walking around, for awhile. In places like that, old places, you can feel history come alive. To call it a cosmic connection might go a little too far, but it's like something in the past and something in the present reach out to each other and touch, if even for just a second. Besides all the good information you can find from doing onsite research, standing where your ancestors stood, seeing what they saw, hearing what they heard, and feeling what they felt, is another perk of visiting the places where your family came from.

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