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The Unknown Ancestor, part 1

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

The month between my trip to NOLA and my trip to Daytona Beach I was plagued by a recurring dream. It was a place that I knew very well - the Ponce Inlet Jetty’s The dream was a sunny day, warm, with a warm breeze coming in from the ocean. It’s me as a young girl laughing and run/climbing through the rocks. I can hear my dad laughing as well and then he says “Slow down AmberLee, I don’t want you to fall.”

As I start to turn to look at him - I wake up

Every damn morning at 3:33am. It haunted me so much that I started trying to stay awake later, so that maybe I would be too exhausted to dream. But the sub conscience can be an asshole when it knows you need to heal a part of you that you just want to keep hidden. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what I was hiding. What I needed to heal. All I knew was that I had to go to the Jetty’s. The last time I had ventured out to them it was July 11th, 2013. It was raining and I had a flood of tears streaming down my face. I had brought my camera with me and took 1 solitary photo… I slapped a quote on it - because that’s what we did back then… and I NEVER went back to the Jetty’s. Even though I have made the trip to Daytona at least every year since I left, sometimes multiple times in a year.

Jetty 2013
Ponce Inlet Jetty's 2-13

10 years had passed since that picture was taken, 10 years since I had been to the ocean… That night I did not go to the water - I was afraid that I would just keep walking until the water took me over completely - and I couldn’t leave my kids. In the following 10 years… I tried to loose myself, once with pills… once in a bottle… once to the darkness of my mind. I lost a mentor and dear friend… what broke me - was when I lost both my aunt and my dad.

That damn dream haunted me for 32 days. “…slowdown … I don’t want you to fall” What the hell?? So, I made an executive decision that I would go to the Jetty’s during this trip. But I would have to make it to Daytona first! John and I decided to take a new route to Florida, this one took us through Gurley, Alabama. A town that my 5th great grandfather, John Gurley, had founded. I didn’t expect much from this little town… as there really wasn’t much about it online. And my 7 years of researching my family history hadn’t really brought much up. Not to mention that most of the older members of the family had long since been dead and no one thought it important to remember any of the stories. But something really cool happened … we got turned around and a bit lost. Stumbling upon the Gurley Cemetery, so of course I had to go!!! John gets super freaked out about cemeteries, but me… I love them and this one… this one had MY history in it. Somewhere. John insisted that we asked the groundkeeper, he was new and was unsure. While John chatted, I went exploring. I was drawn to a tree of to the left of the road. There was a tall monument as well as many many markers. So off I went and that were my people were, I read the names and I knew each one. I found the marker for my great grandmother that has a ton of mystery. I found my great grandfather that tried his hardest to be a descent human during a ridiculously impossible time for people in the south. I found the marker of my great uncle who was by all accounts a sombitch (that’s southern for son of a bitch). ... that's when I found a marker beneath that old Oak tree with no name, no dates.

I sat there for what seems like forever trying to figure out who this person was, with absolutely zero luck. The head groundskeeper showed up and was telling John about different properties that were originally my families property and after getting eaten alive by mosquitos

- We set off to find some of the properties.

Of course we got turned around and lost again, this time arriving at town hall, BUT that’s where things got really cool. Mr. Holt is the intern for the summer and he gave us a personal tour and history lesson about Gurley. The town was originally set up to be a big city. It had the first public school in the state. It had a train depot. It had plenty of resident some cash rich, some land rich. It was a good mixture. But then 2 major fires took out Main Street and the residents that had money started moving over to Huntsville (which is only 11 minutes away by car) and the town stopped growing. The Gurley’s that held the name all left, including my 3rd great grandfather John Williams Gurley all that was left were the descendants of John Gurleys daughters. The state decided to claim imminent domain and installed a highway dead center of the town - cutting it in half. BUT - Gurley is the small town that refuses to die. It is still there, thriving. The Mayor is determined to rebuild and bring back some of its former glory. That’s when the dream stopped and I created a story for that unmarked tombstone. After seeing a quote by Virginia Wolfe “For most of History, Anonymous was a woman”… I have since made up a very wonderful story of who this is… it is the wildly independent sister of John Gurley - my 5th great grandfather and town founder. She refused to marry, wore pants, and drank whisky straight from the bottle. She cussed and she smoked. She could quote the good book as well as Plato, Aristotle, and Heraclitus. She was very well traveled... but most importantly - She was FREE. I imagine as she lay in her bed at the end of her very long life, she simply told one of the many Gurley men "Don't you dare fuss over me, just plant me underneath that old oak tree at the back of the property"... and that is exactly what they did. Part 2

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