What’s In a Name?

By Britton Sharp

What’s in a name?

I am named after my two grandfathers. My first name comes from my paternal grandfather, he was a coal miner from rural Kentucky. My middle name is my mother’s maiden name. Her dad was a first generation immigrant just before the second World War.

My name tells a story.

A few years ago my brother and I realized that we didn’t fully know that story, so we began to explore our family history.

Genealogy has become a popular topic in our culture. There are TV shows about people exploring their heritage and many online sites offer to help.

What we found is that what looks glamorous and easy, takes a lot of work and can often be frustrating. However, when the connections are made they uncover not just information but also identity.

We learned several lessons during our search for our story.

The first was to be patient. Family history can turn into family legend, which makes the process a bit frustrating because you are looking for the thread of traceable fact. This may mean that while the story of great, great, grandpa Cletus was hilarious and a great story, it can’t be verified and you have to keep digging. Looking for your family’s story will seem frustrating, especially when there are multiple threads, but if you are patient you will find that following a thread will unlock a new section of your story. It will also take time, it became a bit of a hobby that we would work on when we had both the time and resources. Over the course of around five years, our story unfolded.

I am an artist and have always been told my perspective is unique and while at times this has been encouraging it has often caused me to feel a bit isolated. I grew up being told that my grandfather on my mom’s side was German. However, in following the thread through online searches, local libraries and talking to some people from the town in Germany they were from – my family actually moved to Germany from France. In following this thread it revealed that my unique perspective was also found in my ancestors who were craftsmen, composers, and fashion designers. The thread linked a painting country boy from rural Tennessee to a notable composer in Germany and a fashion designer in Europe.

The second lesson we learned is that you will use both primary and secondary tools. While one site may offer to be a one stop shop, you will end up using several various methods to discover your story. We found that using sites like ancestory.com were helpful, but we also would use local libraries (many now online) and church records to fill in the gaps. You will also discover others that are looking for their story and your paths may cross, at these moments we found that information was most often freely and excitedly shared.

Lastly, one of the most helpful things we found was taking a trip to some of the destinations we uncovered. It was like stepping back in time, finding the church they attended, looking through phone books searching for our last name, talking with locals about the town’s history. I wouldn’t suggest this for every location you discover, it was most helpful when got stuck in our search. Our trail got stuck in Germany, specifically Dresden. One summer we took a trip to Dresden even though the leads were getting cold. We told the locals our last name. They didn’t understand so I wrote it down. Their eyes lit up and said “Oh! You are pronouncing it wrong because it isn’t German it is French!” After a few more conversation, the French thread of our story line was revealed. We discovered that the town was actually a popular destination for French Huguenots who were escaping persecution.

We all have a story and that story is valuable. Uncovering the story of your past will take work and effort, but knowing your past may also help understand your present.

Here are some tools that proved helpful in our search:



The local library closest to your family and their Genealogy and local history department.

img_0446Britton Sharp Contact
UT Knoxville

Britton is an artist, writer, gardener, husband, and father. When he isn’t chasing toddlers with his wife, Brooks, you can find Britton writing in a coffee shop or watercolor painting downtown. He is a regular contributor to the blogs: https://collegiateabbey.com/ and http://www.flightnetwork.com/

As vice president of the Campus Ministers Council and director of Collegiate Abbey, he works to provide self-care resources to UT Knoxville faculty and staff.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Still My Hero

By Susan Robertson

As it is with most little girls, my dad was my first hero. I am the third of four children, and I always tell people I was my dad’s son before my brother was born. He taught me to throw a baseball, punt a football and even taught me to sew a dress for my Barbie doll.

My dad passed away in September 2012, but because of his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease in 2001, we gradually said goodbye to him over the course of 11 years. I lived out of state during that time but visited my parents at least monthly. And watching my father succumb to this horrible disease was one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced.

Most often Alzheimer’s is associated with the loss of memory. I never think it is funny when someone forgets something and then jokes, “I must have Alzheimer’s.” There is nothing funny about that disease. It truly robs sufferers of everything—from memory to the ability to speak to dignity. My father’s Alzheimer’s started with paranoia—thinking people were coming into the house and changing the times on the clocks or moving things from one location to the next. That was followed by the loss of his ability to process information and although he still remembered us, he often talked about going to see his mom and dad (who had both passed years earlier).

As with most Alzheimer’s patients, my dad started to wander. He would pace endlessly around the house all day and much of the night. One night he even climbed out his bedroom window and walked more than a mile to a nearby recreation area. Thankfully, some neighbors who had gone to the area to walk the next morning spotted him and brought him home. It was after that incident that my mother had all of the windows nailed closed from the inside. She also added alarms to each entry door so dad couldn’t go outside without her knowing it; and added baby locks on the cabinets after dad ate a dishwashing tablet thinking it was candy.

Alzheimer’s caused my dad to become very childlike. He liked playing with and holding toy cars. On one visit, I was in the backyard walking around with him when he picked up an acorn and threw it at me. When I turned around, he just grinned impishly. I was crying inside, but I just had to smile because that is something my dad would have done before the disease. While dad was very different and needed around-the-clock care, he was still very much my dad.

The disease also took a toll on my mother who was dad’s caregiver. Not only was it emotional to deal with the fact that your husband of 50-plus years was no longer the same, it wore on her to have to make sure she knew where he was 24/7. One of the things I say to anybody who is a caregiver is you have to take care of yourself! Stress plays havoc with our overall health. Mom finally agreed to have a home health worker visit three days a week, and one of my sisters moved in with my parents to help care for dad. My other siblings and I gave my mom and sister breaks on the weekend so they could be away from the house while we would watch dad. It only made sense that the weekends I was visiting, I would toss the ball with dad. It was just like old times—sort of.

I wish that no one would have to deal with this disease—no individual and no family. But the truth is that today, 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s; the disease is now the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.; and every 66 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with the disease, all according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

My paternal grandfather and my father both had Alzheimer’s, so I’ve read a lot of research about how to prevent the disease. Unfortunately, no one can pinpoint the exact cause. Researchers have identified many things such as environment, diet, etc., but currently there is no cure.

It was about 10 months before my dad passed, Christmas of 2011, when I realized for the first time he didn’t know who I was. That was extremely tough to accept, but it was not about me. My dad was very different from the man I knew as my first hero, but in my heart he was still my dad.

Susan RoberstonSusan Robertson  Contact
UT Institute for Public Service

Susan handles communications for the UT Institute for Public Service. She enjoys spending time outdoors—hiking and documenting the natural beauty of East Tennessee through photography. Susan loves watching all sports, reading, cooking and fulfilling the needs of her demanding miniature dachshund, Wrigley.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Savor the Ordinary Moments

By Keith Carver

Our mailbox is overflowing. Six days a week our mailman brings a new batch of college recruitment material. We’re hearing from them all—big universities, small private colleges and all schools in between.

My daughter, Carson, is finishing up her junior year of high school and, perhaps like many of your children, planning for the next phase of her life. We are knee deep in the college admissions process.

It doesn’t seem possible. Our little girl has become a young woman overnight. Hollianne and I are trying to enjoy every day with her before she leaves for college in a year. I’ve realized how much I’ll miss having her in our home on a daily basis.

To celebrate this milestone, I’ve started collecting a list of the little things that I’ll miss about Carson. Included on my list are:

  • Watching her compete on the soccer field.
  • Enjoying her homemade chocolate chip cookies, often made late at night.
  • Watching her build the perfect s’more in our backyard fire pit.
  • Experiencing college football and basketball with her. Her commentary is always insightful and hilarious.
  • Seeing her enjoy her Bible studies with friends.
  • Hiking new trails as a family.
  • Attending concerts together.

I realized, however, that while this writing exercise is good for me, I need to make sure that I share these thoughts with Carson—right now.

While she certainly knows how much I love her, she also needs to hear it from me—right now.

Life is fleeting. We owe it to those we love to not only celebrate the big milestones in life, but the quiet, ordinary ones, too. These small moments and memories are what make our lives so special.

So, I encourage you to take time out of your day to share your thoughts with those close to you. They’ll appreciate it, and if you’re lucky…you might get a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies in return.

The Carver FamilyKeith Carver  Blog  Contact
UT System Administration

Keith is husband to an amazing woman and dad to three active children. He enjoys getting outdoors with his wife, Hollianne, fishing, watching his children play sports all over East Tennessee and reading biographies of historical figures. He currently serves as the executive assistant to UT President Joe DiPietro.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

What I Learned from My Grandmother’s Battle with Cancer

By Renata Gillispie

Cancer. When I heard the word a few years ago and when I hear it now, it makes me uneasy.

I used to equate cancer with immediate death, but I now know that having cancer doesn’t always mean you will die or will die quickly.

My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2009. We were devastated when we received the news. The cancer had metastasized to other parts of her body, and her doctors believed she had only months to live. They were ready to give up on her.

Evelyn V. Matthews
My grandmother, Evelyn V. Matthews

There were experimental treatments and drugs to try, but her prognosis wasn’t good.

We opted to try whatever treatments the doctors could do to prolong her life, and my grandmother agreed. She wanted to live.

As my family came to grips with this new reality, my grandmother remained calm.

It was difficult for us to see the drastic physical change in her and watch her lose her ability to do many things for herself. But she always had a smile for everybody. She was always concerned about her family and didn’t want us to worry.

I learned a great deal from my grandmother over the years, but I think I learned the most as she went through her battle with cancer.

We lost her in June 2015, but the amount of time that she lived after her diagnosis was a miracle.

Even throughout her treatments, the doctors were surprised at how quickly she would bounce back each time. She fought through the ups and downs of cancer for almost six years. She was the strongest and most resilient woman I’ve known. She made a huge impact on my life and the lives of many others in her 81 years.

Some of the very important life lessons I learned from my grandmother include:

  1. Always maintain a positive attitude. I don’t think my grandmother would have survived as long as she did after her diagnosis if she had not had the correct mindset. Starting the day off with positive thinking sets the tone for the whole day.
  1. Surround yourself with the things and people you love. My grandmother wanted to be around her family as much as she could, and she enjoyed our company greatly. She hated to see us go. She didn’t like to say goodbye—she preferred to say, “See you later.” She also enjoyed watching soap operas, movies on Lifetime TV, praying and reading her Bible. These were just a few of her favorite things.
  1. Live life to the fullest every single day. Enjoy the simple things, such as nature. When you’re healthy and busy, you don’t take time to stop and smell the roses. When faced with a major health issue, you will see life from a different perspective. Things that used to matter will no longer be a priority. My grandmother enjoyed sitting on her front porch in the early mornings and attending church when she was able.
  1. Help others in the areas where you need help. For example, my grandmother reached out to others who were ill or who just needed some encouragement. She would make a phone call or send food. Not only was she helping others, but she was also helping herself. The reward and satisfaction you get from helping others in need makes you forget about your own struggles.

Renata Gillispie Renata Gillispie Contact
UT Health Science Center

Renata is a coordinator in the College of Graduate Health Sciences at the UT Health Science Center. She enjoys attending church, family, traveling, reading and writing. She earned both her bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing and her master’s degree in leadership from the University of Memphis.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.