April 18, 2012 - During the Civil War, brother fought brother as North and South struggled for survival.
Vesta DeRiso's poster-size family tree is the result of years of research. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
That's true for Vesta DeRiso's ancestors. Her great grandfather on her mother's side, Isaac Elliot, ended up fighting for both sides.
"He almost died," said DeRiso, Independence Township resident. "He ended up in Michigan with a couple of his brothers."
She discovered this and much, much more when she was bit by the genealogy bug. It took awhile, though.
"My mother was interested in genealogy. I grew up with it, all the pictures and letters, but I had no context for it," said DeRiso, who grew up in Pittsburg, Pa. "She passed away in 1997 without explaining it. I got all of it, boxes of it, but didn't look at them for years."
About seven years ago, she decided to open the boxes of letters, pictures, and other documents collected by her mother.
Right on top were letters written by her relatives during the Civil War.
"They wrote about their crops, weather, the price of beef, what they thought about slavery," she said. "They wrote about the war, from both sides, how the troops would take their chickens."
Her great-great-grandfather, Loyal Young, ran an Underground Railroad stop in the basement of his church in Pennsylvania.
"He was a resolute abolitionist, sharing his feelings about slavery, freedom and Abraham Lincoln in a book he had written," she said.
She became more active in the local Sashabaw Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, becoming an officer of the club. She also worked with Clarkston Area Historical Society.
"I joined the DAR a long time ago, but I started to get interested," she said. "I started to understand what it all meant, who they were and their relationships."
So far, she's traced her father's side of the family to when they came to America from Ireland. On her mother's side, she's still filling in the blanks.
"Every time I find out something, it presents two more mysteries – it never ends," she said. "When you find someone, it's exciting. It's neat to be able to do this."
She moved to Clarkston with her husband, Mike DeRiso, in 2003 because of work.
"My grandfather was born here," she said. "We found a house like the one in New York where we lived – Fairport, New York, a pretty little town. Clarkston is a lot like that."
Her story is featured in the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on Detroit Public Television. The series tells stories of local residents who were able to find their own roots through local historical or genealogical groups and organizations.
"I'm happy to share – family history is interesting," DeRiso said. "Everyone's history is interesting."
Her story will continue to cycle on Detroit Public Television throughout the show's 10-week run, through May.
Her story is also at Detroit Public Television, www.dptv.org/familyhistory.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.