Psychologist Erving Polster thinks every person’s life is worth a novel. For those of us curious to learn about our family history, Polster’s insight accounts at least in part for what compels us to keep learning. Beyond the bare facts we accumulate in the pursuit of information about our ancestors lie stories that can in some cases be downright fascinating, with their alternate hues of joy and tragedy, ill fate and astonishing good fortune. It’s often the stories themselves, in fact, that keep us going when the trails of facts begin to taper off.
The stories are what remain. In what follows, I want to take a close look at one story I’ve uncovered as I’ve worked on my own family history. It’s a story full of themes dominant in classic literature from Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid to the present: journey into the unknown and separation from loved ones. War and anguishing decisions about loyalties and sides to take as war arrives. Exile and tragic loss, familial separation added to familial separation, with a final tragic severing of ties between a husband and wife, a father and his children.
What will follow in the next several postings in this series is the story of David Dinsmore, an Ulster Scots immigrant to South Carolina who served as a British soldier during the Revolutionary War and was exiled to Nova Scotia as a result. When Dinsmore went to Canada, his wife and their children remained in South Carolina and then moved to Kentucky. Two of Dinsmore’s children, a son John and a daughter Mary Jane, spent the final years of their lives in Lawrence Co., Alabama. All the facts available to historians of this family suggest that, from the time of his exile to Nova Scotia to the end of his life, David Dinsmore never reunited with his wife Margaret and their children. War and exile sundered this immigrant family decisively . . . .
This is the first posting in a seven-part series about this topic. The next posting in this series is here. It will end with a link taking you to the next posting in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.
 Erving Polster, Every Person’s Life Is Worth a Novel (NY: W. W. Norton, 1990).