The Death of a Friend I Never Met
I published this on my Facebook page this past Friday (November 30th, 2018) when my friend and genealogy collaborator passed away after a sudden illness. I thought it worth publishing here on Medium…
My friend died today. He was a friend I never met in person. But he was also someone who, through email, messaging, and social media I had interacted with regularly over the course of more than a decade. The story of how we met goes back many years.
In 2005 I began studying my family history, which led to the creation of my family tree on Ancestry.com. Then in 2007 Ancestry launched Y-DNA testing. Y-DNA tests evaluate the Y Chromosome, which all men have. It remains unchanged from father-to-son, and so on, for so long that it can connect us to information about ancestors who passed away hundreds of years ago. In turn, as more and more people are tested, Y-DNA can also connect us to very distant cousins who carry the same paternal lineage.
In my case, I learned that my Y-DNA connected me to my 5XGreat grandfather, a man named Philip Martin Frey, who was born around 1750 and died in 1833 in the Lexington District of South Carolina. Over time I found and read pension records indicating that Philip had fought in the American Revolutionary War where he served as a drummer in the 2nd South Carolina Continentals. Philip was wounded in battle as he fought for the defense of Fort Moultrie in Savannah in September and October of 1779.
Some of Philip Martin’s descendants migrated west, into Alabama, and then into Texas where I, seven generations later, was born. I grew up in a very Texas-centric family with a strong connection to German heritage through my mother’s parents, as well as though my father’s mother. I never learned much about my paternal Fry/Frey lineage until I began my genealogical journey, so I was excited to learn that I had a patriot of the American Revolution as part of my heritage. Not only that, I still carried his surname.
It was this that led me to a new friend, a fellow genealogist; my (distant) cousin Randall Frye. Randall had been working on his own family history for many years before I ever thought to start that journey. He was a few years older than me, and lived in South Carolina, not far from where Philip Martin had lived and died. Randall and I found each other in the discussion groups related to Fry/Frye/Frey heritage, and he was quickly able to catch me up on our common ancestor. I was descended from one of Philip’s sons who had moved west. Randall was descended from a son who had stayed put — and that particular line had stayed in South Carolina ever since. I quickly learned that Randall was a true son of South Carolina and was very knowledgeable about the history that had impacted our family, as well as the history that had impacted the records of our South Carolina family. I have read many (and I mean MANY) emails, messages, and Facebook posts from Randall where he reviled General William Tecumseh Sherman for his sacking of the south during the Civil War. That destruction included court records from the state capital in Columbia, which would possibly have shed light on who had been the parents of Philip Martin Frey.
The question of Philip Martin’s heritage became the mystery that bonded Randall and me and other genealogy-minded family members. In the years since Randall worked with me and other descendants of Philip Martin to identify the land once owned by our ancestor. We were also able to use DNA evidence to link Philip back to Switzerland, and even to a village now called Thalheim an der Thur. We don’t yet have enough information to identify the specific people Philip was descended from there, as that would likely require records dating back to the early 1700s or late 1600s.
I have long credited Randall as a mentor, teacher, and as someone who helped me learn more about my own family history, and also to learn the American history that impacted my ancestors. Over the years my interest in genealogy grew, and I took courses and I got better at doing genealogical research. I also learned that I enjoyed helping other people learn about their heritage. In 2016 I began to practice genealogy professionally. Randall’s influence helped me get there.
Last weekend on Facebook, Randall posted lively comments about the Clemson game. At some point though, his feed went silent, and then I began seeing very distressing messages from his family saying that he’d had a catastrophic stroke and was in the hospital. The prognosis was bleak. Yesterday I learned that he’d been taken off life support. Then, earlier today, Randall made his final journey, to a better place; one where our frail bodies don’t betray us, and where, I hope, friends and family can sit and share stories all day long.
Randall was my friend, and genealogical mentor, and a repository of family history whose loss will be felt by so many people. In the past few days, nearly six hundred people have joined a newly created Facebook group (Love For Randall Frye) so that we could pray for him and his family, get updates about him, and tell stories about him. As of today, we will now begin to use that page to begin remembering him. Thanks to Randall, I understand the value of keeping a record of people’s lives, and I’m glad to know that page exists, and I am happy to know that stories about him will continue to be told. Even though we never met in person I am glad to be learning more about who Randall was, and about all the people who loved him, and who will continue to tell his story.
I had many unspoken plans of working with Randall to document our common heritage and to create a new record of the history and information we had gathered about Philip Martin Frey and his family. I don’t know what that will look like now. It will be more difficult now that Randall is gone, but not impossible. I hope the spirit of my friend will be looking over my shoulder and guiding me as I continue that journey.
My friend Randall died today, and I am sad.