The host of NPR's "All Things Considered" travels back in time to his ancestral town.
I've spent long afternoons in the Ashe County Library, looking in vain for evidence that some of my family might have settled here. In past research I've placed my father's forebears — Arthur and Peggy Adams — in eastern Kentucky. They show up on the 1850 state census. My mother's family name is Wellman, and I was having trouble tracing them back out of Kentucky. Then late one night it occurred to me to try the Internet. I searched for the name and within seconds opened the Wellman Family History Page. Albert Wellman, a distant cousin in North Carolina, had collected the genealogy and was adding to it as fast as Wellmans around the world happened onto the site. I had no idea that all these kinfolk existed, including my far-off cousin.
It was Thomas Wellman most of us were looking for, the man who had come to Massachusetts from England in about 1645, beginning the American family line that can be followed to Maryland, to North Carolina, into Kentucky, and to my mother: Edith Lona Well-man. I phoned Albert down in Durham; he told me that no one he knew of had been to Ilminster, Thomas's birthplace. And so after the cold weather came and I had left the New River, I flew to London, then took a train from Paddington Station out to the West Country to Somerset County.
Ilminster is a comfortable place with cottages and row houses, a narrow shopping street with the bank and the butcher's and a bakery. And the Minster itself, the grand honey-colored stone church built around 1450.