Monday, January 11, 2016

Do You Know Who You Are

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm assuming everyone has recovered a bit from the all the holiday hoopla, and hoping that everyone had a lovely time. Most of us spent at least some of the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's celebration with family. It occurred to me that not only do we spend a lot of time with our relations, we talk a lot about family and where our particular family traditions come from.

But as much as I love hearing about other people's traditional and ethnic holiday celebrations, it always makes me a little wistful, because I am a MUTT.

As far as I know, at least. I only knew one grandparent, my mother's mother, and if she knew much about her family history, she never talked about it. My father was not close to his family either and had no interest in learning about his heritage. I've guessed, from the names (Darden on my father's side and Dozier and Jordan on my mother's) and from their Protestant upbringing, that both families might have come to Texas from the original Protestant migration into the Kentucky/Tennessee area. I am also guessing (wildly) that all the names were originally French.

But that's it. I know absolutely nothing else. One of these days maybe I'll join, or do a DNA test, or both. I am curious. I wonder if it would make me feel more grounded, to know something about my background. Or perhaps the lack of knowledge has given me the freedom to make my own identity. Hmm...

REDS, what about you? Do you know where you came from? And if so, does it help form the way you see yourselves?

HALLIE EPHRON: My husband has been researching his family for years. Helps that he's got an unusual last name (all the Tougers in the world are related to him). I have very little interest in knowing my own, I confess. They all came from Russia, that much I know. And there was a good amount of mental illness. Swell.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I have asked and asked..and but no one who could have known seemed to know.  It apparently depends on where the border was at the time my family on my father's side came from Russia or Poland or Austria. (Aunt Portia, the coolest aunt ever, insisted it was Austria.)  My mom's father's last name was Miller, and I am pretty sure his family was German. Do I wish I knew more? Well, it would be interesting,but I don't think life-altering. I'd love to know about what the people DID, you know? One of my grandfathers owned a chain of department stores, and my other grandfather sold cars, So there's the "selling" element. Both my grandmothers bought a lot of clothes. So there may be something there.... 

RHYS BOWEN: I know quite a lot about my own family on my mother's side. My mother's father was Welsh but her mother was from East Anglia (a blonde Saxon married a dark Welshman!) My grandfather's mother was French. She was 17 when she married my 35 year old Welsh great-grandfather. How those two met is of great interest to me, but alas nobody is around to ask. She was a fantastic woman.She had 14 children. I have a picture of the whole family with her youngest sitting on her lap, her oldest with their own babies. She looks like a teenager still, with a tiny waist and bright face. My great grandfather, on the other hand, looks a haggard wreck! When my great-grandfather died she married again. When he died she went to her oldest daughter in Australia, traveling alone by ship in her eighties. I guess my love of travel and adventure comes from Grandmere Josephine.

And of course I married into a family of British aristocrats who can trace their lineage back to eight hundred. And the family tree includes several royal connections, including Queen Jane Seymour's brother, the Earl of Somerset and a Scottish noblewoman called Beatrice Lachan McLachan of McLachan  (I'm not making this up.)

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Rhys, I thought I was cool because I can trace my mother's side of the family back to the beginning of the eighteenth century! My nine-times-great grandfather, Donald McEachron (or MacEchron, or McEachern or a half dozen other spellings) left Islay, Scotland to come to the western frontier of the colonies in the 1730s - the Adirondack region of New York. His eldest son, Cornelius "Neil" McEachron enlisted in the Revolutionary Army and married a Dutch woman, whose father, family legend has it, was an officer. (Scandal!)

The family home in Argyle, NY. The little girl is my Great-Aunt
Lillian, who was born in 1905, on the same date as my Smithie.

Other members of my family tree: a New York State Commissioner of Canals, a Victorian lady whose husband gave her eight children and then retired to his bed as an invalid, a bigamist, a farmer who played the organ for silent movies and, of course, my amazing mom, who was married, became a mother and widowed by age 21; who went on to raise three kids and travel the world, and who rules her Episcopal church with a benevolent hand.                        

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh this is so fascinating. I have a cousin who has done tons of research since my dad died a few years ago and bequeathed him a big box of family photos and mementos. My father loved family history and explored it the hard way--by writing people by hand--way before came along. I know I had Irish, German, and Swiss relations on that side. My father was quite obsessed with one relative who graduated from West Point and then served in the Spanish American war and fought the Indians in the west. He apparently committed suicide in the Philippines, supposedly in a fit of malaria-induced delirium. My mother's side (Burdette!) had some French relations, but much less is known about them. This gets me interested in finding out more about the whole crew! The saddest story in our history might belong to my grandfather, who owned a silk mill in Paterson NJ with his older sisters. He desperately wanted them to sell it, but they refused. And then production of synthetic products ruined the business and their fortune was lost.

Lucy's  aunt Maria, a great uncle Percy Brereton, and her grandmother, Alice May Isleib

DEBS: So interesting! Hallie, please tell us a bit about the Tougers--now I'm curious. And Rhys, I want to see that photo of your Grandmere Josephine. I'll bet that's where you got some of your drive and energy.

I'm inspired--you see you all know at least a little bit. Maybe I'll find time to do a little digging. My daughter's German grandmother has given her a whole family tree and a twenty or thirty page hand-written family history, so I feel I'm letting the side down a bit for future generations.  And who knows? Maybe I'll discover there are actually some English and Scottish ancestors in the mix somewhere!

READERS, what about you? Do you know your family history?


  1. The whole ancestry thing is quite fascinating . . . a relative is tracing John’s father’s ancestry; we’ve traced my mother’s family back quite a way and so discovered that we are related to Daniel Boone; we can trace the Shafto family [my grandmother on my mother’s side] all the way back to England . . . .

  2. I know quite a lot about my family on my mother's side. (They didn't come over on the Mayflower but shortly thereafter ) The best story my grandmother told was from her childhood in San Saba County Texas. She was the sixth of seven children, five older brothers and a younger sister. One day her father returned home from town with a small Indian child on the back of his horse. He'd been abandoned by his tribe and was obviously ill. Her mother sighed but took the child in, fed him what he would eat and tucked him in bed. The next morning he broke out with pustules. He had smallpox. And very soon everyone else did. My grandmother and all her family survived, but the little Indian boy did not. This is hard for me to imagine, but I know where my nurse gene came from!

  3. Daniel Boone?! Go Joan!

    All of mine came from Russia through Ellis Island, taken in by family upon arrival. Hard to imagine what it must have been like. One grandmother on my husband's side died after giving birth to her 5th child; the five kids were split up, 2 to relatives and 3 to an orphanage where the baby died in a fire... then grandpa remarried and the remaining kids were reunited, their new mother had a baby girl. They grew up without any idea that she didn't have the same mother as her siblings. Now there's a novel.

  4. Hallie, yes! Novels everywhere...

    Joan, I think we may be cousins with the Daniel Boone connection:).

    Ann, that is a tragic story. Amazing that your grandmother's family survived!!

  5. What great stories! Novels everywhere, indeed!

    So maybe I'm related to Daniel Boone, too? :-) My grandmother (maternal) always claimed that she was part Cherokee, but I have no idea where the connection came in. She was very fair and freckled, but both my mom and I inherited a gene for olive skin from somewhere.

  6. Everybody has a story. That is such a truism, right?

    Twenty years ago or so my youngest uncle and a couple of cousins and I compiled as much information as we could glean, beg or borrow from wherever we could get it, to create as much of our family tree as possible. Since my maternal grandmother had nine children (my mother is the middle one), there was a massive amount of data.

    What we found was that the clan came to the US from France in the late 1700's, but there's a big hole in the records. Our great great grandfather's family ended up in Canada somehow, and there is a family story about some intermarriage with Native Americans in that region. The tribes there are Fox and Sauk, kind of interchangeable, depending on which side of the border, as I understand. I'd love to do a DNA test to see if this is actually true. Grandma's family came straight from Hungary, and she was born in 1902, shortly after they landed, around the end of the 1890's.

    On my first trip to Paris our group passed a gallery with a variation of the family name. I went in to speak with the owner. She said it was the same name, and that all variations were descended from the same small town in Normandy.

    But I'd really love to find out more about my dad's side of the family. Alas, nearly everyone is gone, and there's no family Bible, as far as I know.

  7. Julia, my grandmother's name was Lillian, too. I love it. Suggested to my daughter for granddaughter-to-be, but no luck... Although it's back in fashion now, I think.

    I found a print in the south of France, not long after my grandmother died, by an artist named Lillian Lorraine Jordan, which was my grandmother's maiden name. The print still hangs in my hall and makes me think of her every time I pass it.

  8. I was fortunate to have a grandfather who introduced me to both family history and writing at at very young age. He refused, however, to admit that we were descended from one of the founders of Rhode Island, Samuell Gorton, because Gorton was so radical in his political and religious beliefs that he not only got himself kicked out of Plimoth Plantations, but out of Providence and Portsmouth, too. My take is that eccentrics run in the family.

  9. My aunt (mother's sister) has been involved in tracing her family heritage and has occasionally enlisted my help photographing gravestones in Pittsburgh, but I admit the whole "tracing your lineage" holds very little interest for me. My mom's dad was first generation American - from Croatia. On my dad's side, the most interesting story is my great-grandmother who used to smuggle whiskey in from Canada during Prohibition by hiding it in her car door - and the head of Customs at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo used to stop for nickel shots. The ethnicity is some mish-mash of Croatian, English, German/Austrian. So Deborah, totally get that "mutt" mentality.

    Makes it tough when the kids get a school project that is "bring in a family tradition," but we manage.

  10. I was thinking about this last night--my Great-grandmothers were Gertrude and May. And grandmothers Rose and Minda. Jonathan's grandmother was Fannie. SO interesting, huh, how the fashions change?

  11. My ancestor, Penelope Stout, was an amazing woman. She arrived by boat in 1640. The boat foundered and she and her husband swam ashore only to be attacked by indians. Her stomach gashed open by an axe, she hid in a tree log. Another tribe found her and sewed up her stomach and nursed her to health before taking her to New Amsterdam. She then married And had eleven children before dying at over 102. She remained friends with the Indians who saved her and even bought land from them to live in in New Jersey.

  12. Hank, my grandmothers were Gertrude and Mary.

    Just the other day we were talking about how women used to be named Gertrude, then their names were shortened to Gert, Gertie, and Trudy.

    My grandmother was most definitely a Gert, since she was an unredemptive old battleaxe.

  13. Joan, that's fascinating about Daniel Boone!

  14. Hank, your grandmother Fannie was probably Frances, don't you think?

    Deb, what a fantastic story! And how great that your grandmother Penelope's story was passed down.

  15. Love the stories from everyone's family history! I think that's why I love genealogy so much--beyond the names and dates is a wealth of stories--and that's what I hope to pass on to my family. All of my ancestors came to America before there was a U.S.--makes history come alive when you can tell stories of ancestors who fought in every conflict from the French and Indian Wars right up through Iraq and Afghanistan. There are letters from an ancestor on my mother's side, sent from the war with Mexico during the 1840s. A Church name listed on a monument to the Confederate dead at a Civil War prison in Chicago. Government papers where my 4x-great-grandfather tried to sort out his War of 1812 pension claim--can you believe there were two Herrell O'Bryan's?

    And the stories of the women--just as interesting, but so much harder to find--one ancestor on my dad's side--her last name was followed by a question mark on her husband's death certificate. As if all her life, she'd been known as Grandma, or Mrs. Church. But I found her in someone else's carefully researched family tree--dating all the way back to the 1400s in Sweden!

    And one final note--I came across an exciting family tree for the Church name--only to discover later that most of it was fake! Why? Why would someone deliberately create a fake family tree? You can still find elements of the fake tree in other people's online research.

  16. Wow, I can see how this stuff could be addictive. I did a quick free search on Geni, and found Dardens going back as far as Stephen Darden in 1615 in Essex, England. Then the Dardens turn in up 1645 in Isle of Wight, VA! Lots of Stephens, which, interestingly, is my brother's name.

    Unfortunately, my small branch of Dardens ends with my brother as he had an only daughter.

    Darden is also the name of the family who own the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants, but I have no idea if there's any connection.

  17. Very addictive! Maxwells I know well - a long line of educators and doctors from when Bezaleel, my fifth or sixth great grandfather, came over from Scotland. My paternal grandmother (Hendersons) and her five younger siblings all went to college. Maternal side are Flahertys (yes, bullheaded Irish in San Francisco from way back) and Skinners, who did a Laura Ingalls kind of trek west across the prairie, gg-grandfather even founded a town in Nebraska. Love this stuff.

  18. The whole family history thing had never interested me much, but my sister recently developed some enthusiasm about it, so for part of her Christmas gift this year I set out to fill in as much as I easily could of a 6-generation family tree for her. (I'm a lot more experienced at online research than she.) I got all the way back six generations on two of the four paths (maternal mom and dad, paternal mom and dad) but only about four generations back on the other two, which both ended with a note that the last ancestor I could find had been born in another country. (One France, one Ireland.) My sister plans to take that chart and do the more intensive work of carrying it on from there.

    It led to some interesting Christmas conversation, though. My siblings are 11, 12, and 15 years older than me, and they all remembered our paternal grandmother admonishing them not to delve into the family tree, because we had some unsavory characters in it, including one who was said to have been "Hanged for just plain being too mean." That piqued my curiosity! It will be interesting to see if my sister turns up any such stories.

  19. Deborah Wall, what an amazing woman Penelope Stout was! Good genes to have in the family.

    Joan, do you know the nursery rhyme about a Shafto? "Bobby Shafto's gone to sea/Silver buckles on his knee/He'll come back and marry me/Bonny Bobby Shafto.

    Names: Yes, many of those old names are coming back. I'm seeing tiny Lillians, Helens, Maes and Roses. No Berthas or Bessies yet!

  20. My dad's side is very very Norwegian. However. My aunt did one of those DNA things to which I was asking "Why?!?" because we are notoriously Norwegian through and through on that side. Well, it looks like 1% Irish snuck in and my aunt said, "Well, the Vikings DID pillage ..."

    On my mom's side of the family, last year I did one of those click the green leaf things and just following the male Compton line (her father, his father, his father, his father, etc.) they go back in American history to the 1600s which I find extremely cool. I would love to pursue that line in greater detail. My grandfather was the one that came out west.

  21. I notice the name Edith has NOT yet come back in fashion. I've met maybe four in my life other than my great aunt, and only two younger than me...

  22. Edith, I bet it will, and maybe has, with Downton Abbey's popularity.

  23. I have a family bible with many generations of names on my father's father's side as well as a batch of letters all written from the battlefield at Gettysburg. My grandmothers forbearers were quite famous interior decorators from the 1870s to the 1930s, and there are magazine ads and photo books about them. I keep trying to push the digging-into-the-family history choreoff on cousins and second-cousins, but it's getting me nowhere. So, I fell for Ancestry's new year discount. Now to find out if we really are related to a signer of the Declaration of Independence(somehow I doubt it.) I still have to get a book written, though.


  24. My mom has been doing quite a bit of ancestry digging for years now. I have the most unusual family. On my dad's side the surname is pretty unique, so pretty much everyone in the US with this surname is related in some way.** When I was a kid, whenever we traveled, we'd always look up the name in the local phone book at the motel we were staying in to see if there were any "relatives" in town. We did find some, but we never contacted any even though it was a fun game.

    **There is a caveat. Over time we have found that our surname is also a Jewish surname (someone once asked me if I was a Sephardic Jew or a Moroccan Jew. No in both cases.) Also, apparently the name is also an Arabic surname. Again, we are not of this background either. No one seems to know how this could be.

    On my mom's side are Mormons and Catholics, so many many children, including many sets of twins, of which I am one. These people all came from Ireland and England. The Irish Catholics were confirmed rebels and one of them was transported to Australia for treason! He tried to kill an English judge. I like to say the anti-authority streak in the family comes from that side of the family.

    Anyway, it's great fun and endlessly fascinating to learn new things about the family. There are million stories. I wonder what future generations will say about us!

  25. I know more than I want to about one side of the family and less than I want to about the other side!

  26. I dabble in it -- I am most interested in compiling what I know so that there will be a record for anyone interested in the future. I am the oldest of my generation on both sides, and so I began to realize how far back I personally had access -- through stories from my older relatives, certainly to the 1870's. We don't seem to have anyone notable in the lineage, but I find every day history to be very interesting.

    I recently learned that my German relatives came to NY through Castle Garden, before Ellis Island was established. I've been to the Tenement Museum in NY a few times, but only a year ago learned about the German presence in the Lower East Side. My great-grandfather was a tailor who built up a small clothing business.

    I am also something of a "mutt" -- so, there are several routes back into the history!

  27. Julia, I have fond memories of my grandmother telling Jean and I that particular rhyme when we were small . . . .

  28. Lucy, that would certainly be something special!

  29. What a fun topic Debs! Thanks for getting us started. I love hearing all the stories. And now a new way to procrastinate aside from scrolling through Facebook. Edith, don't feel bad Roberta isn't making a big rush back to popularity either LOL.and so pleased to know that Joan and Deb and I are cousins!

  30. I've found a few distant cousins on one who let slip the titillating comment "I think that was after the trial for attempted murder, but before the bigamy charge". The fellow in question was a politician in a small Midwestern town.

    Anyone interested in genealogy should visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City at some point. Give yourself a LOT of time there-- their collections are astounding.

  31. One caveat with using services like Ancestry or Family Search, though-- the volunteers who transcribe the old census sheets aren't always right when they make guesses. One of my great-grandparents was listed as "Anna". As it turns out, that isn't his name. But the cursive version of his real name (unusual and Welsh) kind-of sort-of looks like it, except for the part where gay marriage wasn't legal in Appalachia in the nineteenth century.

  32. What a fascinating post! I've always been interested in this, now even more so since I want my daughter to know her roots. I'm actually first (or really first and 1/2 generation). I'm of Russian/Ukrainian/Belorussian descent. All of my grandparents (and some of my great-grandparents) came over soon after WWII. My dad was actually born in a displaced person's camp in Germany. My mom was born in Queens literally about 3 weeks off the boat. The one person I wish I had gotten to know more was my maternal great-grandmother. She died in a fire in Queens when I was five. She was a poet. Unfortunately, most of her poetry disappeared in the fire that killed her, but I still have one envelope that I plan to translate one of these days.