My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Posts tagged ‘family history’

Family History Randomness

I’ve been having such a difficult time trying to come up with something–anything–to blog about. So today’s post will be about one of my other passions in life–genealogy and history 🙂

Anyway, I don’t remember if I posted this or not, but I did actually apply to be on a TV show. Well, actually I applied for my family to be on the show. 😛 I know I’ve mentioned it before–it’s called The Generations Project–and I am really hoping they find my story intriguing enough to pick up. If not that’s OK–I will find the answers somehow.

Are you curious? Well even if you aren’t you’re going to read about it anyway 😛 I submitted the family mystery/legend about my great (x7) grandmother Jemima Jefferson Collins Davis. 

Family legend says she may be an illegitimate first cousin of the Thomas Jefferson (her sons claimed they were related), possibly fathered by his uncle Field Jefferson. Obviously there’s really no documentation of her–if she was an illegitimate daughter, and was a daughter of a slave too, it’s likely they wouldn’t have recorded that.

Of course, there’s also the possibility she was a slave on the Jefferson family plantation because slaves would generally take the last names of their masters. I personally think she was mixed, since the man she married was white (his family supposedly came from Wales) and it would be more likely…and I even think that it would be even MORE likely if she was a supposed illegitimate daughter of the Jefferson family.

Either way, I find it intriguing, whether she’s a slave or if she’s mixed. She and her husband, John Davis, had four sons, all of who were in the American Revolution. The youngest one, James, (who I descend from) was one of the first pioneers into Tennessee.

Anyway, I don’t really even know where to begin researching this, although I’ve gotten some help from others on Facebook who are as interested in genealogy as I am. I think I would probably have to contact Jefferson family historians to see if they could find records (as they would probably have access to things that the normal public wouldn’t).

Sometimes family history has such great material for stories too–maybe someday I could write something about all of this 😛

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The Generations Project

It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I absolutely love anything related to genealogy.

I haven’t really started research on my own yet–I’ve been following my parents’ trail, when they did a lot of family history research about twenty years ago. Phil and I went up this past weekend and I spent a few hours going through the steamer trunk from the “old country” which had tons of photos and other family memorabilia (from a 70+ year old scrapbook of my great-grandmother’s, to my grandmother’s baby book and other little things).  I even got to see a picture of the infamous Frank Whetzell the man who was a moonshiner/bootlegger in rural Alabama and often caused a great deal of strife for local law enforcement and his wife, Aley, until he disappeared.

I saw other pictures too, of my mom’s side of the family, and of them in the “old country” in the tiny village of Hažlín, Slovakia (which still only has no more than 2000 people living there). There isn’t much on my mom’s side of the family since most of her relatives came over fairly recently, her mother’s side a little more than 100 years ago and her father’s side only about 80 years ago. Dad’s side is pretty well established here, some parts of his family going back to the early 1600s and the French Huguenots.

Anyway, it seems the genealogy fervor has caught on in the media as well. I’ve been watching on PBS the show “Faces of America” where celebrities’ families are examined (from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to Kristi Yamaguchi, to Meryl Streep and Mario Batali). Another show is coming on NBC called “Who Do You Think You Are” where family histories of Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and others are examined.

But I think the best show I’ve seen so far examines everyday Joes like me. It’s on BYU, but it’s also online. It’s called The Generations Project. I’ve been considering trying to apply for the show, even though I know it’s highly unlikely I’ll be chosen 😛 But now comes trying to figure out which story would be compelling enough to have researched on television. I don’t know if I will try it or not, but it’s tempting.

Anyway do you have any interesting family legends that you’d like to research further?

 

Family Trees

I don’t know what started me on the genealogy kick, but the last few days I’ve been finding many interesting things about my family 🙂

My parents did a lot of family tree research when I was very young. I remember going with them to interview older relatives and playing with dolls or whatever else I had with me. Through their research, they found the unmarked graves of my great great grandmother’s children (on my mom’s side); one who died of diptheria at the turn of the 20th century and her quads (yes–she had the first recorded quads in Cleveland back in 1914 or so). The latter only lived a few days; if they had been born 50 or more years later, they probably would’ve survived. I’m just amazed she was able to give birth to FOUR babies naturally. And she was a smaller woman too.

My dad’s side of the family has its share of very interesting stories too. That side has its roots in the South, generally near the borders of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, specifically the region known as Sand Mountain (which is really a plateau but anyway…).  I definitely have hillbilly blood in my genes!

My great-great grandfather Frank Whetzel was a known moonshiner 😛 I’ve found a blog that gives the history of him, submitted by a distant relative. Much of what’s said there is a mix of documented happenings and family lore, but this much is true: He often gave the law enforcement a difficult time. His wife, Aley, often helped him out of his predicaments until he just up and left one day, never to be seen again.

It’s said that he went in search of work at a local town known for being a lumbering center. There were also rumors that a headless body was found along the railroad tracks between that town and where he lived…so who knows what happened to him.

Another relative, Frank’s grandfather and my great-great-great-great grandfather (supposedly) was John Burt Countiss, a captain for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The same blog has info about him–and much of this was stuff even my dad didn’t know!

We knew he was court martialed and cashiered for insubordination to his superiors (he was known to have a bit of a temper apparently). But he managed to get his rank back after distinguishing himself on the battlefield in Gettysburg. It makes me wonder what exactly he did that was so heroic, enough to earn his ranking back. That’s something we’ll never really know.

There is some confusion though around him, his wife and his brother. Just before his brother Benjamin died during the War (of disease), Benjamin made him promise that he’d look after his wife, Lucinda. John B. did that–he married her (and divorced the “tramp” of a wife he did have, :P). Now Lucinda is supposedly the mother of Martha (who was our moonshiner Frank’s mother) but the question is who was her father?

I’ve seen other family trees online compiled by various relatives that say she was Benjamin’s daughter and born in the 1850s. But it conflicts with what my dad had been told: he thought she was born during the war, or just after. So that’s something that needs further research. John Burt may or may not be my grandfather; it may have been Benjamin.

Either way, he’s a distant relative and it’s quite interesting to read about him 🙂

I’ve also found the cemetery in Alabama where John B, Lucinda, Martha and Aley are buried. It’s literally in the middle of nowehere, about 1 mile west of the Georgia border and 5 or 10 from the Tennessee border. I just Google mapped it and found out they actually have a street view of the road! It’s little more than a gravel road. I’m sensing a road trip there…

There’s a lot of other interesting things I’ve found too, specifically through Lucinda’s line, the Troxell family. There seems to be a rumor of her grandfather marrying a Cherokee princess named Cornblossom, but many people think it’s a myth.

I’m inclined to believe it too, since there’s no documentation anywhere of her existence and the fact the Cherokee have no record of her ever existing–let alone the fact that there’s no such thing as a princess among the Cherokee people. The daughter of a chief was simply another woman of the tribe and nothing else. Still, I wonder who exactly my distant grandmother was…perhaps someday I’ll find out.

More along the lines of the Troxell family…Lucinda’s grandfather fought in the Revolution (supposedly); his grandfather emigrated from the Alsace region of France, very close to the German border; even farther back the family came from Switzerland, but it’s said they moved there from Germany during the Reformation because of persecution. And the name was spelled “Trachsel.” Sounds German to me. And another rumor–the family is said to have descended from Hebrews in Asia Minor. 🙂

Who knows really, I’d have to do months or years of research. I already know that there’s a lot of great book material in my family history, specifically with Lucinda, Benjamin and John. 🙂

Do you have any interesting family stories to share?

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