Wednesday, March 17, 2010


In some ways trying to trace your ancestors is a combination of genes and mathematics. Just getting past your great, great grandparents ranks as a major success. Going further back is as much good luck as good record keeping. And gee whiz, guess what, there are a couple of really famous people in the family line, but the furthest one back died nearly eight hundred years ago. That’s a lot great, greats and floods of water under a lot of bridges.

Do the math; two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents and so on. By the time you hit that twenty somethingth generation you’re looking at more people than I can comprehend and everybody born in southern Scotland and northern England is a potential relative.

Stop and think about though. If you’re breathing God’s good air this day and your family hails from Europe you’ve already beaten the odds. Your family survived the Black Death of the middle 1300’s. That’s the one that took out one third to one half of the population of Europe.

If you’re Scots/English/Irish your ancestors lucked out and made it through the Peasants Revolt, the Wars of the Roses, the battles that put the Tudors on the throne of England, the feuds of the Irish and Scottish clans, the endless campaigns between the Scots, the English and Irish. They made it through famines, rebellions, epidemics, accidents, enclosing landlords and forced clearances. Being alive and kicking when the dust settles is the longest running success story in the world.

For every Sir John, Walter de whatever the name of the castle on the hill, or general so and so there had to be hundreds of foot slogging spear carriers on the flow chart of the family tree who just prayed that the man on the horse knew what he was doing and that the campaign would be over in time to get the harvest in before winter. For every lady so and so with a few silks and jewels in the dower chest there had to have been hundreds of mothers and wives who were praying that their man made it home, the battle down the valley didn’t end up in the barley fields or the orchard, and that the soldiers eyeing the storehouses weren’t too hungry.

I can’t prove it, but for every possible lord of the manor perched on a branch of the family tree, there’s probably a horse thief, pick pocket, cutpurse or two who avoided dangling from his branch by being transported to the Western colonies as a convict or indentured servant.

More than a few blanks in the family tree have to represent wives and daughters who discovered that the vow “until death do us part” or family loyalty included several weeks of being tossed about on one of the little wooden ships of the day with the hope that a home in the new world be better than the old; or at least no worse. They traded the open fields of the midlands for the dark forests of the Atlantic Coast. The craggy Scottish seacoasts for mid Atlantic colonial farms or shops.

There’s a good chance that the last pieces of my family puzzle arrived from Northern Ireland via Liverpool during the last of the Irish potato famine. My great, great grandmother Margaret Clinton landed in New York in 1850. Somehow, over the next few years she made her way to a marriage in Indiana by way of Tennessee. Over the years the growing family made its way west through Minnesota and finally fetched up in The Dalles, Oregon just before the turn of the century. It’s hard to take in; Ireland to Oregon in less than fifty years.

If you happen to be reading this your family made it through our bad harvests, isolation, more wars, various colonial border wars, European spill over wars, a revolution, another Civil War, depressions, elations and the westward migration.

It’s all profit after that.


Lisa :-] said...

Looks like you've been living in the pages of a personal historical novel...

JACKIE said...

Sort of, I guess. It's the women I wonder about. Who was Sarah, I wonder. No last name. Anne, no last name.

And what family in their right mind names three generations of daughters Philadelphia? What do you call them for short. Phillie? Del? Phe? There's no middle name listed, but I guess they'd really know they were in trouble when any statement began with "Philadelphia...." :-)

Lisa :-] said...

My dad had a cousin named "Willamette". But they pronounced it will-a-METTE rather than will-AM-ette...