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Tuesday, February 15, 2011


What a mixed bag of ancestry but it is what makes me.  And no doubt, you have some of the same and it's what makes up you .About thirty years ago, a cousin of my mom's sent me about one hundred typed genealogy papers in a folder. I poured over those papers and just couldn't believe what I read: Who knew that on my mother's paternal line--GRAHAM to BELCHER to STOVALL to ELSWICK TO HONAKER, I had all of these ancestors and I also had handed-down stories about them? There was a tintype photo of my fourth great grandmother: Oddly enough, I later acquired possession of the original for my great aunt passed away and she had kept it as well as other tintypes and photos. The search was on! When I read on one of those papers a specific name I was in disbelief! I had had several dates with this guy. Did I know he was my third cousin at that time? No. And neither did he; probably still doesn't know it. I found that I have relatives near me and have shared some information but not with others. A lot aren't interested and that's a shame. This line is Scottish, English and Irish as well as one Native American.

I loved reading the handed-down stories! My fourth great grandmother was an excellent horse rider and she rode side saddle. She also lost her husband during the civil war: He was a neutral and one day, men dressed as soldiers appeared on the farm: After an arguement persued between them, he was stabbed to death with a bayonet and left on his log cabin.And his youngest child, a baby, was shot and killed with a mini ball as he lay in his cradle. My fourth great grandmother was out in the woods berry picking at that time with some children; the rest of the children hid in the log cabin in anything they could find. The oldest--a daughter, had just gotten married, traveled down the Elk River in West Virginia on a flatboat with her husband and escaped that horrid tragedy: She was my third great grandmother and thank heavens she survived or I wouldn't be writing this at all. And her name was Sarah Morning: I wish I had been named that but alas, I wasn't.

We have a family farm that has been in our possession since the Revolutionary War: It used to be gigantic but over two hundred plus years and many many descendents, it is now a mere thirty four acres.  And although my great grandmother was born there on the farm and my mother spent summers there, I only knew my great uncles and aunt; still, when I go there I feel such a connection that it takes my breath away.
The cemetery there is ancient and contains huge old monuments of my ancestors.

It's a long story but ten years ago, I found a cousin,Ellen, in California whom I have never met but I did talk to her on the phone and now we have formed such a wonderful relationship. She has been so incredibly wonderful in sending me more and more genealogy on our line. And each time, I am wowed--just when I think I can't be anymore wowed, I am. I only wish that my late mother had known more about her ancestors on this line, for there are many ones who were famous such as Robert Frost, Jesse James [oh my,] and I could list forever. Wish that Richard Gere knew that we both had the same eighth great grandfather! Wish that I could meet Richard but that's not likely to happen in this lifetime. Still...I wish!

My mother's paternal ancestors VANDALE/SIMMONS/SHEPHERD [Sheppard/Shepherd] /BOGGS/COLLINS is another line that I knew some about but after my mom's cousin [another one] went on a real genealogical search and posted the information online, I was dumbfounded. And wished so much that my grandmother and mother had known the latter information:  They did tell me so many family stories that luckily I remembered; some I didn't. This line is Dutch but in actuality it is French Hugenot. And on this line, I have English and Native American ancestors as well. So many places in West Virginia got their names from this family line: Shepherdstown, West Virginia was named after my grandmother's grandfather. Who knew? She didn't. My mom didn't. But I found out through searching what my mom's cousin had posted and documented. Holy cow! I am going to see "The King's Speech" this week for not only do I love Colin Firth,  the actor, but the real king is on the Vandale line--way way back.
And there are also renegades, family people and Tecumseh--yes, I had a wonderful friend who always called me "Sacajawea:" And I had no idea that I was a descendent from him [actually his sister] and since my friend died several years ago, I think that maybe she was a little bit psychic! On my grandmother's maternal line is RIMMER and CUNNINGHAM.--more English and Scottish. I have many cousins on both of my grandmother's line and although they are second or third, I am so grateful for them. Mary Rose and Harper: I am so grateful to both of you as well as Mary Jane, Susan, Dee, Nancy, Carol and Jim and others!

On my dad's line, REED is English and French: Have many stories I have received from my Aunt Carol: She is a genealogy searcher herself. I was so pleased  to have learned more about my paternal grandmother's line-KRAUS/JOKISH. This line is so rich in stories, facts and so many were farmers when they came to America and settled in the Illinois farmland section. Some of my ancestors on this line built lutheran churches and added so much to their communities. My aunt continues to send me more information and I am so grateful! And although my dad passed away long ago as did all of my aunts and uncles with the exception of my Aunt Carol, I have so many first cousins! I only met six of them when my dad died and I was at his funeral in Illinois.
I did get to see my paternal grandmother twice in my life [what a shame that we didn't get to see each other more] but she never forgot my birthday or me at Christmas. And she wrote tons of letters to me which I cherish. Met one of my aunts at my dad's funeral, Alleen, and shared such a bond with her: My mom, pregnant with me, stayed with her in Illinois for several months before she came back to Charleston to have me. I also got to meet two of my uncles as well as my grandmother's brother and his wife. It was the thrill of my life to finally have met them but not in the circumstance. Still...it meant the world to me to finally connect face to face. Cherie, I've yet to meet you but we are first cousins as you know.

Do I really care if I have famous ancestors? Not reallly. I am a mixture of the above mentioned ancestors. And with all that I have discovered or have been given, family history wise,it is something I have passed down to my grown sons and to my grandchildren. The real stories about how my ancestors lived, loved and handled life are what is the most precious to me.
Knowing that some had it easy while others worked day and night or toiled over their family problems makes them real and appreciated.
I am not bragging about famous people I am related to but relating [is that an oxymoron?] well-known facts. The renegades and the thieves are among my ancestors as well and no doubt, even worse. Who knows?

Now just one question lingers: What do I do with a really hot handwritten letter that some man wrote to my great grandmother's sister [on the Graham line?] That thing has been passed down and down and now I have it. Since my great aunt had no children that letter found its way to my great aunt to me. Think I should burn that one!

Sherry Hill


  1. So, glad you made the reference to our European ancestors who were the hills of Appalachia in colonial times. The major groups that arrived to this area in the 1700s were, in fact, English, Scottish, and Scots-Irish. And, as you mentioned, a large number of settlers in the region, back then, married tribal people in the area - the Shawnee, Mingo and Cherokee. (Like you, I'm proud to be of Shawnee heritage.)
    Today, many people are looking for a better, gentler way to relate to the land and to nature. Native American traditions were respectful of the Earth, and there's a lot to be learned from them. And, fortunately for us and our children, there are still a bunch of people in WV, OH, KY and NC who remember Native American family stories and folklore and can tell you some things about those traditions.

  2. Thank you Susan. I am proud of my Shawnee heritage as you are, dear cousin and when I was teaching, we always did an Indian [Native American now] unit. The kids loved it more than anything and learned a lot. I love the folklore too!
    On my mom's dad's line there was a Shawnee girl who was taken in by my family way back; apparently that happened quite a lot.
    And that is how my third great grandmother got her name of Sarah Morning.
    West Virginia is full of people with Scottish, English and Irish ancestors.