Friday, July 3, 2015

The "I want to be kin to kings" Genealogist & Understanding us Scotch-Irish

In genealogical research you end up finding you are kin to famous people. Kevin Costner was obvious because an uncle of my mother, Martha Costner, was Kevin's great grandfather. But what of Muriel Schulz, the wife of my chairman at USC in the 70s? Why did she show up on the Hill web sites? Oh, we are cousins, and she pointed out that we are cousins to the Warfields, including the infamous Duchess of Windsor. Thanks, Muriel. Did I want to know that George C. Scott, who slugged Ava Gardner so brutally, was one of my Schlemps? Oh, no, however much I respect his son Campbell.  I see that Roselynn Carter is a Pottinger cousin. I thought for a while that Jimmy Carter was a cousin, but the Terrell woman was the first lascivious formerly Quaker wife who left Grandpa Joe McGehee with several of their children so that I am kin to Terrells but not a Terrell. But if you go straight back a dozen generations to Sir Thomas Leigh, Lord Mayor at Elizabeth's coronation, then you are kin to all kinds of kings, not to mention Jane Austen. If you are a Stewart and a Knox and a Bell, well, you don't have to fake kinship to the Bruce--almost all of the immigrants WERE kin to the Bruce. But tracing kinship to show you share the blood of kings is not what drives most genealogists.

Speaking for myself, I want to know something about the character of my ancestors because I believe that families pass on ways of behaving generation after generation.

I have been brooding about some negative behavior patterns lately, after the Charleston massacre. What characterized the Scotch-Irish when they began arriving in Philadelphia early in the 1700s was their aggressive independence. They had been abused by landlords, taxed to support churches they hated, and had suffered enough. They were angry.  As they moved south to the Carolinas they found more and more reason to hate the British and to resent supporting the Anglican Church. Those slow to leave Scotland or the Borders or Ireland were extremely angry because the economy was so bad in the early 70s and Anglican landlords in Ireland were so oppressive. The Copelands left in 1772 on the last of 5 ships sponsored by the Presbyterian preacher William Martin. In South Carolina Martin preached so powerfully against the British that they burned his church. What did the young Copelands do in the war? Oh, they fought!

That anger against being exploited goes right down the generations. Most of the whites in the South did not own slaves, but their livelihoods were destroyed and many of them died. Even old men in our family died, imprisoned by the Yankees because they would not swear not to give aid to their fighting sons. They were impoverished long before the Great Depression. Someone was to blame. That anger goes right down to the White Citizens' Councils and crazies like the murderer in Charleston.

The best writer on this I know of is David Hackett Fischer in ALBION'S SEED. He gets us, maybe as well as the new Candidate Jim Webb does in BORN FIGHTING.

Understanding the sources and the history of the anger may be the way to let go of some of it and to focus the rest of it for good.

The other side of the anger is our independence and outright courage in trying to think and act for ourselves. There's more to be said about that.

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