Thursday, May 5, 2016

When the Amateur Genealogist sees "Brick Walls" Tumble or Disintegrate: the Glenns of Redfrew

After decades of doing archival research on Herman Melville and other writers (including weeks on the manuscripts of Hawthorne, Thoreau, Clemens, and Faulkner) I decided to try to find something about my white ancestors, starting with two of the tiniest anecdotes about G Grandfather Parker and G Grandfather Bell. Were our physical deformities all inherited or did it have to do with pellagra? Was sharecropping hereditary? Had anyone before Grandpa Costner known how to read and write? Was there any book anywhere that had one of their names in it? Did some of them really have six toes to a foot, prehensile ears, and double rows of teeth?

What I found will go into ORNERY PEOPLE: WHO WHERE THE DEPRESSION OKIES?, about the Southwestern and Western movement from the 1600s, the illustration of American History through one representative family. I mean the Okies who were in Indian Territory before the opening of the Cimarron Strip, the ones who came from the South. I don't know how to do it yet, but I have not eight or ten but hundreds of amazing stories, often (astonishingly) in the words of direct ancestors and uncles and aunts and cousins. As recently as a week ago I found words of a GGG Grandmother preserved in a Dawes Commission affidavit. You can tell the story of the movement west in the ancestry of any representative Depression Okie, I know now. Meanwhile, university presses in Oklahoma are so terrified of the word Okie that they reject a book proposal by return email. (Not an exaggeration, folks.) In Oklahoma, "Okie" is the N-Word.

Now with many newspapers (not all--many don't survive and most have not been digitized) in databases, I have astounded myself over and over again. Who would have thought that because of some political chicanery in 1844 some ancient citizen would put on record praise of the politics of the twice-GGGGG Robert Ewart, the Committee of Safety and King's Mountain man, dead since 1781? ("Two times GGGGG? The Scots believed in keeping the blood lines pure. Or as a Waco cousin who is in water management says, we have those limbs that don't branch. Now, that man descends from the cousin who published a book in 1846 about his captivity in Mexico (a genuine captivity narrative!) and his surviving the black bean lottery, when ten of the prisoners were unlucky.)

Now, I will never be a scientist with DNA, but I can profit from the work that Family Tree DNA has been doing. Sometimes, I can go to FTDNA and find something about a wholly mysterious family. Take the Glenns of South Carolina, John Glenn known only in Dawes Commission affidavits. There he is in FTDNA along with John B. E. Glenn, the 6' 5" tall black haired black eyed (was that the Cherokee blood?) GG Grandfather whose horse died under him in Mexico. There they are, with others, all traced to Renfrew, down the Clyde from Glasgow.

Steele, Saye, Renfrow, Barnes, Jenkins, Ferguson, France. That's been pounding in my head. Now with Google I can see that I missed a couple of the Territorial Governors and misspelled others. Who else has names of Governors of Oklahoma Territory stuck, however imperfectly, between his prehensile ears?  Was Renfrow originally Renfrew? Is Barnes a cousin, like the Barnes who told the WPA about a visit from the James Brothers and the Younger Brothers?

Family Tree DNA does not solve the Parker mystery (THAT was the hardest wall) but it gives cousins in VA early and common ancestry there or back in England. How tall did they grow in Renfrew? There was this Glenn cousin in Texas who used to shoot down any tradesman's sign he hit his head on. But that's another story . . . .

Maunderings so as not to think about the damage Bernie is doing to the country  . . . . And how I have lost my respect for Elizabeth Warren because she has not told Bernie it's time to stop. Yet my essays about her are still up on the internet, long after I got her elected. . . .

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