Do you remember Harvard professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, the guy who was arrested last year trying to get into his own home?
Gah, he looks upset. Hopefully Dr. Gates will not be remembered for the arrest (charges were eventually dropped) but rather as a scholar in the field of black culture. What I enjoy most about him is the very interesting genealogy research he has conducted on African-American celebrities and, now, several other celebrities of varying ethnic backgrounds.
Tonight, his new miniseries, “Faces of America,” premiered on PBS, in which celebrities like Mario Batali, Stephen Colbert, Yo-Yo Ma, Meryl Streep and Kristi Yamaguchi are given a book filled with old photographs, immigration records, newspaper articles and other evidence of their ancestors.
This kind of thing just enthralls me! It’s almost like you learn more about yourself as you learn more about your ancestors. Here are some things I’ve learned about where I came from…through my own research and that of my relatives:
- My great x10 grandfather came to America on the second Mayflower in 1629. He and his family had fled England for the Netherlands and lived, strangely enough, about 30 minutes from the city where my college roommate currently lives. They were set to come to the States in 1620 on the Speedwell, which was the ship behind the Mayflower, but due to sabotaging by the crew causing leaks, had to come back to port. The second Mayflower set sail in 1629 and docked in Salem, Massachusetts.
- My great-great-great uncle’s brother-in-law (a stretch, I know) was Jack Daniel, the whiskey purveyor from Lynchburg, TN.
- My great-great-great grandfather fought in three wars, including the Civil War (he was a Confederate Captain) and the Cherokee Removal (he was a spy). After the wars, he became a successful farmer, owning land at the base of Monteagle Mountain in Grundy County, TN. He was a justice of the peace later in life and died at 91 years old due to “old age” as documented on his death certificate.
- My great x5 grandfather was William “Red Eagle” Weatherford, a renowned Creek leader who fought against Americans who had settled on Native American land in Alabama. In one battle in 1813, all of William’s people were trapped, many being killed in the battle, and he escaped by riding his horse off a cliff into a river. He eventually surrendered to President Andrew Jackson, who was so taken with his bravery that he offered him shelter.
- William Weatherford’s great-grandmother, the source of his Creek heritage (his father was Scottish, but Creeks recognize their lineage through the mother rather than father) was Sehoy, a princess of the Wind Clan, which was the highest ranking tribe of the Creek nation.
- My great-grandfather lived in Alabama where Pickwick Lake is today. He owned a general store, blacksmith shop and several other businesses. In today’s dollars, he would’ve been a millionaire. When TVA decided to build a dam in the 1930’s on their land, he held them off until he and his sons could tear down every brick and piece of wood from nearly all his buildings and move it to Tennessee to rebuild it all. Then TVA flooded everything.
Okay, hopefully you haven’t fallen asleep on your keyboard yet! My point is that you never know what you’ll learn about your heritage, once you start digging. These folks give me a sense of pride and make me feel as if strength and perseverance flow through my veins.
There are several good sites for genealogy research: Ancestry.com, Rootsweb, Find a Grave, and Google will generally bring up all kinds of things. You should check it out and see what surprises are in store!