I Heart Appalachia
“My great-grandfather’s name was ‘Harken-ass’, but he went by ‘Eely’.”
“What?” I would make a pointy face and edge sideways away from my mom with a suspicious look on my face. “What does that mean? What was his name?”
“Harken-ass. He died after they moved to Colorado. He was walking alone down the side of a mountain at dark after a hunting trip. Turned his hearing aid off and got hit by a car.”
“Oh. And he went by Eely? That is also not an actual name.”
(Real name: Hyrcannus Ealy Moore b. 1874 in Owsley county, KY. His family founded the town Booneville which another family member seems to be singing about here.)
“My grandpa Lockhart had a pet bear and took it with him to boot camp. Except, he pronounced it ‘bar’. A pet bar. He would cry when they went to see it after he had to give it up. He was real sentimental about animals. He and his brother Clyde got into a giant fight over some hunting hounds. They didn’t talk for years. You know they were both married to women name Flossie, so they called the Flossies by their husband’s name — Flossie Bert and Flossie Clyde. He also said ahrrow-points. When he left home, the only thing he took was his bag of ahrrow points.”
(Real name: William Albert Lockhart b. 1891 Sandyville, Jackson, WV. When he left home, he ran away at 14 to live with his dead mother’s sister in the big city. Which was Parkersburg.)
Don’t Tell Me What to Do
In my early twenties, I got into genealogy. This interest coincided with both the online publication of the searchable LDS records and with the fact that I almost married a man I was closely related to. It didn’t seem probable that we were related; we met in Japan. I guess I should have paid closer attention when he talked about his family, but still. How was I supposed to put it together that every pale freckly redhead who had a dorky first name and came from Pennsylvania was my cousin? His dad’s name was Delbert. I found out we were related when my Papa — whose father was named Daryl Cedric Marshall — showed me a list of the descendents of his great-grandfather, Watson Sylvester Marshall. My boyfriend was on the first page.
Along with the fun fact that both of my grandfather’s grandparents had the last name Marshall was the realization that this boyfriend and I together could trace back to the original immigrant couple — William Marshall and Elizabeth Armstrong — nine different ways. We broke up.
I began my genealogical odyssey. I have a fairly detailed family tree and I understand how rich and varied my heritage is. I have people from New Amsterdam (who were not only Dutch, but Huguenots and Puritans), people from the Mayflower, so many people from Germany in all of its various states, Swiss people, Welsh people, actual Irish people (O’Driscoll), French people and … whatever ethnicity it is that the Sizemore name was originally (there is a whole newsletter devoted to the mystery). I have seen a DNA test that proves that the originator of my Morris line was an African American male.
I am proud of all of this, but it’s the Scotch Irish who won my heart. And it’s the story of the Scotch Irish and their subsequent hillbilly-ass settlements in America that I became obsessed with. Josh let me borrow his copy of Albion’s Seed a long time ago, pre-Jonah. And my obsession grew. Albion’s Seed clearly explains and delineates the four main cultures that came to America from the British Isles. There is the scary ass Puritan culture that came from some part of England and settled New England. I have a few of those. There is the incredibly decent, rational, and boring-as-shit Quaker culture of the Mid-Atlantic from Wales and other parts of England. Both of my grandmothers’ families are heavily descended from this culture. I don’t know what to say other than I think Quakerism is admirable and I am thankful for cream cheese. There is the plantation culture of old Virginia, the Cavaliers, which country I grew up in and which I am familiar with, but who I only have a few ancestors from. They were from southern England. And then there are the Scotch Irish, or the Borderers, or the Back Country culture as David Hackett Fischer puts it. They are from northern England and southern Scotland. Not the highland clans but a terrible area wracked by war for so long that people were forced to be ruthless and kind of crazy. Or, an area inhabited by ruthless crazy people who were always at war. This is where the ancient Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, after all.
The description of these people helped me to understand why my nuclear family’s motto is actually “Don’t tell me what to do.” Any time any one of the four of us is relating a story of how something terrible happened to us or we did something self-defeating or ridiculous or flew into some rage over what might be considered nothing, it can be turned into a joke or a moment for empathetic understanding if explained by ‘Well, I thought he was telling me what to do.’ The description of these people allows me to understand why both of my grandfathers whose families almost solely came from this culture were highly successful military guys. With great bone structure. And great hair. Ha! The description of these people helped me come to better terms with the fact that everyone in my family calls me either ‘Sissy’ or, in the case of my mother, ‘Sis’.
Born to Fight
“I was born to fight, Josh, born to fight!” I am running around the house, kissing my biceps and playing light saber with our son. Light saber like Braveheart. I am excited because I found that a book I have been desperate to read, The Steel Bonnets — about the border reiving tradition in Scotland and England — has been reprinted. My grandfather’s family removed from Ulster in a group of people (Marshall, Armstrong, Stewart, Cochran and Scott) who were a part of this history. Border Reivers were badass scary blackmail cattle theives. I absolutely can’t wait to read about them.
I did read senator Jim Webb’s book about his family which was called Born Fighting.
“Sarah, I feel like we have ancestors in common and those ancestors were Quaker.”
Josh be a drag. It’s true that we have a Quaker couple in common, from the 1690s. But, we only know that because of dorky research.
“I know,” I say. “But, I’m just not interested.”
I remember being in my family’s hometown in Ohio, talking to my grandmother’s first cousin. Their family descended from a Welsh Quaker group who had nice farms or were tradesmen. He told me of Howells, he told me of Brandenburgs. “I know,” I said “But what about grandpa Wilson?” He was the hillbilly of this group, with totally unknown origins. “Wilson?” he said. “Wilson wasn’t shit. He was like, a nobody. I don’t know where he’s from.”
(This is cousin Robert’s farm. It’s an awesome, fully functioning family farm. Organic beef. Adorable cows.)
But. But, Grandpa Wilson was a cantankerous old carpenter. He apparently died at work as an old man. Fell off of a roof. Built the upstairs on the family house. And — this is the best — refused to shit indoors. One of his granddaughters got rid of his outhouse when they finally installed indoor plumbing. He apparently flew into a rage and started building another one. He held it for the two days or whatever that it took him to finish the construction.
The Scotch Irish were poor in the old world and the Scotch Irish were clannish. And the Scotch Irish liked to drink and fight. And the Scotch Irish loved their families. The Scotch Irish made the old world of Appalachia, which was a wonderland that modern people don’t know very much about because it has been supplanted by the new economically destroyed version of Appalachia. And the Scotch Irish loved music and poetry and nature and — above all — personal liberty. They were filled with pride. And, in a favorite quote about them by Hackett Fisher “their pride was a source of irritation to their English neighbors who could not understand what they had to feel proud about”.
I imagine a bunch of people who had temperaments much like Gordon Ramsay’s, traipsing around in the the wilderness of the Eastern mountains, building cabins, inventing long rifles, making whiskey and getting in fights. They are riding horses, they are playing fiddles, they are roasting a pig, they are women that are smoking pipes. They have kick ass gardens. They have first names like Greenberry, Lucinda, Wesley, John Henry, Lavisa, Caroline, Finley, Floyd, and all the usual Williams, Elizabeths, Sarahs and Lees.
They make me so happy.
disclaimer: Every single one of my grandparents graduated from college. So, you know, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone with claims of sordid ass-backwardness. We all left Appalachia. We’re all doing fine.