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Genealogy: The History of Me

Updated on August 22, 2015

I have always been a fan of history; a "History Buff" if you will. It fascinates me to think of those who have come before; of those whose shoulders we stand upon in order to see the world in the manner in which we do. We are who we are because of our ancestors. How often do we think about them though? How much credit do we give them for making us who we are today?

Do we ever even think of them?

I will admit that while I love to read about history, both American and otherwise, I have not given great thought to my own ancestors. My mother is the one in the family who chases the threads of our family history. I chased my dog Duckie's but never really paid a great deal of attention to my own. However, I am now watching a show on The Learning Channel entitled Who Do You Think You Are? This show delves into the past of several celebrities and their own personal history. I am somewhat surprised to find myself enjoying it quite a bit.

The show I watched recently revolved around actor Chris O'Donnell. Some will remember that he played Robin in one of the Batman movies and stars in NCIS: Los Angeles on Tuesday evenings. While I am not a big fan of his, he nonetheless seems to be a decent sort and so I sat and watched the show about him.

It turns out one of his ancestors (Grandfather four times removed I think) actually fought in the Battle of Fort McHenry near Annapolis in the War of 1812. This man fought in the battle against the British Armada that was blockading our coastline and spent 25 hours being bombarded by 190 pound bombs fired from up to two miles away. These poor men onshore could not even reach them with their little mortors and cannons. They just had to sit there and take it.

But they persevered. They remained on the battle lines and refused to move. Eventually, the British gave up and left. Amazing story. But it gets even better.

This was the battle Francis Scott Key viewed from a safe location and wrote a little something about it. Do you know what he wrote? If you are an American you should.

The Star Spangled Banner. Yep, our National Anthem! Imagine finding out your ancestor fought in the battle which inspired our National Anthem!! It was soul stirring for him, and it moved me as well. So I wondered: what mysteries are hidden in my own family tree?

One of my ancestors. Take a gander at his eyes!
One of my ancestors. Take a gander at his eyes! | Source
Coat of Arms for the Cunningham Family, featuring the words "Over  Fork Over"
Coat of Arms for the Cunningham Family, featuring the words "Over Fork Over" | Source

So I dug out the books my mother had put together and I am beginning to dig into my history. After years of research, my mother had made it about 9 generations back on my father's side but quite a bit deeper on her side. I have heard her say on more than one occasion that his family must have come from under a cabbage leaf. Meaning, I suppose, that either his family had no discernible roots into which to delve, or his family had nothing to research. As a matter of fact, she once told me we had relatives that came over on the Mayflower. Also, that we are related to the last King of Scotland. To which I responded why is it that whenever someone researches their past they are always related to someone famous or a royal? Never old great uncle Joe who got hung for stealing a horse or something?

She didn't speak to me for two months that time.

Anyway, I decided to focus my attention at this time on my father's side just to see what I can discover. And after only a little work online, I found something interesting. Turns out one of my ancestors way back when helped a member of a royal family (later became a king) in an escape from Macbeth. Yes Macbeth!!! Purportedly the Coat of Arms still bears an inscription which alludes to this event. Amazing!

This research, which took very little real time, led me back another five generations beyond my mother's years of research. This five generations accounts for an additional 170 years! All in just a few minutes!

I learned that one of my female ancestors had a child at the ripe old age (in the 1700's) of 48 years young! Can you imagine having your tenth child at 48 years old in that time frame! Oh the pain the pain!!! I can just imagine the conversation between husband and wife:

Wife: Ok Pa the child is almost here.

Husband: Alright wife. You have done this nine times before so you should have it under control. Once you have that baby don't forget to chop the wood, slop the hogs, till the garden, mend my socks, and cook a seven course dinner. I will be back at sundown.

A lot of sympathy back then don't you think?

The Thistle is the Floral Symbol of Scotland. This one is right outside my house.
The Thistle is the Floral Symbol of Scotland. This one is right outside my house. | Source

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One of the things I am finding infuriating though is the apparent lack of information online regarding some portions of my family. While I have only spent a short time to date researching, I am finding it difficult to find much on some branches of my family tree. Even with names, birth dates, birth locations and such it can be a challenge to locate anything.

With my Labrador Duckie I had three solid sites to research, and if I was unable to find something on one I could check out another one and make connections. It was hard work but I was able to dig deep and come up with an ancestor who was one of the original Labs from England owned by royalty. None of the three had everything I could come up with, but once I had a good start I could easily add to them and make them each read the same. And it was free.

With humans, it seems as though everybody wants their money. Even the ones which say "Free" or "Free Trial" will not let you move on unless you give them a credit card number in case you want to stay on their site beyond your free period. Kinda ticks me off; free used to mean free with no strings attached. Nowadays it means they will let you use the site for free for 7 or 14 days but if you forget and do not break the contract you will be billed up to $40 for a month of research.

But there is information to be found, if one is diligent. It might be in a will, or in a census. You might find a scrap or two in places that mean nothing to you except for a single line that leads you to another, and another until you hit pay dirt.

I liken it to taking ahold of a single, fragile thread in a large ball of twine. You pull gently and more often than not it breaks. But every now and again when you tug it unravels, and you continue to pull and pull until all of a sudden you look up and realize there is a tapestry before your eyes, and it is wonderful.

Example of a knight
Example of a knight | Source

Okay, I have to stop here and relay this little story. My youngest, who is 9 years old, asked me last night if he had any ancestors. I replied that yes, he does have ancestors. I took out my laptop, opened the page I had been working on and showed him the spreadsheet where I am documenting the journey I am undertaking. When I showed him a date of 1077 as a birth year of one of our ancestors, he didn't bat an eye; but when I showed him a gentleman from the 1500's who had Sir in front of it, and that this man was a Knight, his eyes lit up! "A knight! A real knight! We had a real knight for an ancestor!" On and on he went, and it made my heart glad to have made him happy.

Nathaniel Green, who my ancestor served under in the Revolutionary War
Nathaniel Green, who my ancestor served under in the Revolutionary War | Source

Back on track now. In continuing to research both sides of the family, I found on my father's side a revolutionary war hero, a Colonel. This man is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and is the person who died the longest time ago to be buried there. I am not sure if this means he was the first to be buried there; rather I think he was buried elsewhere and when Arlington was created as a National Cemetary, he was moved there. At any rate, no one buried there died longer ago than him. He was described as "the bravest of the brave" during the Revolutionary War, and by all accounts was a true hero in this country's war for independence.

I am proud to be this man's descendant. I sent an email to a person who is among those who are the Daughters of the American Revolution asking for help in securing this information and determining if it is real. She responded in less than a day and is not only assisting me, but bringing in others to help and she has made me aware that there is a Sons of the American Revolution that I will be able to enroll my son in, once the process is complete. Of all the gifts I can give to him, his heritage is one I never thought to be able to provide. Until now.

But I did not stop there.

Following along on this portion of the Family Tree, I came to a name which literally caused my mouth to fall open. I was speechless, in awe, and completely flummoxed. The name? Oh, one of the most famous in Scottish History.

Robert the Bruce.

Don't recognize the name? Take a peek at the Mel Gibson movie Braveheart. That noble whom William Wallace tries so desperately to convice to be the King is one Robert the Bruce. For a good portion of the movie the Bruce fails to meet Wallace's expectations. But in the end, Robert the Bruce leads his countrymen and defeats the British and becomes King of Scotland.

I do not know where the movie separates fact from fiction, but I do know the Bruce was real; that he was the King of Scotland; and he was my ancestor. He was a warrior who fought for the freedom of his country. In that, I find dignity, honor, and pride.

For so many years I have been drawn to such lands as Ireland and Scotland. I never knew why, just that they pulled at me in a way I could not understand. To see the land, the history there has always been a dream of mine. I may not ever travel there but I now know that I am drawn to it for a reason: it is in my blood; in my very bones. I come from this mystical land, and many generations of my ancestors called it home. They fought and died for it as later generations fought and died for this country I now live in. While I do not wish to live in the past, I do desire most deeply to know of it, to study it and come to know those who came before and made me who I am today. I wish to pass that knowledge on to my son so he will know who he is and where he is from. If I succeed in this I would like to think I have given him a great gift, one he will never lose nor grow tired of.

His history of where he came from.

I have now traveled some 1,000 years back into my family history so far, back to an ancestor who was born in 1046. This man was my 28th Great Grandfather! 28th! And I have not even scratched the surface. I have only pursued a few of the family lines; many more await my search. Thus far, I have uncovered Scots, Irish, French, English in my tree. It is rumored I have Native American, although the family ties are not showing up just yet. I think these will be harder to find solid proof of, as most of this history was handed down verbally so a paper trail may not show itself. There is said to be German as well, so I will keep my eyes open for this offshoot.

It is fascinating to do this research these individuals, to find out what they did, where they lived, and what they were looking for. One portion of the family fled England due to the religious differences between them and King Charles I, who had an issue with those who failed to fall beneath his rule. This was part of the New World that led so many to flee persecution in their homeland and seek freedom in America. It was a new world, full of promise and opportunity then, and even through the hardships, it was still better then what they had left. Because they made this journey I stand where I am today. I stand on their shoulders and view the world with my family by my side. I hope my descendants some day will look back and take note of me, and wonder what kind of man I was. Perhaps my words will echo through the many years and they will read this and know the search I undertook, and learn what I have learned. If they are reading this, know I loved my family and they meant more to me than anything else. Know I respect my heritage as I hope they respect theirs. And I pray they live long and happy lives. Stay strong and love like there is no tomorrow.

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Mike, this is fascinating and very interesting. Genealogy is something I can get really lost in and very confused, but, such a wonderful way to find out many things of why we are who we are. I worked with a friend a few years ago online who is a genealogist. He traced my maternal grandmother's side of the family back to Charlemagne. I was so shocked I could not believe it till he showed me the line of ancestors -- fascinating stuff, for sure.

      I wish you all the best in tracing any lines of ancestors to the Cherokee. I have been trying to find a lineage back to the Blackfoot people which there have been rumours about ever since I can remember.

      I really enjoyed reading about your family history. This is a great gift you are giving to your son. Thanks for writing this hub.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm so excited for you, Mike. This project of yours must be a lot of fun. I can feel your exuberance coming thru the screen!

    • Mr Archer profile image
      Author

      Mr Archer 3 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you Cheyenne. I am continuing this hunt and found today a possible connection to the Cherokee Tribe. I always was told there was one through my father's side, which is why the shock has yet to wear off. This connection seems to be on my MOTHER'S side! I just sent an email to my aunt in Texas asking for clarification. My mother's work points to one ancestor while my aunt's points to another possibility. I am excited to maybe have a chance at verification on this lineage!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Mike, this is fascinating. How exciting for you! One of my aunts tried looking up our family tree. She got to a certain point, then the trail was lost. What we do know is we are related to Stonewall Jackson. My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Jackson. We also have a Cherokee Chief in the family, but I'm not sure how far back. Now on the other side of the coin, there was a great-great-great uncle who was wanted for murder in one Missouri town and made sheriff in the next! Again, I don't know how far back that goes.

      This is really interesting. What a wonderful gift for your son and all the upcoming Archer generations. If someone had kept better records of my family tree, we'd be able to do the same as you.