Friday, May 31, 2013

Genealogy – A Glimpse into the Past

Growing up in Virginia not far from Goose Creek I was aware at a young age our family had a ‘past’. Now whether this was illustrious or shady I didn’t know at the time. Not having old oil paintings of long dead family members hanging around following me with creepy eyes, they never seemed real to me. I’d rather head outside and play trucks and cars in the dirt.
As I became older, awareness began to penetrate my ‘thick skull’. My maternal grandmother’s words to me – plus a few other choice epithets. There’s a lot to be said for not being a favorite grandchild of an Irish grandmother. There are a different set of life’s lessons to be learned, but no less valuable.
I’d always heard my mother’s family came from Germany (maternal grandfather) and Ireland (maternal grandmother). With a surname like Kirkpatrick I can be relatively sure my grandmother’s origins were Irish. The thing that convinced me the stories about my maternal grandfather being German was; as children we always pronounced/addressed my great aunt Margret as Aunt ‘Mar-GREET’. I didn’t even know her name was actually the same as the American Margret until I was a teenager. To us kids she was and always will be Margreet. I connected the dots in my own way and deduced the German ancestry to be fact.
My dad. Who would have ‘thunk’ it? He was the link to over 300 years of an American past. Orphaned as a young teenager he grew-up in foster homes until joining the army at the age of 17 (back then you could). Looking back now, I can’t even imagine what it was like for him and his siblings. The older ones were married or left on their own, but not my dad. He became a ward of the state.
My paternal grandmother and one of my dad’s sisters died in a house fire. My paternal grandfather was English and spoke with the accent. From what I hear he could be a mean drinking son-of-a-b***. He died a short while after my grandmother.
Curious, I decided to investigate and see what I could discover about my paternal grandmother’s Virginia roots. Actually, it was relatively easy to find out because the genealogy work had been done for me in a family book published in 1952, The Baylis Family of Virginia. All I needed was to get my hands on a copy of the book and I did. Some of the highlights of what I learned:
  • I'm a ninth generation Virginian.
  • A direct line grandfather, Richard Blackburn, built Rippon Lodge in Prince William County. The house still stands and is a historic house museum. The website for Rippon Lodge states the house was built in 1747. The Baylis Family of Virginia genealogy says "That the house, Rippon Lodge, was built in 1725 was established in 1932, when the then owner, Wade Hampton Ellis, found it necessary to remove some of the sheathing to destroy a hive of bees located in the outer wall. On one of the beams then disclosed was carved the date 1725". I was more inclined to believe the 1747 date reckoning that professional historic researchers knew what they were talking about and that a genealogy book might be a 'bit embellished'. Until... I read further that the same Richard Blackburn helped George Washington's older half-brother build the original Mount Vernon in 1743. Now it makes me wonder? Oh well, it's only a twenty-two year span 'Once upon a time'.
  • The same Richard Blackburn helped Lawrence Washington build the original house at Mount Vernon. In those days before George owned it Mount Vernon had four ground-floor rooms with a cramped dormer style upstairs. George Washington is the one who greatly enlarged Mount Vernon to how it appears today.
Rippon Lodge
Now we get into all of this southern kinship stuff. You know; second cousin five times removed; things like that.
  • One of my long ago aunts and a distant cousin were the mistresses of Mount Vernon. Julia Ann Blackburn  married Bushrod Washington, who inherited Mount Vernon after George and Martha. Bushrod was a Supreme Court Associate Justice. Jane Blackburn married John Augustine Washington who owned Mount Vernon after Bushrod.
  • One of my great long ago aunts was James Monroe’s grandmother. Does this make James Monroe my second cousin five times removed? Dagone if I know? I do know Monroe is the guy responsible for the Monroe Doctrine (learned that in a Virginia history grade school textbook) and did a lot of the wheeling-dealing, nitty-gritty work for the Louisiana Purchase. That darn Mr. Jefferson got all the credit with the stroke of a quill. OMG! What hath he done to us!

Other names that I have some sort of kinship; five or ten times removed, I quit counting (not enough fingers and toes)? I’m not listing any horse thieves, bandits, rabble rousers, or otherwise similar relations who seem to show up in a lot of families. They are there and they are colorful. Maybe too colorful for this blog.
  • I do have relatives who died in a duel, killed by Indians, fought for both sides in the Civil War, and a young man who died charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt. Ancestors fought in all of the American wars. Some kin were wealthy and others seemed to struggle to survive. It’s a diversified history rich in lore that I never really appreciated.
  • Lewis ‘Lew’ Wallace – Lawyer, Union General in the Civil War, Governor of New Mexico Territory, and the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
  • Daniel Boone – His name kept popping up in a few places but I couldn't trace a direct link. Probably not related, but kind of cool wishing I was. I did have a coonskin hat when I was a little boy and my dad called me Daniel Boone. Does that count?
  • John Baylis – Member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia representing Prince William County
  • Thomas Blackburn – Colonel in the American Revolution and friend of George Washington. Yeah, yeah, I know. Wait for it…….. George Washington probably really did sleep there.
  • Henry Baylis – an original member of the Society of Cincinnati
  • From that first set of ancestral grandparents who arrived in the New World sprang forth thousands of relatives. Amazing!

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