Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Thanksgiving Dinner with the Forebears: Questions I'd Love to Ask

A wild change of subject from my usual political-religious analysis (some might say rants): I don't want U.S. Thanksgiving to recede too far in the past without sharing some of my obsessions from another aspect of my life, researching my family tree. I offer this first tidbit because it amuses me, and will perhaps offer amusement to others. It shows how precise the focus of DNA research is becoming for those engaged in genealogical study — if, that is, you believe in the validity of this kind of analysis.

It hasn't really been a secret — to me, at least — that my Lindsey family's DNA connects in some way to the DNA of the ancient Irish high king Brian Boru. From the time male membersw of my Lindsey family including me began submitting our Y-DNA for analysis, we've known that our DNA has a genetic signature identifying us as what's called Irish Type III: our DNA shows decisively that we belong to a set of families called the Dalcassians who were closely associated with and had kinship ties to Brian Boru. This places our family roots back in southwest Ireland by the early medieval period.

Researchers who know more about the Dalcassians and Irish Type III families than I do have concluded that my Lindsey family, which was back in time a Lynch family, descends from what are called the O'Lynches of Thomond, kinsmen of Brian Boru lived in Brian Boru's period around Castleconnell in County Limerick and in the barony of Owney and Arra just across the county line from Limerick in Tipperary. Castleconnell is a bit under nine miles from Killaloe where Brian Boru was born.

All this to say that just recently, I happened to click at the FTDNA site to see if there are any updates to that site's report regarding my Y-DNA results, and found that FTDNA has created a graphic appended to my Y-DNA results report showing exactly how I'm related to Brian Boru (see above).* The American immigrant ancestor of my Lindsey family is a Dennis Linchey who seems to have been born around 1700, and who came to Richmond County, Virginia, from Ireland in 1718 as an indentured servant. 

Linchey is a variant spelling of Lynch, both being anglicized renderings of the Irish surname Ó Loingsigh. The spelling O'Linchey appears in the Richmond County, Virginia, court record showing my ancestor Dennis Linchey being indentured soon after he arrived with a group of other young Irish men from Ireland on a ship, the Expectation, that had sailed from Bristol, England, with English servants from the West Country, and had stopped along the coast of Ireland to pick up young Irish servants. 

The surname spelling morphed from Linchey to Lindsey in Virginia. The given name Dennis passes down again and again in my Lindsey family right to me: it's my middle name, as it was my father's, his father's, my grandfather's uncle, that uncle's grandfather, and so on back to Dennis Linchey the young Irish indentured servant who arrived in Virginia in 1718, from where in Ireland, we do not know, except that we do know that our family's roots back in time are in southwest Ireland where Brian Boru and his Dalcassian relatives lived in Counties Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary.

I have never done genealogical research because I want to find famous or aristocratic forebears, so the fact that DNA experts now think they can confidently show exactly how my Lindsey family connects to Brian Boru means nothing to me on that score. As we track our lineages back in time, many of us connect to so-called aristocratic forebears, since the gene pool from which we all descend becomes smaller and smaller and the odds of our descending from one of those folks increases.

In any case, did I say "indentured servant"? My Lindsey forebear came to America as a servant, and that means he was not likely born into a well-heeled or prominent Irish family, rather one that was economically deprived — or why else risk so much by sailing to America as a young man of likely around 18 years old to spend time working as an indentured servant on a plantation in Virginia before claiming his freedom and marrying and setting himself up on his own place?

All this as prelude to sharing a little something I wrote right before Thanksgiving and shared with friends, which I entitled "Thanksgiving Dinner with the Forebears." As I wrote when I shared this piece, some weeks back, a a distant cousin of mine — but a cousin nonetheless: we who were shaped by the now waning traditional Southern culture don't do removed cousins — asked me, "If you could choose one ancestor to sit down for a meal and conversation with you, who would that be?"

At the time, I couldn't really answer that question. I'm not sure I'd like a lot of them, to be honest. And above and beyond that, what is it I'd want to talk with any of them about? Where would be the common ground, so that we could even understand each other?

At Thanksgiving time, Steven Beschloss asked that same question at his Substack blog, telling his readers they'd 'be permitted to invite one or at most two ancestors to Thanksgiving dinner and for a cozy chat. Since I had now been invited twice to think about this matter, I decided play, and I wrote this little piece. I chose only direct ancestors, not siblings of direct ancestors who, in my family tree, are often more interesting than the family member from whom I descend. Here's my list and what I would have asked these ancestors if I could have hosted  them at my dinner table this Thanksgiving:

1. Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin: Did you really speak Irish when you came to this country in the early 1850s, as your grandchildren who reported their mother's native language on the 1920 census state? And what was it like to arrive in New Orleans on Christmas day 1852, Valentine, and in March 1854, Bridget — a world away from Inchacarran in County Kilkenny, Ireland?

2. Benjamin Green: Who are you? Where did you come from? Where were you before you suddenly appeared on Long Cane Creek in Abbeville County, South Carolina, in June 1768 having land surveyed by Patrick Calhoun? Did you have some connection with the Calhouns, and is this why your son John, my ancestor, married Jane Kerr, niece of John Ewing Colhoun, and Jane and John managed John E. Colhoun's Keowee plantation and John's brother Benjamin tutored John E. Colhoun's children?

3. David Dinsmore: Were you born in Ballymena in County Antrim, Ireland, as I've deduced? Why did you take the British side in the Revolution, and what happened to you after you found yourself exiled from South Carolina to Nova Scotia for that choice, then sold your Loyalist land grant, bought more land, and just vanished?

4. William Henry Snead: Who are you? Where were you before you just appeared out of the blue in 1836 in Greene County, Georgia, marrying Caroline Scoggins and enlisting for the Creek War? Why do I find no DNA matches to Sneads who are not descended from you and your children? Is there some mystery your descendants have tried to hide, re: your ancestry?

5. Moses Batchelor: Were you disfellowshipped from your Baptist church on the last Saturday in June 1872 in Hot Spring County, Arkansas, because you were drunk or because you were drunk in "publick," as church minutes say? And what did your second wife, Louisa Waters, the widow Robertson when you married her, whose father was a Baptist minister, think about that?

6. Robert Leonard: What made you leave your British military unit and take the same rank of sergeant in a Frederick County, Maryland, militia — causing you then to die as a sergeant in the battle of Camden, South Carolina, as a Revolutionary soldier fighting against your own British soldier-compatriots?

7. Catherine Montgomery Calhoun: What was it like, coming as a young wife and mother from County Donegal, Ireland, to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, then having your husband die there and trekking with your children up the Valley of Virginia to Wythe County, then down to Abbeville County, South Carolina, where you met a gruesome end at the age of 76, being massacred by the Cherokees in the Long Cane massacre?

8. Jane Brooks Lindsey: How did you do it, cope with your husband's death at the young age of 42 (you were 39), nurse both of your parents in their deaths in the next two years, raise the 9 children left when your husband died in addition to the two older ones who had married, one of those children a newborn infant when your husband died? Where did you find the strength for such a life? In 1877, your daughter Sarah Lindsey Speake in Alabama wrote her sister Margaret Lindsey Hunter in Louisiana, saying, "I think often of what I used to hear our dear mother say she wanted, to live to see her children grown and after they were grown, she wanted to live to see her grandchildren grown." This makes me think you were a strong woman with a positive outlook on life. I also note that at your husband Dennis Lindsey's estate sale, you bought four volumes of the Methodist Magazine, a volume of John Wesley's sermons, a life of Wesley and notes, and two other lots of books — and I wonder if you were grounded in the strong Methodist faith of your father Thomas Brooks, a Methodist minister, and if this helped you remain strong.

9. Samuel Oldale: Did you really have carnal knowledge of your step-daughters Anne and Betsey Hartley (and, allegedly, of Mary Chamberlaine), resulting in your being publicly whipped with Anne in Burlington County, New Jersey, on 20 February 1690 and losing your mill there — or were the accusations a ruse for Joshua Newbold to get his hands on that mill? You came to New Jersey from Handsworth, Yorkshire, England, with a bunch of Quakers; were you a Quaker, too?

10. John Lauderdale: What petty larceny had you committed that caused you, a Revolutionary soldier, to be whipped at 1 o'clock in the afternoon on 27 June 1792 in Anderson County, South Carolina, serving on a county jury the very day you were sentenced (!)? And why did your Mauldin in-laws force you three years later to deed land to your children, claiming that you were wasting their inheritance from their Mauldin grandfather? Were you, as one Lauderdale researcher has surmised, "a mean old drunk"?

11. John Manning: What's the real story of the July 1657 court hearing in Lower Norfolk County, Virginia, in which neighbors testified that you went to your tobacco house where your wife Mary had gone to fetch herbs to make a poultice for Mr. Davis's servant Bess, and found Mary on the floor with her skirts tossed up and James Danby "struggling" with her?

12. Francis Posey: Minutes of Bridwell prison in London show you being sent by the Court of Governors to Virginia in 1628. Were you in that facility as one of the "disorderly poor," a petty offender, or a homeless child? And how did you rise to the status of a member of the House of Burgesses in Maryland after you came to the colonies?

13. Elizabeth Nottingham Monk: Were Obedience Roberts and Elizabeth Church telling the truth when they testified in Northampton County, Virginia, in 1734 that you were cohabiting with Thomas Church, a free man of color? Yet the will of your husband William Monk in September 1749 appoints you, his "Loving Wife," executrix of his estate….

That's enough for one Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe I ever host such a gathering of my forebears, I just won't show up but will print out this list of questions and have them all sit together at table and wrestle with the questions while I watch and listen on video monitor — with lots of wine and spirits to lubricate the conversation.

* FTDNA's report of my Y-DNA results has a share button attached, so I'm not divulging private DNA information in sharing this report — and, in any case, I'm sharing information from my own DNA report and no one else's, so I'm breaching the confidentiality and privacy of no one else.

No comments: