My dad and my mom used to tell me family stories, some of which I used to think were tall tales…
I eventually found out they were mostly true, only the details being slightly bent in the oral history.
I found out, for instance, that my father came from a family that had been very determined to keep family records, before and after coming to America.
And that my mother had a grandmother who’d lived a real western adventure.
And that my parents both grew up in Oklahoma during the wild days, just after the state came into the Union.
The outlaw Cole Younger, associated with Jesse James, had a nephew who worked on my mother’s parents’ farm. And it was this gentle-spoken young man who introduced my mother to my father. Cole Younger himself had been in prison in Stillwater, Oklahoma, just north of Oklahoma City, which is just north of Anadarko, where my parents both grew up. Most of Cole Younger’s family had been killed in the violence of the post-Civil War period in Kansas—it was a bad place and a bad time. But one of his brothers or sisters apparently lived long enough to have a son, whose name was Bill or Bob, as my mother recalls.
My maternal great-grandmother was the survivor of an accident that drowned or separated her family as they were crossing a major river on the move west. Her name was Missouri Duff. But in my searching census records, I found her on an old census report from before the accident, and I found, in the next census, her mother and a brother living in a town near the Missouri river. Evidently they’d survived, her father and other children had drowned—and she’d survived, taking the name of Missouri and moving first to Kansas and then to Oklahoma, to grow up and marry with never a notion she had living relatives.
My grandfather was a cowboy turned salesman as Indian Territory became settled towns. His mother was Louisiana Carolina Boone, and my father named me after her. She was one of those Boones, and she came into Indian Territory out of Texas with her husband, my great-grandfather, and ended up living with my grandfather, then taking care of my father when he was very small.
When she died, my father went to live with other relatives, an uncle, and only came home to live with my grandfather when he married my step-grandmother, a spectacularly gracious lady, in every sense of the word.
Well, I got all the family stories—including the night St. Elmo’s fire turned up on a herd of cattle when my grandfather was riding herd in an impending thunderstorm: horns and hooves glowed—the herd spooked, and if you remember the song “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” it must have been like that.
A part of my family is Dutch, and used to own a major slice of New Jersey and Manhattan: they became bankers, and one a Supreme Court judge—but half that family broke off and went down to Virginia and the Carolinas. That was my half, poor as church mice, and working in farming, from Virginia to Nebraska during the Civil War and down to Kansas in the Bleeding Kansas days, then on into Oklahoma.
But when I got seriously into genealogy, I began to fill in the pieces of various things. I found Missouri Duff’s missing family. I found how we connect to Daniel Boone’s father, Squire Boone, and how we connect, though part of the Boone family fiercely disputes it, through a dubious union, to the de Bohuns, one of the kingmaking families in England. Whether or not the Boone line does connect—I’m related to the de Bohuns down another line as well. And here’s an interesting point: these families keep connecting and reconnecting: geographical closeness, and social circles: availability of potential good matches, strengthening economic and political ties, in an era of arranged marriages. When you have a nest of connections that keep reiterating, I think it likely that relationship is true.
A great number of my forbears came over from England: read: ran for their lives to get out of England during the English Civil War. A lot of them were Charles I’s supporters. My ancestors were not fans of our Pilgrim fathers, quite on the other side of the political fence.
I’ve been able to trace relations going back and back and back…a lot of lines through those English emigres…
And here’s the kicker. It turns out Jane and I are related to each other—back in England. One of her folk married one of the de Bohuns, both of us in direct descent.
One of the really fun things is going through Wikipedia finding out about these people. Mine had a penchant for getting involved in royal politics and getting caught on the losing side—many were very creatively executed in a very brutal age.
Fortunately, they managed to reproduce before meeting their nasty end.
Not all were saints. I’m related to Hugh the Despenser—-reputed as one of the most corrupt men in England. And to William Marshal, reputed as one of the most honest.
I’ve found answers to family mysteries: the family story is that we came over from Ireland, when most geneologies try to make us German. Well, we’re right: our guy, John Cherry, married to Bridgett Haney, was of British origin, but had been living in Ireland, and his wife was apparently Irish—when they, or he, immigrated to the states. And that was the origin of the story. That family came over from Normandy, but not in the invasion: the name(of, originally de Cerisy, has a ‘de’ (of)—which is the sort of thing that ordinarily denotes some lordly family, but in this case I think it simply means “from the village of Cerisy”, a little place in Normandy, France, no nobility involved, and not one of William the Conqueror’s lot, just a guy from a French village who came to England.
And—a very interesting update: research in French records gives another story—not de Cerisy, ‘from the village of Cerisy’, but de Chery, from the town of ‘Chery,’ in the Centre district of France. It seems that one Jean de Chery held property in Normandy, or had some ancestral rights in William the Conqueror’s land, but that one could not at that time enter Normandy from the rest of France without a royal permit—which Jean de Chery sought from his king, Charles. King Charles, now called Charles the Mad, had once been known as Charles the Good, but he had had a mental breakdown, what they call the glass syndrome, becoming convinced he could shatter, literally, and convinced that assassins were on his track.
Actually, re Charles’ paranoia, it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you, and it wasn’t a bad guess. There were three contenders for the French throne: the Capets, descended from Charlemagne, the Burgundians, who claimed southern central France as their ancestral domain, and had allies clear across France; and the de Courtenays, who contended they should be kings of France. Burgundy was assassinating people who stood in his way.
And there is a document which indicates that the de Cherys were a) in charge of the substantial town of Chery, and b) closely tied to the de Courtenays who were c) increasingly split as to where their fortunes would best advance, in William’s enterprise, or in France, trying to succeed the failing Charles Capet the Mad…that Burgundy was intent on killing and supplanting. There was a de Courtenay branch, the lords of Arrablay, one of whom, I think also named Charles, is documented to have married his neighbor, one Jeanne de Chery; so there were marriage ties between the de Cherys and the vastly powerful de Courtenays.
Burgundy began to gain ground, and while the de Courtenays didn’t sail with William the Conqueror, a number of them went over to England after the Conquest—possibly because they were feeling the heat from Burgundy and Charles the Mad was, well, mad…
The de Courtenays who emigrated to England set up a castle with William’s permission, in Leicestershire, central England.
Well, now we have one Jean de Chery (the male form of John/Jeanne) who at a certain point seeks the permission of Charles the Mad to go visit his properties in Normandy, after which he vanishes from history, and the de Chereis turn up in Leicestershire…attached to the de Courtenay branch that had established in England. It was, thanks to William, *no* trouble to get ship from Normandy to England in that time.
And Burgundy was busy assassinating his rivals, and King Charles was getting crazier, and the de Courtenays in France finally dwindled down to a few, one female unable to pass the title, and virtually powerless, though they still existed.
Part of the de Chereis family moved from Leicestershire and set up in the south, at Maidenhead and Bray, in Berkshire, and those folk by then are spelling it Cherry, and still marrying people of some substance, to judge by the graves, the literacy, and the constant interweaving of spouses of some indication of wealth, even title. Then from Bray, a Cherry (they all tended to be named John and David and Thomas) went over to northern Ireland, and after a few generations, a John and his son David emigrated to Virginia, in a time of religious unrest and civil war. So my little guy from de Cerisy may instead be a much more politically connected guy skipping out of the town of Chery, in central France to go join the de Courtenays in Leicestershire, before the king who was his patron went entirely over the brink.
Jane’s family name, possibly originally Faucher, may, according to one name-origin, have come from the Limoges area of France, then to London, then to the Americas, which is kind of generic information and not easy to attach to individuals, but there is new information, too—indicating a substantial house in England, the house at Fanshawe Gate, which is now a beautiful garden showplace in Derbyshire—and a connection of her very definite ancestor, via records in Massachusetts, to a Fanshawe from the house at Fanshawe Gate who went from that Derbyshire hall down to London: that ancestor married one Eunice Bouton, who seems like a quiet New England lady of French ancestry—until you get into her past, and figure that—ironically enough—that lady’s ancestors run back to the dukes of central France, back before the Norman Invasion. Both these possible connections are still under investigation—but they do answer some interesting questions and fill in some gaps; and they are better connected to specific individuals whose time and place we can say match and intersect. It’s worth more study, at very least. The de Chereis are in Burke’s Peerage.
Anyway, hunting ancestors one of my favorite winter-evening hobbies. I was amazed that I could trace anybody by real, checkable records, but the computer age has made it an easy-chair kind of hobby; you can access, almost instantly, every digitized census report and village record, not just in the States, but in Britain, Italy, France, and now apparently into Japan and Germany, the Netherlands, you name it. They open up more of these every month, and if they ever digitize Creek County, OK, I may be able to open up a whole new part of the tree by finding my paternal great-grandmother. That could happen.
The software system I use is www.ancestry.com and if you’ve ever wanted to get into this, it’s a marvelous way to learn history: it gets pretty personal when you know it was your great-great-great-great grandfather in that battle…
For any of you who are in the Ancestry network, our tree is “It’s the Eleventh Century and We’re All Barbarians…”, a quote from our favorite Christmas movie, The Lion in Winter, which is appropriate on so many grounds.