Genealogy is all about close personal ties. And relationships. And memorable events in personal lives. And in commemorated events in history. And unlocking what is still unknown in the the backgrounds and origins of ancestors you have come to know personally.
These connectors between the past and today may be what brought you to genealogy to begin with. Nothing you discover is tedious–although the idea of do-diligence research seeking another marriage date or another child seems tedious to the uninitiated.
Searching my bookshelves (which are double-rowed with books in front and on top of every single shelf) I re-discovered the American Frontier series of books by Dale Van Every:
- Men of the Western Waters: A Second Look at the First Americans, 1781-1794. 1956.
- Forth to the Wilderness: The First American Frontier, 1754-1774. 1961.
- A Company of Heroes: The American Frontier, 1775-1783. 1962.
- Ark of Empire: The American Frontier, 1784-1803. 1963.
Ray Allen Billington, author of Westward Expansion (New York: Macmillan, 1956 with new editions and numerous printings to 2000), called Van Every akin “to Francis Parkman and Frederick Jackson Turner, two of the most distinguished scholars of American History.”
Two themes course through all 4 of these page-turning books–1) George Washington from his first surveys of the western lands to his determination that the new United States would not disintegrate into a group of conflicted countries. 2) What Van Every calls “The Frontier People” and their impact on the American frontier.
I spent all day Sunday re-acquainting myself with these themes. And applying what Van Every saw as significant to the hard-to-find ancestors in Tennessee and Kentucky that I am currently tracking for some of you.
And I could hardly wait to share some of these insights with you today–March has been such a significant month for these very tough research states.
Spring arrived in Appalachia all at once and the immigrants flowed into and through the mountains and up the river valleys seeking fresh lands. They flowed without stopping. They poured as they were given teasing glimpses by trappers and explorers and soldiers who returned for supplies. They raced each other to make the first claims.
Laws didn’t stop them–these “Frontier People.” Indians massacres and the stealing of white children to replace lost tribal populations did not stop them. Armed escorts, sent to bring them back did not stop them. And conflicting title claims made by speculators and government “big guys” in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina who filed the lands out from under them, did not stop them.
They came by foot, by horseback, by barge too big to clear the river bends, and by wagon trains. Creating new states over night, or so it seemed.
And the general, who led them in war and in peace, counted on them to save the United States from disintegration. George Washington, alone and at his own expense. With his diary in hand. He toured this new west. Seeking the Frontier People to ask them personally and up close what they wanted from the government. What they sought as Americans.
Washington considered the river valleys and the Indian trails and the now old military roads that he, himself, had surveyed and built. To make the west and the Frontier People into saviours of the Union, a transportation route connecting the east with the west was essential. He knew it. And he wanted an all-Virginia route. The only practical route,however, was across Pennsylvania into Ohio. All this he recorded in his diary.
Have you ever read any of these diaries? Written in Washington’s easy to understand, flowing words? Diaries. 1925 edition, 4 vols. edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. Dale Van Every did–all four volumes and his one-volume Journal, edited by Joseph Meredith Toner (Albany: 1893).
These works are not generally read any more, especially by genealogists who have never connected up close and personal with those who influenced their ancestors.
Let me tell you about the tradition of one family: George Washington gave a young boy his first real pair of boots. How could such a tradition be true? Yet, it was passed down from Revolutionary War times to the present day and is still told around the dinner table!
After reading the personal interviews Washington did across Appalachia, there can be no question in your mind that such a thing could be true.
My own perspective on the “Frontier People” in Appalachia and beyond began taking shape when I originally studied Van Every’s books, and the sources he used to write them.
You see, I majored in English History at the University of Utah because I wanted to be a great genealogist for the British Isles. I minored in American Colonial History because so many ancestors emigrated to America, including my own. I could not see how I could track these illusive ancestors through the United States into the British Isles without some understanding of their history.
And since, I was determined to learn how such immigrants became our ancestors–yours and mine–I looked for studies of the People, up close and personal. And I found Van Every and his American Frontier series.
Very soon I will launch my Scots Irish blog–where together, you and I will discuss what made Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, and western Pennsylvania different–and just who these “Frontier People” are. And how we can determine where they come from, by knowing who they are.
So I hope you will stay with me. Your favorite Tennessee genealogist Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
In Memoriam: Judy Goyette, Seal Beach CA, died 28 March 2010. Judy was a TN-VA genealogist of many years. She attended the Salt Lake Christmas Tour for more than 10 years working all week on her southern roots. Her bright smile and cheery hello will be missed by all of us. And by me.