Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are?

Advertisement for this new TV show caught my eye. The show helps the celebrity guest trace their ancestry. I found it interesting for two reasons. One is that I grew up knowing who I was, and two that there are so many people who really weren’t as lucky as I was to know not only all the extended family but to hear the stories of who we were and where we came from.

This is why my bio says “Bio: Terry Irene Blain was lucky enough to grow in a large Midwestern family with a rich oral tradition. As a child she heard stories of ancestor’s adventures with Indians, wild life and weather so naturally she gravitated to the study of history. She holds a BA and MA in History as well as a BA in European Studies and taught Western Civilization and US History at the college level.”

I caught the first episode where the helped Sarah Jessica Parker, who found out that one of her ancestors left Ohio for the gold rush, perhaps not knowing his wife was pregnant, and then died of disease in California. Another of her ancestors was accused as a witch in the Salem witch trial, but this ancestor was lucky she was acquitted and lived on.

So I thought I’d tell you about some of my ancestors. As I said, I’m lucky as my family history was always in front of me when I was a child. Not only did I know all my grandparents, but lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. One of my dad’s cousin’s wife did genealogy and she gathered up all the birth/marriage/death certificates, and I’ve built on that.

I think our family is fairly typical, my dad was in the Navy in WWII, and helped build the airstrip on Guam, his father was a farmer, and reserve occupation during the war (just as my husband’s father was a farmer during the war). I have pictures of the star in the window of their house that indicates they had a son in the service.

When the movie League of Their Own came out, my mom and I went to see it together as she taught me to play ball -- because she had played semi-pro ball. She still has her old uniform in her cedar chest.

Most of my immediate ancestors grew up in the Illinois, but when you trace back I can see my great grandmother came from Kentucky with her husband – the family stories tell of her carrying her new born son in her arms on the journey. If I go back far enough, I can find a great-great-great-great (one more great I think) ancestor who used to go hunting with Daniel Boone in Kentucky. And his ancestor had to leave Virginia after the Revolution, as his land grant had been a crown grant and he lost the title to his land.

My nephew just got a copy of the civil war records for a school project, confirming the stories. All my ancestors fought for the Union, one at Shiloh and Vicksburg and another at Chancellorsville.

When our son was applying for college, he asked if any of his ancestor fought in the Civil War. The answer was yes, on both sides. My husband’s family is from Oklahoma, and I did some tracing on his family. Unfortunately since the South lost the war a lot of the records are no longer available. My father-in-law told me an great uncle who fought in the Civil War and when he came home to Oklahoma, the homestead was deserted and the great uncle spent the rest of his life trying to find the remains of his family and eventually tracked a sister to Florida. My mother-in-law hear her grandmother tell how when she (grandmother) was a little girl she remembers her mother hitting a carpet bagger on the head with a ladle when he tried to steal a bag of corn meal.

My best story is when I was teaching and had to go down to the administration office and the secretary there had her name tag on the desk and the following conversation took place:
Me: Wow, that’s my maiden name. We must be related.
She: (with an unbelieving look) Why?
Me: Does your husband’s family come from Illinois?
She: Yes (hesitantly).
Me: Tell me your husband’s name.
She: David.
Me: I don’t know him, what’s your father-in-law’s name
She: Franklin.
Me: Ah, you father-in-law Franklin’s father was Austin, and Austin was a preacher and the older brother of my grandfather Harold. Austin actually preformed the marriage of my grandfather and grandmother.
She: Wow.

And then to top it off, the family had always said that Franklin had been in intelligence in WWII and it caused him to have a nervous breakdowns later in life. However, last year I got more information from cousins, and it turned out that Franklin had, indeed, had to ‘go away’ for several months at time in the 1950s. It turns out he was one of the guys working on the U2 spy plane project, and the nervous breakdowns were a cover.

My degrees in history and my teaching experience make me a natural to write historical romance. It gives me the opportunity to pass on stories of who we are and where we come from while exploring the relationship between men and women. I like to think I’m writing about a hero and heroine who lived just down the road from my ancestors. What could be more fun than that?

Do you have any favorite ancestor stories? Related to anyone famous?


Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Terry, what a wonderful post! I love old family stories!

I grew up in Montreal, and I have two great stories from my own family. The first concerns an ancestor on my father's side. Family lore says that Thomas Aubert (Aubert is my maiden name) sailed up the St. Lawrence River and actually landed in Canada - then New France - some 26 years before Jacques Cartier's 1534 voyage!

My second story is from my mother's side of the family. Records indicate that one of her mother's family was a 17th Century "Kings Girl" and was sent from France to New France (now Quebec) to marry one of the habitants, or settlers, there.

I'm sure there are a few historical romance stories there! Again, greta post!

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Terry! Wow--we have so much in common! Our ancesters seemed to have lived parallel lives. (Illinois--Franklin--farmers--definitely could be a connection there.)

My mother is deep into genealogy. You may even know here there in your town as she is very active in the Genealogical Society there. One thing I learned from her (besides being related to John Adams) is that my family is also related to the Conants of Salem, MA who were involved in the witch hunts in the 1600s. William Conant has a life-size statue in the middle of town dedicated to him. He's wearing a cape and tall hat as he would have in the 1600s.

Researching ancestors inspires stories to spring up inside me. Lots of cool ideas.

Thanks for a very informative and interesting post.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...


Roger Conant was my 9th great-grandfather. My daughters have seen the statue, I haven't. He was Gov of Mass Bay Colony and a founder of Salem, about 80-90 years before the Witch Trials, as I recall.
Other "famous" relative was Nile Kinnick, Heisman Trophy winning USNavy pilot died in WWII. A Novel was written "as if" he had lived and became President of USA. Small world!
Bill ;-)

Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

Terry Blain said...


Too cool, maybe we are related? Any of your ancestors from western Illinois? My dad's family farmed all over that area.

Jody said...

I like you have done extensive family history with both my mother and father. In our family each of us kids took a line patenal/maternal. I did the paternal maternal line and have gotten that line back to 1731 Scotland but thanks to the Reformation a lot records were lost or never recorded of the cottars of which my family were. I have two family stories:

But on my mom's side of the family she heard all the time growing up that her family was related to Lady Astor, it became a big joke over time. However, thanks to genealogy research and my mtDNA testing we have proved that she was in fact related. Lady Astor was a Witcher daughter and my ancestor was her sister.

Also on my mom' side she had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War and survived but for some reason his wife got a death pension. Seems like he wanted to go west and his wife didn't. She stayed behind In Missouri and he went west where he married again(no divorce of the first) and had a large family. How she was able to prove he was actually dead is still a mystery but she got it done so she had money to live on.

I love this show because it isn't a case of looking for famous ancestors but placing ancestors in historical events which is the way history should be taught and often isn't.

Sally said...

I have an uncle that has traced my father's family to England where we have met the branch of the family that stayed in England. They have traveled over here for reunions and many have traveled over there to visit.

marybelle said...

I have documentation of an ancestor being run over & killed by a manure cart - while drunk. NOT our finest moment but you can't help but laugh.