What’s YOUR Story?
This is a place where you can submit stories about your families history. Twice a week Marla and I will each select a story to be featured and to share with other fans. You are free to post comments on these stories and who knows, maybe you will find your story intertwined with someone else.
The first round of Your Story will kick off April 3, 2012. Send in your story and we might jus feature it here on the site!
Sharon Cameron’s Story
I was thrilled when asked if I would like to contribute a “Your Story” to this website. First because Ruta Sepetys has been my writing partner for nearly seven years now and I might have to arm wrestle Hannah and Marla for the title “Ruta’s biggest fan.” Second, because family history is something I’m passionate about, a large part of what drew me into becoming an author in the first place. Researching your own past is fascinating detective work, like going all “Nancy Drew” on your DNA. You never know what surprises might be lurking around the genetic corner.
My story begins in Nashville, Tennessee, with roots going deep in the South, from both sides of the Civil War, to the settling of the frontier, to the Revolutionary War, with little threads stretching back to England, Wales and the Scottish Highlands. All the surnames in my past are just a great big mish-mash of the British Isles, so imagine my surprise when in the 1880 census of Alabama, one of those names had the word “mulatto” written beside it. “What?” I said to self, “But Granny always said her mother was Portuguese!”
Now, it had occurred to me before that a Portuguese woman living in rural south Alabama with the last name of Harrison was a bit unlikely, but I had always thought Granny was just mistaken. She wasn’t. She was fibbing. Half-forgotten stories were traded, old rumors brought down from the shelf, pictures I’d never seen began flying about the internet, one in particular resulting in a quote that is now family legend: “Well now, honey, that ain’t Portuguese!”
So while my dear eighty-something-year-old great aunt ordered herself a DNA test, I pulled out my Nancy Drew magnifier and went to work. According to the dusty, handwritten records of the Greensville County courthouse (where I had a ridiculous amount of fun), I discovered that my three times great-grandfather, Henry Harrison, was a free man of color, purchasing extensive land, and farming it for years in his own name. This would be in Alabama, before the Civil War. I also discovered a family of white, slave-owning Harrisons from North Carolina (like Henry), with a patriarch who would have been nineteen when Henry was born. And there, I thought, lies the answer to the mystery of Henry Harrison’s freedom, his cash, his ability to own land, though I’ll never prove it. He was a son of the Harrison house, his mother almost certainly one of the Harrison slaves. A five times great-grandmother whose name I’ll never know, and a part of American history that I had never considered might be part of myself.
I was completely fascinated, and also annoyed. How close we came to losing the truth about one of the richest parts of our family history! But with a little more reading I began to sympathize with my fibbing Granny. Henry’s daughter, my great-great grandmother, married a white man. After the Civil War there was a short window of comparative freedom for Southern blacks, but by the time my Granny was born the Jim Crow laws had been put into place. The marriage of Granny’s parents was suddenly illegal, could have been annulled, and Granny and all her siblings declared illegitimate. Just a quick perusal of the town newspapers showed that lynchings were not uncommon, and you didn’t even have to be black or of mixed race to be singled out for one! Granny, who bore few visible traces of her mother’s heritage, lied to keep her children safe.
The DNA test came back and showed exactly what we all now knew to be true, mostly European with a seven percent sliver of North African, that seven percent giving us another now infamous family quote: “Seven? Well, now, that just ain’t enough! It ain’t enough!” But it makes me realize that from British immigrants to Revolutionary patriots and frontier farmers, Union spies, Confederate officers, slave and slave-holder, that my story is actually full of stories, known and unknown, from all different parts of the world. And ironically, it is that DNA of the globe that makes my story uniquely American.
Sharon is the author of The Dark Unwinding, debuting September 1, 2012 from Scholastic Press.
Where do I begin with my story? My family as it is now is the product of several nations of Europe. Through years of geneological research, I have at least some idea of where we come from. However, the biggest mystery remaining is the full extent of my grandfather’s lineage.
My maternal grandfather was a Carroll, which is a fine, Irish surname to have. Though his mother was descended from a German line, which was easily traced, his father’s line hasn’t revealed much. Beyond my great-great grandfather, I have yet to discover exactly where the Carrolls came from. Many years ago, my grandfather was invited to reunite with a branch of the family in Ireland. Though I was excited by the prospect, he didn’t seem to be. He swept the information under the rug and, to this day, no one knows where it was his family was from, let alone why he didn’t want to talk about it. Whether his close-mouthed stance was due to disinterest or another reason only known to him, we will never know. Our family lost him in June 2007.
What was awoken in me the day that mysterious invitation arrived was a keen interest in where my family comes from. Over the years, I have made many fascinating discoveries about several branches of my family tree. However, the origins of the Carroll branch remains something of a mystery. It was enough to ignite a fervor to learn anything and everything I could about Ireland’s past and present. What I learned wasn’t what I would have expected. What many may not know is that Ireland has been through a lot of terrible times as a country. From persecution at the hands of England to the Great Potato Famine that drove many to the shores of America, I learned so much more than I so naively expected to find. Unearthing long-buried royal lines is one thing. It is the discovery of such a heart-breaking and hard-hitting piece of history that has forever left an impression upon me, one which I will never forget, nor will I neglect sharing with my own daughter someday.
I will kick things off with a Your Story of my own. It’s probably nothing special to any of you but I think it’s really cool. My family is the typical American family, a Heinz 57 of different cultures and backgrounds all blended together to form a family unclear about our history. I know that I am a mixture of German, Irish, and Native American background, and I am sure many more but that’s all I know. We aren’t sure when my family immigrated to the United States, what the circumstances were or even what their names were. When I was looking information up I was only able to access information about my mother’s side of the family.
We know that my great-grandmother on my mother’s side refused to tell anyone who her father is. She was one of five children, all who had a mysterious father that no one ever knew. There have been several theories as to why this secret is being kept but since I do not know anything for sure I can’t say anything.
Researching a little bit I discovered that my Grandpa x5 was murdered in November 1904. His murder was never solved and all information on it was kept secret. From local and family accounts they say that he was murdered, tied in a sheet, and thrown into the Obed River. Local residents, fishers, and hunters have been known to make a reference to an area of the river they call Dial Hole. (Dial being his last name)
Looking back father through the Dial side of my family, I discovered that my Grandpa x7 was from North Carolina. Was born in 1753 and fought in the Revolutionary War.
That was a huge shock to me because my family has always assumed that we haven’t been here for more than 150 years (rounded number). To discover that one of my relatives fought in the Revolution was kind of crazy to me.
I am going to continue looking into my background. Hopefully I will be able to discover more about my fathers side of the family and even more so on when my relatives moved into the United States and what their stories were.
Don’t be afraid to share your own! I look forward to reading some great histories!