On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone wants to be Irish. It’s not necessary to prove your ancestry to participate in the fun. However, most Americans are descended from a huge melting pot mixture of different cultures, so you just may have some “green” blood in your system after all!
The stern gentleman in this picture may look familiar if you have studied American (or Texan) history. Yes, this is General Sam Houston, the famous war hero, congressman, governor of two states, and president of the Republic of Texas. He is also my most famous relative. I grew up counting the “greats” when trying to explain how we are related. Though he is not in my direct bloodline, we do share a common ancestor, his grandfather was my sixth great grandfather who came from Ireland before the American Revolution. General Houston’s aunt was my fifth great grandmother.
So other than feeling entitled to wear a green party hat on March 17, why do the faces in our family tree really matter?
For me, it all comes down to the stories. General Sams’s grandfather came to America because he was not the oldest son, and had no inheritance in his home country. With all the wide open spaces here, there was a chance for everyone to be a part of something great. General Sam himself must have felt this sense of opportunity himself, as he traveled from where the family had settled in Virginia to Tennessee, even becoming part of the Cherokee nation along the way. He ended up in the Arkansas Territory, and then famously, in Texas. Meanwhile, he fought, both as a soldier, and as a politician to defend the American ideals of freedom. No more being tied to birth order. Everyone should have the same opportunities.
The aunt who was my ancestor married into another Irish family, the McKees. This family provides a legend for us, as they were involved in a tragic Indian attack in Virginia in 1765. The story goes that the husband and wife sent their six children ahead to safety, and reluctant to separate, they were both killed in the savage attack, first the mother, and several days later, the father.
My mother faithfully documented the names and dates associated with these events. But it’s the stories that have always mattered the most. They tell us who we really are. They explain the tough, never say die attitude of our forefathers. Freedom was worth fighting for. And, though it isn’t always well documented, I know that their faith in God must have sustained them through these un-believably tough times. That spirit, that faith is what continues, what we pass along to future generations.
Who’s in your family tree, and what stories have sustained you? It’s something to celebrate, as sure as you’re born! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!