Somehow assuming that my father’s family had been in our corner of Ohio from its earliest settlement, I grew up believing my roots were essentially homogenized Midwestern American. Only after extensive genealogy research did I learn that my dad’s forerunners had, until my grandparents’ generation, come from much more distinctive and radical traditions – and all were in America by the time of the Revolution.
For starters, the Hodsons (who would also spell the name Hodgin and Hodgson) had been Quaker from the very beginning of the movement and, for six generations, been part of North Carolina Friends in Guilford County.
If my tentative research holds true, they first appear as yeomen in the 1530s in Cumbria, England, become Quaker in the 1650s, and go by way of Ireland to Pennsylvania, with most of the family perishing as a consequence of capture by French privateers while crossing the Atlantic. From there, they settled in Chester and what’s now Adams counties, Pennsylvania, before heading south, where they even owned a gold mine.
My grandmother’s lineage on that side turns out to be Pennsylvania Dutch, largely Dunker (German Baptist Brethren, the origins of today’s Church of the Brethren) who were indeed among the earliest settlers in Ohio. Like the Quakers, they were pacifists, abolitionists, and wore the plain clothing we associate with the Amish. Even one great-grandmother’s ostensibly Roman Catholic Irish line proved to be mostly Pennsylvania Dutch, including a large percentage of Mennonites and Lutherans.
My mother’s roots present a much different model. Coming together in Missouri were Scottish (by way of Canada), urban Germans, Swamp Yankees, Long Islanders, and both subsistence-farmer and plantation slave-owning Virginians and Kentuckians – lines that fought on both sides in the Civil War.
In genealogy I see these intensely personal histories of common people often counter the standard chronologies of politicians, generals, and, especially, wars.
I find the detective-work puzzles of their real-life stories take turns a novelist would never anticipate. I believe it is important to neither lionize nor demonize them, but to accept them for who they were – good and not so good.
In my case, I am surprised to discover that none of my ancestors arrived by way of Ellis Island. But after all, growing up, I had no clue.
Some of my research has been presented in the journals The Guilford Genealogist and Brethren Roots.
I offer my fuller findings at The Orphan George Chronicles.