Hunting For The American Me

The year was 2002, the year after Mom died, and for the first time since I was 19 years I was back home, back in Dodge. Not right in my “home”, an apartment in town, actually, on the other side of the river from my actual home. It, I suppose, has become our families response to death, and the grief of, to come together, to circle the wagons.

In that year I met a guy, but his proclivities and mine did not jive, but his Mom and I hit it off, and so it was her that got me into genealogy, to pass the time.

This happy enterprise kept me distracted and discovering whole swaths of my family that I knew nothing about. Like, I knew very little on my American side, as it was a black hole to me, but for a few fragments of lore and legend, and stories passed down of civil war soldiers who shot themselves, and balls of fire at a crossroads and later at the foot of my father’s bed, but nothing concrete.

On both sides of the border I have people from all across the British Isles, from way up in Scotland, over to Ireland, all the way to the other end northeast of Cornwall, but the one that goes back farther, and this prize goes to my Dad’s side, is one Ellis ancestor, who in 1672 arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, as a bonded servant from Wales.

He’s the furthest I’ve found, yet, the others all go back way into the early 1700’s themselves, but how far back I don’t know yet. I just haven’t gone back again in some time to untangle those threads; and in some cases, many of my modern-day relatives down there also have the genealogy bug, so when I do take the time I know there are others who have done some legwork already, so I’m lucky I just pick up where they left off and connect my branch in.

But, 1672? Jamestown? Wow. That is the beginning, the very, very beginning, serving out his years of bondage, and one day going off into the wilds of North Carolina to begin off the ancestors who would one day prosper from Tobacco.

Four hundred years later one of his Great, Great, Great, Great, how many ‘Greats’ I don’t know, Grandsons came up to Canada to work in, yup, you guessed it, Tobacco; as back then Canada brought southern boys up to work the fields.

That plant I guess in some ways binds our two families together now, and to think that Ellis ancestor is one of the first wave of those seeking a fresh start in this new world.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. On the other side of Dad’s family I come from a line of dark-haired, and poor as poor, with lines going back in time to another part of North Carolina, just near the eastern seaboard, in the county of Beaufort, from a place called Bath, an area just in from the storied Outer Banks, and was also the hidey-hole of a famous Pirate.

Blackbeard the Pirate - engraving
Engraved by Benjamin Cole[1] (1695–1766) – c1724 – Defoe, Daniel; Johnson, Charles – “Capt. Teach alias Black-Beard” – from ‘in A General History of the Pyrates – public domain’
Family lore says we are descendants of one of the most legendary pirate – Blackbeard.

Everyone researching that surname from that particular area of the U.S. I’ve ever run into, whether we connected our lines or not, has that legend etched in their family lore as well. Every… single… one. Also, many of them have this legend of a full-blooded Native Grandmother, and so I have always wondered if those two pieces are linked, and maybe these ancestors are the product of a liaison with a Native woman and a legendary pirate? Very intriguing.

But based on their location, and their occupation in the census always being a “fish-box maker”, they had a strong connection to the port areas he frequented, there is some validity and does suggest the legend could very well be true, and I am the descendant of Blackbeard.

The surname, Keech, is only a couple of letters from Blackbeard’s so-called surname, of Teach. As with Teach, Keech comes down in documents under various spellings, based on the spelling phonetically, and not to any standard, since few at that time could read or write anyway.

Pirates habitually used fictitious surnames while engaged in piracy, so as not to tarnish the family name, and this makes it unlikely that Teach’s real name will ever be known. [ wikipedia ]

So, maybe I have a clue of what his surname may have been. Maybe. Keech to Teach, as they say, keep it simple.

The Keech surname itself looks to have a heavy concentration in an area north of London, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Luton, up to Peterborough, and over to Leicester using this website.

The American me, from bonded servants seeking a new life, to Pirates seeking their fortune, to fish-box makers and Civil War Soldiers and Baptist Preachers, with many rebels of one sort or other, for good or ill, and offer a real slice of America’s past.

Of new beginnings from bondage in a new world, through slavery, and wars. And grief to grief I’ve used my past as a sort of distraction, a happy place to get caught up in, and roam the halls of records, virtually and in person when I’m lucky, and have begun to weave from them new stories, and new beginnings of my own, and learning to see myself anew, and how I fit.

I think also that, situated all the way up here in the Great White North, that perhaps offers me a broader perspective, a different angle, and at the same time a deep connection, and definitely as well a stake in America’s future.

2 thoughts on “Hunting For The American Me

  1. I’m sorry for the pain of your mother’s death.

    I really found your journey to look for your family really interesting. My younger brother is an admin for a family Facebook group. He knows all about my father’s family. Your post really has inspired me to search my mother’s family. She died of cancer in 1997 & was an only child. I know a bit about the family , but not a lot.

    Thank you for a wonderful post & the inspiration!


    1. Your welcome, and thank you. Yes, finding the ancestors always makes for great stories…and for filling some of the space that people leave when they pass away.


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