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Dick Yarbrough: Be careful what you root out of the family tree

When my momma was alive, she was a walking repository of our family’s history, not only hers but my dad’s as well. She could rattle off the names of great-aunts and not-so-great uncles, cousins, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There was the uncle who was in the Battle of the Marne in World War I, one of the bloodiest battles in history, the brother of a brother-in-law who had something to do with the creation of Dr. Pepper, and the grandmother who died right after my dad was born and for whom a street in Atlanta is named. At the time, I really wasn’t interested in hearing any of that stuff. I was more concerned with trying to pay my bills.

That all changed after Momma had left us for a well-deserved eternal life and great-grandson Cameron Charles Yarbrough made his appearance many years later. It was then that I decided to trace my roots for his benefits. That required paying for information my mother could have given me gratis.

Cameron honors his Scottish heritage; his maternal great-grandmother having been born in Edinburgh and of the Cameron clan. That part has been easy to verify. The Scots do a good job in preserving their past records as do most Europeans.

Unfortunately, not so in the South. The Yankees weren’t content just to burn our homes and foodstuffs during their invasion, they burned our courthouses, too, including valuable documents. To add insult to injury, a bunch of them moved here permanently because it snows 10 months of the year up north and all their buildings are rusted.

I swore that when I retired after the 1996 Olympics, I would try and flesh out the family tree. For a while I did. Thanks to some help from the good folks at the Yarbrough Society, I got our line all the way back to 1642, when (wouldn’t you know it?) Richard Yarborough showed up in the Virginia colony.

Alas, the opportunity to produce a weekly newspaper column appeared and the family tree was left to wither. Until now. Both my son and daughter-in-law and my niece are hard at work on filling in the blanks on the Yarbroughs and all those who married into the family.

I do know that we have now gotten Cameron Charles’ ancestors back to Scandinavia and into the 12th century. I am hoping we will find a king or two in the crowd. The Woman Who Shares My Name loves to remind me that she has ancestors buried on the grounds of Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland, and as a result, she requires me to curtsy when I am in her presence. Very humiliating.

In searching my mother’s roots on the internet those many years ago, I found an ancestor who served in the Revolutionary War, which would make Cameron Charles eligible for Sons of the American Revolution, as well as an ancestor who was a founder of Hartford, Connecticut.

Of course, I didn’t write the information down and in the limited time I have searched since then, I have been unable to find either one again. If I don’t have a king to namedrop at cocktail parties, it would be nice to have someone in the family tree who did something important that I could brag about. (“Hi, my name is Dick. My ancestor founded a big city. How about you?”)

If you are into digging up your roots or plan to, heed this warning. A friend told me he discovered one ancestor who was an early president of the University of Georgia and another one who was hung as a horse thief.

The moral of this story is that if your momma is willing to talk to you about your ancestors, you need to listen and make notes. It is a lot cheaper than spending money on the internet or hiring someone to do it for you. It will likely be a lot more interesting, too. Where else will you find out about the uncle who poked his eye out whittling wood or the loopy cousin who wrote to say his family was doing just fine except for grandma? That’s because she was dead.

Admittedly, Momma never mentioned there might be a king lurking in our family tree. Until I can root one out, I guess I will have to continue to curtsy in front of you-know-who. I just hope we don’t find a horse thief. She would never let me live that down.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.

 

 

 

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