A prisoner of the Commonwealth of Virginia

“You have just become a prisoner of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
– George Rogers Clark

Beaded portrait of Virginia, my grandmother

I feel like I’m coming up for air this morning.

I’ve been immersed (brain-dead, bleary-eyed immersed) in genealogy for the last two weeks straight. I accepted the 14-day trial, that was my only intention. Next thing I knew, I was hooked. My mom got deathly ill and died when I was pretty young (16-20), so I haven’t had an adult life with her to ask questions and hear stories at an age where (a) I could understand, and (b) I cared enough to remember it. It never occurred to me that she might not be around when I got older.

My mom was a talker, like me, like my daughters, and she told me tales of her life and her family throughout my young years. That was so long ago, they’ve mostly faded. I miss her terribly. I miss just belonging to someone, someone that I came from.

I’ve long felt I have no heritage. My dad gave a fuzzy explanation of our lineage as being Heinz 57—a little this, a little that—but most recently from Oklahoma. My mom hailed from Kansas and Oklahoma.

My heritage

In two weeks I’ve discovered that I am mostly… (drum roll) American! Not exactly shocking, but I am surprised to see my mom’s line go all the way back to the Colonies in the 1700’s before I see anyone not born in the states. That’s 300 years of Americans. Then I see immigrants from Ireland, Ireland, Ireland (see a pattern?), and a few souls from England.

On my mom’s side, I am overwhelmingly southern, with a couple Yankees thrown in here and there. Virginia is the most listed state in mom’s tree. My grandmother’s name is Virginia. I even found out that if you were unfortunate enough to have come to Virginia to escape England in the 1700s, as one family survivor did, you were likely to be kidnapped and/or tomahawked by Indians. I found a hair-raising personal narrative by a great great granddaughter about this occurrence in our family.

Lest I be called racist, I also found that you were equally likely, in the south, to suffer a “gunshot to the heart” by a neighbor, at your dry cleaning establishment, while literally minding your own business.

On my dad’s side, Yanks from New England merged with midwesterners and eventually helped settle Oklahoma. I haven’t gotten very far on my dad’s dad’s line, only to my great great-grandfather, and there I’m stumped. I can’t get past the mid-1800s. But my dad’s mom’s family has Irish immigrants. That’s 3 of four of my grandparents that trace back to Ireland. That explains why I can’t hold my liquor, love gambling and potatoes… and I talk a lot (a lot).

What I found in the census tracts was amazing, especially how many times men remarried and the outrageous number of children they had with each wife. But that’s for another post, where the personal gets political. I have a great deal to say about the subject of women’s lives, now and then.  Another day perhaps.


Here’s to Virginians. To see why the quote (and title) struck a chord with me, you might want to take a closer look at George Rogers Clark. He had a lot to do with us being able to call ourselves Americans in the first place.

And I’m just kidding about the prisoner part. 🙂

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