When Robert, a devout reader of this column who also happens to be an accomplished researcher in matter of family lineage, offered to trace my family roots, I accepted faster than kudzu can grow on a hot summer’s day.
What he unearthed would startle the entire family when we discovered our blood kin. The most amazing revelation was that some of us are kin to ourselves.
And before any of you wisecrack something to the extent of, “Of course, you’re kin to yourselves, it’s the South.” Let me remind you of this: the children of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are kin to themselves since their parents were cousins, their mama having been a Roosevelt, niece of Theodore, before she married their father.
Robert took off with amazing speed and clicked quickly through generations on both my paternal and maternal sides with admirable ease and accuracy. I knew that Mama’s Scotch-Irish roots went back for nine generations in the Southern part of the United States but I was surprised to learn that Daddy’s went back one generation further. Robert even narrowed down that the man from whose loins sprang Daddy’s side of the family had arrived in this country from County Antrim in Northern Ireland in the 1750s. It was all interesting.
But the most intriguing discovery was still to come.
My brother-in-law, Rodney, is a direct descendent of Benjamin Parks, one of the most famous men in the North Georgia mountains. It was this rough, no-nonsense pioneer who many credit with discovering a chunk of gold — he supposedly tripped over the rock while hunting to feed his family — near Dahlonega. Some historians claim that the legend was self-promoted by Parks, who repeated the story for 70 years. It is indisputable, though, that Dahlonega was the site of the first gold rush in America in 1829, a full 20 years before miners rushed to California to seek their fortunes. So great was the quantity of gold mined near that tiny town at the foothills of the Appalachians that the U.S. government would built a mint there. It operated as a federal facility until 1861, when the Confederacy seized control of it.
According to former U.S. senator and renowned historian of the Georgia mountains, Zell Miller, in his book, “The Miracle of Brasstown Valley,” there is evidence to support that Parks sold his mining claim to John Calhoun, a U.S. vice president, and his son-in-law, Thomas Clemson. Both men amassed such a fortune in the Dahlonega Gold Rush that Clemson would use a portion of his revenue to set up a university in South Carolina named in his honor.
Anyway, we’ve always been awed with Rodney’s lineage, impressive since it derives from a famous historical figure. The Parks family gathers every September to celebrate its heritage.
“My brother-in-law is a direct descendent of Benjamin Parks,” I commented in passing to Robert.
“Really?” Without him mentioning it, that little tidbit of info sent Robert off on another mission. Within a couple of hours, I received an e-mail, “Call me as soon as you can. You won’t believe what I found.”
He was right. I didn’t.
As it turns out, Rodney descended directly through the senior Benjamin’s son, Benjamin Jr. That was no surprise. The stunner was that I and my sister, who is married to Rodney, descend directly on Daddy’s side from the elder Parks’ other son, Linwood.
Now, just imagine how eager I was to take this piece of historical trivia to the dinner table on the following Sunday. We, too, were heirs of mountain royalty.
“That means,” I announced to my niece and nephew, “That not only are you brother and sister, you’re also cousins.”
For some reason, I was the only one who found that deliciously funny. I guess it’s because I’m not kin to myself.
At least, not on the Parks side.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.