Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Real Daisy

... was my grandmother. I have no idea when or where this photo was taken, but it was probably in Pittsburgh.

Her eyes were so black, you couldn't even see the pupils. Her hair was likewise very black, naturally curly and silky.

My grandmother was Melungeon, which I have always intended to blog about, but there is so little known about them, I don't know exactly what to write. Suffice to say, they were very WEIRD backwoods people with all kinds of BIZARRE traditions you never heard of. (I later understood this is why my family was so odd and never fit in with the other nice, Midwestern families on the block.) Her youngest brother (who never left the backwoods) had an indescribable, hard-to-place accent that was nearly indecipherable, as did both of her parents. It went beyond mere Appalachian accents, and it was nice to finally learn the reason why.

When the Melungeons were asked questions by census takers, they told them all kinds of creative stories, claiming to be Portuguese, Arabs, Jews, and whatever else they thought the census-taker wanted to hear. That's why nobody knew for sure what race/ethnicity they were, and historians are still arguing over it. Much has finally been sorted out through DNA: Melungeons were "tri-racial isolates" -- Native American indigenous people (and refugees from colonial encroachment) and free African-Americans, intermarried with white colonists who decided to go off and live in the wilderness for whatever reasons. This accounts for their deep secrecy and suspicion of strangers (and especially the government).

When white colonists eventually migrated to the Cumberland Gap and the New River (where my grandmother was born), they found these strange folks already living there.

I am interested in learning more, as it becomes known. In studying the Melungeons, it is fascinating to note how some people don't mind being one of the first Americans, but twist themselves in knots to deny the African ancestors. My grandmother told me that as a child, she always knew there were Africans in her family tree... but that is not the rude terminology she used, which I will not repeat here. (What is interesting is that she found this amusing and never denied it. In all honesty, she seemed to find the idea of being related to Cherokee more disturbing.) When people snootily remarked that she looked like Lena Horne, she was obviously too thrilled to get mad about the racial thing.

Second photo is of my grandmother and my mother, Betty, on the right. I estimate their ages to be 37 and 21, respectively. (1955 - Parkersburg, WV)

















Third photo is my mother and me, ages 38 and 15. (1973 - Columbus, OH)
Yes, before you ask, I think that IS real fur. She thought fake fur was low class.

I miss them a lot during this time of year.

And now, your turn. Who do you miss?

19 comments:

John Powers said...

My parents are Yankees and I was born in the mountains of Virginia. There are untold stories in my family, but sort of a presumption that the stories told more or less align with facts. Living in the South it seemed as though there was a difference about stories: the stories didn't have to be exactly true, but there couldn't be missing or untold stories.

My take on it is how Southerners hold stories is a defining difference, an essential part of what it is to be a Southerner.

Recovered some old hard drives recently and saw photos I hadn't seen for years. It was kind of shocking how many in the photos aren't alive anymore. I'm a bit shallow, but pictures of deceased pets, Sam and Gabrielle in particular touched me.

Blue Heron said...

How very interesting her story is. I have been involved using Family Tree DNA's services the last two years and have discovered a lot. You might want to get a mitochondrial test or have a full brother get tested for Y-DNA. It might open up an interesting corridor into your past. I could help you interpret. A little over one hundred bucks for your test. The whole melungeon thing is new to me.

West said...

I miss Ronald Reagan...

DaisyDeadhead said...

West, try to stay on topic. (rolls eyes)

Marion said...

This was a fascinating post...it would be so interesting to research more of your ancestors! I'm stuck on my father, who left our family when I was about 8. Stories about him are rare.

I miss my daughter the most at this time of year. xx

JoJo said...

VERY interesting post Daisy! I had never heard of the Melungeons (did I spell it right?) till now. Your grandmother looks like she was a hot shit too.

This time of year I miss my dad. well I miss him all year long but esp. at the holidays.

senchi said...

cool post. u said yr mom was disabled and i thought, I don't see it. then i realized whats missing in photo, what she hides. amirite? right arm/hand. also much more disabling in righthanded culture than if it was her left.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Senchi, yes!!! You're good!

I have exactly NO pictures of her right hand/arm. She was so adept at hiding it.

Lisa said...

This is so interesting. I came for the next post and couldn't resist reading this.

Gregg Jocoy said...

Now Daisy...West was on topic...you asked who we miss.

I know I risk being tarred and feathered for saying so, but not every mother is great, and not all memories are bitter sweet. Some are just bitter. I'll leave it at that.

I miss my friends from high school and college, even though very few are dead. I have reconnected with several via FB and LinkedIn, and that's been a real blessing. recently got to visit for a few hours with a couple Nancy and I were very close to in the post-college days. It's good to see old friends.

sheila said...

fascinating post! As a genealogist, I loved reading this!!! Who do I miss the most? My moms parents and my husbands father. But I know they are okay and know all the "secrets" now. Which I find quite cool!

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I am Melungeon. I can be contacted via Kthdelta@aol.com.

Ann O'Dyne said...

dear Daisy, like Gregg Jocoy, I do not miss my closest blood relative one bit, but like you I miss my real-fur owning grand-mother too, and wish I had got the genealogy bug before she died.
What JoJo said too. the photos show gorgeous chicks.

I must say that it is not just backwoods to be suspicious of the guvmint, or revenuers etc. I have happily managed to be missed on the last 15 years of Australian census taking - only by their ineptitude I must add, so our National Stats are short on middle aged fat chicks living alone with no money. ha ha.
I hope you exchange good stuff with KathDelta who has just left her email, and
thanks West for the snork I did when I read your remark.

Anonymous said...

You heard of the Lumbees? They are another group kinda like the Melugeons, mostly around Robeson County, NC. I met a few; some look mostly white, some look mostly Indian, and some look more black. Another mystery ethnic group.

Anonymous said...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/melungeon-dna-study-origin_n_1544489.html

Sonny Taylor said...

I recognize that third pic. You are my family and blood. It would be great to hear from you. Love sonny!! Redman88.st@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Ok........on the count of ten!!!!!!!....mulungeons are blaaaaaaccckkk!!!!...lol...ok.....be proud!!!!!!!

Daisy Deadhead said...

Anon, well, its interesting.

The tumblrites/so-called "Social Justice Activists" think we shouldn't say anything about being part black, since we are OBVIOUSLY just trying to be politically correct ... AND attempt to get off the hook for being white. BITCH!

The white supremacists on St0rmfront also think that if you can pass and yet you claim nonwhite ancestry, then you ARE NOT white, just for doing that. You have tainted yourself. BITCH!

I figure if both of these wacked-out factions hate me for doing this, I must be doing something right. :)

Anonymous said...

OMFG, I once had a New Jersey friend who talked about a Northern version of the Melungeons called the Jackson-Whites!!! This is too cool!!