What’s Your Story?

What’s your story?

Like most Americans, I was pretty hazy on where my ancestors came from and how they got here.

My Mother was born in South Africa to American missionaries. My Father was born near Owensboro, KY. I always thought of my Father and Mother as having very different backgrounds.

A few things happened recently that led me to do some research and realize that the two sources of my ancestry were quite close.

One ancestor that I knew of was Levi Parks Keith. He was from my mother’s side, was in the Illinois cavalry in the Civil War, and died of disease late in the war.

I realized that “Levi Parks Keith” was a pretty rare name, so I did a Google search. This led me to a site called Grave Finder.

On that site, I found not only where he was buried but also information about his life and links to other family members, including his father and mother.

His Father, Mason Parks Keith, came from Virginia to Kentucky and then moved to Southern Indiana where most of my family stayed.

This intrigued me because I knew my Father’s family was rooted in Northern Kentucky and Southern Indiana as well.

I began to plug in some general history. The Great Lakes States as we know them were not open to settlement until quite a few years after the Revolutionary War. In addition, Kentucky was opened for settlement before the Great Lake States.

So, my ancestors came to America and settled on the East Coast. Then, they went to Kentucky probably through the Cumberland Gap and from there either remained in Southern Indiana or Northern Kentucky.

Through a strange turn of events, I ended up taking a DNA test.

I always called myself an American mutt in regard to ethnicity. I was wrong. The test from ancestry.com told me that I was more British than the British. The average inhabitant of the island of Britain has 60% of their DNA from there. I have 71%.

The test told me that my ancestry consisted of the group of people that settled around the Potomac and headed west to the Kentucky area. My research was confirmed.

It turns out my parents both came from the same stock.

My wife’s story was a little easier. I had always known that her ancestors had come from the Netherlands later than mine had come to America, sometime in the 19th century.

But how long ago? And where did they come from?

I discovered that they all came from the same area of the Netherlands in the mid- to late 19th century.

My wife is a 4th generation Dutch immigrant.

I’m somewhat surprised that this story wasn’t kept more alive in their family because it was her Great Grandfather Hendrik and his Father, Fokke, who came to the U.S. in the mid-19th century and settled in Western Michigan.

Daniel Vander Till, my wife’s Great, Great Grandfather born in Groningen in 1856
The story of each line of my wife’s descent was the same. They all came from the province of Groningen in the second half o the 19th century. Only one line was different. Her Paternal Grandmother’s family came from Vriesland. Further research showed me that this was basically the same area along the coast. Groningen was once a part of a nation called “Vriesia.”

Why did they come to America?

I did a search for reasons for immigration to the U.S. from Groningen. In one article on this topic, Richard P. Swierenga explained that the farms in this area became unprofitable because of the competition of American grain on the world market. As a result, farm owners and workers left this area and came to America. Most of them were Protestant.

So, that’s the simple story, my wife’s ancestors left the Netherlands and came to America to find better farms and farm work. All of them came about the same time from the same place.

That’s our story.

And what does it matter? I’m not sure.

But I do feel a bit more rooted and connected. I have a bit more of a sense of identity and connection to the world story. For me, this story was worth discovering and now telling.

So, what’s your story?