Thursday, October 02, 2003


I saw you when you rolled your eyes. I say "genealogy" and you roll you eyes. Did you read where in Palo Alto, California, they're going to make it against the law (or at least against the rules) to roll eyes in response to someone speaking. Aren't liberals cute? You know the goodie-two-shoes making the proposal is a liberal, you just know it. I'm not endorsing conservatives, but you just know that is not one of the things they have on their legislative agenda. If I'm wrong on this one, someone send me an e-mail.

Back to the subject at hand. Genealogy. When I was growing up, back a million years ago, I lived for quite a few of my years with my maternal grandmother, Minnie Ashworth Droddy. From the time I was big enough to drive, probably 12 or 13, I began to drive my grandmother to funerals. She happened to be from one of the largest family groups in Louisiana, so we had plenty of funerals to attend.

Now to explain that, I have to go back to 1803, when my gggggrandfather, James Ashworth, and a group of friends, in-laws, and cousins, decided to forego South Carolina and migrate to Louisiana which was about to open up to American settlement as a result of the Louisiana Purchase. His wife, my gggggrandmother, Keziah Dial, had already birthed about 5 of her eventual 9 kids. Her parents and brothers were part of the group making the migration.

There were about 12 or 13 families in all. One of the leaders of this group was the Rev. Joseph Willis.. It's not my job to tell their whole story right now, just to give you a few pertinent details. Another one of my important Descended From families, the Perkins, were also part of the group. Near as we can tell, the only thing these families had in common was their rejection by the dominant culture in South Carolina for being mixed race, most likely, and if you believe our family's oral tradition, American Indian and White.

We know they got to Louisiana about 1804, because records indicate the first children of this group being born in Louisiana in 1804. They settled in a disputed area between Louisiana and Texas known as No Man's Land or the Neutral Territory. The area became home to outlaws, slave smugglers, and my grandmother's people, the Redbones. Looking at their history, it's not surprising that they chose to settle someplace outside the law. In South Carolina, they were reputed to be outlaws and had run ins with the vigilante force called the Regulators. Either my gggggrandfather, or his father, also James Ashworth, was branded with a "T" on his hand for breaking jail according to Richard Maxwell Brown in his book, The South Carolina Regulators, published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press in 1963. He must have reformed somewhat though, because he received a grant of land on the Little Pee Dee River in 1774. James never got a chance to develop his place on the Little Pee Dee, however. The region was soon caught up in the American Revolution. James and his family found themselves on the side of the Crown, and after the American victory, were forced to move. Family legend has it that for the years between the end of the Revolutionary War and the migration to Louisiana, the Ashworths lived in a Cherokee village in northwest South Carolina.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah. These dozen or so families lived marginally between Texas and Louisiana for over 100 years, having large families, cousins marrying cousins, so by the time I was taking my grandmother to funerals, there must have been thousands of them.

At the funerals to which I accompanied my grandmother, were groups of old women who sat together at the wakes and recounted the genealogy of the peson being buried, as well as that of any person who happened to come up in conversation, usually someone who was not present. This was also when the stories of who we were and how we came to this place were told. We know who we are.

Slowly, over time, as I have grown older, I find that I have less to say and find myself content to remember conversations from times past. This is a bit odd and unexpected because I sometimes can't remember what I'm doing, why I walked into a room, things like that, but I can remember with crystal clarity a conversation between old women at a funeral 40 years ago. How is that possible?

Be that as it may, woven into those stories are the genealogies of my family. To Southerners, genealogy is a memory tool. In telling of our kinship with one another and with the past, we remember their stories. I remember stories of those old women at the funerals. I can't account for the accuracy of my stories. Boundaries in the world of memory are more flux. Stories mix. Those things aren't as important as simply having a story. I want to thank my grandmother, Minnie Ashworth Droddy and her best friend, sister-in-law, and also first cousin once removed, Lonie Perkins Ashworth for the many stories they told. As I tell my stories, I can hear both of them laughing gently as they remember the struggles and adventures of their parents, their cousins, and their friends.

We're coming up on the 200th anniversary of the Redbone people in Louisiana. Our story is largely untold to outsiders. One of the purposes of this blog is to tell our story. It's a good tale worth telling.

1 comment:

Tracie said...

I think we may be related. I just googled some names and it brought me to your site. I am just getting started on my husbands family history and I believe it also contains the Ashworth family.

Right now, all I have record of is great grandma and grandpa Eli and Emma Buxton. I believe Emma's mom was Lucy Cordie Ashworth.

If this sounds familiar to you at all, please email me at traciespencer08 @ gmail. com

I would love to get some stories from you.