Skip to comments.A Scandinavian Skeleton in a Southern Closet
Posted on 08/02/2008 10:25:25 AM PDT by Congressman Billybob
In the twelve plus years that Ive been writing this weekly column, I dont think Ive ever mentioned the Highlands Writers Group. That is a shifting association of professional writers, semi-pros like me, and gifted amateurs. One of the finest writers in the group is Anne Doggett; she helped create the Group a decade ago, Shes a distant cousin who creates Southern people and situations on paper easily as well as the legendary Eudora Welty. I wont mention any of the other members for fear of slighting excellent talent among those I dont mention,
Suffice to say, theres enough talent in that group to assemble on one months notice an excellent volume of short stories entitled, Southern Writers and How They Got that Way. But thats not what I came to talk about.
The Group has an exercise each Thursday, before the metaphorical bell rings at 2 oclock and we read the bits and pieces we brought for criticism that week. This weeks exercise produced a result worth sharing, in my judgment.
About nine months ago, I wrote briefly about my great-great-great grandfather, who was the first member of my mothers side of the family to come to the New World. He came from Helsinki, which was conquered by Sweden at the time. He settled in Charleston, South Carolina, and prospered as a merchant.
Then, with a group of investors, he purchased the empty valley where Birmingham, Alabama is now located. His partners in the Elyton Land Company knew that all the elements to produce iron (and later steel) were located in that valley. The City was created in 1871, nearly failed due to a cholera epidemic in 1873 followed by a national financial failure lasting three years.
The founders of the city persevered, however. By 1880 Birmingham was shipping out pig iron and coal, on which its prosperity was based. The vision of Charles Linn was confirmed. He is buried in a red stone mausoleum in an old cemetery overlooking the downtown. Chiseled on its wall is this statement: On the Day of Judgment I shall walk out of this tomb and see before me a great city.
One of the youngest members of the group that created that city was John C. Henley, Sr. He married the bosss daughter, Annie Linn. My mother was named after that lady, her great-grandmother. And two of mothers descendants, a grand-daughter and a great-grand-daughter, also bear the name Linn, as do various other members of the family.
Okay, you say. Where is the skeleton in the closet?
About four months after I mentioned old Charles Linn in a column, I got an e-mail from Helsinki. The gentlemen who wrote it was a great-great-great grandson of Charles Linn of Helsinki. It seems that my esteemed ancestor was married before he came to America. There is no suggestion of a divorce.
So it seems that before his adventures and success in the New World, he abandoned his wife and family in then-Sweden. And that means that his marriage in America was bigamous, and that his children here were illegitimate. Thats quite a skeleton.
Ive chosen, so far, not to pursue the details. The reason for restraint is similar to that concerning a story in the family about one of the Parkers from Tennessee. The Parkers were French Huguenots (long story how they wound up in Tennessee). Supposedly, one man in the family was a horse thief who fled Tennessee to avoid hanging. He relocated to Texas, and died with honor at the Alamo.
As with all skeletons in all families, there are reasons not to explore them in too much detail. We could, for instance, find out that that gentleman was merely a horse thief who lit out for parts unknown, and never saw any redemption at the Alamo or anywhere else.
So, it is probably best to let the skeletons be, when the ancestor is at least three generations removed. By then the wrong-doing or nefarious conduct has reduced itself to a curiosity, rather than anything involving police, ministers, or exorcists.
So, that is my exercise for this week. Though we were told our skeletons in the closet could be fictitious, I chose to write about a real one. Experienced writers usually advise beginners that you write best when you write about what you know.
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About the Author: John Armor practiced law in the US Supreme Court for 33 years. He now lives in Highlands, NC, and is working on a book on Thomas Paine. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu
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Admin Mod: please move this to Chat if you think it has too little community appeal.
John / Billybob
Interesting, as I have Scandanavian ancestry, myself. There was actually considerable Swedish settlement in the U.S., mainly in the northern part of the nation.
Interesting. And funny how the skeleton-hunt can end so quickly.
My grandfather was sure we were descended from English royalty, so he began to do genealogical research.
When he got back to a point of ancestry that involved horse thievery in England and the Australian penal colony, he suddenly stopped the genealogical research.
So much for being descended from English royalty.
I traced my family DNA which led me back to Denmark and Finland (haplogroup ‘V’). That is enough detail for me.
Do you have big teeth?
"Grave findings have shown that late Palaeolithic settlers in central Europe and their Mesolithic descendants in the Scandinavian Peninsula were Europoids, who had compartively large teeth - a seemingly comical detail, but nevertheless an important factor in identifying these populations. Although it is very unlikely that the language of these settlers will ever be identified, I cannot see any grounds for the theory that either of these groups spoke Proto-Uralic."
"East Europeans have small teeth compared with the relatively large teeth of the Scandinavian, a peculiarity deriving from an age-old genetic distinction.
At least he provided for his presumably illegitimate offspring here (no doubt handsomely with his profitable enterprise). One wonders if he ever send a dime home, to the ones he left behind.
Hey, you should be relieved your family tree forks!
My brother traced ours back across the pond as far the 15th century on one line. Some very interesting and unsavory characters roamed the world in those days.
Love your story!
Many people redeem themselves of their earlier indiscretions.
Scoundrels and heroes can be found in any family and often the scoundrel and hero just happens to be the same man.
I eventually shoved genealogy onto the back burner simply because it got tiresome finding out that the "worst case scenario" was almost invariably the correct one, as well as the least exciting (and, truth be told, least "hoped-for") one. I acquired the notion that many of my ancestors would simply have been appalling and/or boring; in fairness, they would see me the same way (and doubtless be just as correct).
Case in point: about a decade ago, I had received some information that one of my first American ancestors was a somewhat illustrious military personage of the 18th century. There were a few questions raised by the story, but nothing that couldn't be explained by a little "illegitimacy." A few years later, I ran across some information that pointed (and far more logically) to the line as actually beginning with a rather stolid farmer born in Alsace/Elsass. Thus was my one brief link to someone of actual renown blown to smithereens.
I was born in the deep south when segragation was on its last legs. I started tracing my family tree a few years ago. I found my 17th great grandmother was Mary Queen of Scots. That led me to Robert the Bruce. He was the George Washington of Scotland. His ancestry (and Mine)took me back to Geata Godwulf. He was born about 40 BC in Finland. He gives me the distinction of being the 77th great grandson of the Pagan God of Guldorf. The trail to him went through generations of Scandinavian royalty. I wish I had known all this when chasing those lovely ladies of Denmark during the early 1950s. That’s more than you want to know about that. Getting back on track, the Vikings took control of Great Britian and much of Europe. Many of the early colonist settled in the south. Those of you with southern ancestry probably share these ties. By the way mine also led all the way back to biblical times. All that royalty ultimately came down to a bunch of sharecroppers. I didn’t find the horse thieves. They must have been hanging from some other tree. Good luck on yours.
My considered opinion (after being in the genealogy racket for 30+ years) is that it takes 5 generations for a criminal past to become instead a point of pride.
I think it was my 5x great grandfather in the paternal line that fled Scotland one jump ahead of the law and changed his name from MacGregor.
The MacGregors were basically the Mafia of Scotland, who earned a living stealing cattle, collecting cattle-theft protection money, and kidnapping the occasional heiress (for which Rob Roy's son was hanged, IIRC).
They also claim descent from the Stuarts ('s Roigheal mo Dhream - Royal is My Race - is the MacGregors' motto) so I guess we're descended from royalty, just by a very mucky sort of byway. Most people are. If you go back far enough, actually if you CAN go back far enough, everybody is descended from the only folks who kept records.
Wow. And the best I could come up with was an ancestor who was a defrocked Catholic priest in Sicily.