It seems like every family is thankfully blessed with that one, highly motivated individual who is willing to tackle the family tree. That person allows the rest of the family to sit back and say, “Whew, good luck to you.” In my family, I am definitely not that person – the keywords being “highly motivated.”
On my father’s side (the Daniel side), one of my cousins dove into the genealogy quicksand years ago, and none of us ever see her much anymore. She might even be in witness-protection by now, for all I know. As it turns out, there are a lot of gaping holes in the family tree on my father’s side. I don’t know this for sure, but having met some of them, my guess is that there MIGHT have been some unsavory behavior on that side of the family. Maybe even a lot of it. If you ask some of my relatives to name the parents of a such-and-such ancestor, they usually reply with, “Who wants to know?” That side of the family came into Alabama from west Georgia and seemed to bounce around a lot without sinking their roots very deeply really anywhere. However, there is one place where a pack of them settled in rural Crenshaw County, Alabama called Danielsville, and my wife and I decided to drive through there one afternoon. It was like we’d stepped into a Ray Bradbury story, because nearly every single person we saw in that community looked exactly like me. We’ve never been back.
On my mother’s side, it was my grandmother who kept up with everything and everybody. When she was alive, she was a walking, talking encyclopedia of the family tree, and she could name all the relatives, their spouses, their children, where they lived, and what they did for a living. My mother has since inherited that post, and keeps up with everything quite nicely. There was an unusual situation on my mother’s side whereby her grandfather (my great-grandfather) and his brother ended up marrying two sisters, which means that I’m double-cousins with practically everybody in the tiny little farming community of Society Hill in Macon County, Alabama. It’s a stock hillbilly joke that practically writes itself if I ever saw one.
I guess the important thing I’m trying to approach here is that I have at least two great-great-grandfathers on my mother’s side who fought for the Confederacy. My grandmother’s grandfather, Jim Myhand, fought with the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment that was organized at Fort Mitchell. My grandfather’s grandfather, William Cooksey, fought with the 39th Alabama Infantry Regiment that was organized at Opelika. Both men were Alabama farmers. They were the sons of farmers, and many of their sons became farmers, as well. At one point, the Myhand family supplied the Confederate Army with hay for their horses, and were never paid. The Cooksey Family Tree book shows several paycheck receipts that William Cooksey received for serving in the Confederate Army, which seems to be about $11 per month. Both men, like everybody else they knew, fought for their families, their communities, their liberties, and their rights. They fought against what they perceived to be an overbearing federal government. And they also fought because they believed it was the right thing to do.
However, all the public schools I attended, the university I attended, and all the television shows and movies I watched while growing up went to great lengths to teach me that my ancestors shamefully and disgracefully fought for slavery. I don’t even know how the subject came up, but one day my high school biology teacher berated my entire family in class for being racists simply because I admitted that I had multiple ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. According to what I was taught in school, they abandoned their happy lives and risked everything they knew to defend an institution that had absolutely no bearing on them whatsoever. Even as a child, I recognized that was incredibly stupid. My great-great-grandfathers didn’t own a single slave between them. They worked their own fields with their own hands, because they could probably barely afford their own shoes, much less the exorbitant expense of owning a slave.
My grandmother once showed me an ammo pouch and some uniform buttons that had belonged to her granddaddy Jim Myhand when he fought for the Confederacy. All of the items were stamped “C.S.A.” and she beamed with pride as she reverently held them out to me. To her, “C.S.A.” didn’t spell “slavery.” It spelled “family” and “honor.” She was very proud of her grandfather, and so am I. He fought for all the right things, no matter what the schools and the history books told me. I don’t care how foamy and frothy the Yankees get at my refusal to accept their self-serving version of history, I remain proud of my Confederate ancestors. Their blood lives through me, and nothing can ever change that. And I will always be respectful of the talismans and symbols that represented their righteous stance, such as ammo pouches, uniform buttons, paycheck receipts, and even battle flags.