How Far Back: Charlemagne? Genghis Khan? Adam and Eve?

We’ve all seen them: family trees which purportedly go back over 700 years.  Many trace their lineage to Charlemagne or other royals, as those were among the few people who kept track of genealogy.   I have seen some that actually “trace” back to Adam and Eve.  As in, the first two people to have ever lived, according to Biblical history.

Recently, I got a “match” on familysearch.org giving me the option to link my chart with another one matching a person on that tree.  Well, I reviewed it for sources and could find few, but what I did notice was that it went all the way back to 130 A.D.  One hundred and thirty years after Christ’s birth?!  That would be fantastic if it were true.  But, with zero sources linked, I had to say no.

I didn’t attach this tree to mine, and I’m certainly not accusing anyone of impropriety.  But, it got me thinking.  How far back can really be said to be reliable?  At what point do you disassociate yourself from distant ancestors?  I personally can’t really relate to anything prior to 1500 A.D.–I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

How far back have you gotten in your research?  Can you relate to ancestors from over 500 years ago?  Have you ever seen a convincing tree that went back that far?   I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

What is a Hoosier??

Some of my non-U.S., and even some American readers, might be wondering what a Hoosier is and why I put such a funny word in my blog name.  A Hoosier is most commonly used today to describe a person from Indiana, USA.

In the 4th grade, we were required to take a course on Indiana history.  My teacher shared with us some of the common myths behind the word “Hoosier.”  My favorite was that, when Indiana was a newly settled territory filled with rough-and-tumble types, men would get into fights at saloons or bars.  Some of those fights inevitably ended in bloodshed, with men even losing their ears.  In the morning, villagers would walk out into the street, find the lost appendages, and cry out “Whose ear?”…which eventually combined to create the word “Hoosier.”

Funny stories aside, the truth is that no one knows for certain how the term Hoosier came to be.  The Indiana Historical Bureau has a nice article explaining some possibilities (including a version of my 4th grade teacher’s account):

  • “When a visitor hailed a pioneer cabin in Indiana or knocked upon its door, the settler would respond, “Who’s yere?” And from this frequent response Indiana became the “Who’s yere” or Hoosier state. No one ever explained why this was more typical of Indiana than of Illinois or Ohio.
  • That Indiana rivermen were so spectacularly successful in trouncing or “hushing” their adversaries in the brawling that was then common that they became known as “hushers,” and eventually Hoosiers.
  • There was once a contractor named Hoosier employed on the Louisville and Portland Canal who preferred to hire laborers from Indiana. They were called “Hoosier’s men” and eventually all Indianans were called Hoosiers.
  • A theory attributed to Gov. Joseph Wright derived Hoosier from an Indian word for corn, “hoosa.” Indiana flatboatmen taking corn or maize to New Orleans came to be known as “hoosa men” or Hoosiers. Unfortunately for this theory, a search of Indian vocabularies by a careful student of linguistics failed to reveal any such word for corn.
  • Quite as plausible as these was the facetious explanation offered by “The Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley. He claimed that Hoosier originated in the pugnacious habits of our early settlers. They were enthusiastic and vicious fighters who gouged, scratched and bit off noses and ears. This was so common an occurrence that a settler coming into a tavern the morning after a fight and seeing an ear on the floor would touch it with his toe and casually ask, “Whose ear?””

 http://www.in.gov/history/2612.htm

The fact that no one knows exactly where the term Hoosier came from points, in a larger sense, to the importance of family history and genealogical research.  If someone in the 1830’s had written down or collected stories of where the name originated, we wouldn’t be left wondering today.

If I ask myself what “Hoosier” means to me, it is a person born and raised in Indiana who takes pride in their state and its rich traditions.   The song “Back Home Again in Indiana,” while not the official state song, was first published in 1917 and is a nostalgic reminder of Hoosier pride.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_Home_Again_in_Indiana

Of course, Jim Nabors’ yearly rendition of this song at the Indianapolis 500 is a much-loved tradition by Hoosiers and race fans alike.

So, the short answer to my original question is “who knows?”  Perhaps if better records had been kept, we proud Hoosiers would know more about what exactly it is we call ourselves.

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Does your hometown, state, or country, have a term that everyone uses but no one is sure what it means?

How I Got the “Bug”

The knack or inclination to do genealogical research is often referred to as the “genealogy bug.”  Mine caught when I was a senior in college, in 2008.  I was finishing up my B.A. in History and getting ready to head to law school in the fall.  I loved my major, and researching American history got me thinking about my own family history.   I vaguely knew about some of my ancestors through stories which were passed down like a game of telephone, but knew almost nothing concretely and had no documents or sources to back that information up.   I learned all about the importance of primary documents in my college history courses, and I felt compelled to confirm my family’s history through concrete sourcing.

So, I ponied up the dough and bought a subscription to Ancestry.com.  Sifting through those old records, trying to decipher handwriting on an 1880 census, discovering details about my ancestors…I felt like a detective, or a genealogical version of Indiana Jones.   I was hooked!

Of course, I made some mistakes along the way.  I added every little “hint” (the green leaves that shake and quiver above a person’s name, they really make it too tempting) and merged my tree with any stranger’s who seemed to match my (fairly common) surnames.   I had a relatively easy schedule that final year of college, so I often spent hours in front of my beat-up red laptop, digging around to find more treasured information.  Then, I headed to law school in the fall.

My new life also involved a lot of time in front of a computer, but in a different way.  I was in the library until nearly midnight every night, just trying to survive in the new, intimidating, and seemingly all-consuming world of THE LAW.  Family history and genealogy were the furthest thing from my mind as I chugged more coffee than any human should consume and tried to memorize hundreds of pages of case law.  (I don’t recommend doing either.)  I cancelled my Ancestry.com subscription, as my time and money were all invested in graduating from law school.

This brings us to the present day.  I am a working attorney with a fantastic job, a loving husband, an adorable (if wayward) cat, and all the responsibilities that come along with adulthood.   And guess what?  I still have the bug.  I finally have the time again to do the research I love and I have renewed my Ancestry.com subscription.   Armed with a brain trained extensively in analytical thinking, research, and never settling for “just a hunch” (thanks, law school!), I am back at it and better than ever.

I have started this blog both to journal my way through this new age of my research and to highlight some of my ancestors.  I also hope it is a useful and fun tool for other family historians or genealogists, as well as members of my own family who are interested in learning more about what I think of as the Story of Us.

Follow along my journey by clicking Subscribe in the upper right corner, or email me at hoosiergenealogyadventure@gmail.com.  Happy hunting!