Sunday column: Digging for roots

In the spirit of March madness, I’ve been doing my own bracketology in the past week.
My brackets have nothing to do with basketball, and to me, they’re far more fascinating.
Before I begin, let me apologize if this column comes off as an extended commercial for ancestry.com. But I’m currently four days into a free two-week trial on the site, and already I’ve traced family back to the 1500s. I’ve discovered Civil War and Revolutionary War veterans in my family, I traced the years some branches of my family made the trek to the U.S. from overseas (most of them England or Germany), and I’ve even made a somewhat shocking discovery about my ties with North Carolina and my possible relations to a Herald employee and current Lee County commissioner.
Sticking with the basketball theme, I already knew the finalists (my parents), the final four (my grandparents) and most of the names of my elite 8 (my great grandparents) of my family tree. I’m highly fortunate at 33 to still have all four of my grandparents living, and I met and knew five of my eight great grandparents — attended three of their funerals.
But from the sweet 16 on, I was pretty much clueless. I knew absolutely nothing about my great-great grandparents, and it didn’t take long to make my first surprising discovery in this group.

I HAVE TAR HEEL BLOOD
My great-great grandfather is Thomas B. Richardson (1872-1949), and his father was William B. Richardson (1854-1924). William brought the Richardsons to Houston, Texas, but not until after being born and raised in …
Moore County, North Carolina.
That’s right, in the Round of 32 in my family, I am related to the Richardsons, which I’m told is a family rich in history (and money) in the area just a half hour south of where I made a career move three years ago. Small world.
It gets stranger.
I shared this news with The Herald’s Jonathan Owens, whose family has deep roots in North Carolina, specifically Moore County. Jonathan shared with me that he has Richardson blood as well.
In other words, the guy who’s sat next to me for the past three years at The Herald could be a distant cousin.
Again, small world.
We haven’t found the missing link yet, but upon hearing this news, Jonathan signed up and started his family tree, and he’s about as addicted as I am already.
This news was interesting enough, but if you go back just one more generation, another familiar name pops up in my ancestry. William B. Richardson’s father was Thomas Richardson (1826-1898), who married Nancy Keller (1826-1860), the daughter of Solomon Keller (1800-1893) and granddaughter of Martin Keller (1750-1842), the man who brought this branch of Kellers to North Carolina (Kings Creek, near Hickory) from Pennsylvania after his father settled there from Germany.
The Keller/Kelly name is a big name in Sanford (we have a bypass named after one of them), and it’s possible that somewhere down that line, I’m related. As with Jonathan, I can’t find that “link” yet, but I’m looking.
Martin Keller has an entire paragraph written about him in “The Heritage of Caldwell County, 1983,” and from there, I learned he bought land in North Carolina in 1778, where he farmed, ran a mill, blacksmithed, made guns and hunted (it says he killed as many as eight deer in a day).
He also “served in the militia, paid his taxes regularly, served on the jury in Burke County (twice)” and saw that his children were properly educated.
Way to go, grandpa Martin.

MARMADUKE THE HERO
Going back to William B. Richardson (my great-great-great grandfather), I found out his wife was Hannah Murphy, the daughter of the man with the greatest name I think I’ve ever seen.
Marmaduke Murphy.
With a name like that, I imagine grandpa Marmaduke to have been 6-feet, 6-inches tall, flowing blond hair, chiseled chin and piercing blue eyes with the ability to take a shotgun blast to the chest standing up without budging.
After further studying, I learned the shotgun part wasn’t true. Marmaduke served in the 6th Tennessee Calvary in the Civil War, and he died on Aug. 29, 1864 in Memphis, Tenn. After Googling that date and “Civil War,” I learned he died in a relatively small battle where Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest raided Union troops in Memphis not in an attempt to capture the city, but to release Southern prisoners from Irving Block Prison. The attack failed, but when Forrest withdrew, he cut the telegraph wires, took 500 prisoners and a lot of supplies and horses. The South considered it a victory because the raid forced Union forces to move more troops to Memphis to prevent another raid.
Marmaduke died, I presume, in this battle. He was one of 194 to die (only 34 of them Confederate).

I could go on and on, and perhaps this is only fascinating to me. The earliest relative I’ve found is William Stachouwser, whose name went on to change to Stackhouse, and he was born in 1505 in England around the time of Henry VIII (before Shakespeare’s time). My wife found out that her Cajun ancestry came from France and not Canada, which pleased her for obvious reasons.
And I’ve traced the name “Liggett” to England in the late 1600s.
Five-hundred-plus years in four days.
Not a bad week so far.

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