Sunday, February 5, 2023

An All-Time High for Understatements


The columnist for the local Society section of South Carolina's The Greenville News was fairly gushing when she penned her column for Sunday, December 11, 1949:

The photograph on the front page of today's society of particular interest here (an all-time high for understatements) for the bride is a Greenville girl...

As it turned out, I wouldn't have stumbled upon that newspaper clipping if it weren't for a few preceding details. The first on that list would be my dogged pursuit of all distant cousins descending from my Broyles ancestors, immigrants to the 1717 Germanna settlement in colonial Virginia.

By now in this plodding process, I had already run into anecdotes about the extended Brown family descending from my fifth great-grandfather Adam Broyles' daughter Jemima. I discovered my relationship to the real Georgia Brown immortalized by the 1925 hit tune, Sweet Georgia Brown. Yesterday, I realized I was related to an airline pilot determined enough to stare down the Cuban government and be the first to win the right to fly his passengers back home to the United States in the same hijacked airliner in which they had unexpectedly arrived.

Along this same family line of William Carroll Brown, direct ancestor of both those distant cousins I've mentioned, I ran across another story, the one referred to by the Society columnist above. The woman in question, the bride causing such breathless commentary, also descended from this same William Carroll Brown. Like some of William's other children, the bride's grandmother had also named her child after her father, William Carroll. Unfortunately, she only had one child, who in turn became a father of only daughters.

No matter; this man named one of his daughters by that same middle name, spelled as Carroll, instead of the more expected spelling for a woman's name. As I traced his daughter Carroll through life and added her to my Broyles family line, I ran into trouble when I started entering the name for her husband.

Unfased by the fact that anyone could have more than one middle name—after all, these are southern families I'm researching—I began entering the name of the groom. Alfonso...Antonio...Vicente...

When I was done recording the groom's name, I had taken up two full lines of print in his entry on my tree. Something was clearly up here. No one has a name that long.

So I googled it. Sure enough, the prospective groom had made a name for himself when, at the age of seventeen, he bet $500 that he could fly a plane under the Tower Bridge in London. He won. He went on to compete in horse races, bobsled teams, and, eventually, car races.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, he met—incredibly—and married my mother's fifth cousin, Helen Carroll McDaniel of Greenville, South Carolina. Hence, the Society editor's amazement that someone from a town the size of Greenville would become the wife of the Eleventh Marquess of Portago, Grandee, a Spanish aristocrat.

Of course, I wouldn't have uncovered a story like that if I didn't pursue those collateral lines to make it possible to connect distant cousin DNA matches to their rightful place in my family tree. True, it takes a lot of sifting through countless stories before discovering some of the ones I've shared over these few weeks since the beginning of the year. For instance, in the past two weeks alone, I've added 476 documented names to my tree, which now contains 32,209 people.

Granted, that focus on one line—driven by research goals outlined at the start of each year in my Twelve Most Wanted plan—means the other lines see no action. For my in-laws' tree, I made zero progress in the past two weeks, simply because I won't focus on that part of the family until this coming April. That tree still remains at 30,715—same as it was two weeks ago. But when I do shift to cover the research goals for my mother-in-law this spring, I'm sure I'll stumble upon a few fascinating stories there, too, as I work to plug those distant cousin DNA matches into their right places in her tree.

In the meantime, I'll keep adding those distant cousins and linking them to DNA matches, all the while on the lookout for another story about the extended family. 

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