The Family Lore and Tales
I’ve heard several family
lore tales from my mother all my life… she was a great story-teller… remembering stories from many years ago, even at the age of 90! From a young girl, she would sit quietly in listening to the stories told by the “old folks.” My husband always talked about how he enjoyed listening as the adults told stories… “if you were quiet, they didn’t kick you out… that’s how you learned things!”
Mama (Helen McKinley Bryan) always enjoyed when Uncle Joe McKinley visited the farm on weekends; he was her father’s brother, and once had been the sheriff in Siloam (GA). It was usually after supper when the men retired to the front porch for a smoke… and granddaddy (Edgar Thomas McKinley) would pull out his Prince Albert can to roll them a couple of cigarettes; I even remember watching him do that as a young girl. When her father and uncle left the dinner table, it was mama’s clue to sneak out to the front porch… hoping, not to be called back for kitchen duty. If she settled quietly in the background, she was allowed to hear their stories. The brothers usually reminisced about their early days in growing up with their brothers, and how they thought it was great fun to give Grandpa Joe a hotfoot. Their grandfather lived with them, and enjoyed sitting on the porch in his favorite comfy chair… often while whittling, or a late afternoon nap. My grandfather, Edgar McKinley, seemed to have a devilish humor, and he and brother Joe often stuck matches in Grandpa Joe’s shoe while he slept… lighting them and running away… giving him a hotfoot! Grandpa would awaken to the fire on the shoes… yelling at them, and calling them the “Devil’s Limbercats“. I’m not quite sure about the phrases’ meaning, but it seemed to mean that they were doing the devils’ work! I can attest to Granddaddy McKinley’s dry humor, as in as much as he loved grandmama, nothing gave him a chuckle more than taking a hot match head, and lightly sticking it to her leg as she walked by… making her jump; mama had always referred to his funny ways as “dry humor”. Even later while recuperating at the VA hospital in Augusta, his walking cane was considered quite dangerous to the nurses… they learned to carefully walk near him, as he was known to catch their leg with the top curve of his cane.
The one story that extremely fascinated mama as a young girl, was when her father and Uncle Joe talked about how it was told that Grandpa Joe stuffed money in his comfy chair; Joseph Thomas Sharp was their mother’s (Rosie Sharp) father, a Civil War Veteran. The talk was, that after the war Grandpa stuffed his favorite chair full of Confederate money… and as a young girl, mama was mesmerized with that story… and that chair! She couldn’t wait for Uncle Joe to leave the porch the day she first heard the story… so she could ask about that chair… and where was his chair… and could they go and find that money! Granddaddy laughed, saying… “that chair is long gone, but unfortunately if there was any money in it… it’s worthless.” I’m sure, as a young girl, her excitement was quickly spoiled in learning that the money was of no value… in as she had been sitting there the entire time, probably dreaming of what she would buy with all that money!
When I first began my delve into family history, mama immediately told me… “I wish Aunt Lena (McKinley-Van Dusen) was still alive… as she researched our family years ago, and she would be the one who could tell you everything. She often talked about how our McKinley lines descended from President McKinley… and that there were three McKinley brothers who came to America… with one going North, one West, and one South… and how we descended from the brother who went South.” While my research turned up not one fly speck in sustaining that story… there were many others in the family who also heard this same story… so maybe she did research… and maybe that was her conclusion! I thought it odd, that if Aunt Lena had really researched the family… where were her paper files? Any researcher will attest to the fact, that if you research, you end up with more paper files than you have room for… and what we commonly call a paper chase! Yes, my hand is raised high on that! I have more paper files than I really know where to store, and often worry, and wonder, what the next generations will do with them; most of my information of documents, stories, and photos are stored in binders. I began all my research in the late 1980’s… so I have amassed almost 40 years of research! While I don’t research on a continuing basis as I once did… ever so often I get the bug to research something specific… when an email comes my way… or a comment on my blog has me looking for new clues. What I do continue to do is… write stories… writing my mother’s stories, my life stories, and also my husband’s. Often people forget to write their own stories… and who knows them better than us! I’m thankful that my mom was a storyteller… constantly telling me her life stories… and faithfully never forgetting those stories.
Another strong story mama stood firm on… was how her mother Ola (Askew) McKinley was part Indian… or so she would say… and also how her mother was blood connected to her step mother-in-law, Nancy Josephine “Minnie” (Askew) McKinley… not just through marriage. Whether my grandmother knew the actual connection or not, it was never said… just said they were really related as family, not just by marriage.
I inherited a hand-written Askew genealogy chart many years ago from a McKinley researcher, which gave us our proof! It was found by chance at the Atlanta Archives… not filed where it could be found… only laying in a drawer with other materials. We were thrilled, as it solved many clues for our McKinley lines… pointing us to accurately align families. I could now, without guesswork, say that my grandmother Ola (Askew) was her mother-in-law’s second cousin… sharing a third great-grandfather of William Askew (1807-1872) and Mary Gerald.
Askew Family Tree
As to the Indian relation, mama often spoke on the physical look of her mother’s dark hair and deep dark eyes… which she assimilated to Indian characteristics. In the area where grandmama was born in Hancock County, Georgia… it was once a strong area for the Creek Indians… and hard to not say that some didn’t marry into our family lines. I tested mama’s DNA through Ancestry years ago… hoping that it might share some insight into her story… but the tiny percentage of Native American DNA that came back… did nothing to give her story substance. In telling mama these words, she quickly responded, “I don’t care what that DNA says, I know my mother had Indian ancestry”… and that was the end of that… no argument from me. It was a matter of “pick your battles”… and it wasn’t one I was picking against my mother!
Mama told a couple doozy of “lore” tales during her lifetime… and while we all knew they were fiction… she could tell them with strong conviction! My favorite story about “Clyde” the alligator can be read over HERE... and the other was a story she told as a young girl in school, which I’m sure puzzled her teachers! That story goes… “I often told my teachers that I was really adopted by my mother and father. My father found me inside a capsule in the back forty by a lake, and brought me home. Mama sewed clothes for me and they raised me as their own child.” Hmmm… I wonder if her teacher ever contemplated calling in social services?
Our family “Bryan” tales of lore…
Most of my grandparents siblings were living when I began researching my Bryan lines… so I pressed them for whatever stories they remembered with countless letters and phone calls. It saddens me in thinking of how much I missed in not having those same talks with my father and his parents! I tell people today… ask your parents questions… and listen to them… and write them down!
Also, through my research of contacting every name I ever found on family group sheets… a few interesting twists were discovered.. although I’ve never been able to say “yay” or “nay”… but if you take in account, that at that time, these people who told the tales, actually knew their aunts and uncles… maybe the stories are true! You be the judge!
And onto to more tales of lore…
My cousin, Charles Bryan, had a tale of a story for me when I asked, “why did a few of our Bryan men add a “t” to Bryan”? Charles laughed in telling me… “Well, our great-great grandfather, William Madison Bryan”t” often moved from county to county in outrunning the law, adding the “t” to his name to keep a low profile. I think it might have been the way of moonshiners back in the day… and also kept the creditors away. (It seemed that he was still using “Bryant” when he moved back to live with his father (B.C. Bryan) in Dahlonega, Ga. before his death; even so listed as such on his gravestone. Talk about confusing the family researcher!) Uncle Gordon was another family member who added the “t” on his Bryan name… staying one step above the law in finding him… as I always heard he drove for the moonshiners. I remember when he lived in the mill houses in Union Point, and how he’d moved to another county for awhile, because the law was after him, and add the “t” to his name. His last name of Bryan was constantly changing.” I so enjoyed my talks with cousin Charles Bryan… he definitely knew the tales of the family.
The “t” was listed on the gravestone of William Madison Bryan… his fathers gravestone nearby denotes only the name of Bryan.
If only I’d had the insight to ask my father for stories, before he died at the young age of 54… way before I even gave a thought to researching our “Bryan” family; I was too busy raising two young children at that time. I never heard him or my Bryan grandparents tell any stories like my mother told, and often wonder… what did I miss? The only story my mother told me through the years about my father was how he jumped in radioactive water while in the Navy, which caused him to lose his teeth at an early age. That story never interested me… but I wish I had thought to ask my father himself more on that topic… as there was a “huge” story attached to those radioactive waters at Bikini Atoll… it can be read over Here.
My grandfather, Paul P. Bryan wasn’t much of a talker… I never heard him tell stories, but I bet he had stories to tell… even if it was only his fishing or hunting tales. I’m sure he remembered his life growing up… and now those stories are lost, except the several that my first cousin, Robert Bryan, share with me Here. The very few stories I learned of him was from his younger sister Myrt Bryan (Poss). She talked about how her brother, my grandfather, would carry her over the walking log at the stream, in going to school. Her fond memory was of visiting family in the Blue Ridge mountains at Dahlonega… when they lived in Greene County, Georgia. Her mother would pack the wagon with straw, covering it with many quilts for the children to ride and sleep on. In as it takes us about an hour and a half by car… she talked about it taking them a day or more in traveling time… often stopping to sleep along the way.
Another Bryan/Bruce family tale told, and even written about in The History of Lumpkin County (pg 376) and mentioned in the series of books entitled “I Love Dahlonega” by Anne Amerson, was about More gold coin buried – July 12, 1907:
“Those who knew, said that Mr. & Mrs. G. W. Bruce who passed away recently, had a lot of gold coin before they died, something like $1,500, but no one knows now where it is. When they lived in the West, Mrs. Bruce (Nancy Bryan) hid this gold under the hearth of the house in which they lived. The house was sold and the money was left undisturbed until they got ready to come back to Georgia. Then Mrs. Bruce went to the owners of the house and told them she wanted to get a package she had put under the hearth. Permission was granted and she brought it away. After Mrs. Bruce died here in April, her husband was asked by relatives where this money was. His reply was, “it’s around.”
Mr. Bruce died without telling any more about the gold. Fact or Fiction… but we will never know unless one day someone discovers it buried! (From cousin Carroll L. Ross… it’s told that his great uncle, Bruce Bryan, remembered as a child hearing family members tell stories of Winston Bruce and Nancy Bryan Bruce having hoards of gold hidden away; Nancy Bryan was the daughter of Berrian C. Bryan)
An obituary led me to another Bryan tale… and we all know as genealogists, that an obituary is only as good as who gave the information; it’s never written from accurate records, but usually gathered from the closest family members.
In the case of the misleading obituary of my 4th great grandfather James Bryan… the obit stated that James was born (1791-1885) in Sumter County, Georgia. That placed him far from the Franklin/Habersham counties, of where his father, John Bryan, was living, and records found. Also, Sumter county lies on the Western side of Georgia, whereas Franklin/Habersham counties lie far on the Eastern side. The only connection I have found that connected my James to Sumter county, is that he had an interest in property in Sumter as a legatee of John Bryan, his father; the interest in property came as a result of a land draw in that county from his father’s war service. Neither I, or any other researchers have found evidence of John or James ever living in that region of Georgia.
Tales from Thelma Nelson: Thelma Nelson was one of our early Bryan researchers, who was fortunate to have talked to many family members… as we later Bryan researchers never had that opportunity… so it is through Thelma that these tales have survived for us to ponder. I was lucky enough to have made a connection through another Bryan researcher… who enjoyed a correspondence with Thelma… and through him… I learned of these “Bryan” family tales.
Thelma attended a “Woody” family reunion in 1971… and it was there where she first learned of the “Bryan” tales. She was told that Calloway Bryan, son of Berrian Clark Bryan, had a special knife given to him by Daniel Boone… a knife with names and dates listed on a paper bound around the handle. Supposedly Calloway carried this very hunting knife to war (Civil War) with him… but it’s told that the knife never returned with him. This story was told to Thelma by Rosanna Bryan, who lived in Levittsburg, Ohio… her husband was a grandson of this very Calloway Bryan.
The tale below was told to Thelma by the grandchildren of Rausey (Bryan) Woody and Parthena (Bryan) Bruce – Ray; both were sisters of Berrian Clark Bryan.
A granddaughter of Thelma’s family once wrote a theme paper for school… entitled “My Uncle Daniel Boone & Aunt Rebecca Bryan.” The girls grandmother scolded her saying… “when you speak of family, tell the truth. Daniel Boone was not your uncle, he only married your Aunt Rebecca Bryan.” Talk about confusing the child!
Rebecca Bryan was born Jan. 9, 1739, and married Daniel Boone on Aug. 14, 1756 in North Carolina. From much speculation, we do believe that our Bryan line came into Georgia via North Carolina… and we place John Bryan’s birth around 1850-60… so that could very well place him as Rebecca’s younger brother.
Another tale told to Thelma, was that the very same Daniel Boone and Rebecca (Bryan) Boone were the uncle and aunt of our James Bryan… so that would make Rebecca the sister of his father, John Bryan. Naturally, this is exactly what all the Bryan researchers want to hear… the connection to Daniel Boone. I searched up and down, inside and out… and I have yet to find a solid link as of yet, but that still doesn’t mean that it isn’t true! It just means that I haven’t found the connection! Any researcher will tell you… that there’s always a chance! I know the Boone line has been pretty well documented, but there are still a few lines that seem to have migrated off the path, leaving holes with no documented information… and I’m hoping that’s my case. It might not be me, but maybe one day… another researcher will find that missing link to turn our tales and lore into a documented story… and they will write that story!
And just like with my McKinley line… there were mentions of three “Bryan” brothers who went to Kentucky with Daniel Boone… and said how they were uncles of my James Bryan. While it is documented that a John and Nancy (unk) Bryan are parents of my James Bryan… I do not have any documentation of John’s parents or his siblings.
Those “three” Bryan brothers who went to Kentucky with Daniel Boone to build Bryan’s station were William, James, and Morgan….. all sons of Morgan Bryan. The oldest son of Morgan Bryan was Joseph Bryan… who is said to be the father of my “John” Bryan (married to Nancy)… and possible brother to Rebecca Bryan (married to Daniel Boone).
The last tale/lore from Thelma, was that way back somewhere, there were two Bryan brothers, both judges… and one being the direct ancestor of William Jennings Bryan. He’s another line I have peeked into, but never found anything to warrant a deeper look.
Morgan Bryan’s only brother was William… and it’s said he was the direct ancestor of William Jennings Bryan. I did find it odd in how Thelma presented that in her letters… but in actuality, if William is a direct ancestor… then so is his father and all his siblings.
There is much documentation on Morgan Bryan and many of his childrens’ lines… as well as the documentation telling us how Morgan and William Bryan’s grandfather was deported by Cromwell, from County Clare in Ireland… of where he had vast land holdings, before arriving at Gloucester Beach, Virginia.
The more Thelma researched… the stronger she felt in her beliefs that our John Bryan and wife Nancy (unk), of Franklin County, Georgia, was the younger brother of Rebecca Bryan, who married Daniel Boone… and that they both were the children of Joseph Bryan, and sibling of our John Bryan. I, along with many other researchers, would like to believe this… but as of yet, we have not seen any documentation to unite them as siblings.
From cousin, Margie von Marenholtz, I learned of this family tale/lore: “My great grandfather, Anderson Lane Franklin, son of Anderson Green Franklin, grandson of Tarence Bryan, and great-grandson of John Bryan (also my 5th great-grandfather), was interviewed for his 95th birthday in 1960… although it was really his 94th.” The interview began… “although William Jennings Bryan was a three-times loser in his race for the Presidency, he never lost a foot race with his cousin, Anderson F. (should be L.) Franklin of 3635 Mayfield Avenue, La Crescenta. Of course William Jennings Bryan was somewhat older than Franklin, who is 95 today… but who recalls vividly many happenings of the past 90 years.” “The newspaper was The Ledger, Feb. 25, 1960. I wrote the biographer of Wm J. Bryan in the 1970’s, but never received a reply and have never found a connection of Wm J. Bryan’s father, Silas… to either be an uncle or second, or even a third cousin to my great grandfather.”
If only, Ila Stargel Jones, a granddaughter of Berrian Clark Bryan, was still living for me to ask these questions of our Bryan family tales and lore. She was a strong force at age 93 when I first met her… and had a mind still very sharp. I treasure her letters of factual family stories written to me, and it was through her that I learned more on her (our) grandfather… my 3rd great grandfather, Berrian Clark Bryan, who fought in the Civil War. Ila was a young and wise 19 year-old when he died, and she wrote a lengthy letter describing his death and burial… detailing who dug his grave and how they dressed his home made coffin… and even who built it. What better facts can you have… other than a person who was actually there… and knew the person… but speculations, can always give you a glimmer of hope!
To read more Family Stories… click HERE
© 2021, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved
Family lore (tales) are one way to get us started but it’s that documentation that proves fact or tale.
I’ve always wished I’d spent more time talking to Grandma Minnie (Nancy Josephine Askew) McKinley. I have a picture of a lady in full Cherokee regalia that Mother said she believed was Grandma Minnie’s grandmother. Mother said her name was Martha Evans. I do know that Grandma Minnie’s mother was Cecily Evans, married Charlie Morton Askew but I can’t seem to shake that brick wall.
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And those brick walls are harder to shake now!
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