Monday, November 7, 2011


Growing up we didn't have a grounded stance on our family's genealogy. 
Where did we come from?  It wasn't really discussed. 
We are mutts essentially. 
The most distinct heritage my family has is that my mother's father's family descended from Native Americans, Cherokee Indians. 
Other than that it was really not talked about much. 
As I've gotten older and met people who have a very firm knowledge of their family roots I have taken a harder look at where I come from. 
My husband has a set knowledge of his genealogy, but only in the most basic of terms. 
His mother has Irish roots and his father has Czech roots. 
No other information is known by him.  

A few people in my family have done some research and it turns out I am Native American and German on my mother's side, Welsh and German on my father's side. 

I do want my children to have a knowledge of their heritage, to know what those before themselves went through, how they looked and dressed, what they ate, what toys they played with, etc...  

We have photos in our home of my father's descendants, as we live in their footsteps, and I am really yearning to learn more. 

My mom and dad recently made a trip to Oklahoma to the Cherokee Reservation and learned some interesting things about my maternal grandpa's (his surname was Cobstill) side of the family...

My great, great, great, great grandmother was a full blood Cherokee Indian who resided in Georgia.  She was born around 1843.  When the U.S. government decided that they had had enough of the Native Americans they made them walk to reservations they had set up in the West.  The East was getting too crowded and they had to go, even though these people had lived on this land for years prior to the English coming from Europe.  So, my great, great, great, great grandmother (who was 4 years old) and her family were forced to walk from Georgia to Oklahoma.  This walk is now known as The Trail of Tears.  Many people died on this journey, children froze and the elderly starved.  If she had perished as well, I would not be here today. It's quite amazing to think of.  

Her Cherokee name was Wa-ki and her English name was Rebecca Tickaneesky. The name Tickaneesky means "catcher" or "he/she who catches" and some in her family eventually adopted the English translation of "Ketcher" for their surname. 

She died in 1932 near Hulbert, Oklahoma.  In that same year she gave an interview to a WPA historian named Grant Foreman.  Here is an excerpt of what she told him...

"When the soldiers came to our house my father wanted to fight, but my mother told him the soldiers would kill him if he did and we surrendered without a fight.  They drove us out of our house to join other prisoners in a stockade.  After they took us away, my mother begged them to let her go back and get some bedding.  So they let her go back and she brought the bedding and a few cooking utensils she could carry, and had to leave behind all of our household possessions."
"My father had a wagon pulled by two spans of oxen to haul us.  Eight of my brothers and sisters and two or three widow women and children rode with us.  My brother Dick who was a good deal older than I was walked along with a long whip which he popped over the backs of the oxen and drove them all the way.  My father and mother walked all the way also."
"We had no shoes, and those that wore anything wore moccasins made of deer hide, and the men wore leggings made of deer hide. Many of them went bare-headed, but when it was cold, they made things out of coon skins and other kinds of hides to cover their heads."   

She also told the WPA historian that *she had taken her pet duck with her on the trail because she could not leave him behind.  She carried it in her little arms until she squeezed the life out it and she grieved to see it thrown by the roadside. It's a poignant memory of a child's love and grief that remained with her throughout her life. 
*Grant Foreman, The Five Civilized Tribes, University of Oklahoma Press, 7th Printing, 1980    

She married John Smith, a full-blooded Cherokee, according to the government rolls.  They were believed to have had two children.  Upon John Smith's death, she married Bark Neugin and had several children by him.
Rebecca Tickaneesky-Smith-Neugin

My paternal grandmother's family hails from Germany.  The family name is Surface, but it began as Zerfass and they are from the Coblentz and Rubenach, Germany area.  The research my dad's cousin Cathy did shows that the Zerfas(s) name originated from a Bishop Servatius who was sent to Tonguerin in 364 A.D. to introduce Christianity to the northern inhabitants of Europe.  He remained at Tonguerin (in what is now Belgium) until 384 A.D. when he was recalled to Rome.  Amazing!

The farm we live on is from the Surface family.  My great grandfather Walter Surface inherited it from his uncle William Elmer Surface who died in 1943.  The Surface's all look alike.  It's quite extraordinary.  My cousin Barry is the spitting image of Charles Surface who was born in 1868.                
This photograph is of William Elmer Surface sitting on his front porch,
which is now my front porch.

I don't know much about my dad's father's side of the family. 
The Welsh Baggett side. 
There has got to be some French in there with that name...Baggett, baguette, bread. 
Maybe we were renowned bakers.

Nor do I know much about my mom's mom's side of the family. 
I believe the name was Badger. 
Sounds kind of Native American to me. 
But I've been told that side is German.  

Time will tell me, though. 
I can always use the world wide web to do some research.
Technology is fascinating in that it brings us answers with the touch of a button.
We can get up close to our heritage.
As corny as this is going to sound, it does bring the past alive.

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