Friday, December 26, 2008

Getting Hooked on Genealogy, Part 2: Family Legends

From Part 1: “It all started with Google.”

I was trying to show a co-worker that I could google my maiden name, Brinlee, and could be fairly certain that anyone who showed up among the search results would be a relative by blood or marriage. What did I expect to see? Well, you know, other Brinlees.

And other Brinlees did show up, but not all of them were living Brinlees. In particular, there were two Hirams, Senior and Junior, and a George. And their identities and the stories of their lives would teach me a lesson … a fascinating lesson.

At this point I should confess: the seeds for an interest in family research were actually planted early on with me, it’s just that they didn’t germinate right away. Most of these seeds were family legends. The strange thing is that these legends did not get equal respect from me: Why did I absorb and believe the tales from my mother’s side of the family but sneer in skepticism at those from my father’s side?

I believe it has to do with the age at which I first heard these stories. I heard Mom’s stories when I was just a little kid of no more than 5 or 6. I used to beg Mom to “tell me about the Olden Days.” These stories included one about the great-grandfathers who fought on opposite sides in the Civil War and never spoke to one another again after the end of the War, even though their farms were located immediately next to one another. Another snippet passed on by Mom was: “Your (Our?) people from both sides came from South Carolina.”

But it was sometime during my teen years that I heard stories from my father’s side, the Brinlees: all of us Brinlees were related somehow to Collin McKinney, we had German blood and Native American blood in our lines, Grandma took up family research but got disgusted and gave it up when she kept finding horse thieves and other criminals. OK, maybe I believed the Native American part a little bit, because I wanted to and because so many Brinlees have straight dark hair and angular features. And the criminal part was believable, too, because Brinlees were, well, Brinlees. But the German part – I thought someone had gotten confused because one of my Brinlee uncles was married to a lady from Germany. And the McKinney connection? Must have been fantasy; no way we could be connected to this pioneer leader of Texas and one of the framers of the Texas declaration of Independence.

But that was exactly what my on-a-whim search turned up: The two brothers who adopted Brinlee as the spelling for the family name (apparently it was originally Brindley), Hiram Sr. and George, married two daughters of Daniel McKinney, brother of Collin McKinney. Daniel died in 1825, soon after the McKinneys came to Texas in 1824, and Collin and his wife raised the girls. Accompanying the McKinneys from Kentucky to Texas were the Brinlee brothers, who eventually married the girls. So everyone who has a family line spelled Brinlee is related to Collin McKinney. One of Hiram Carroll and Elizabeth Ann McKinney Brinlee’s sons was Hiram Carroll Brinlee, Jr., and one of his sons was Lawrence Carroll Brinlee, my grandfather. And it turns out that there is a German (Palatine German) connection through the McKinneys, too.

Finding the connection was fascinating, but even more fascinating was the way it forced me to rethink my opinion of the Brinlees. What other legends were true? I started to search for other information online on the Brinlees and McKinneys; there was quite a lot. Then I remembered that my cousin Paul had sent me some information on my mother’s mother’s side of the family, the Floyds – “A History of the Floyd Family” by Eunice Sandling – and that this history contained the outlines for a pretty good start on a family tree for the Floyds. If I could find this much information on the Brinlees, what might I find on the families on the Floyd side?


  1. Greta, welcome to the genea-blogosphere! I realize you've been blogging for a couple of months now but a "welcoming" note is better late than never.

    I've enjoyed reading your posts, keep up the good work! I like how you tell about finding the records and information as well as telling us about your family. It is helpful to everyone and may just give someone some ideas about where to look for information.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind welcome! As a relative newbie to both genealogy and blogging, I have found it's the people who have been doing it for some years who have been the most helpful, first the researchers I met in the early days, and now the genea-bloggers who write about their research. There is so much I have to learn, and it's such a joy to share the learning process.

  3. My grandmother told me so many stories about her family when I was growing up; some seemed pretty unlikely, like our family owning a fancy hotel in Scotland and one of her great-grandparents being from England (and marrying into a Scottish family). But I have discovered that all of the stories she told me held at least a kernel of truth and sometimes provided a clue I could work from. I am a huge fan of family stories...

    It's just wonderful to hear the story of how you "got hooked!"

  4. You're not kidding about that "kernel of truth." I hope to get into that aspect in the next installment. You know, that would be a good Carnival of Genealogy topic - which family stories panned out and which didn't. Verifying some of these stories taught me not to be such a smarty-pants and not to make assumptions so quickly! (So did you find out about the fancy hotel?)