My father never knew his grandmother because she died before he was born. Added to that, he was raised in California and didn’t return to the East Coast with his family until high school. The only time I ever heard my father mention his grandparents was to tell me that their farmhouse wasn’t far from that cemetery, or where he was living at the time. He told me it had been demolished long ago. He also made mention that his grandfather was an abusive man, but if he knew anything of his grandmother he never mentioned it to me.
To me, Pearl May Bartlett was nothing more than a date on a tombstone—a name to gather on my way to someone or something more interesting. I don’t know that I could’ve seen her any other way at the time because I’d certainly never known her, and I needed to flame my budding interest with at least a smidgen of grandiose fantasy. I don’t know what I was hoping to find—royalty, renegades, or maybe some martyrs.
But who I found was ultimately much more satisfying. For me, reality usually ends up that way.
Their brother Aaron was 18 when he enlisted in the same Regiment and company as his brothers. By the time he died on July 18, 1865, he was only 20 years old. My family is full of veterans. We have representation in both World Wars, the Korean War, and the Civil War. I have reason to believe that we have representation in the Revolutionary War, but I haven’t documented it back that far. But seeing these young men, barely younger than I am, who had barely begun to live before they died for their country… that really hit me. Especially since they didn’t die on the winning side, or for the neat and tidy agenda of the Union.
The Civil War wasn’t about slavery to my ancestors. It was a war they fought about land. All of my ancestors were farmers, so they understood that as well as anyone. To them, having land was having a life and a future. Knowing that they fought to protect that land makes it so I can never condemn their cause.
James McKenzie was born to a man named George Washington McKenzie, son of Greenberry George McKenzie and Rebekah Blair. Greenberry McKenzie, according to this descendantwho has spent many years researching him, was appointed to committees over the elections of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly from Grayson County, he was involved in the oldest legislative body in the country.
Because that’s such an interesting claim, I wanted to make sure I could document it. Turning to Google Books, I was able to do so from this book, a composite of records from the Virginia State Library. This record verifies that Greenberry G. McKenzie was a delegate for Grayson County for the sessions of 1794, 1795, 1797/98, 1798/99, 1799/1800, 1804/1805, 1805/1806, and 1806/1807.
I love this discovery, and it solidifies in my mind what I’ve always said about my family. When I’m asked about my ancestry, I’ve never known what to say. Many times, I’ve simply stated that my mother and father’s family has been in this country so long, we’re nothing but American. Usually people look at me and say something to the effect of “No really, what are you?” or “Where did they come from before that?” As if being an American is somehow deficient when it comes to claiming a heritage.
To be honest with you, I don’t know where the lines go from here. Better family historians than me have tried to document Greenberry McKenzie, but the home in which his records were kept was destroyed in a fire. To this day, no one has yet discovered anything about his lineage. The best guess, based on the origins of his surname, is that he’s Scottish. But I maintain that his parentage wouldn’t make my family any less American. With so much of history tied to the history of this nation, I couldn’t claim to be anything else and be truthful to their lives as they’ve lived them.
At the onset of my discovery with Pearl May Bartlett, she was a name on a tombstone I knew nothing about. Now, hers is one of the richest stories I have to tell. In the end, I didn’t find royalty, renegades, or martyrs. I found something better—someone I was really searching for, and really hoped I would find.