A Place for Storytelling

I was born in Winchester, Kansas, and grew up in Cherokee County, Oklahoma—the capitol of the Cherokee Indian Nation—where I learned a lot about the history of the Cherokee (Tsalagi) people.

Sequoyah and His Syllabary

One particularly fascinating tribal leader, Chief Sequoyah, created a system for writing the oral Cherokee language (Tsalagi Gawonihisdi.) The resulting “syllabary” of eighty-six characters was introduced in 1821 and was officially adopted by the tribe in 1825. It is said that the Cherokee’s literacy rate quickly surpassed that of surrounding European-American settlers.

Sequoyah’s dream of providing for his own people something akin to the white man’s “talking leaves” had been realized.

I’ve long loved the imagery conjured by Sequoyah’s term:  documents that could literally speak. The term is a fitting metaphor for the intended purpose of this blog:  to allow my ancestors to “speak” to me through documents I have assembled in researching my family tree.

My research has largely afforded me only a limited “dialogue” with previous generations. I have discovered a plethora of citations, licenses, records, and certificates connected to any one ancestor.  Less frequently, I’ve located an obituary.  Rarer still are the times I have unearthed written stories shared within the genealogy community at large.  I’m fortunate to have amassed so many photographs in my endeavors,  but even the sum of each of their “thousand words” have left me wanting more. 

Thus, the objective of this blog is to combine this accumulated physical evidence, viewing it through the prism of both its historical context, twenty-first century perspective, and my own personal beliefs and philosophies and distilling from that personal and familial narratives. 

Native Americans have a rich tradition of oral storytelling as do the Celts from whom I descend. In ancient Celtic society, bards held a position of esteem, second only to kings, says present-day Irish storyteller Marianne McShane. McShane explains that Bards memorized vast amounts of poetry which they performed live, and their poems and songs were often the only historical record available. Bards evolved into the traveling Irish storytellers known as the “seanchaí” (The Anglicized “shennachie” and variations thereof were used in the Scots language.)

Éamon Kelly, who brought the style of the seanchaí to Irish radio and television, wrote,

…the storyteller was the local historian and genealogist — a walking library, the repository of folk wisdom and culture.

My knowledge of history–even my own family history–pales in comparison to that of these storytellers of old, but if this post and those to follow capture a bit of the flavor of the oral storytelling tradition of my Scottish and Irish ancestors, my goal will have been met.

The seanachaí by Hugh Thomson

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