FAMILY NAMES CHANGES
By H. David Morrow FuzzyGem@worldnet.att.net
© H. David Morrow ~ September 7, 2004
"I think I'm going nuts," GW said one afternoon. She was sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by small piles of paper. The scene looked like a Picasso clock; GW in the center and wobbly paper piles like the hour markers.
"Well, I don't have a degree in nuttiness," I replied, "but I don't think you're completely nuts... maybe just a tiny bit."
My statement was greeted with a snarl and curled lip. (Even my dog doesn't do that!) GW's expression carried the implied threat that I'd soon be sleeping in the bathtub.
"What's with the dozen piles?" I asked trying to change the subject.
"I think they're all my ancestors, but with different spellings of their last name."
"How do you know they're not different persons with similar spellings that aren't even related to you?"
One of GW's advantages in having me for a husband, besides the obvious ones of height, handsomeness and wealth, is that I'm constantly pushing her to prove her theories. I simply won't accept gut feelings!
"Well, I just know they're all related to me," she said. "There's just too many matches in the census records for them to not be my family. Take Joshua, for example."
My mind started spinning again. Joshua was her great grandfather's grandfather. I knew the story well. He was married three times and had 22 kids. He was, for the times, well off with two farms in two states. Joshua owned a large house (probably out of necessity); lots of bushels of corn; many items of furniture; and a silver watch among other things listed in his will.
According to GW's family mythology, Joshua killed one of his older sons with an axe. (My theory has always been that the son was being punished for trading a cow for a handful of beans. I think the son's name was Jack. But that's just my own conjecture with which, by the way, GW doesn't agree!)
"What about Joshua?" I asked.
"Well," she said pensively, "he was born in Pennsylvania to parents with the last name of 'Green'."
"Then he shows up twenty years later in Tennessee with his own family but his name is now spelled with an extra 'E'."
"G-R-E-E-E-N?" I spelled and questioned.
"No, dummy. G-R-E-E-N-E," she corrected and offended me. (I am often offended when corrected. Or maybe it's that I'm often corrected and then offended. No matter; the result is the same.)
"That could be an error in transcribing."
"Twenty years later," she continued, as if I hadn't said anything, "Joshua Greene's (extra 'E' at the end) son shows up in Kentucky getting married but he spells his last name 'G-R-E-A-N'."
I wrinkled my brow. "He had a falling-out with his family?"
"I don't think so. His father, Greene with an extra 'E', signed as a witness for the marriage license."
"So Greene with an extra 'E' must have approved his son's change in spelling. Still, it makes me wonder if they're all your family," I said.
"Wait," she told me. "It gets even more confusing. One of that son's (Grean with an 'A') daughters married a guy who spelled his last name G-R-E-A-M-E and they had seven children. Now Greame (with an 'A', 'M', and 'E') shows up in the next census on the same farm but his last name is now G-R-A-H-A-M.."
"And you're related to all of them?", I asked.
"Sure. They're just different branches in the family tree."
My mind flashed a horror-movie scene of a gnarled tree silhouetted against a full moon.
"Wait. I get it now. Your families' names came from that game where kids whisper into each other's ear to show how garbled the original message comes out at the end of the line. Why couldn't you have been a Smith or Jones?" I asked.
I won't tell you what she whispered in my ear, but it couldn't be misunderstood. Gosh, this bathtub is hard to sleep in.