Little Egypt Heritage Articles
Stories of Southern Illinois
(c) Bill Oliver
29 June 2003
Vol 2 Issue: #25
Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
Storytelling usually begins with "Once upon a time ..." or
"A long time ago ..." These traditional openings signals a
suspension of "time and space". However, these openings or
beginnings bring to mind "fairy tales". The storytellers of
history, of families, of peoples are a bit different. The
stories that they tell may be folktales; debatable as
literary; yet they are openings through which we have new
ways to perceive our world and theirs.
One age of ancestral kin aids another age of ancestral kin.
An example; the barbed wire used to fence property in the
Great Plains of Nebraska was invented in the state of
Illinois. Two different ancestral kin from two eras were
involved. One in creating and the other is utilizing.
Any writer appreciates feedback letters from readers.
They tell us things; they give us ideas. This week a couple
of comments from readers centered once again on
story-telling ... one of my favorite topics! We are the
storytellers ... we are the chosen!! We are the ones in a
family -- and there is always one -- who breath life into
what has gone on before us. We are the ones who flesh out
the bones!! Those bones that are bones of our bones. We
are the storytellers of the clan or tribe ... the family.
Last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing Paul
Fellows, a local historian in Massac [Mass-sack] County,
Illinois. The object was to become familiar get a feeling
of Massac County where an ancestor had property. When
material is written for this ancestral family it must evoke
a picture to bring them alive again and keep them alive
every time words about them are read. Those words must
somehow say that those ancestors know and approve of what is
said about them.
As the storytellers, when we find these ancestors, we find
ourselves. We can stand at their graves and we can feel how
they have contributed to what we are now ... today. What
they accomplished ... how they helped make and keep us a
Nation. With great loving care we scratch their existence
into the fabric of history ... because, they are us and we
Part of my ancestry is Celtic, and one of my family surnames
is Son of Mahan [McMahan] or, also known as, Malachi.
Well, Malachi had a brother, Brian or Briain, who was the
twelfth son of Kennedy of Thomond. The brothers were great
heros of their people against the Danes. Malachi was the
more gentle and noble of the two; Briain the more athletic
and forceful. When Malachi was killed by treachery, which
oft happens to the less energetic, Briain became king. My
Grandfather, was sensitive and gentle. So gentle, that my
Dad and his brother, would oft tell that Grandpa would cry
harder then they did when Grandma would force him to take
them to the "woodshed".
However, Briain has his greatness. He is credited with
having originated surnames. He brought the clans together,
under one king, for the only time in Irish history. He lost
his life against the Norsemen at the Battle of Clontarf,
though his warriors won the day. He was eighty-nine. Quite
an energetic person. In lore, it is said that "Briain was
the last man of Erin who was the match of a hundred men."
That story has an implied fact in it which leads to
mythology. Due to the variation of Malachi being a form of
Mahan/Mahon, the implication was made that Malachi was one
of my ancestors. Genealogy is said to be proven family
history, while mythology is not. Well, the mythology in
family history often turns out to be as factual as the
written documents we use. Take for example the information
in census reports, or the dates on tombstones. Haven't we
all copied down a death date from a tombstone and used it as
absolute? Careful investigations will sometimes show that
just because it is written in stone doesn't make it so.
Another myth or story that has been passed down through
several generations is that x-great grandpa married a HARPER
who was [part] Cherokee. To reinforce the story as proof it
is said that "she knocked the red hair our of us Irish for
three generations. Dad and one of his sisters were Irish
"reds". There is lots of evidence that there were marriages
within the family that involved members of the "five
nations", but so far the proof of my line eludes.
There is a statement on many of my websites: "Undocumented
Genealogy equals Mythology". As true as this is, one must
remember that mythology was made from fact. Mythology
serves me good purpose in that it has always led me to find
genealogy. Thus, do not disregard mythology as worthless
... it isn't ... but, it does tend to open my "inquiring
eyes" in hopes of finding real proof.
Other sites worth visiting: