Tracing my roots from jolly ol’ England to MY very own island

(Photo: My wife and I on the south side of Georgia’s beautiful Jekyll Island a few years ago.)

“I’m a Derry Girl!” my wife Shellie shouted with her hands in the air after diving deep into the rabbit holes of her lineage at Ancestry.com. By the time she traced her maiden name of Hillhouse as far back as she could go, she found her roots in Scotland back in the 1500s, though her family spent much of the next 200 years in Ireland and Northern Ireland — including Derry.

That’s the setting of “Derry Girls,” a brilliant series that ran three seasons from 2018 to 2022 on the United Kingdom’s Channel 4. We can’t pick up Channel 4 here without putting an awful lot of aluminum foil on our TV antenna, so we watched it as it subsequently streamed on Netflix. It’s a comedy set against the backdrop of “The Troubles” in 1990s Northern Ireland. It’s one of the few shows for which we’ve had to enable closed-captioning because the actors are mostly natives with heavy accents who speak roughly 2,000 words a minute.

Cuzzin Rachel (Hillhouse) McCausland

Derry was just one of the surprises for her, but it certainly wasn’t the biggest. Nor was it that ol’ Cuzzin Rachel (who was born a Hillhouse) got her picture took — well, portrait made — back around 1750 and that it still hangs in one of the main floor galleries at Drenagh Estate in Limavady, Northern Ireland — about 5 miles east of Derry. (The 1,000-acre estate is beautiful, by the way, and is a hot destination for weddings, events and more, so check out their website here. And, some of that land used to be Hillhouse land, so we may go stake out some of it.)

No, the biggest surprise was that she had Scottish and Irish roots when she had thought for most of her something-something years that she had Cherokee roots. Close. She had Cherokee County, Georgia, roots. A whole bunch of her Hillhouse folks lived in Cherokee County, likely around some actual Cherokee folks. Then a bunch moved to Muscogee County, where she was born and where her dad grew up and attended Jordan High. I guess they just liked counties with Native American names.

But those Hillhouses ain’t Native American. They’re quite Irish. We found that out last night, and my wife is already wearing green. I guess I need to run by the store and pick up some Guinness and Lucky Charms. Saint Patrick’s Day is actually going to mean something around here next year.

Then, I decided to poke around about my own folks. All I’ve ever known about my folks is that my paternal grandmother was able to walk with me around my small hometown of Oglethorpe, Georgia, and tell me how I was related to just about everyone we met. That made dating a little scary but also rather convenient when it came time to meet my girlfriends’ family at my family’s reunions.

I’m kidding, of course. I didn’t have any girlfriends back then. Even my 27th cousins, thrice-removed on my Aunt Gladys’ side turned me down.

My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Duke, and there were rumblings that we might be related to the super-wealthy North Carolina tobacco barons for which Duke University is named. In fact, my cousin and I used to joke — kinda — that we were gonna drive up there and yell, “Hey, Aunt Doris!” Alas, though my grandmother and wealthy heiress Doris Duke looked almost exactly the same when they were young ladies, I found no evidence of any connection that might entitle me to a little cash from those cancer-stick profits.

Not yet anyway.

However, my dad’s great-grandfather on his mama’s side was John Marshall. I was able to trace great-great-grandpa Marshall’s lineage through a whole bunch of Marshalls all the way back to my 15th great-grandfather Thomas Marshall, who was born around 1505 in Yorkshire, England. He also died in Yorkshire, England, around 1543. I guess I got that whole not wanting to stray far from home thing honest.

I’ve always suspected there was some Creek blood on my mom’s side. Her mother was an Albritton, and the Albrittons came along in the heart of Creek lands, and their skin tones weren’t exactly lily-white. Unfortunately, I couldn’t trace those particular Albrittons farther back than the late 1700s. Not only could I find no evidence of Creek lineage, but I also found out that my 4th great-grandfather Matthew Albritton fought in the Creek Indian War. Dang it, great-great-great-great-great-Grandpa!

The big surprise on my side came from my great-grandmother, Ida Albritton, whose maiden name was Jones. I knew nothing about those folks, but after winding my way through some more Joneses and Catesbys, I found myself back in jolly ol’ England with the Jekylls. (I didn’t see any Dr. Jekylls, mind you.)

For as long as I can remember, Georgia’s Jekyll Island has been my favorite beach retreat. It’s steeped in history, but state law also requires it to remain 65 percent undeveloped … much like me. Now, I know why it’s my favorite. That’s my people! I’m part Jekyll! My wife thinks I’m part Hyde, but I quit looking after I saw good ol’ 12th great-grandpa Thomas Barnhouse Jekyll, born Jan. 21, 1570, in Essex, England. I can’t believe how English I am! Thank goodness I kinda speak the language.

The next time I go to Georgia’s Jekyll Island, which can never come soon enough, I’m going to run around — OK, lightly jog and repeatedly catch my breath — while yelling at everybody to get the heck off of my island!

Or as my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Barnhouse Jekyll would say:

Thee ain’t gotta wend home, but thee gotta receiveth the hell off mine own dadgum island, thee trespass’r!


What do you think about this?