Rodney M Bliss

Travels With Cousin Shirley

I didn’t know her, this older woman whom I’d arranged to meet in a deserted parking lot in South Eastern Kentucky. She pulled her black Toyota Forerunner to a stop behind my white Ford Mustang. She expressed not the least nervousness as she greeted each other.

Climb in. I’ll drive. You don’t know where we’re headed.

Her name was Shirley. I knew that from the emails we’d sent back and forth. We headed off into the rolling hills of Eastern Kentucky. There was very little we had in common that wasn’t more than 150 years old. We were cousins. Both descended from people who had lived in these hills and hollows since the early part of the 19th century. My people had left to travel West in the mid 1800’s. Her people stayed. The person we had in common was William Blair. He was born in 1800 and had moved his family to Kentucky from Virginia. William had a son named James. His son was another William. William’s son Tandy was my great grandfather. Our family were charter members of several churches in the London, Kentucky area.

One is closed and is for sale for $100,000. Others are still active. We drove from to a hill top cemetery. The highest point in Laurel County or so says Cousin Shirley. She’s my grandmother’s age. Or, the age my grandmother would be if she were still alive. Granny made this trip to Laurel county before she died. Cousin Shirley spoke fondly of their conversations and explorations of Blair family history.

We compared notes. These were my mother’s people. And her mother’s before her. It was my great-grandfather’s family. His father’s father was also cousin Shirley’s ancestor. We realized we are 4th cousins. . .once removed. It’s actually pretty easy to find the “cousin” relationship with a relative. In this case, our common ancestor was William Blair, my great-great-great-grandfather. He is Cousin Shirley’s great-great-grandfather. Once you find the common ancestor, just walk down the relationship line to find your cousins. If you have the same common ancestor, you are siblings. If your ancestor was two generations back (your grandparent), you are cousins, or more accurately 1st cousins. If the common ancestor is back three generations, you are 2nd cousins. And so on. Once you find your “cousin-ness” then the “removed” is for situations where one person is closer to the common progenitor than the other. My mother and Cousin Shirley are 4th cousins. Since I’m one generation removed from my mother, we are 4th cousins once removed.

It was a wonderful day in the hills of my ancestors. I learned that an ancestor Christopher Cooper was a Revolutionary War soldier. I learned that when the Civil War ripped the country apart, my people, our people fought for the Union. It doesn’t change who I am here in the 21st Century, of course, but it was nice to know that we were on the right side of history.

Too soon the day was over and it was time for me to head back to my hotel in Louisville. I took pictures back with me, but more importantly, I took stories. Stories that I can tell my children and grandchildren. So, if someone asks, “Where are we from?” One of the answers will proudly be “We’re from Laurel County, Kentucky.”

Just a bunch of hillbillies, really.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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