In the last several years of genealogical research, I discovered my maternal Great-Great Grandmother, Mahala Ray, born in 1812, is said to have been full-blooded Cherokee. This is almost impossible to prove on paper, considering many Native Americans carefully hid their ethnic roots, completely disappearing into white families, to avoid atrocities such as the Trail of Tears. The word "squaw" was an epithet of utmost disgust. Many census takers presumed them to be white, and recorded them so in the records.
Mahala was born in Tennessee and spent most of her life in Jackson County. She married William E. Smith, had nine children, was widowed, and then married her widower neighbor James Spivey, 37 years her senior. Their son, George Washington Spivey is my Great Grandfather. Sadly, other than this, I know nothing else about her.
"We have come to understand that who we are, is who we were," said Anthony Hopkins, in the role of John Quincy Adams, at the climactic moment of Steven Spielberg's Amistad. This haunting quote from the film has often made me wonder exactly how much influence DNA, as well as the life experience of our ancestors, have on who we are today.
Pioneer life was harsh and childbirth unending. I would love to know Mahala's dreams, her fears, and what bearing her ethnicity had on her life. I also can't help but wonder what effect her life has on mine, apart from the obvious things, like the color of my eyes and hair. My DNA is tingling to know, since her story is also part of my story.
Family Tree DNA has my sample, on which I plan having additional tests run, to check for Native American genes. I'll be sure to keep you posted on the results. This would confirm the oral history that's been handed down through the generations.
vintage postcard from my collection
Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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