Family tree

homemade paper dolls

When my grandfather was in his late 60s, his poor health forced him to retire. He needed something to keep himself occupied so he wouldn’t drive my Grandma Momo nuts. Being a history buff, he immersed himself in genealogy.

Not sure why he chose to trace Momo’s family instead of his own, but her history was incredible. With the help of Lucy, a distant cousin Grandpa discovered in England, the two of them were able to trace our family roots to 990 AD, and eventually to northern Yorkshire County, England.

(I can only imagine where his research would’ve led if he had access to the Internet.)

Arkefrith, our family progenitor, was a Danish Viking who arrived in England with King Canute during the Invasion of 1016. In recognition of his military service, he was presented an estate and given the title of Lord of Dent, Sedburg and Askrigg. I’m sure somewhere there is a castle in England that I should be living in, but I hear they are terribly drafty.

The estate included land situated on the second of a trio of hills called the Three Calves. When the King of England required his subjects to take a surname, my great-grandfather (27-times removed) chose Adam De Midd Calf (died 1252), in reference to that original property. Over the generations, the name was anglicized to Metcalf – Momo’s maiden name.

My children represent the 37th generation of our family. The fact that I even know this is an honor.

Before he died, Grandpa took all that he had learned in his research and wrote each of us a family history. As new generations are added to our family I continue to add chapters to the story.

In this history, a family tree that spans more than 1,000 years, there are Lords and Ladies, High Sheriffs, explorers and riverboat pirates. From one branch of the family we discovered that a direct descendent, Richard Warren, was a passenger on the Mayflower.

When my daughter was in fourth grade, she made a set of paper dolls for a history project. Each outfit was based on a different ancestor, one of which, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Richard Warren. She was also nine when she made the voyage to America in 1623 – 376 years earlier.

In one entry Grandpa wrote:

Sir James Metcalf, of Askrigg and Nappa, born 1469, died 20 September 1539, knighted 1528, High Sheriff in 1525, married 1512 to Margaret, daughter and coheir to Thomas Pigot (Bigot) of Cotherane. In the year 1513 he led three hundred men in the “Battle of Flodden Field,” every one of them was named Metcalf and each a son, brother, cousin or an uncle, all of them mounted on white horses.”

That would have been a sight to see.  During this Battle, the English army, under the command of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, defeated the invading Scots led by King James IV. The Metcalf family motto was in play that day – “Conquiesco – I conquer.”

Many Americans take for granted that we are ourselves immigrants. Despite the long generations my family has lived here, we are not natives. That I was born here doesn’t make me indigenous. I think knowing about my ancestors, and where they were from, helps me to appreciate history and my place in it.

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Submitted to Weekly Writing Challenge. The theme was to: “take something intensely personal — the bits and pieces that make you YOU — and use them as a springboard for a post that makes a larger point and resonates with lots of other readers.”
From the Vault of IMSO, originally published March 17, 2008; Updated and edit.

10 thoughts on “Family tree

  1. How cool is that?! My youngest son got me to join (I did the free trial membership) after watching an episode of “Who DO You Think You Are?) We were only able to go back around 150 years, but it was such a neat experience. Kind of like reading a historic novel backwards. It gave me a chance to share with my uncles and my in-laws and was so cool to be able to tell them tidbits about their ancestors. Your grandfather did an amazing job going back that far! He hit the motherload of genealogy!


  2. My wife is very much into genealogy. I love history but my lack of closeness with my family negates interest. Recently, Bo looked up my family. I had been told we had a lot of Cherokee Indian and Italian. This explains my looks. The truth ends up that while I have a little of both of those, I’m basically the great great great whatever of a bunch of Englishmen Quakers who helped start Quakertown, Pennsylvania, and then a whole lot of middle class farmers after that.

    Good piece. I like learning about your personal life


    1. I really love that I am from Viking stock, if only I had the fiery red hair to go with that. My daughter does have strawberry blonde hair in the summer, and my son’s beard is red, and very Germanic.


      1. It’s cool to figure out why we look the way we do. All of the men in my family look the same in the face. It’s a perfect mixture of English, Cherokee, Italian, and whatever else there is, mutt.


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