Embellishing the family history to include royalty, an Indian princess, or a famous historical figure was more common than most people would imagine. We run into it frequently in our business. My great-grandmother, Alva Belle Calahan, grew up with a vagabond father who never stayed in one place for more than a couple of years. The large family scraped for the barest necessities of life. Alva longed for a sense of dignity and belonging. She died when I was sixteen, and I remember that just to go to the grocery store, she always dressed so nicely, with a hat, white gloves and pearls. She smiled and spoke so sweetly to me. She had attained quite a level of refinement, in contrast to her rough childhood.
Part of Alva’s stretch for social acceptance involved becoming a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She traced her ancestry to John McElroy Scott of Ohio, a known Revolutionary War Patriot. Granny Alva’s paternal grandmother was Rebecca Caroline Scott, born in 1822 in Georgia, and the Patriot lineage supposedly came through her Scott line. Rebecca was believed to be the daughter of Walter Scott, son of John Scott, son of John McElroy Scott, the Revolutionary War Patriot. A page from the family Bible showed this lineage, and provided the ‘proof’ for the DAR registrar for her acceptance.
In 1996, when I tried to verify this lineage, I could not do it. Rebecca Scott was married in 1842 in DeKalb County, Georgia, but no Walter Scott, her presumed father, could be found anywhere in Georgia. There were other Scotts there in the right time period, and censuses suggested that Rebecca belonged to them. Through several pieces of evidence collected from various records, I determined that Rebecca’s parents were Robert Scott and Mary Colley of DeKalb County, Georgia. They had come from Spartanburg County, South Carolina before 1820. Through the Internet, I made contact with other Scotts who are related to this Robert. They informed me that the name combination “Rebecca Caroline” ran strong in their extended Scott family.
Granny Alva claimed that her grandmother Rebecca had been the matron of honor at the 1853 marriage of her cousin, Caroline Lavinia Scott, to future president Benjamin Harrison, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Caroline was the granddaughter of John McElroy Scott, Rev War Patriot. She even had a small gold thimble that Caroline had given to Rebecca for being her matron of honor, with Rebecca’s initials engraved on it. Granny Alva gave the thimble to me, because I had the same initials. But Rebecca had her fifth child in 1853 in Georgia, shortly before she and her husband moved their family from Georgia to Texas. There were no train lines yet from the Atlanta area to Cincinnati, so she would have had to make the 500 mile trip by horse-drawn coach. Nothing seemed to fit, including the tiny thimble!
Rebecca and her family were southerners, far removed from the Yankee society of Cincinnati, and not just geographically. The deception became more apparent upon closer inspection of the photocopy of the family Bible page. The part of the page showing the Scott lineage had been written on a smaller piece of paper, and then laid over the top of the larger Bible page, covering part of the Calahan family data. The handwriting was much different, and the edges of the smaller piece of paper actually showed in the photocopy. The original family Bible was lost many years ago, adding to the mystery.
I love my sweet Granny Alva, and I’m happy that she had a more fulfilling later life, but she has some explaining to do! She was admitted to the DAR and enjoyed her associations there. She does indeed have Revolutionary Patriot ancestors, but not that one!
Do you have a family story that needs to be verified from the original genealogical records? Give us a call! 877-537-2000
Raquel Lindaas, Accredited Genealogist®, Heritage Consulting