life · writing

Great-Great Grand Greathouses and Their Stories

I should have known better than to sign up for the fourteen-day free trial of Ancestry.com. I’ve always been curious about my genealogy, but never enough to do anything about it. I sort of liked having the mystery of my relations floating around, unresolved. There was a romance to it. However, families are full of characters and relationships and unimaginable stories that I can’t help but attempt to imagine…

The Greathouses are interesting since we’re a rare enough name that it’s actually possible to keep track of who’s-who. Unlike in a family, like, say, SMITH, Greathouses are rare enough that you can connect them when you find them. And, apparently, we must have had some rich lovely legacy (real or imagined) in the old country, because the internet is full of Greathouses who have put a lot of effort into constructing our family trees.

If you’re wondering what the catalyst for this was, I got to wondering about the details of my cousin’s drug-lab bust a few years ago down south. I couldn’t remember his name or state or any of the details, and I was just curious about that. Before I knew it, I was landing on all sorts of pages about Greathouses and all the things we’re notorious for.

My particular branch of the family can be traced back to the pre-Civil War south, apparently. It’s really strange to go through old records and see people listed as “free” or “not free,” and then look at the war records and realize that a lot of people I’m related to laid down their lives for the Confederacy. That’s just a strange feeling. Apparently Ridgely Greathouse, as a venture capitalist and loyal southerner, gave a lot of money, resources, and soldiering to the Confederacy and was celebrated as “invaluable.”

I don’t know how to feel about the fact that the most heroic and notable Greathouse was a Confederate Solider. Everyone else has petered out of existence or is making local news when they have drug busts. My grandfather apparently didn’t even finish high school? It’s hard to believe that my own father was the first Greathouse anyone in our family knew of to get a college degree.

My Great-Grandfather, James Henry Greathouse.
My Great-Grandfather, James Henry Greathouse.

It also makes me wonder about “The American Dream” which is so many different things to so many different people. If the goal of living is simply to give your children a better life than you had, then maybe there’s something to be said for the Greathouse legacy, or at least the part of it that lead to me. When I look at everyone down south, I can’t help but feel amazingly grateful that my father brought me up to the Pacific Northwest and gave me a down-to-earth upbringing that emphasized the importance of education and chasing my dreams.

My ancestors had some neat names, but for all the research I’m doing on them, their lives are already over and not going to affect me…unless I end up stealing some of those names for characters in my novels. I wonder if that’s the sort of thing that would make them spin in their graves, or let their memory live oddly on. It was fun to reaffirm that there are no really famous, really notable Greathouses yet. It’s not so unbelievable that I might set a record and break a barrier if I keep working at my writing and someday win a little attention and regard for it. Looking at my ancestry records, I almost feel more proud of what I’m doing and what I’m capable of. Nothing in my family’s history suggests that they should produce an artist, let alone of the nature I am still hoping to grow into 🙂

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