April 06, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 7 - I'm a What?

"It may come as somewhat of a surprise to many to learn that there exists in the northern counties of (West Virginia) a racial island of mixed bloods, known locally as 'Guineas,' numbering several thousand persons. The origin of this mixed race is unrecorded, and the relative proportion of white, Negro and Indian blood entering into its makeup is difficult to ascertain....It is difficult to find a completely acceptable term to designate these mixed people. Stigmatized by white public opinion as a sort of outcast group, they dislike and resent any designation used by outsiders for themselves.

"The family names of the Guineas are limited in number and are the most important
items for identification of members. The characteristic names are Adams, Collins, Croston, Dalton, Dorton, Kennedy, Male, Miner or Minard, Newman, Norris and Prichard. of these by far the most frequent in occurrence is Male....The Males, who also spell their name as Mayle, Mail and Mahle, trace their descent back to an ancestor who was said to have come over from England during colonial times. One observer thinks that there may be some connection between the Males and the Malay Race. It is said, moreover, that in the Male clan the white and Indian is much more prominent than the Negro.

"A considerable period of isolation must be assumed to account for the long-continued inbreeding which has characterized the Guineas for a number of generations. "According to West Virginia law white schools are to be separate from colored. For at least 30 years the Guinea children have been attending schools separate from the white....Apparently no Negroes attend these Guinea Schools and there are several Negro schools in the two counties also.

"The contempt of some of the neighboring white people for the Guineas is marked. They are regarded as the dregs of society, as outcasts of little consequence or importance. Others among the whites feel much more sympathetic toward the Guineas and speak of them as capable people when they are given opportunities for advancement. The chief complaints which one hears made are chicken-thieving, bootlegging of illicit liquor, and similar derelictions.

"Permanent migration out of Barbour and Taylor Counties has been recommended by local white officials as they best solution for the individual Guinea. By moving to a community in which there is no knowledge of the Guineas as a group it is quite possible for the individual to pass into the white classification in many instances."

Excerpts from Gilbert, Jr., William Harlen,"Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia." Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 36(1): 1-13.

Irish, English, German and French Canadian. That's what I was. Whenever I asked my mom (Shirley Hess) what nationality I was, that's what I was told. Pretty white bread, if you ask me. Nothing really exciting there. I mean, sure, the Irish history and all has been very exciting for me to explore as an adult -- all the mayhem, blood, fighting, repression and such. But I've only appreciated it as an adult. And the German history -- they always seemed to be the troublemakers of Europe starting from the time the various tribes periodically sacked Rome, all the way up through Nazi Germany. That was pretty exciting too, even as a kid, but the Germans were always the bad guys. The English always seemed staid and boring to me. Sure they built a great empire and gave us Shakespeare, but as a kid I couldn't get excited over it. French Canadian? What did that mean? Did that mean I was French, or Canadian?

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that my birth mother, Ruby Rodger, was originally Ruby Mayle from West Virginia, and that she was from a group of people called the "Guineas." The Guineas are roughly equivalent to other ridge dwelling peoples of the eastern mountains of America stretching from West Virginia down through Kentucky and Tennessee. Similar groups of people are called "Melungeons" in Kentucky and Tennessee. They were generally the "backwoods" people, awfully poor, and generally scorned by the rest of society.

The difficulty for the Guineas was the taint of non-white blood. In this society, and we even see this today, unenlightened people still consider it a defect if you're less than white. The Guineas, according to Bob and other accounts, certainly had Indian in them. There is also strong evidence that some mixing with blacks also occurred. Today, up in the Chestnut Ridge area of West Virginia, you can find families, all with the same last name, whose people look pure white, pure black and everything in between. Bob told me that even within his own family, he looks pretty white, his younger brother had blond very curly hair, and his sister looks very Indian. "A motley, mixed race crew," he proclaimed us.

Bob has introduced me to Diana Jones, a first cousin on my birth mother's side. Diana's mother, Ruby's sister also came from West Virginia, got married and moved to Oklahoma. Diana lives in North Texas. Diana is also a prominent Mayle family genealogist. When Bob sent me a bunch of pictures of his family, I told him "I don't think I look like any of you." Bob sent a few more pictures. He said "I think you look like my son, Jesse." He also sent some other family pictures from the past, and sent a picture of one Thomas Male, who he said was our most African-American looking ancestor. As I was looking through the pictures, I could see some resemblance to Bob's son, but the picture of Thomas really struck Megan and I as resembling me in certain ways. Megan pointed out the nose, the blue eyes (they look gray in the black and white photograph), the line of the jaw and even the forehead. Above are the pictures of Jesse, me and Thomas Male. What do you think?

I guess the question is what do I think? Well, I am actually kind of excited to have my blood and heritage spiced up like this. I have only visited West Virginia once -- I drove through on a business trip and stopped at the fabulous New River Gorge to look and take pictures, but it left a great impression on me. I also visited Appalachia twice, Hazard Kentucky to be specific, and really felt an affinity to the place. Perhaps subconscious memories of my ancestors' environment were haunting me at the time. Being able to say that I have Indian, and perhaps even African-American, blood doesn't bother me in the least. I like the fact that I can explore this brand new heritage. However, I must be careful with my new family. Diana warned me that some members of the Mayle family, particularly older members, are not ready to talk about some aspects of their lineage. It's much easier for them to accept Indian heritage than black heritage. In the case of the older members, being labeled as "colored," being victims of discrimination, being labeled and outcast has left raw open wounds. I don't necessarily want to poke at any of these. Slowly, Diana and other younger members of the Mayle family are pushing for the Mayles to embrace their history, but it takes time and old feelings and secrets are hard to change.

At least I know that I'm a little more complex than Irish, English, German and French Canadian. And that's kind of fun, don't you think?

Next up: To go or not to go, that is the question

Photo 1: Thomas Male, probably late 1800s or early 1900s?

Photo 2: Jesse Rodger, Bob Rodger's son (and my nephew, I guess!)

Photo 3: Do I look more exciting to you now?

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Blogger Mary B. said...

With the three pictures side by side like that, you can see some similar characteristics. The foreheads and noses really stand out as do the cheek bones. That's so cool! Your genetic history just got way more involved. I can imagine all of the fun you are having learning about this. I know that I am enjoying hearing about it. :) Happy Easter!

10:46 AM  
Blogger Pauline said...

No one is mentioning the lips... and the crooked smiles of you and your nephew. (you have a nephew Mikey!)

I can't help but feel a little ordinary with my lame old portuguese, german, english, irish, austrian, dutch and scottish ancestry.

Ernest wanted me to tell you that he has a Indian name given to him by a band of Delaware. I can't remember the actual name but I do remember what it means... it means, "West Wind Who Dances".

11:21 AM  
Blogger Jodi Ward said...

I just ran across your blog today. I have been doing my family tree for years. My grand mother was a Mayle. I have Mayle and Minerd in my family. I am proud to be in this great family and am glad to see others that are excited too. There is so much to read and I never get bored. Now I have your blog to read and I look forward to what you find.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Do you know who Ruby's parents were? I'm also closely related to Diana Jones and I'm curious how you and I are related.

4:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found our blog years late...do you have updates on your family interactions?

5:42 AM  

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