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No Relation to Robert Ford

Posted Friday, August 31, 2007, at 12:29 PM

Howdy Cousin?
I recently received in the mail a 400-page book laying out my family history on my father's side. A distant cousin (by marriage, of course: it's always a woman who marries into a family who does this kind of thing) whom I had never heard of has gone to the monumental effort of listing all us kinfolk and tracing our relationships to one another all the way back to Adam--or Cain, anyway. There are even photos so you can try to judge from clothes and backdrop which ones might have enough money to make it worth hiring a probate lawyer. ("Hmm… That paneling has a trailer-housey look to it. But I'm pretty sure this one is a Hawaii vacation snapshot. Hell-o, cousin!!) But most of my attention was reserved for the long-gone relatives. Their trials and tribulations and handlebar mustaches were what really interested me.

To this day, a large part of the impulse to dig up information about dead people whom we never met but who possibly had the same last name as us still rests on the desire to somehow take credit ourselves for their accomplishments. And, perversely, some of the time the things we are proud of when done by dead relatives are the kinds of things we'd disavow all connection with in a living one. A case in point:

I once met a writer and historian from Missouri. He was a particular expert on the outlaw Jesse James. I was struck by this gentleman's look and bearing, as he seemed somehow weak and worn, with a vague air of grim fatality about him. I assumed it was from disease or hard living (or some hard living-related disease), but learned that it wasn't that at all. In fact, his health and spirit had been slowly broken down by an endless stream of people met on airplanes or in waiting rooms or lecture halls who, upon learning of his field of study, announced that they themselves were descendants of Jesse James. They then would usually share fascinating stories about old Cousin Jesse. Very long stories typically, and often ornamented with minute details and long stretches of stirring dialog.

If he had been able to reply to these pseudo-Jameses with a simple, "You don't say," or possibly, "Well I'll be!" and have done with it, he could have possibly led a quiet life. But he just couldn't do it. His dedication to truth, his sense of ethics and his natural bullheadedness always forced him to reply with, "No, you may think you are related to him, but you aren't." And he was surely right because, after all, Jesse James' family tree is straightforward and well-researched and his descendants well-known and easily identified. But his statement was sort of the equivalent of saying, "Your grandmother is a liar!" It doesn't go over very well and can make for some pretty long, uncomfortable airplane flights.

"Jesse James would have had to have ninety children to spawn all the relatives I've met over the years," he said. And then, shaking his head sadly, "What gets me is why people are so desperately determined to be related to a criminal."

Yeah, maybe. But at least he was a FAMOUS criminal. I need to go back through my family book again. I'm sure Jesse's in there somewhere.

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Teutsch, I really got a good belly laugh today, reading this for the first time, and with your exchange with gb.............very enjoyable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-- Posted by Johnny Yuma on Mon, Oct 15, 2007, at 7:47 PM

Oh no. Teutsch may be kin to me. When I was a kid a lot of the guys claimed kinship to Jesse James I guess because Hollywood had turned him into a Robin Hood. Not to be outdone (and to impress the playground cuties) I claimed kinship to Mr. Hood himself as well as John Wayne, Gene Autry and Hank Williams.

-- Posted by gb on Tue, Sep 4, 2007, at 7:41 PM

Every family tree has a branch the split into the criminal underworld at some time or another. It just so happens often that branch falls down into the future and jabs into an innocent sprout, causing the whole cycle to begin anew.

-- Posted by dyersburg on Tue, Sep 4, 2007, at 4:34 PM

This is true, but unlikely. Jesse operated for many years without being caught. Members of my family are generally incarcerated after their first offense. (If not before.)

-- Posted by kenteutsch on Tue, Sep 4, 2007, at 11:07 AM

It is possible that Jesse was adopted by the James family and that he was actually a Teutsch. There's always hope. ;-)

-- Posted by gb on Tue, Sep 4, 2007, at 10:54 AM

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